A Fishermans Guide to Fort Walton Florida

Ft. Walton’s clear blue water is not only excellent for swimming and snorkeling; it’s also home to a large variety of gamefish, and fishing is one of the area’s premium attractions. Since Ft. Walton is generally not as crowded as other top spots on the panhandle, like Destin and Panama City, the fishing pressure is generally not as great. There should be plenty of room for you in the surf, on the pier, in the bay, or offshore.

Spring, summer, and fall are the most productive times for surf fishing and fishing from the jetty. One of the hot spots is the east jetty. Go to Pat’s with your aerator-bait bucket and buy some bull minnows and head to the jetty. If the tide’s going out, fish the beach side, and if it’s coming into the bay, fish the Ft. Walton side. Walk out near the end of the jetty and insert a circle hook through the hard area just past the minnow’s lips. Use a one-ounce egg sinker, with a 12″ leader. Fishing just beyond the rocks will usually produce flounder, black snapper, and redfish. Winter is a great time to hook up with some trophy redfish and gator trout. You probably won’t catch as many fish in cold weather, but the ones you do land will be big. Try a natural-looking Berkley gulp shrimp on a 1/2-ounce lead head, fished from the jetty or in the surf. Also, fishing in the surf with sand fleas is almost always productive, and the fleas are pretty easy to catch in the wet sand with a metal screen.

Another great fishing venue is the Okaloosa Island pier. If you forgot your rod, you can rent one at the pier. They also sell bait, tackle, and snacks. Best of all, no license is required. Some amazing catches have been hooked from the pier: huge tarpon, cobia, dolphin, trophy reds, tuna, and bonito. One year an angler on the pier landed a 42-lb king mackerel – larger than any king caught in the mackerel tournament! Even a rare sailfish is caught from time to time. If you just want to catch dinner, flounder, trout, pompano, and whiting are usually biting in the shallower water. The bait shack at the pier will tell you what’s biting and which bait you need to use.

Ft. Walton has a fine offshore fishing fleet, with experienced captains who know where to go to hook you up with a big bruiser. Most boats include rods, tackle, bait, and ice in the price. Contact the crew beforehand to find out what is and isn’t included. For example, some boats provide drinks and snacks, and some don’t. Trolling and sportfishing will produce catches like blue and white marlin, cobia, sailfish, and king mackerel. Fishermen can book a half-day trip, a whole-day trip, or even an overnight trip. For more information on offshore Ft. Walton charters, visit www.ftwalton.com/pages/fishing.

A great way for the whole family to enjoy a fishing trip is to make the short drive to the Destin Harbor and book passage on a big party fishing boat like the Swoop I or II. The craft are 65′ long and hold 45 passengers. Kids and beginners are welcome. The air-conditioned vessels take you out deep sea fishing for grouper, snapper, amberjack, and cobia. The price includes tackle, bait, license, and ice, and the mates bait your hook, take the fish off, and put them on ice. All you have to do is haul ’em in! When you return to the dock, they’ll even clean and fillet your catch and bag it for you. Now that’s my kind of fishing! Check out www.scooppartyboat.com for all the available information.

Fishing can be a wonderful activity, especially in the Florida Panhandle. Each fishing method offers its own advantages. Pier fishing offers great views into the clear water, while fishing from the jetty produces some great table fare. For surf fishing, I usually just cast my line, then kick back in a lounge chair until I get a strike. Offshore trolling offers some heart-pounding battles, and the crew on a party boat pampers its guests. One of these will surely appeal to every angler and to would-be anglers. Actually, you might want to try them all next time you’re in the Ft. Walton area!