So you’re new to offshore fishing? Or perhaps coming from out of town and unfamiliar with our fishery? Well I have been in your shoes before and would love to have been given this advice before I ever hit the Gulf for the first time! I’m glad you’ve made it this far and hopefully by the end of this post you’ll be ready to register! (if you haven’t already)
Fishing the Gulf of Mexico in the fall can be an extremely productive for kayakers. Aside from the usual suspects (King mackerel, Spanish mackerel, and Bonito), we typically get nice runs of pelagic species during September and October. Gamefish such as Sailfish, Mahi-mahi, Cobia, Blackfin Tuna, and even Wahoo have all been caught by kayakers right off of Santa Rosa Island. Trolling for these exciting gamefish is as exciting as it gets here on the Gulf Coast. If trolling for drag-screaming pelagics isn’t enough to get your attention then you should try out reef fishing!
Nearshore reef fishing is relatively simple and when done correctly, or if you get lucky, can be extremely rewarding! If you’re not familiar with nearshore reef fishing in Northwest Florida, it may not be exactly like what you envision when someone says “reef fishing”. Northwest Florida is home to hundreds of sunken ships, barges, tanks, etc. Most of these artificial “reefs” are pretty far out but there are a handful that are easily within kayak range! (Check out this map of all the public reefs within 4 miles of the beach! Beach Access & Public Reefs.) These man-made structures have been deployed by Florida Marine Resources and are home to a variety of species! Red Snapper, Grouper, Mangrove Snapper, and Triggerfish are just a few of the most common catches on these nearshore fish havens. In addition to the “public” reefs that coordinates for can be found with a simple Google search, there are hundreds (if not thousands) of “private” spots scattered along the beach. These private spots are generally called “chicken coops” and the coordinates are hard to come by! In order to get the coordinates to these spots you’ll really need to spend some time on the water scanning the bottom with your fish finder. Whenever you stumble across one you’ll know it and you’ll more than likely be rewarded with some nice catches for your effort.
Like fishing anywhere else, using live bait greatly increases your odds of getting good bites from big fish. The most successful anglers all know the importance of spending time to catch live bait at the beginning of their trip. A sabiki rig is the most common tactic for doing this. As important as live bait is, you don’t want to be stuck out there with no bait! Some days it’s just downright hard to catch live bait and you’ll be forced to use frozen bait or whatever selection of lures you brought. FROZEN bait is better than NO bait! Another thing to consider is how to keep your bait alive! Bait tubes and buckets with aerators (bubblers) are the most popular solutions.
The last thing I want to mention is weather. Tournament officials will use their best judgement to determine if conditions will be safe for competition. If you’re not comfortable going out in it then don’t feel pressured to go. Know what the forecast is predicting and what to expect where you are! In our area, a North wind will blow you out to sea and a South wind will blow you towards the beach. The last thing you want to do at the end of your trip is fight a stiff wind for 5 miles back to your launch spot, trust me, I’m speaking from experience on this one!! Speaking of launch spots, pay attention to where you launch at. It’s no fun landing on the beach and realizing you’re a mile away from where you started. As always, SAFETY is the most important thing, followed by catching the biggest fish! Having fun is third, but if you’re like me you’ll be having fun regardless of what you catch!