One of the great things about Panama City Beach is that it’s surrounded by water on three sides, and each side supports a distinctly different aquatic ecosystem. From the back water creeks and bayous of East Bay and West Bay to the white sand beaches that stretch for miles along the coast, diversity is something you will find no shortage of here.
Settling on a species is often the most difficult pre-trip decision since there is such a wide variety of fish to target. You never know what a day on the water might entail, so it’s best to be flexible and have a couple of different rigs at the ready so you can take advantage of opportunities as they arise.
As we transition into the fall/winter seasons, a lot of exciting events begin to take place. When the days shorten and water temperatures start to cool, fish begin congregating in big schools that will follow bait to warmer waters. Migration patterns differ for different species of fish, and their routes can vary greatly in distance. For example, speckled trout may move only a couple of miles before holing up in deep bayous to wait out the winter. Spanish mackerel, on the other hand, will leave the area altogether during the winter months. The good part about the annual migration is that fish tend to be opportunistic when they are on the move, and this can lead to some really great angling adventures.
Not all fish will actually migrate during the winter, however. Redfish are at home in a wide range of temperatures, and I have found winter fish in all the same places where I typically find them during the warmer months. Water levels and frontal systems play larger roles in redfish behavior than cold temperatures alone. Late fall cold fronts are often accompanied by very low water levels — so low that some grass flats dry out. When this happens, the redfish have to move into deeper water until the levels rise to the point that they can return to the flats in search of shrimp, crabs and mullet.
One of the most highly anticipated migrations is the annual flounder run that starts as early as mid-September and extends into early November. Flounder move out into the Gulf of Mexico through passes and inlets and can be caught by the hundreds if you happen to be in the right place at the right time. These fish are very aggressive and will attack both natural and artificial lures. Flounder are high-quality table fare but should be harvested in moderation so that the population stays healthy. Remember, it’s not the “take” that makes a fishing trip successful … it’s what we put back and leave for the next generation that matters most.