Maybe it's the self-reliance, or simply the release of endorphins that accompany the physical demands of self-propulsion. Whatever the reason, fish caught from a kayak come with a heightened sense of accomplishment.
This is not to imply that fishing from a kayak puts one at a competitive disadvantage; what it lacks in speed, it makes up in stealth and accessibility. The slower pace of kayaking allows anglers to better study details of topography and tide, and fish an area more precisely.
Panama City Beach offers an exceptionally rare venue featuring three very distinct kayak fisheries, each against stunning scenic backdrops.
For anglers content with fishing traditional kayak-style grassflats, the Panama City Beach area features shallow shorelines and bayous teeming with spotted seatrout, redfish, flounder and numerous other possibilities. Whether it's the crystal-clear waters and pristine seagrass meadows of St. Andrew Bay, or West Bay's spartina-lined backwaters, anglers can explore miles of stunning shorelines while encountering few other fishermen.
The beauty of kayak fishing lies in its simplicity. Everything I carry fits in one small box beneath my seat. Fish what you have confidence in-the presentation is more important than the lure. I generally rig one rod with a shallow, suspending twitchbait such as a Rapala Twitchin Rap, LiveTarget Sardine, or Egret Kick-A-Mullet. If the water is very shallow or if I get on the water at dawn-I generally venture out at the crack of noon or so-I might start with a Heddon Spook Jr topwater; there's nothing better than watching fish blow up surface lures. My second rod typically holds a soft-plastic bait rigged weedless on a weighted Owner hook. This is especially significant in the summer when seagrass grows tall and thick. Weedless spoons are also popular.
The universal rules of flats fishing apply here. Look for areas of mixed sand and seagrass. If there is tidal current, cast lures uptide or perpendicular to the flow. The Panama City Beach area experiences just one high and one low tide most days.
As good as the grassflats fishing is, it's the big-game kayak fishery that sets Panama City Beach apart. There is no easier place on the planet for kayakers to catch a bragging-size trophy. Anglers have two options that can occupy them day or night.
Nocturnal kayakers can hunt giant redfish year-round beneath the blue lights adorning the Hathaway Bridge. When they're feeding, schools aren't hard to locate; a 40-pound redfish smacking a big blue crab at the surface leaves behind an explosion and hole in the water that's hard to miss.
A pedal-driven kayak leaves hands free to fight fish, and provides a huge maneuvering advantage in dealing with current, wind and powerful fish among the concrete pilings. Headlamps are necessary for rigging, and a stern-mounted safety light and life vest are required. Bridge redfish rarely fall within the 18- to 27-inch harvest range, so bring a camera rather than a fish cooler.
Finally, the world-famous snowy-white beaches and typically docile surf conditions of Panama City Beach offer an introduction to offshore kayak fishing that rival the easiest on the planet. Natural reefs hold red snapper, grouper, flounder, black sea bass and dozens of other species enticingly close to shore. King and Spanish mackerel, cobia, blackfin tuna and even sailfish begin cruising just off the sand around the beginning of April, when water temperatures approach the 70-degree mark.
Before throwing reef species in the dinner box, check the latest updates on ever-changing harvest regulations at a local tackle or kayak shop, or dial them up at www.myfwc.com.
Other rules to live by: Check weather and wave forecasts before launching, and wear a personal floatation device. Do not venture offshore alone. Compared to most coastlines, the Gulf of Mexico features relatively tranquil surf, especially in the mornings. However, keep in mind that a surf-generating sea breeze kicks up midday, which can cap a great day on the water with an exhilarating finale. The sand is soft and the water warm, so if you roll in the waves, it just adds to the adventure.