If you are a visiting Forgotten Coast angler, here is a fast start guide to help you find and catch fish. So read on, and then enjoy our coastal fishing.
Fishing Software-Pro Angler, Outcast, Windy, Weather Underground, and Pro Tides. There are many handy apps available. These are just the ones I find helpful.
License-Florida requires a saltwater license. Information on fishing regulations and licensing requirements are available on line at MyFWC.com
Where to Fish-Postom Bayou, west of the Tillie Miller Bridge in Carrabelle , Carrabelle Beach area (far west end and far east end, fishing is prohibited in areas posted), Yent’s Bayou off Highway 98, Carrabelle River (East side north of Tillie Miller Bridge there is a fishing pier, and the pavilion on Marine Street in Carrabelle is popular).
You can wade grass beds from the new Island View Park or use the fishing piers in the park. It is located east of Carrabelle on Highway 98. You can wade the grass beds all along Highway 98, just drive east of Carrabelle and after you pass the FSU Marine Lab and pick a spot. Do not cut through posted property.
Bald Point State Park located on Alligator Point Road has fishing pier and beach area to fish in Ochlockonee Bay or on the Gulf. There is also a fishing pier on the east side of the Ochlockonee Bay (Take the first right off 98E after crossing the Ochlockonee Bay bridge.) There is a small fee to use this fishing pier.
You can bridge/pier fish in Eastpoint. Just head toward St. George Island from Highway 98 and you’ll see the entrance to the fishing bridge/pier on the left just before the approach to St George Island bridge. You can also fish the southern bridge/pier by crossing over to St. George Island. Just as you arrive on St. George Island the bridge/pier entrance is on your left. These bridge/pier locations are great destinations for winter time sheepshead.
Dr. Julian G. Bruce St. George Island State Park provides good fishing on the inside for inshore species or off the beaches for Whiting, Spanish Mackerel, etc. You can fish the pass between Dog Island and St. George Island without a boat. Go to the Park entrance to get a pass for $6.50 to an area where only about 20 cars a day are allowed. You might bag a huge Redfish in this area!
Live and Cut Bait-Live pinfish, live shrimp, mud minnows or cut bait can be used. You can get frozen cut bait at local markets. I like cut mullet but others like cigar minnows or squid. Live Blue Crabs or half a blue crab will get you a Black Drum or Red fish. Just let it sit on the bottom. Fiddler crabs, well, you got to chase them down but they are good for sheepshead.
Artificials-There are many artificial lures on the market. Everyone has their favorites. These are a few of mine:
A Gulp 3-inch shrimp on a ¼ ounce jig head fished on the bottom or under a popping cork will catch most inshore species. New Penny, and White are good colors for shrimp imitations. The chartreuse Gulp Swimming Mullet will score, too. Leave the hook exposed if you use soft plastics on a jig head under popping cork. You can fish these same plastics on a jig head and bounce the lure along the bottom. This is an effective Flounder presentation. Z-Mann soft plastics work well but add scent paste to them to increase the hits.
Top water is fun in the early morning and evening. I like the Spook in bone color and the Chug Bug and other top water lures in a mullet pattern.
The grass beds close to shore will produce Reds if you throw gold spoons and spinner baits. When picking spinner baits, make sure the hook extends past the spinner blades to increase your hook ups.
My favorite plug is a slow sinking Mirrolure. You can tailor the retrieve to the species. They mimic bait fish in movement and pattern. On the grass beds you can use a 5-9 second drop down time and moderate, varied retrieve to lure in the trout. Fast, very fast retrieve for mackerel. That said there are many slow sinkers on the market today. Try them, they do catch fish.
Tackle-I use spinning tackle for beach and grass beds. Most folks prefer a 7-foot rod but I prefer 7 ½ to 8 ft with a medium action to get those extra yards so the fish aren’t spooked. You don’t have to spend a lot of money on a rod. The Andes brand is inexpensive and tough. You also do not need an expensive reel (but they are nice when you hang big fish on light tackle). The lower end Penn and Shimano reels are quite adequate. I suggest a 2500 or 3000 series in the Shimano. Spend about $100 for your rod and reel and you’ll have a nice light tackle rig.
I like long leaders, 3 feet or longer,unless I am fishing under a popping cork. I use 18” to 22” inch leaders under a popping cork. Fluorocarbon is a good leader material choice because saltwater fish have teeth which wear mono fast. I prefer braided line in a dark color. Some of the folks like to see their line clearly so they favor light colors, but I find the some of the light colors fade rapidly in Florida sun and saltwater.
You don’t need expensive gear but you do need to spray it lightly with fresh water after each trip if you want it to last.
Things I Don’t Leave Home Without- A comfortable PFD if I am going to be on any kind of boat. A boater that does not wear a PFD, is like a driver who doesn’t wear a seat belt. Enough said. Water or Gatorade! And lots of it! Cell phone in waterproof case in a pocket or tied to me. A sheath knife, I can get to fast. I cut loose catfish, sharks and rays because they can wreck light tackle and inflict nasty wounds if not properly handled. Just sayin’.
Polarized sun glasses? They are a must. I have expensive ones and cheap ones. I swear the glass ones are clearer but that may be my imagination. As long as the lenses are made of poly carbonate and are polarized, they will protect your eyes and help you spot fish.
Skin cancer is a very real threat to the saltwater fish hunter. Use at least the 70 SPF. I like the Equate brand from Walmart made for babies. It lasts a long time. Another plus is no diaper rash! If that puts you off, try the more expensive Neutrogena in a high SPF, available at Amazon. Wear a hat and a buff to protect your face, neck and ears. I usually fish in gloves with semi fingers to protect my hands.
Remember, fish to relax and enjoy the outdoors. So, get on island time! Slow down. Enjoy your fishing time on The Forgotten Coast. I hope these tips help you catch’em and release those not needed for the pan.