Best Surf Fishing Florida Panhandle

Danielle Fletcher
• Saturday, 07 November, 2020
• 8 min read

Some will also offer the opportunity to slide a canoe, kayak or stand-up paddle board into the water, but all include plenty of space to fish from shore, or wade into coastal shallows. The prominent paved jetty pier on the north side, complete with safety rails offers a safe, spacious platform for reaching the surf zone or the deeper water of the inlet.

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Incoming tides always bring a push of activity, but when the fall mullet run piles an enormous biomass in and around the inlet, anglers have a field day with bull redfish, giants nook, tarpon and the occasional cuber snapper. Mangrove snapper, jacks, sleepyhead and black drum add to the mix; while the shallower end, along with the smaller south jetty may yield pompano, whiting and craters.

Species mix includes trout, weakfish, redfish, black drum, flounder and sleepyhead with the occasional striped bass. Several pull off spots provide casting access to the St. Johns River, or you can take one of the interior roads through the campground to fish the Fort George Inlet on the north side.

The mix here includes flounder, redfish, black drum, pompano, whiting, bluefish, Spanish mackerel and sharks. Deploying live baits off the deep end often yields king mackerel, tarpon, sharks and barracuda.

Also in the area: the famed Juno Beach Pier, which stretches 990 feet into the Atlantic ($4 admission, to fish). Tarpon often run this area anglers soaking live baits or sight casting big swim baits might put one in the air.

From the metered parking area to the pier is a bit of a hike, but it’s a straight shot down the walking promenade running along the cut. Both provide spacious access to a wide range of Keys favorites like snapper (mangrove, lane, mutton and yellowtail), tarpon, grouper, yellow jack, shook and porgies.

fishing george island st florida surf panhandle heron state park fish rv hubpages parks gulf mexico bird found tips catching
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The gem of Pinellas County, this 1,136-acre park comprises Madeleine, St. Jean, St. Christopher, Bone Fortune and Mullet keys and complements an impressive angling menu with campgrounds, picnic shelters, bathroom/shower facilities, concessions, bait shop, dog park and historical significance. Expect a good mix of shook, trout, redfish and flounder, along with mackerel, cobra, pompano, sharks and mangrove snapper at the piers.

Boardwalks over the protected dunes offer access to the redfish, flounder and trout waters on the marsh side, but surf fishing is the big attraction. From whiting, pompano, bluefish and mackerel; to sharks, cobra and bull reds, this is one of Western Florida ’s premier shore fisheries.

The main causeway bridge and the smaller one right before the island offer sleepyhead, black drum, shook and snapper opportunities. The piers light attract bait fish, so expect everything from shook, to trout and the occasional bluefish to stake out these feeding spots.

With beach shallows, the coastal Gulf and deep channel waters within easy reach, anglers find a steady mix of the inshore regulars, along with passing tarpon, king fish and sharks. Summer is prime time for big shook staging for their spawn; while fall sees voluminous bait fish schools exiting the inner bays, with several predators in pursuit.

Empty lots and bridge pull-offs may be convenient and cost-efficient, but a cursory scan for questionable types who clearly not fishing might offer a safety/vehicle security clue. Tip: Local businesses rarely budge on the “restrooms are for customers only” thing (many have signs posted), so don’t expect any mercy, no matter how much you grimace and squeeze your knees together.

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Commercially produced aluminum pier/bridge carts with wide wheels will easily transport your rods, tackle bag, cooler and live bait well over pavement, rocks or sand; but for casual duties, a garden utility cart (some models fold) will suffice. Waiting until you feel that cool downdraft can leave you and your gear exposed and out of options; so know where the nearest shelter lies and have a bug-out plan just in case.

It starts with respectful spacing, so if you approach an area where others are fishing, take note of where their lines are set (short, long) and allow reasonable buffers. Our main targets are Pompano and Whiting but many other species are available including Redfish, Blue Fish, Lady fish, Blue Runners, Spanish, Black Drum, Sharks, Sleepyhead and Bonita.

Tides and weather play a big part in surf fishing. The fish will bite anytime during the day but the best times are when the tide is either rising or falling.

During the warmer months, early morning and late afternoon combined with a tidal change is by far the best. During the winter months, fishing the days leading up to a cold front when the temps are slightly warmer and there is a southerly wind with some wave action is best.

You can surf fish anywhere along the coast but taking some time to pick out the perfect location on the beach will pay off. First, I would stand on top of a sand dune and look at the water with a good pair of polarized sunglasses.

report fishing surf florida heading september into pier panhandle outdoors days fall
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Look for places along the beach that are irregular as these tend to be better feeding spots. When I first arrive at the beach, I cast them all different distances looking for exactly what depth the fish are feeding.

After an hour or so, I may have all the rods in shallow water or all very deep depending on where I get my first bites. After a while you may stop getting bites and need to go back and spread out the depth of the rods to find where the fish are.

As the tide, wind, and surf conditions change the fish may initially quit biting. When this occurs, go back to your starting pattern of fishing at different depths and you will soon find where they are feeding.

It would be nice to have a smaller rod, 6ft to 7ft medium light action that you can cast pompano jigs and spoons for fish that you see cruising the shallows or busting on the surface. The nice thing about braid is it casts about 10% to 20% farther than mono, last 2 or 3 times as long but costs slightly more.

On your smaller combo used for casting jigs and spoons, use 10 lb. Mono with Owner Mute Light Hooks size #1 and pompano floats.

apollo beach surf fishing florida canaveral seashore national
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What makes Fluorocarbon invisible to fish is that it is the same density as saltwater and does not refract light. Our hand tied rigs come with a small float just above the hook.

My only problem with the spider leads is that sometimes they hold too well and don’t release from the bottom when you get a bite. You need to cast the rig out and give it just a minute for the lead to settle into the sand, then, reel the line tight where the rod has just enough tension for it to have a slight bend when placed in the rod holder.

Two things can happen when you get a bite, the fish grabs the bait and runs offshore setting the hook himself; the second the fish grabs the bait and runs towards the shore. You have heard the phrase, “Match the hatch” well, sand fleas are the most common food for fish in the surf.

The reason for fresh peeled shrimp over frozen is that when you freeze anything, ice crystals form in the frozen product and when it thaws it loses some natural oils and flavor. It then begins letting out the natural oils and flavors into the water acting much like chum to attract the fish.

Be careful not to break the shell when pushing the hook through so it will not fly off when you cast. They make small V’s in the sand where only the tentacles are exposed to filter plankton.

fishing florida trout panhandle
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Sand fleas will live well in a cooler with ice for several days. The best time to really get the sand fleas is at night when we have a high tide during the evening hours.

Some artificial choices that work well are Fish bites or Berkley Gulp Sand fleas. I have seen many sand spikes get pulled over and the rod get dragged into the water and lost.

The aluminum cart is great because it has rod holders and pulls over the sand fairly easy. The Sport Caddie glides over the sand but does not have rod holders.

I have seen many people attach rod holders to a cooler which makes the Sport Caddie the ticket. The Wheeled Sport Caddie glides over the sand easily.

While bottom fishing for Pompano, Whiting and Redfish I always have my smaller rod rigged with a pompano jig Incas I spot a fish cruising near the shore. It is also a good idea to have a few spoons or gotcha plugs in case any Spanish Mackerel, Lady fish, Blue Runners or Bonita are cruising along busting the surface.

fishing florida surf panhandle forecast report ves
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