Although this area of Florida is referred to as the forgotten coast, it should not be forgotten when it comes to fishing destinations. Fishing the Florida Panhandle is one of the best experiences for fishermen in the southeast.
The major species target here is redfish, so if you’re not as familiar with catching them, I’d check out this article where I break down how to catch them. This region of Florida has some of the most pristine white beaches and shallow grass flats that make it an amazing place to not only fish but to visit.
Below I will review 9 hidden gems when it comes to fishing grounds. I will review what you can expect to catch and a little bit about the environment. If you are thinking about fishing the Florida Panhandle, these are the places I recommend you check out.
1. Apalachicola: St George Island
Apalachicola is located roughly 20 miles east of Port St. Joe. It is a small town bordering the dump out of the Apalachicola River into a Large Bay.
The bay is surrounded by Islands making it a protected habitat with great fishing. On the south side of the barrier islands is the Gulf of Mexico. One of these barrier islands is St. George Island, which is one of the best fishing areas on the West Coast of Florida. A series of inlets from the bay to the gulf allow ocean water to meet the river discharge, creating a very rich environment.
How is the Fishing in Apalachicola?
The Bay is a mixture of clear water grass flats with sporadic oyster bars. This is a key ingredient for healthy fish populations of redfish, trout, black drum, and sheepshead.
You can expect to encounter these species all year round. Apalachicola is a prime destination for sight fishermen wanting to fish shallow water redfish on fly.
On the outside of the barrier islands is an exceptional tarpon fishery in the summer months. Tarpon will begin to show up around June as they continue their move towards the Alabama coastline.
Staking the boat along sandy points of the islands can make for some incredible sights of large strings of tarpon moving up the coast.
One of the most underrated places on earth is Destin, FL. The beaches of Destin are absolutely breathtaking and I would venture to say that it has some of the clearest water in the country.
Although Destin does have a larger population of fishermen, there are some unique aspects to fishing the area.
Fishing in Destin, FL
To the North of Destin is Choctawhatchee Bay. This bay is very large, made up of deep water and shallow grass edges.
Similar to most places in Florida, you can expect to catch redfish, trout, jacks, and sheepshead. What is unique about this area is the large population of breeder size redfish.
Redfish in the bay can be upwards of 30lbs in size and are often found blitzing the surface tearing apart small baitfish schools. It is rare to find these large schools on the surface for so long, but Destin is the exception.
Scouting the bay looking for birds and disturbances on the surface can lead you to one of the memorable days on the water you can have. Since the water is so clear, you can watch these large fish eat your bait or lure, and will appear as a large orange blob in the water. We refer to this as the pumpkin patch.
When these fish are on the surface feeding, they are ferocious and will typically eat anything in their path!
3. Port St. Joe
Port St. Joe is on the other side of Cape San Blas to the west of Apalachicola. Similar to most areas of the panhandle, it borders a large bay called St Joseph Bay.
The bay consists of open deep water in its center and as you venture to the southeast, will be bordered with shallow grass flats and sandbanks. The bay offers anglers the ability to find a leeward wind bank in almost any condition.
Is the fishing good in Port St. Joe?
Port St. Joe is also home to an abundance of redfish, trout, black drum, and sheepshead. What makes this area so unique to fish is the lack of pressure and the abundance of area.
As you work along the southern point of the bay you will feel as if you are in the middle of nowhere. It is about a 10 mile run to the southeastern point of the bay, but I can tell you that it is well worth it!
Tarpon fishing along the ocean, especially around Cape San Blas can be amazing in the late summer months. Along this stretch of beach also resides a series of artificial reefs which makes for great bottom fishing for grouper and snapper species.
If you are looking for seclusion, then Panacea is your place! Bordering the Ochlockonee Bay, Panacea offers a diverse terrain of small islands, grass flats, and marshes.
Unlike most of the other areas mentioned, there is immediate access to the Gulf of Mexico. As you enter the Gulf, it will remain shallow for a long period of time as it ever so gradually becomes deeper. This makes this area a great spot for targeting pelagic species, such as cobia, in shallower water.
Fishing in Panacea FL
The mouth of Ochlockonee Bay is a prime area for targeting tarpon in the summer months of June and July. As you work east, fishing around Piney Island can afford you great shots at large redfish, breeder size black drum, and some of the best trout in the state.
Most of this area is shallow and offers some great sight-fishing opportunities. Navigating these waterways can be a challenge and you should be familiar with the area before venturing off. If you are looking to visit the area, I would highly recommend hiring a guide.
5. Alligator Point
Sixty-five miles to the Southwest of Panacea is the barrier island of Alligator Point. Alligator point offers a bay system to its North and is the Southernmost point of the panhandle. The terrain is similar to that of Saint Joseph Bay, however, there are even fewer inhabitants. The Northern portion of the bay is inhabited and offers a unique old Florida feel while fishing.
How is the fishing at Alligator Point?
Alligator point is a prime location along the tarpon migration route. Along the beach around the southern bend is one of the best tarpon fishing areas within the panhandle. Lighthouse Point is a great area to start your search along the beach. Also along the western end of the island, there are a series of shallow shoals that will direct tarpon paths.
Within the bay, redfish and trout are abundant and can be fished in the shallows of the south-eastern corner of the bay or along shallow sandbars. Fishing along the oyster bars can also produce quite a few very large sheepshead. Seven miles offshore is the Ochlocknee shoal. These shallow shoals are home to some very large fish as it is a very shallow area within the gulf. You will obviously need a boat to venture into this area.
When most people think of panhandle tarpon fishing, Carrabelle comes to mind. The large Saint George Sound bordered by Dog Island is a prime area to target the Silver King. Carrabelle is also a beautiful place to visit. It is located directly between Alligator Point and Apalachicola.
Is there good fishing in Carrabelle?
Although Carrabelle is known for its tarpon fishing, there are some other great opportunities as well. Within the deeper waters of the sound, large bull redfish and black drum can be found similar to the Destin area. A healthy population of large Jack Crevalle in warmer months is a fly anglers dream. Smaller redfish can be found in the back of the sound in shallow grass flats. Trout are also present in this area.
As mentioned above the tarpon fishing in this area can be incredible. The sandy points of Dog Island make a prime area to see fish coming at you from a long-distance away. Whether you are a fly angler or a spin fisherman, this is the spot to be. Fish will be migrating from east to west.
7. Panama City
As we move West towards the Alabama border we enter a more populated environment. Panama City Beach has some of the prettiest beaches in the state, however, it is not much of a secret. If you are traveling to the area with a spouse or significant other who is looking for nightlife and plenty to do, then Panama City will be the spot. Although Panama City is a populated area, it offers some incredible fishing opportunities.
Fishing in Panama City Beach
The Panama City environment is made up of a barrier island protecting a series of bays and lagoons. Smaller redfish, trout, and black drum can be found in the back of these bays such as West Bay. These areas will be shallow grass-flat edges and a series of small creek systems.
As you venture towards the Gulf, larger species will be targeted. Breeder size redfish can be caught within Saint Andrew Bay and out along the beaches. I have personally seen some of the largest schools of giant Jack Crevalle in the bay as well.
In the spring months, Cobia will be making their way west along the beaches during their annual migration. The clear water makes it easy to find these tasty creatures in the shallow water.
Panama City Beach is also another great area to target tarpon. These fish will congregate along the Saint Andrew Bay and the pass leading to it as they migrate towards the Alabama line. This is the last pass before reaching Destin, FL. Tarpon in this area can be targeted on fly or spin tackle.
8. Mexico Beach
The small town of Mexico Beach received a lot of national attention when Category 5 Hurricane Michael made landfall in 2018. The city was virtually leveled. Mexico Beach is located between Port St. Joe and Panama City. This secluded stretch of beach is a great place to enjoy white sandy beaches with some peace and quiet.
How is fishing in Mexico Beach?
Although Mexico beach has no bay system, it is located between two prime bay areas: Saint Joseph Bay and Saint Andrew Sound. Access to the great fishing inside the eastern portion of Saint Andrew Sound is just a boat ride away.
Inside of these bays, you’ll find the usual suspects: redfish, trout, black drum, and jack crevalle. Along the beaches, cobia can be caught in the spring months and tarpon fishing is good in the summer months.
What makes Mexico Beach unique is the abundance of artificial reefs in shallow water deployed by the Mexico Beach Artificial Reef Association. These reefs are home to a variety of pelagic species such as grouper, snapper, cobia, and even small mahi.
9. Pensacola Beach
A popular beach area the last major city before entering Alabama, Pensacola is made up of a large barrier island with a series of large bays to the north. There is one pass to enter the bays from the Gulf near Fort Pickens State Park. Like Panama City, Pensacola offers an abundance of things to do besides fishing. I would highly recommend checking out the National Naval Aviation Museum while there. It is quite fascinating.
Fishing Pensacola Beach
The large bay systems are home to some giant redfish. Fishing the bridge in Pensacola bay is a great way to target these bull redfish, large black drum, and even tarpon. As you venture North into Escambia Bay, a series of river systems will create a series of small creeks and flats. These areas are prime for sight fishing redfish. Even this far into the bay, there are some really large redfish.
Fishing along the shallow beaches of the Gulf and around the pass will produce tarpon shots in the summer months. Also along the beaches will be large schools of redfish, jack crevalle, and even some kingfish outside of Caucus Shoal.
Pensacola fishing the Nipple
All of the panhandle offers access to offshore fishing in the Gulf of Mexico. The distance you must travel to reach deep water can be a long journey, however. Outside of Pensacola (Navarre to be exact), is an area where the continental shelf drops off referred to as the Nipple. The location’s name is derived from the appearance of it on satellite imagery.
The Nipple is roughly 35 miles Southeast of Pensacola and is the closest point to deep water. The steep drop and rock formations create currents that attract baitfish which in turn bring large predator fish. This is a great spot to target wahoo, dolphin, and tuna. The shelf contours from 250ft down to 400ft. Look for tide rips or weed lines to begin trolling.
What is the best month to fish in FL?
One of the most common questions I receive is when should I come down to fish in Florida. While most of the time our fishing is pretty consistent, there are some things you should know.
Redfish, trout, black drum, and flounder are present year-round. The best time to catch large numbers is in the fall before the winter months. To target tarpon, the migration begins in South Florida in April and May and will be prime on the East and West coast from June to August.
If you are looking to target a particular species, I would highly recommend hiring a guide in the local area and discussing when the best time would be to target that species.
Florida panhandle tarpon fly fishing
Second to the Florida Keys, the Florida panhandle offers some incredible tarpon fishing on fly. The extremely clear water and light bottom allow you to fly fish for tarpon even in deeper water. Some of the largest fish caught have been up the west coast.
The majority of tarpon fishing in the panhandle will be done by staking out or poling along shallow points along the ocean. The flies thrown tend to be a bit larger than those cast in the Keys. You can expect to see large strings of fish moving westward towards the Alabama coast.
Although the tarpon fishing is incredible, it can be extremely difficult. Local guides in each area have learned the optimal places to be to intercept these fish along their travels. If you are unfamiliar with an area, I would highly suggest booking a guide to go tarpon fishing.
There is a reason the Florida Panhandle is referred to as the forgotten coast. When people think about traveling to Florida, it usually is not on their minds.
If you are an avid fisherman, then you owe it to yourself to explore this area of Florida. Not only is it home to some of the clearest water in the state, but fishing the Florida Panhandle is an incredible experience.
From fishing large schools of bull reds in Destin, to fly fishing for tarpon in Carrabelle, the panhandle has it all. Even offshore fishing in the Gulf is amazing. Fishing the Florida Panhandle is an absolute must!