Destin has been nicknamed the “World’s Luckiest Fishing Village” and if you come to try your hand at casting out, you’ll quickly find out why this spot is at the top of every angler’s bucket list. The nutrient-rich waters of the Gulf of Mexico combined with the natural habitats in the form of shallow bays and productive reefs attract a wide variety and large quantity of fish to the area. The tides push the bait and crabs into the bay from the Gulf of Mexico. With several different geographical features in the area, there are fishing grounds for every level and plenty of different species to choose from.
Our Fishing Tips
Knowing a few insider tips before you head out can take your fishing in Fort Walton Beach to the next level. Here are three tips to help you make the most of your time on the water.
Don’t forget your license
You will need to acquire a fishing license(opens in a new tab) before embarking on any fishing adventure, be organized and get it sorted the night before to avoid any delays on the day. For equipment such as rods, reels, and bait, Emerald Coast Bait & Tackle(opens in a new tab) in Fort Walton Beach and Half Hitch Tackle(opens in a new tab) in Destin are great local fishing stores. They’ve got everything you need for a fun day of fishing!
Artificial lures or live bait?
Firstly, both of these will work and you can try them out to see which you prefer. There are plenty of bait shops around the bay as well as opportunities to source your own bait. Crab and shrimp are in abundance throughout the bay and are a great option for bait. Using live bait from the water you’re fishing in is your best bet because the fish are used to eating those creatures already. With live bait, there’s no need to move it quickly through the water, let the fish come in gradually. Once hooked, be sure to reel them in slowly to avoid hurting fish. With artificial lures, choose models with a rattle to attract redfish and trout. Be sure to move them fast through the water so that the fish can’t inspect them too closely.
Work with the tide
Check out the tidal charts(opens in a new tab) and schedule your Destin fishing adventure for a time when the tide is ebbing (the water level is falling rather than rising). This is when you have the most opportunity to catch fish in saltwater.
Follow the birds
When you spot a flock of seagulls on the surface feasting on small bait fishes, it’s more than likely there’s a shoal of game fish below. So whether you’re on your pontoon boat or casting off from the shoreline, follow the signals of the creatures around you and catch yourself a fish!
Fish to Catch
People travel from miles around to come and fish in the waters of Choctawhatchee Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, so as you can imagine there is a wide variety of fish in the area. Here are some of the most common catches and tips on where to find them.
This is Destin’s most sought-after fish and it is in abundance throughout summer and fall. Redfish or red drum, as they are also known, will hit on most kinds of bait, be they artificial or live. They like shallow waters and a spot with structure in the water, which is why they are a popular catch with pier anglers. They also drift along the shoreline meaning they are a possible catch for surf fishers.
The red snapper is the fish that everyone wants to catch due to its delicious flavor. However, they are heavily regulated by the federal government. There are plenty of equally delicious snapper alternatives, so no need to worry. Try reeling in a lane, mangrove, vermillion, or mutton snapper – they are easy to catch as there are often so many of them and they also gather around structures in the water.
The tarpon is another prized catch in the Gulf of Mexico. But be warned, you will need some serious muscle to get them from the hook to the boat. They are notoriously hard to reel in as they grow to such a great size in the Gulf. This is an option for more experienced anglers.
These are big and powerful fish that require heavy tackle to reel them in. They put up a real fight once hooked so be prepared. The effort is definitely worth it as they have a mild slightly sweet flavor and meaty texture.
These rarely grow larger than 7 or 8 pounds and prefer shallower water making them a good option for surf and pier anglers. King mackerel is the larger variety and is often found in schools of baitfish.
Pompano is good for anglers perfecting their skills, as despite their size they put up a fight when you reel them in. They are mostly caught by people surf fishing as they gather along the shoreline as well as in passes and inlets.
These fish are known for being easier to catch. They swim in schools so once you´ve caught one, you can expect more to land on your hook. They like the shallow waters and arrive early into the bay in January before staying for most of the year.
In the deeper off-shore waters you can reel in mahi-mahi or tuna in the summer months.
Types of Fishing
You don’t have to have a boat to experience the joys of Fort Walton and Destin fishing trips. There is an option for everyone, from families looking for a day on the beach to friends looking to get out on the water.
Surf fishing is very popular in Destin as you don’t need a boat to do it. Just rent your equipment and set up your spot on the beach. There are plenty of fish you can catch from the shoreline such as pompano, as mentioned above. The best time for surf fishing in the Fort Walton/Destin area is between March and November and most anglers have the most success when the tide changes. Not only is this a great option for those without a boat, but it’s also a good activity to keep kids entertained on the beach.
Bay fishing is popular as the environment is more sheltered than off-shore. The water is often less choppy than in open water and the tide brings in baitfish and new catch. Choctawhatchee Bay is a great place for this type of fishing, as well as fish, the bay including its tributaries is home to oyster bars. A pontoon boat is a great option for those looking to embark on a bay fishing adventure, their stability offers the perfect platform for your angling base.
Deep-sea fishing is a good idea for those who have practiced fishing before and want more of a challenge. The variety is greater and the action can be non-stop. Head out into the off-shore waters to catch fish such as tuna and mahi-mahi.
Many fish love to gather around the concrete pillars in the water below a pier or bridge. This makes pier fishing an easy to organize and reliable way to reel in a fish. What’s more, setting up a post on the pier is a great budget option for those who don’t want to splash out on boat hire.
This is another option for those who want to get out on the water but can’t afford a charter. A kayak gives you more freedom than surf fishing and gives you the chance to explore different areas of the bay. The artificial reefs around the bay provide a place for you to anchor while you wait for fish to bite. Just be sure to check the weather as it can change quickly and kayaks are less stable than bigger boats.
Where to Fish
This 1,262-foot long pier that extends out into the Gulf of Mexico is a great place to practice saltwater fishing. As previously mentioned, many varieties of fish gather around the concrete pillars at the base of the pier, making it an angling hotspot. The popularity of this landmark with anglers has not gone unnoticed and there is now a bait shop on the pier itself. It’s also one of the best places in the area to catch the sunset and sunrise, so get up early or stay up late, set your rod up, and relax with a cold drink as you appreciate the view.
The Coast Guard Station
Dock fishing at Destin’s coast guard station is popular with locals and tourists. The grass beds and rock walls create a rich habitat for sea life and attract a variety of fish such as trout, redfish, flounder, and mullet.
Not only is Norriego Point a great choice for beach strolls and watersports, but it’s also one of the top fishing spots in the area. When you set up your rod on one of the East or West Pass jetties, you’ll be in for a chance of catching redfish, trout, or jacks.
Fishing Seasons & Events
Luckily for us, the Destin area has the longest fishing season in all of North America. Deep-sea fishing is much quieter in the winter months as many fish leave the cold waters of the bay and head into the streams and inlets to find warmer, sheltered waters. However, come spring, they flood into the bay gathering around the bridges and jetties looking for food. They are often hungry at this time of year so will engage well with bait. In summer, there’s an abundance of fish in both the bay and the Gulf, many anglers will head straight out offshore leaving more catch in the bay. Fall continues to see fish in the area, less so than in summer but there’s always a good chance of reeling in a redfish or speckled trout.
Destin Fishing Rodeo – October
This long-held tradition of a month-long saltwater fishing tournament draws in anglers from across the globe. 30,000 participants engage in a range of divisions from shoreline fishing and kayak fishing to deep-sea off-shore. For spectators, it’s also an exciting event with the anticipation of daily weigh-ins.
If you’re visiting the area and want to try fishing out in the bay, check out our pontoon boat rentals. They offer the perfect, stable platform for a fishing adventure. Spend your day reeling in a fish and then grill it for dinner as you watch one of our legendary Destin sunsets. Hopefully, our guide has helped you decide what type of fishing you want to try and given you ideas of where to go. If you have any further questions, get in touch!