September is definitely blackfin tuna season. For those who have not started exploring this untapped resource, you are missing the boat on this one. It has really caught on in Destin and the other coastal areas of the panhandle have the same fishery. Just need to GET OUT THERE and give it try.
You don’t need to run way offshore to catch blackfin. Many are caught in the 1-3 mile range off the beach.
September also brings the best of the inshore sailfish action.
Bottom fishing is excellent this month, the crowds of tourist drop considerably after Labor Day and it is a wonderful time of the year to be here as you can have almost any fishing spot to yourself.
Grouper tend to like natural bottom better than wrecks, but they will congregate on wrecks and you can catch grouper on the beach reefs. 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.
Red grouper, unlike most bottom fish, seem to bite better on trash bait. Trash bait 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. Also, we catch them in much shallower water. normally 50ft to 150ft depths.
Amberjack are generally found around 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 1 lb to 3lbs but we catch them up to 7lbs. If these little guys grew to 20 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!
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. Best to use live cigar minnows, pinfish or frozen northern mackerel.
Near Shore Fishing
Blackfin tuna will be on the move. You can catch them chumming over deepwater ledges and wrecks. Use live cigar minnows, herring, pinfish or chunk baits. You can also catch them butterfly jigging.
Closer to the beach in the 1 to 10 mile range you will find the tuna chasing schools of bait over natural bottom and wrecks. These tuna are mostly caught trolling live cigar minnows on fluorocarbon leaders, much like trolling for kings. When trolling for the tuna put out a couple birds and squid chains to attract them into your spread of baits.
They can also be caught chasing the busting fish and throwing topwater poppers.
Sailfish will be biting along the beach reefs and wrecks. Most are caught by accident be fisherman targeting kings or blackfin tuna. For those select few that actually target these sailfish using an offshore spread of ballyhoo, squid chains and teasers they have better luck than you might think. The sailfish are here in good enough numbers that many days the spot as many as a dozen at the local piers and even catch one time to time off the piers.
Kings will become steady this month and one of the main targets of charter boats and recreational fisherman alike. Baitfish will begin 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 25 and 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 4 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. Lots 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 yesterdays news paper with you. Go to a local reef or wreck and lay the news paper out over the water. Go somewhere else and fish for about a 30 minutes to a 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 if I know it is going to be rough I use tarp with a couple buoys to make my imitation weed line.
To catch the chicken dolphin, troll small spoons or feathers, cast jigs, spoons, Gotcha lures or swim baits.
Pick out an 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.
Fish along edges, deep water wrecks, weed lines and rips. Best to troll with Yo-zuri bonita, deep running plugs, ballyhoo rigged on an Islander, or soft head lure. Troll 5-8 knots. Downriggers and outriggers can be very effective allowing you to fish multiple lines at multiple depths. Run your downriggers at depths of 50ft to 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. Watch the bottom machine for bait pods as this is a good indication of the depth the downrigger should be.
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 and using a service like Hilton’s offshore or Roff’s for finding fishing locations really pays off. They offer offshore temperature, currents, and chlorophyl; all good indicators of where the bait and the fish will be located.
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.
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 4 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 3 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 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 day 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 form the small football size to well over 200lbs here along the panhandle area!
Surf, Jetty and Pier Fishing
The surf and jetty will provide plenty of action for those looking for pompano, whiting, Spanish mackerel, ladyfish and hardtail.
You can catch King Mackerel from from the pier using live or frozen cigar minnows drifted off the end of the pier. Also cast plugs or swim baits. 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.
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.
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.
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.
Trout and Redfish
With summer temps, the trout and reds will both be on the flats early and late in the day. They will both 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.
Flounder will start to show up in October in fair numbers along with a few sheepshead. Look for the best flounder runs to come in November and December. The best of the sheepshead fishing will be December-February.