If you have not given bay fishing a chance, you are definitely missing out on a year-round fishery. Here along the Florida Panhandle we have some exciting opportunities— whether you chose to spot cast redfish on the flats, fish dock and flats for trout, try the bridge pilings for sheepshead, bust the flounder in the pass or get in on the Spanish mackerel run. The possibilities are endless!
Access the Bay by boat, kayak, shore and bridge, or from the dock.
A medium sized spinning reel 2500 to 4000 sized on a 6’6 to 7’6 light to medium light action will get you covered. Filling your reel with 10lb to 15lb mono or 20lb to 30lb braid and rigging you lures and baits with 15lb to 25lb fluorocarbon. [back to top]
Shimano Stradic and
Clarius rod combo.
Shimano Sahara and
Teramar rod combo
Penn Battle and
Squadron rod combo.
Live shrimp, bull minnows and fiddler crabs are by far the most popular, mostly due to the fact that they work great and you can buy them at Half Hitch. Pinfish, mullet, menhaden and pigfish will require you to get out your cast net, Even though they require much more work to get, there are many days when they are the best baits. If you don’t know how to throw a cast net, come by the shop to learn. [back to top]
Rigging all your lures and rigs with Fluorocarbon over just regular monofilament will greatly enhance you chances of getting bites and catching fish. Fluorocarbon looks and feel much like regular monofilament. The difference is fluorocarbon is the same density as saltwater and does not refract light making it virtually invisible to the fish, hence you get more bites and more fish. [back to top]
Yo-zuri Crystal Minnow.
Who Dat spoon.
Johnson Silver Minnow.
Live Target pinfish.
GOT-CHA grubs and jig heads.
Popping cork rig.
Popping cork lure.
While most of the species are here year round there are some definitive seasons on how we target them. Of course we have the spring, summer,fall and winter and we will cover the seasons by species. [back to top]
From early spring to late fall the redfish roam the flats, to deepwater dock, channels and Bridges. During the winter months the reds are mostly a deepwater fish due to water temps. By far the most exciting way to get reds is spot casting them on the shallow flats. Not many species give you the opportunity get get your heart pumping and adrenalin flowing like seeing the redfish tailing on the flats when the tide is moving.
We cover a few different ways to catch redfish, first lets go with flats fishing and specifically spot casting. From early spring through late fall you will find reds tailing on the flats looking for food during the tide change. Casting at these fish with soft plastics under a popping cork is one of my favorite ways. Savage Shrimp, Vudu shrimp, Berkley Gulps and DOA shrimp all do well. Other lures that work are Yo-Zuri Crystal Shrimp, Yo-Zuri Crystal Minnows, Hopkins gold spoons and Johnson Silver Minnows in gold.
During the winter and and the other months you can also get Reds around the bridges, deepwater boat docks and pass using live shrimp, fiddler crabs and pinfish. Fish these on a Carolina Rig, with a Owner Mutu Light 1/0 or 2/0 hook, 18’ Fluorocarbon leader and a 1oz to 3oz lead depending on current.
Lets not forget about bull reds. While most of us target keeper reds those between 18’ and 27’ because we love to eat them bull reds those over 27’ make for some great fun. Bull reds can be caught two ways, either trolling deep running plugs around the pass, bridges and channels or bottom fishing these same areas with pinfish, menhaden or mullet bigger than you hand. If you are going to troll plugs most come with treble hooks. I would like to see you switch the trebles out for single hooks. In many cases you actually catch more fish on single hooks and when it comes time to release them the survival rate is much higher. [back to top]
Trout are here year round with several distinct seasons. We have the spring to fall season where trout roam the flats, docks and bridges, then we have the winter season when the trout move to deepwater holes, creeks and river systems.
From early spring to late fall the trout will feed on the flats much like reds on the tide change. There is no one way that is the best but it is hard to beat a live shrimp or live menhaden fished under a popping cork. Focus on the sand pockets scattered over the flats. Trout like the sit in the grass and ambush bait moving over the sand holes.
Lure on the flats are another good choice. Throwing Savage Shrimp, Vudu Shrimp, DOA and Gulps rigged under a popping cork is a favoried way to target them. Topwater baits like Yo-zuri Crystal Minnows, Mirr-o-lure Top Dog jr. and floating Rapala’s.
Once the day heats up the trout will move to deeper cooler water, now you need sinking baits like Yo-zuri Crystal Shrimp, Rapala Suspending baits and Live Target Pinfish.
In the winter expect to find the trout moving to fresher water in bayous that have creeks that feed in, mouth of the river system and deep water holes. Target these fish with live shrimp and pinfish. Use soft plastics fished very slowly on the bottom. I hear people all the time say they don’t catch many trout on a DOA lure, my first question is show me you jigging motion and 90% of the time they are jigging to hard and two fast. Remember a shrimp walks slowly on the bottom until scared by a fish and the dart of backwards. So when working any soft plastic it is slow, slow and slower.
For tournament trout fishing there is no more sought after bait than pigfish and finger mullet the size of you hand or larger. These baits do not produce as many fish but they do produce larger fish. Many tournament anglers spend 2 or 3 days before the tournament doing nothing more than catching bait. Mullet are not that hard you just have to get out, scout around and spend some time with your cast net. Pigfish are much harder to come by and require endless hours fishing little pieces of shrimp in bayous and docks with mud bottom. for every pigfish you catch you have to wade through catching 50 pinfish. [back to top]
Flounder come in two seasons with the fall winter fishery the best. We catch flounder all summer the fish are very spread out over the entire shallow area of the bay. During the fall and winter the flounder migrate to the gulf for the winter and can be caught in big numbers fishing the pass area just inside the bay to just outside the pass and near shore wrecks.
During the summer months the flounder are spread out and most are caught fishing docks with soft plastics rigged on a jig head.
The fall and winter fishery is the one that really gets people excited as you can catch good numbers with little effort. Normally in mid October the flounder get ready to head from the bay to the gulf for the winter following the bait fish out of the bay. During this time the flounder feed aggressively on soft plastics in the harbor, around the pass and docks close to the mouth of the bay. Once the flounder reach the pass most fish are then caught on the bottom fishing live bull minnows. It is not uncommon for anglers to get their limit in just a few hours fishing just inside the pass and just outside the pass on the drop off near the buoys.
By Thanksgiving the flounder bite is peaking around the pass and on the near shore reefs. While I know we are talking about bay fishing there are many days this time of year the open gulf is like a sheet of glass and most any bay boat or kayak can fish here safely and catch huge numbers of flounder. This action will last well into February many years. [back to top]
Lets not forget on flounder many people decide not to even use a rod and reel to catch but prefer to go gigging to get theirs. During the summer flounder can be gigged in the shallows of the bay. In the fall when they start their migration to the gulf they can be gigged in good numbers. All you need to enjoy a peaceful night under the stars and moon is a small flats boat or jon boat that floats in shallow water, a gig with pole that is stiff enough you can pole along and a good underwater flounder light.
While there are some spanish through the bay most are caught in spring. During the spring the spanish invade the bay and you will see schools that cover several acres. there are several ways to catch the guys. Most fisherman chose to troll as it requires the least effort. Troll with a Clark Mackerel Tree rigged with a Clark Spoon and 4oz trolling lead. Troll inside the pass, the harbor and around channels and buoys.
My favorite way to catch them is by casting Gotcha Plugs, Spoons and topwater lures. Gotchas are the most effective, just cast them at schools or Spanish mackerel or in areas where you see birds working schools of bait fish. Let sink about half way to the bottom and jig at a quick pace. My favorite way to get them is tossing topwater plugs, Spanish are aggressive and seeing them attack a topwater plug is just plane fun.
The old wise tale is start looking for spanish shortly after the third straight day of fog. Remember spanish have a mouth full of razor blades so make sure to rig your lures on 50lb or 60lb monofilament leaders or risk losing lots of lures. When removing hooks, while there teeth are not as big as their big brother king mackerel they can still draw blood, handle with care. Spanish are good in the fry pan but their flesh is soft and using a slush brine of ice, saltwater and salt to lower the temp of the cooler will make them easier to clean and make for better table fare. [back to top]
Again while we have the chance to get sheepshead year round the biggest number are caught winter and spring. Sheepshead fishing is fairly simple, you fish live shrimp or live fiddler crabs on a Carolina rig with a hook no bigger then a dime. In most cases I always prefer a circle hook but because of the way a sheepshead mouth is full of molars for crushing a tiny straight hook is best. you want to fish straight up and down by the pilings of bridges or docks and or jetties. It is always a good idea to get some shrimp, oysters and crabs and make some chum, us a chum bag to keep some chum close to you and occasionally toss over some small pieces over to attract the sheepshead from all the near by pilings.
This tip was provided by our own fishing expert Tim Broom, Half Hitch Destin. Get the PDF here: GCSSS-BayFishing.pdf