Tarpon will be in full GET OUT THERE mode. Offshore, big game tournaments will be the focus. They should have great catches of wahoo, dolphin, tuna, swordfish and marlin. Kings, dolphin, bonita and a few spanish will be close to shore on wrecks, reefs and fads. Bottom fisherman will find good numbers or vermillion snapper, red snapper, gag grouper, red grouper, scamp and almaco jacks.
Fish along edges, deep water wrecks, weed lines and rips. Best to troll with Yo-Zuri bonita, deep running plugs ballyhoo rigged on a Islander or soft head lure. Troll 5-8 knots, down riggers and outriggers can be very effective allowing you to fish multiple lines at multiple depths. Run your downriggers at depths of 50-100ft deep. Try adjusting the depth until you get a bite as you are looking for a thermocline where the bait and fish are located. Also watch the bottom machine for bait pods as this is a good indication of the best downrigger depth.
Look for dolphin by finding weed lines, rips, and floating debris.Also, look for diving birds and frigate birds working an area. Many times frigate birds will fly over just a single bull dolphin.
Troll feathers, ballyhoo, live cigar minnows or herring. Smaller lures tend to catch more dolphin than larger ones. When trolling for dolphin fish between 4 and 8 knots.
White and Blue Marlin
Marlin can be caught from May to October. Most marlin are caught at the Spur, Nipple, Squiggles and the Offshore rigs. Catch marlin with ballyhoo, squid, large acrylic lures (Black Bart) soft heads, live bridled bonita and hardtails. Marlin speeds are 5-12 knots. Marlin like weed lines and rips and that is where you find good concentrations of baitfish.
You can spend lots of fuel hunting marlin and other offshore species. You can use a service like Hilton’s offshore or Roff’s to find fishing locations. They offer offshore temperature, currents, and chlorophyl; all good indicators of where the bait and the fish will be located.
Imagine it’s a warm summer night, seas running a soft 1 to 2, wind light and variable, stars fill the night sky, you have a cold beer in hand and burgers on the grill. Everyone sitting around tell war stories of the one that got away. Lines are set, extra baits are rigged, the Hydroglow’s light spills under the boat turning the crystal blue water a erie green. You can see the four buoys marking the lines in the distance. In the quiet still of the night the drag starts screaming. Sword on the line!
Swordfish are mostly caught around the Spur fishing the north wall. Most are caught using large offshore squid, whole bonita and northern mackerel. While we do catch daytime swordfish most are caught at night. Fish three lines at depths of 50ft, 100ft, and 200ft deep.
While yellowfin tuna bite all year at the rigs the prime time for fishing them is from May to November. This is when they venture closer to home. Most are caught at the Nipple, Spur, Steps, Squiggles and Rigs.
Tuna can be caught in the daytime trolling ballyhoo, cedar plugs and bullet head lures. Look for birds working bait or pods of porpoise as many times you will find the tuna mixed in with the porpoise.
At night catch the tuna jigging or chunking. Find a good spot and set the sea anchor and start chumming with cut pieces of northern or Boston mackerel.
Tuna can range from the small football size to well over 200lbs here along the panhandle area!
Grouper tend to like natural bottom better than wrecks, not to say they will not congregate on wrecks. You can also catch grouper on the beach reefs, but we tend to catch the majority of keeper grouper at depths of 150ft to 400ft. You need live cigar minnows, herring, threadfin herring or northern mackerel. Grouper can also be caught jigging with heavy bucktail jigs and butterfly style jigs.
Scamp grouper are generally found in the 75ft to 400ft range, They prefer natural bottom but will congregate on some wrecks. Fishing a Carolina rig with 1oz of lead for every 10ft of water. It’s best to use live cigar minnows, pinfish or frozen northern mackerel.
Amberjack are generally found fishing wrecks in 50ft to 400ft range, Unlike grouper they tend to like large wrecks rather than natural bottom. Live cigar minnows, hardtails, pinfish and vermillion snapper are preferred baits. Use a Carolina rig with extra long leaders, up to 20ft when fish are picky. Amberjack also love butterfly jigs and large swimbaits.
Vermillion snapper AKA mingo snapper or beeliners are another one of the better eating snappers. In my opinion they are much better than red snapper and can be caught all year. They normally range 1lb to 3lbs but we catch them up to 5lb to 7lbs. If these little guys grew to 20lb to 30lbs, no one would care about red snapper. Use a 2 or 3 hook bottom rig with circle hooks no bigger than a nickel in size. The best bait is squid, northern mackerel or bonita cut into 1in chunks. Fresher is better. They can be caught on wrecks or reefs in 50ft to 175ft depths. Another bait not many people use but very effective is Fishbites or Gulp!
Red grouper, unlike most bottom fish, seem to bite better on what we call trash bait. Trash can be anything from a frozen northern mackerel to a butterflied vermillion snapper. Live baits typically don’t work as well for red grouper unlike other groupers as they tend to be very lazy. We catch them in much shallower water, normally 50ft to 150ft depths.
These little guys don’t get any attention, but if they grew bigger they would be held as one of the top fish in the gulf. Rarely do you see one over 2lbs, and most people consider them as trash, but these are one of my personal favorites for the dinner table. When you filet one the meat is not so much white as clear and sparkles when you cut it across the grain. Catch them just like you would fishing for vermillion snapper or trigger fish.
Near Shore Fishing
Kings will become steady this month and one of the main targets of charter boats and recreational fisherman alike. Baitfish will be congregating on nearshore reefs and the kings will hang out with them most of the day.
An effective method of catching kings us the use of a downrigger. When using a downrigger you are looking for the area under the water we call a thermacline or temperature break and many of the king will be found at this depth usually between 25ft to 100ft below the surface. Look for schools of baitfish on the bottom machine to find your starting depth.
Kings can be caught by fisherman in boats in a variety of ways. Troll dead cigar minnows on a duster wigged with a planner or down rigger, use Yo-zuri plugs, Rapala’s or spoons.
Another great method is slow trolling live baits (cigar minnows, herring, or hard tails). Use a stinger or Carolina king rig with a 4oz to 8oz trolling lead and troll wrecks and reefs as slow as you can go.
Pier fisherman will catch plenty of king drifting a live or frozen cigar minnow off the end of the pier. Many will also be caught casting large spoons, Berkley swim baits (5 or 6 inch size), plugs, and big rattle traps.
Starting in May and throughout the summer, chicken dolphin will inhabit near shore reefs, wrecks and weed lines. Every day I am asked where the weed lines are and while we do try and keep track some years there aren't many weed lines. Don’t let this deter you from catching chicken dolphin. Take an old newspaper with you., then go to a local reef or wreck and lay the newspaper out over the water. Go somewhere else and fish for about a 30 minutes to an hour, and come back and most surely there will be chicken dolphin. If it is rough out the paper may not hold up, in this case, use tarp with a couple buoys to make an imitation weed line.
To catch the chicken dolphin, troll small spoons or feathers, cast jigs, spoons, Gotcha lures or swim baits.
Spanish will bite all summer but just not in the numbers in which we catch them in the Spring. Then again in Fall we can see the big numbers. Summer Spanish do tend to be bigger fish.
Spanish can be caught trolling the bay, harbor, pass and along the sand bars just off the beach with straw rigs, spoons and Yo-zuri lures. You can also get good numbers of Spanish off the piers and jetties using jigs, Gotcha lures, spoons, bubble rigs and Yo-zuri lures.
Spanish are excellent eating, fun and easy to catch and provide all day fun for kids!!
Tarpon will be all along the coast. They are one of the most exciting species to catch but also offer quite the challenge. To catch tarpon from the boat you need to get down the beach about 5 or 10 miles from the pass in either direction. Right around the pass the tarpon tend not to bite as well with all the boat traffic, especially in very clear water.
Tarpon will take a variety of live baits fished on a light hook and 60lb fluorocarbon. The best live baits are cigar minnows, herring and LY’s.
One of the best things to throw are the Berkley swim baits in the 6in size. For some reason the swim baits drive the tarpon nuts. Don’t try and move the swim baits to fast. Be very stealthy and either drift, anchor or use a trolling motor. Your main motor will need to be off to get the tarpon to come to you. You can sneak up on them with a trolling motor.
Pick out a area of natural bottom or large wreck. Mix a batch of chum, some for a chum bag and some for tossing over chunk style. Use a few pieces of bonita or mackerel for bait. There are plenty of sharks all year if you just want a tug on the line.
You will need a 80lb rod and reel combo spooled 80lb or 100lb line braid or mono. Your leader should be 150lb to 250lb wire with a 12/0 to 16/0 circle.
Surf, Jetty and Pier Fishing
The surf and jetty will provide plenty of action for those looking for pompano, whiting, Spanish mackerel, ladyfish and hardtails.
Pompano and Whiting
Pompano and whiting can be caught bottom fishing with sand fleas, fresh peeled shrimp and fiddler crabs. Another method that can be used is casting jigs from the surf, pier or jetty bounced along the bottom.
You can catch king mackerel from from the pier using live or frozen cigar minnows drifted off the end of the pier. Cast plugs or swim baits also work. You will need to rig with 40lb to 60lb wire because of the teeth on kings.
Spanish Mackerel will be chasing small baits along the coast. Use spoons, Gotcha lures and jigs. Look for birds working along the beach and jetty.
All summer there are plenty of sharks to be caught surf fishing. Very early morning, just before sunset and after dark they can be very plentiful. Some of the piers allow you to shark fish, both of the piers in Panama City Beach and the Navarre Pier allow shark fishing dusk till dawn. You can not shark fish from the Okaloosa pier.
Tarpon can be caught at the piers using and assortment of live baits and lures. Rig live baits on a 60lb mono leader with a circle hook or treble hook. The best live baits are cigar minnows, herring, and hardtails.
Berkley swim baits in 6in size are by far the best of all lures and in most cases tend to get mote bites than even live baits. They also take spoons, rattle traps, and Yo-zuri plugs.
Ladyfish and Hardtails
Ladyfish and hardtails take spoons, gotcha lures and straw rigs. They can be caught from the pier, surf or jetties. While neither are really good eating they make for hours of fun. Ladyfish make excellent bait if you want to fish for sharks in the surf.
Trout and Redfish
With summer temps, both trout and reds will be on the flats early and late in the day. They will congregate around boat docks that have deep water access during the heat of the day. These trout and reds will bite topwater plugs, Berkley Gulps, Savage Shrimp, DOA Shrimp and live baits. The best live baits are shrimp, menhaden and finger mullet.
There will also be bull reds near the bridges that lead out the passes. The bull reds like live pinfish and live cigar minnows. Fish a Carolina rig with about a 2oz lead with a circle hook.
Amberjack open August 1.