Fish America: Florida Panhandle and Louisiana

This week on the road brought us to one of the best stops yet on Fish America: The Florida Panhandle. The area, and its outstanding fishing, is often overlooked by fisherman who forget the panhandle when thinking of fishing in the Sunshine State. The destination was Apalachicola, Florida.
I was fortunate enough to catch a ride with experienced guide Chris Robinson, who along with his brother has run a guide service in Apalachicola for more than a decade. These guys specialize in targeting redfish and tarpon both on the fly and with light tackle and they know exactly what they are doing.
Chris and I launched from the mouth of the Apalachicola River, which empties into Apalachicola Bay. The Bay is protected by a series of barrier islands.
The bay in early September can hold any number of species. There are resident tarpon to be found, although certainly the quality of the tarpon fishing can't match the spring. There are of course redfish, flounder and, pictured here, the first species we encountered, speckled sea trout. This specimen fell for a Berkeley Gulp soft-plastic on a jighead.
The same lure, slowed slightly and bumped across the bottom, kept filling up the mixed bag on the day. This flounder inhaled the Gulp.
Sea trout and flounder were good to get the skunk off the boat but there was one species we were really after, and it's pictured here: redfish. The red drum in Apalachicola is one of the prized game fish. These fish stalk shallow waters, tails up, and in schools, searching for crabs and shrimp, and occasionally falling for a jig. We caught this smaller redfish wandering a flat alone, but it turned out to be just a start to the day.
After a short run across the bay, we encountered a balled up school of redfish, between 5 and 10 pounds, pushing bait around a flat. This was the first of many reds that would be quickly caught and released while we bumped around chasing the school.
Redfish are truly a beautiful fish to behold once you land them. Each has a different shaped spot located on its tail. I always like to examine the unique pattern before releasing each fish.
Some, like this fish we caught out of the school, have multiple spots. The single spot is more common, but patterns like this are interesting too. Before the school spooked entirely, Chris and I landed at least 10 reds in total that I'd guess ranged between 5 and 8 pounds. There was a time when the feeding frenzy was so furious, that Chris, after having his jig ripped off his jighead, just pitched the bare jighead back into the school and hooked up instantly. The 20 minutes or so we spent on the school made the day one of the better ones of the trip, and the best Florida fishing that I've encountered.
Aside from outstanding fishing that doesn't get as much pressure as other parts of Florida, the Panhandle, and Apalachicola especially, is an interesting place. The shrimp boats are everywhere and make up a big part of the region's industry.
If you're lucky, like we were, you might spot a bald eagle here. This one looked like it was guarding the No Wake zone.
But even more than the shrimping, Apalachicola is known for one thing: Oysters. Shallow flats in the bay are filled up with oyster boats like these. The region accounts for 90 percent of Florida's oysters.
The boats are interesting vessels made to carry large loads of oysters. The oystermen use tong-like tools to pry the delicacies off the bottom and fill up the boat.
With a slightly different feel than the rest of Florida, and some beautiful white sand beaches, not to mention phenomenal fishing, Apalachicola is definitely worth a visit if you've never been to the Panhandle of Florida.
Of course we couldn't watch the oystermen work all day and not reap the benefits of their labor. So, after we were done hassling redfish, we pulled the boat into a waterfront oyster bar, and ordered a dozen oysters each.
I had mine baked with Parmesan cheese and they were incredible. The oysters alone are worth the trip to Apalachicola. I haven't had them prepared other ways, but you can't go wrong ordering them like this.
After leaving Florida, it was a quick run to New Orleans, or more specifically, Violet, Louisiana, for a shot at some bigger reds.
I had the good luck of getting out with Greg Arnold, who has been guiding out of the New Orleans area for 17 years. This is a guy who has caught 50-pound redfish on these flats.
We stalked the marshes, searching for tailing reds and throwing this soft-plastic, hard-body styled bait, hoping to entice a strike.
We certainly put in our time, and Greg ran his flats skiff to all the usual productive locations. But high winds and dirty water pushed the reds back into the marsh grass. I had one explosion on my lure, but the redfish somehow missed all the treble hooks.
Except for a few helicopters delivering and picking up booms, traces of the oil spill didn't creep into vision too often while we were fishing. Greg reported that the fishing was as strong as ever in the area.
If You Go…
Apalachicola: Robinson Brothers Guide Service New Orleans: Greg Arnold