Dropping a Line: A Guide to Fishing Along the Gulf Coast
Gulf ports offer great opportunities to get away for excellent saltwater fishing opportunities.
John Felsher Photographs
Gulf Coast anglers suffered greatly in the past few years from hurricanes and a massive oil spill that affected waters from Southeast Louisiana to the Florida peninsula, but the fishing came back better than ever. People planning fishing vacations might consider heading east to one of these destinations for outstanding action on a variety of fish species.
The town of Biloxi, Miss., sits astride a peninsula with Biloxi Bay, also known as Back Bay, on the northern side. To the south, a pass between Biloxi and Ocean Springs connects the bay to Mississippi Sound. The bay averages about four- to 13-feet-deep with some dredged channels. Throughout the entire estuary and adjacent waters, anglers can often find excellent fishing for several species.
“We have Gulf fishing, river fishing, island fishing, surf fishing and bay fishing, all combined in one general area,” says Robert Brodie of Team Brodie Charters in Biloxi ((228) 392-7660, TeamBrodieCharters.com). “In late spring or early summer, the bay is full of white trout, channel mullet, drum and sheepshead.”
Petit Bois, Ship, Cat and Horn islands separate Mississippi Sound from the Gulf of Mexico. During the summer, many people wade the beaches to fish the surf for redfish up to 50 pounds and large numbers of speckled trout. Others concentrate on the deep channels near the islands to tempt big black drum and other species.
“The eastern part of Horn Island has great surf fishing,” Brodie says. “Fishing around the barrier islands is very diverse. Besides redfish, trout and flounder, we catch bluefish, sharks, cobia, huge Spanish mackerel – just about anything that swims in Mississippi waters. Summer is also a great time to catch pompano around the islands. Starting in April and running through October, we sight-fish for tripletail, which hang around the buoys and crab trap floats.”
An arm of the Gulf of Mexico, Mississippi Sound extends about 90 miles along the coast, extending into Louisiana and Alabama waters. Around sunken boats, casualties of numerous storms, anglers often catch monster speckled trout, plus redfish, Spanish mackerel and other species in Mississippi Sound.
“About 85 percent of my fishing for big trout is in Mississippi Sound,” says Yano Serra with Speck Tackle Lure Guide Service ((251) 610-0462, SpeckTackleLure.com). “For bigger trout, I usually use live croakers for bait.”
For area information, visit GulfCoast.org.
Mobile Bay, Ala.
As the fourth largest estuary in the United States, Mobile Bay encompasses more than 413 square miles. It measures 31 miles long and 24 miles at its widest point. Most of the bay averages 10 feet deep, but dredged channels drop to more than 75 feet deep in places. Several rivers flow into the bay, feeding a fertile estuary full of various fish species.
Many people tempt speckled trout around the sandbars, small islands and oyster reefs of the bay. If you’re looking for trout, first look for bait. Specks eat a variety of morsels including shrimp, mullets, menhaden, croakers and other forage species, but bigger trout tend to eat more baitfish than shrimp. A five-pound speck can easily swallow a 12-inch mullet.
The bay and surrounding marshes also hold good numbers of redfish. Redfish eat almost anything, but like nothing better than a blue crab. They frequently hunt along weedy shorelines looking for the delectable crustaceans.
“Redfish eat anything, but they love crabs,” explains Bobby Abruscato, a professional redfish angler with A-Team Fishing Adventures ((251) 661-7696, ATeamFishing.com). “With the blades spinning, I believe redfish think a spinnerbait is a crab. I’ve probably caught more redfish on spinnerbaits than any other bait.”
Flounder migrate into and out of the estuary twice each year. After spending the winter in deep Gulf waters, flounder move inshore in the spring and generally start showing up around March or April. Early in the season, look for flounder at the river mouths. Big flounder also hang around some gas rigs in Mobile Bay during the summer.
South of Mobile, the Fort Morgan Peninsula separates Mobile Bay from the Gulf of Mexico. Dauphin Island and the extreme southwestern Alabama mainland create the eastern shoreline. Since the bay opens to the gulf, anglers might also encounter jack crevalle, Spanish mackerel and tripletail or head into the gulf to challenge tuna, wahoo and billfish.
For area information, visit CityOfMobile.org.
Historic Pensacola Bay near the town of the same name stretches about 13 miles long by two-and-a-half miles wide in two parts. The Gulf Intracoastal Waterway runs through the bay, connecting Escambia Bay to East Bay. The system opens to the Gulf through Pensacola Pass. The entire estuary can provide good fishing for redfish, speckled trout, sheepshead, black drum, flounder and other species. Occasionally, jack crevalle, cobia, Spanish mackerel, bluefish and other species enter the bay from the Gulf of Mexico.
In late winter, anglers catch lunker trout. In the spring, attention shifts to sheepshead. Most average five to 10 pounds, but some top 14 pounds. Sheepshead congregate around bridge and dock pilings, crunching barnacles and snatching shrimp or crabs. In the summer, the bay holds king and Spanish mackerel. By early fall, anglers target specks until mid-October when redfish action turns hot. In the fall, people sight-cast topwater baits to large pods of hungry redfish. Most reds average 15 to 25 pounds, but some break 40 pounds.
“Every month we have a run of some type of fish,” says John Rivers of Mega-Bite Inshore Charters ((850) 341-9816, MegaBiteInshore.com). “In Pensacola Bay, people can fish flats in one foot of water for redfish or 60-foot holes for red snapper I’ve seen schools of 100 to 500 redfish on the surface. The water boils with activity. I’ve even caught cobia in the bay.”
For area information, visit VisitPensacola.com.
Although Destin, Fla., hosts one of the largest offshore charter boat fleets in the United States, sportsmen can also find great action close to shore. North of Destin, Choctawhatchee Bay measures about 27 miles long by five miles wide and covers 129 square miles. The Choctawhatchee River flows into the system from the east. The bay opens to the Gulf primarily through Destin Pass. The bay averages about 15 feet deep, but does contain some holes dropping to more than 45 feet deep.
“We have very diverse habitat in the bay,” says David “Catfish” Knight, ((850) 837-7121, (850) 259-1110). “In May and June, I fish the grass flats with topwater baits for trout. For reds, we fish live shrimp near the bridge pilings and docks, but also fish back in the marshes and bayous with lures. In June and July, we catch jack crevalle, Spanish mackerel, trout and redfish on topwater lures.”
Anglers looking for bigger action need not run far. About five miles from the pass, natural bottom structure in about 60 to 90 feet of water hold good populations of red snapper and other reef fish. From about March through May, cobia migrate from east to west along the northern Gulf Coast and may come within a mile of shore in water less than 12 feet deep.
For area information, see EmeraldCoastFL.com or BeachesOfSouthWalton.com.
Panama City, Fla.
An incredibly rich ecosystem, St. Andrews Bay covers about 25,000 acres near Panama City, Fla. The system includes Grand Lagoon, West Bay, North Bay and East Bay. It connects to the gulf through a pass near St. Andrews State Park. Another pass connects to St. Andrews Sound toward the east.
“This is an awful good area to fish,” says Jeff Gager of J & J Charters ((850) 527-9730, SomedayLadyFishingCharters.com). “A lot of sheepshead and redfish hang around the jetties at the pass. We also catch bluefish, Spanish mackerel and small grouper there. At certain times of year, flounder move in and out of the Gulf. We have a good speckled trout fishery in the bays and backwaters over the grass flats.”
With little fresh water flowing into the bay except from some creeks and springs, the estuary remains very salty and incredibly clear, creating excellent sight-fishing conditions. Emerald water over sparkling sand flats remind anglers of the Florida Keys. Salt marshes and extensive grass beds provide habitat for numerous species.
“The fishery here is very diverse,” says Jason Stacy of Shallow Water Expeditions Guide Service ((850) 534-4349, ShallowWaterExpeditions.com). “We can fish the backcountry for redfish at dawn and the flats later in the morning. Then, we can fish along the gulf beaches for cobia, mackerel, jacks, pompano and tarpon. Since the water is so salty, many gulf species come fairly close to shore. We’ve caught 60-pound cobia in the trough between the first sandbar and the shoreline.”
For area information, visit VisitPanamaCityBeach.com.
Whether dropping a shrimp next to a bridge piling, tossing live bait to cobia or battling a monster redfish, the northern Gulf Coast still offers anglers abundant fishing opportunities. Anglers could spend a lifetime casting for lunkers in these locations and never fish the same spot twice.