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Fishing Report for the Florida Panhandle

Capt. Alex Crawford
June 18, 2001
Carrabelle - Saltwater Fishing Report

On May 16th, the entire Little family from Huntsville, Alabama joined me for a fun day on the big pond. Their group included father, Buddy, sons Alan and David, David's wife, Mimi and good friend Mike Smiley of Smith River, California. After many years of golfing oriented vacations in Destin, this year they decided to come to Apalach for some fishing and relaxation, away from the hustle and bustle of overcrowded Ft. Walton Beach.

Relaxation was the focus of the day for Mimi, just seven(7) weeks removed from their first child, Caroline. No rest for the weary, as Mimi hooked up and released a 20 pound blacktip shark on a 20 # class spinning outfit. The last thing her OB/GYN doctor would have prescribed was pumping and winding on a frisky shark. She did a great job fighting the shark with a hand from husband, David and encouraging words from the crew.

Mike Smiley caught the fish of the day, a beautiful 6 # red snapper. Mike enticed the chunky snapper with a Boston Mackerel on a 3/0 Owner circle hook and a 20 # fluorocarbon leader. Fluorocarbon is more expensive, but it will definitely improve your catch, especially in the clear waters of the Northern Gulf of Mexico.

Captain Tony Thompson, (www. captaintonyscharters.com ), returned to the dock this week with limits of quality fish. Gag grouper, red snapper, trigger, scamp, amberjack and grey snappers filled Captain Tony's box. With huge fillets, Captain Tony's catch for the day filled 70 Ziploc freezer bags. Tony is the man!

The successful offshore pattern has been go out at first light, when the winds are calm and return early afternoon before the ride in becomes bumpy and a little wet. We finally have escaped many days of strong unseasonable east winds and the early summer pattern of light and variable south winds have arrived.

June's arrival will usher in more favorable wind and water conditions for the obsessed offshore angler. An extremely valuable resource for the offshore fisherman is a government website called the national data buoyage center, ndbc.com. Weather stations across the U.S. coast report, in real time, extremely valuable information including ambient air temperature, water temperature, wind speed and direction, wave height and interval and much more. Over the years, I've found this information to be much more reliable than the NOAA marine forecast. Check it out!

Now is the time to plan your fishing trip to the forgotten coast. The entire compliment of offshore species are on the bite. Let's look at all of the favorite targeted species in the Apalachicola area.

Beginning this month and with an extreme amount of anticipation, the first tarpon will start to show up. One pattern that has been successful is to drift live poggies(LY's/menhaden) in the West Pass that separates St. Vincent and Little St. George islands. Since you have a legitimate shot at jumping a triple digit tarpon, at least 30 # outfits are the weapons of choice. You can cast net your live bait on the way out in the two mile channel just west of Apalach. Go early so you can see the bait schools in calm water and drift on them from up wind with your motor off. Or, buy size 8 Hayabusa Sabiki rigs. These will catch bait, when the less expensive rigs don't do as well.

King Mackerel are abundant this month and will eat a trolled CD 18, try the red head or a chrome blue Mann's Stretch 30. Don't be surprised if a big gag grouper comes out of the depths and smashes your lure. Lively hard tails(Jacks) are filet mignon to smoker Kings. Slow troll these livies over your favorite hard bottom on your downrigger and hang on. Throw over your marker buoy on the first bite, or enter the spot on your GPS and go back and catch a few more Kings from the school.

Spanish Mackerel are bigger this year, as 20 inchers are not uncommon. Captain Robyn Morgan out of Carrabelle( www.gulfpirate.com/seacraft) reports good catches of Spanish on 80# fluorocarbon leaders(no wire). Try glass minnows, live shrimp or fast troll a chartreuse nylure or 00 Clark’s spoon in the passes. Keep your binoculars handy and always look for terns and gulls working.

Coral bottoms will produce great catches of red and gag groupers, mangrove and dog snappers, triggerfish, black sea bass and white grunts(excellent eating, try it). Live baits, like squirrel fish, jacks, cigar minnows, finger mullet and poggies will be irresistible to a big black grouper. Adjust your drag to the terminator setting and yank him up immediately, so as not to get rocked up and the battle lost. Best grouper dead baits are Boston Mackerel, poggies and quality squid. Again, try circle hooks and heavy fluorocarbon leaders.

Another word about live bait. First, you will absolutely catch more fish with healthy live baits. Catch pinfish in the Government Cut on #6 hooks baited with shrimp or squid. Finger mullet can be cast netted on the bay side of Little St. George a little ways west of the cut. If you can trap some blue crabs, crack a few claws, hook them at the joint and drift them in the cut for 30 pound bull reds. Around buoys and channel markers, drop Sabiki rigs tipped with squid for hard tails. Small grunts make terrific baits for every pelagic that swims, oops, are there any that don't? Invest in as large a live bait tank as your vessel can accommodate and a 1100 GPH pump and you will start bringing home beau coups of yummy fillets.

Where can I go offshore to catch fish? That is the question I hear over and over. The prepared opportunist angler needs only to fish the publicly available numbers to be successful. All of the five Air Force training towers hold different species of fish all year round. Just pick up a free boating and angling guide to the Apalachicola Bay and you'll find the lat/lons for the towers, as well as the Franklin County reef, the Exxon template, the Empire Mica and many other productive locations out of Apalach in the Northern Gulf.

The forgotten coast of Florida is truly the real coast. The real truth is that forgotten coast is a misnomer, it should be called the unforgettable coast because the fishing is absolutely the very best in Florida. Plan your fishing trip today for an adventure you will not forget.

Captain Alex Crawford is a full time, professional charter fishing guide based in Apalachicola.

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Captain Alex Crawford is a full time guide who has fished the Florida Panhandle offshore for 26 years. He specializes in grouper and snapper trips with light tackle on live bait. Custom trips for companies with multiple boats will be arranged. Inshore trips targeting specific species and custom eco trips are available for birding, gator watching, shelling, picnics and barrier islands. Contact Captain Alex for a fun and productive trip on Florida's Forgotten Coast.

Contact Info:

Topknots Charters
P. O. Box 1029
Carrabelle, FL 32322
Phone: 850-697-8946
Alt. Phone: same
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