Fishing Panama City Beach, Florida
The bell rang at 3:25 to signify the end of another school week and the beginning of March Break. I was out the door quicker than the kids and into my van which was already fully loaded for our trip to Panama City Beach, Florida. A quick stop at home to connect the trailer that housed the 2 kayaks we were taking with us and then to pick up my two cohorts that were making the trip along with me.
Leaving at 4:00pm would have meant hitting Detroit at 5:00pm, the middle of rush hour, so I ignored the GPS and took an alternate route that would take us about an hour longer, but would avoid any traffic tie-ups that would test my patience, especially when I was so excited to get to our destination. We drove through the night, arriving in Panama City Beach, 19 hours later at 10:00am. After some breakfast at one of the many Pancake Houses, we found our campsite and got set up for the week.
My first order of business was to hit the local tackle shop. I had been emailing with Sunjammers for the two weeks leading up to the trip so it was high time to meet them in person. It is a well outfitted shop specializing in kayak fishing. After purchasing some needed tackle and getting some tips, I was off to hit a local spot near the top of the bay for some redfish action. I unloaded about 5:00pm, but as we had not moved the clocks, the sun was pretty low on the horizon. The one thing they didn’t mention at the tackle shop were the “no-see-ums”, biting bugs so small that you could barely see them. I tried getting out on the water, but fishing was next to impossible with the irritation of these tiny bugs that I had no defense against. By 6:00 the sun was so low and the bugs were so annoying I gave up even trying to fish and headed back to the campsite. Tomorrow is another day and another chance to catch fish.
We decided to head out on a party boat the next day for some fishing. For $75 each, we spent 10 hours out on the water. A 2 hour trip out to the fishing grounds and we were into red snappers, grouper and something called B-runners. Unfortunately the snappers and groupers were out of season, but we did bring back a full stringer of fish for dinner.
I had some more exploring to do. The state park was right at the pass that leads from the bay into the gulf. I spent Monday fishing that area out of my Hobie PA using shrimp from another of the local tackle shops. I managed to catch a few fish, but not the redfish or sheepshead that I was after (two species I had never caught). I was able to get some more intel on the area and found a spot around a jetty in the park where I spent Tuesday.
My first cast in the new area, and I hook into a sheepshead. They are about the size of a 2-3 pound smallmouth, but have the fight of a 8 pound smallmouth. They sure are a lot of fun. As well as catching a number of them, I also managed to catch my first redfish. Not big enough to keep, but it was a start. As the tide changed, the bite slowed down. So I moved around into the pass and found a flat where there were weeds and I could anchor up and fish. Other boats were there so it seemed like a good spot to try. I tossed a shrimp in and waited. It didn’t take long till I had great fight on my hands. Turned out to be a 22 inch redfish. That went into the keeper bag. Also managed a small grouper in that spot.
I then moved around in the pass and started to pick up Spanish Mackerel that would hit anything shiny that moved. That added to the tally in the bag. The highlight of the day came when I had just pulled in smaller Mackerel. As I was removing the treble hook from it’s mouth, one of the many dolphins in the area surfaced about 3 feet from the side of my kayak. It sat there in the water, with it’s head protruding, just looking at me and my fish. I realized what it wanted, and tossed my catch into it’s mouth. Was very cool. Found out a little later talking to someone in a boat that there is a big fine if you get caught feeding the dolphins, so needless to say, I didn’t try that again. Tuesday was a great day on the water, and it was time to head home and start cleaning the catch for supper.
Wednesday we had a different plan. Me and one of my friends decided to take the kayaks into the back bay area I had fished the first day. It was a chance to paddle around and explore some of the flats. My buddy managed to catch a couple of sea trout and I managed a couple of redfish. The fishing was not as exciting, but seeing a different area was quite good.
Thursday was our last day, so I decided to take it easy and spent the day at the beach with some friends who were also down in Florida for the March Break.
And Friday, we left in the morning for the trip home.
Besides these highlights, it is worth noting that this well rounded fishing trip was extremely economical. It took about 6 tanks of gas to get down and back. So we each filled the van up twice at a cost of about $65 per tank. Camping was $30 a night, or $10 each. We ate a lot of fish, and spent about $150 total on groceries, or about $50 each. So for $250 each, we had a great holiday in Florida. Of course there were extra expenses, some tackle, a few dozen shrimp, (at $4/doz), the day out on the party boat fishing, and we went out for dinner a couple times.
I sure hope to do a trip like this again, exploring, fishing and having fun. And taking in the odd sunset.