The Panhandle -- Places, People, and Piers
Fishing expeditions are part and parcel of our lives. The Panhandle is not as populated but just as fishy as all of Florida
Our journey began with a stop at "The Plantation,” an elegant and charming resort, sitting on one of Florida's most beautiful resources, the Crystal River. Having heard about the Plantation from others, my Relations Coordinator, Neal “Stowaway” Cline and I decided to stop in. Neal would not want me to publicize this but in the short time he has worked for The Online Fisherman, I have found him to be a very caring person. He is a wonderful father and husband and treats everyone he meets with respect
At the Plantation we where introduced to the Director of Sales and Marketing, Michael Mancke, and the Executive Meeting Manager, Jonathan Noyes. Mr. Mancke sat down with us and gave us a short synopsis of what the Plantaion has to offer. Lets just say “WOW”. This place is a destination for anyone and everyone. Fishing, oh yeah! Golf, definitely! Children's activities, of course! Pampering for the wife, the ultimate! And of course, fine food, drink and the rest you would expect. All of this in a quaint, yet exquisite and modern setting.
With snorkeling, diving, bird watching, lagoon swimming pools, full-service Aveda spa, tennis, volleyball, horseshoes, disc golf, croquet, swimming with the Manatees, and so much more, the Plantation Golf Resort and Spa is much more then its title could state. It is a destination that everyone should put on their living "Bucket List."
Back on the Road
After our tour of the Plantation we were back on the road headed north. Looking for a local tackle shop was difficult in this neck of the woods, but a we finally found Captain's Cove Outfitters on West Highway 40 in Inglis.
The owner, James Zaloga, has put together quite a nice shop. They have a a big selection and more importantly a cool Big Redfish Contest that pays out some hefty cabbage! Neal bought fishing pliers he had been looking for and then we were back with Willie Nelson, "On the Road Again."
Along the way we ran into Richard and Patricia Ingran of Cross City. They were fishing for Warmouth in a "secret creek." A place where there are no crowds, no noise, nobody. It was fishing the way I always thought it should be -- peaceful, uncrowded and in a beautiful place. They had equipment that we all know such as cane poles and Zebco's. The bait was worms, and apparently it works well on Warmouth.
Mr. Ingran was one of the most enthusiastic fisherman I have ever met. He pulled out a folder with photos of his prize catches. Big bass, bluegill, Warmouth and catfish. Talking to the Ingrans was pretty cool, and it was refreshing to see that fish can be caught everywhere, even in secret places.
After a few more hours of driving we finally arrived at our first planned stop at Captain Andersons Marina in Panama City Beach. I had visited this same Marina over 30 years ago, and man has it grown. They have many charter boats to choose from, and Captain Anderson has his own fleet. It was spring break here, so after a little sight-seeing, we scooted out to our next location which was Destin, another place with a serious Charter Fleet. We stopped at the local pier and found the charter boat 'American Spirit.'
We spoke to some of the mates and deck hands, who where hanging out after a day of fishing. One of the employees, E.J, gave us great information about the local fishing. He sent us down the marina to where there were many other charter boats.
We found an impressive boat along with the guy who runs the show, Jathan, who told us that 'Olin Marler Charters' was Destin’s oldest and longest running recreational fishing fleet with over 45 years in the business. That is a long time to run a charter fleet, especially with all that has happened to our country in that 45 years.
That rang a bell with me and I immediately thought of our own local legend, Hubbard's Marina Deep Sea Fishing Fleets. Captain Mark Hubbard's family's legacy goes back to 1928, when they began what is now 80 years of fishing local waters! Just to bring that into prospective, Captain Mark and his family have endured 15 U.S. Presidents, 22 Florida Governors, wars, hurricanes, tornadoes, depressions, terrorist attacks on our country, stock market crashes, oil spills, horrible fishing regulations, and of course, all the competitors. (Hey Dylan --see what you got yourself into!).
Jathan had given us some history of the charter fleets and let us know all the great fishing that was to be had in and around Destin. After being directed on how to proceed to the Emerald Boat and Outdoor show we headed out to Fort Walton Beach.
Neal and I made quick work of the Emerald Boat/Outdoor show. We had a new agenda and that was to get out amongst all the Big Piers that we had heard about. The first pier we visited was the Okaloosa Fishing pier in Fort Walton Beach. It was cold and it was windy, but that did not stop this group of anglers from fishing.
Off to the Piers
Driving along the coast to the Navarre Beach Pier was pleasant, even though the wind was howling. Maybe not the best fishing conditions but great surf weather. The surfers were out in force until we got to the serious fishing grounds of the Pier. We met so many wonderful people. There was something about all these anglers -- they were friendly and willing to share their stories with us. Like our motto at The Online Fisherman -- "Where You Count More Then The Fish.”
The fishing on the piers was about one cold front away of being off the charts. Pier fishing for Pompano, Sheepshead, Cobia, Bluefish, Redfish, Black Drum, Flounder and the list goes on. A great place to spend the day and maybe catch some dinner. We met anglers all the way from Alabama. Every angler was fishing for a different species. Some of the pier fishing rigs included Van Stall Reels and extra long surf type rods, to the Shimano, Dawia and Penn setups. Most of the fish caught off the pier are not just edible, but the tastiest of fish. I was told the Cobia run had just started along the beaches and would in full swing as soon as the weather cooperated.
We even met some fans of The Online Fisherman. Many of the anglers on the pier where already subscribers to site. No trip would be complete without talking about cast nets of course. So we talked cast nets to a bunch of the local fisherman and even demonstrated cast net pier techniques.
Most of the piers along Emerald Coast were government owned, but were maintained together with private businesses. Speaking to Mr. Joey Bryant, the owner of Coastal Concessions, who owns the shop at the foot of the pier, he has a contract with the government to handle and collect the pier entrance fees.
Mr. Bryant's shop is a little bit of concession and a little bit of a tackle shop. They even have all kinds of beach and fishing equipment you can rent. It's a win-win for everyone.
As I always say. Leave a place better then you found it. So before leaving the Panhandle, I made sure I picked up some unsightly trash at each location and disposed of it. Come see the Panhandle -- you won't be disappointed.
The Online Fisherman.com