The fishing around Panama City Beach is very good right now for a handful of reasons. For one thing, there’s a vast amount of food available for fish to eat. Secondly, all the rain we’ve had over the past several weeks has stained the bay water in many areas. Personally, I like a little stained water because it seems to make the fish a lot less skittish. If you plan on sightfishing, then you’ll definitely want to try do it on the high side of an incoming tide when you have clean gulf water pushing into the bay. Once the tide starts falling, it will pull dirty water from the Intracoastal Waterway and clarity will diminish in spots.
The speckled trout bite has been very good around grassy points with sufficient tidal flow and where the bottom has some depth variation. Bigger fish like to hang out in the deeper sandy spots between sandbars, oyster beds or grass beds where they can ambush shrimp, mullet and other baitfish such as pilchards, glass minnows and pinfish that get swept around the point with the current. If you approach quietly, then you’ll often see several large trout laid up together or in very close proximity to each other.
I like to target the specks with shrimp patterns or weedless swimbaits. Natural presentations are key to consistently getting the bigger fish to eat when throwing artificial lures. Of course, you can always pitch a live pilchard to them on a flat-line or with a very light split shot, using no more than about 10-pound leader and a small, strong hook.
The redfish bite continues to be excellent on both live and artificial baits. When targeting schools in deeper sand, I stop the boat and live chum pilchards or menhaden to bring the school to me. Once the school starts feeding, it doesn't really matter what you use to catch them but you’ll have more success with live bait.
When targeting fish in the shallows, along shorelines or on skinny grass flats, I prefer to use my trolling motor to cover a lot of water and look for potential hot spots – flooded marsh grass, points on the outside of a small ditch or creek, sandbars, potholes, broken bottom and any other transition points. I generally use topwater or soft plastic baits on a light lead head but weedless spoons and various plugs are also very productive.
If you are simply looking for some action, bait is plentiful out in the middle of the bay and any one of those baitballs could have a ton of hungry fish on it. It pays to stop and throw a few different lures into the school a few times just to see what happens. Modern electronics (like my Humminbird Solix G2 with down and side scan) are definitely a plus for this kind of fishing because you can determine location, depth and even identify species before making a cast. I start with a big jig to find out whether any redfish, cobia, jacks, tarpon or gag grouper are hanging out underneath the baitballs. Tossing a jumbo live bait is another great way to get hooked up on a trophy but, if nothing happens, then you can opt for a smaller spoon or something shiny to target mackerel or bluefish.
As always, if you have questions about what’s biting, how to catch them or want to book a trip, give me a call or shoot me an email. Good luck!