The Emerald Coast is the hottest destination on Florida's gulf coast when it comes to fishing. While cities like Fort Walton, Grayson and Panama City host some decent beach fishing and charters, Destin is the gem of the region. The billfish pulled into Destin port are well over the numbers pulled into other gulf ports combined. However, local and visiting fishermen aren't just passionate about catching huge marine monsters; they are also passionate about cooking and eating them. The region's restaurants all specialize in cooking up the 20-something species of sport fish that can be caught in the area.
Regulations and Charters
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Visitors and local fishermen alike all require a saltwater fishing permit. These can run between $25 and $50 based on how long fishermen will need it. Those in the area for serious sport can also get a salt water, fresh water and hunting permit all rolled into one for the same price as a 12-month salt water permit.
For most sport fish, the season is open all year; however, for the red snapper (generally agreed to be the Gulf of Mexico's best tasting fish) the season only lasts from June 1st through the end of July to preserve the once near-extinct species. Aside from red snapper, the visiting sport fishers come to scoop up white trout, huge blue marlin, grouper and yellowfin tuna as well as many other species that are abundant in the area via inshore/offshore trolling, pier fishing and deep-sea bottom fishing.
Those who are the visiting to the area to do a little sport fishing in Florida's most famous destination for it will find no shortage of charters willing to take them out. Destin is by far the easiest place to find them as a decent chunk of their economy thrives on it. Get Hooked on Destin is one of the city's most prized charter companies. They provide deep sea excursions with an experienced captain for inshore and bowlfishing adventures within the Choctawhatchee Bay, both with affordable rates and guaranteed catches. However, because of their success rate, they book up quickly.
Stopping by places like Adventure Marina, which doesn't offer charters, can also have its merits. Adventure Marina and places like it sell bait and rent boats and the staff generally know all the hot fishing spots. It is an excellent resource in the area for those looking to do a little beach or pier fishing instead of charting a boat and heading to deeper waters.
For the seasoned fisherman who already has a boat and has hauled it to the Emerald Coast, there is even more sport to be had aside from just leisurely fishing. The fishing tournaments are legendary around the United States, attracting thousands each year to compete.
The Destin Fishing Rodeo that takes place throughout the month of October is especially prized. It's free so it attracts a number of anglers of all fishing skill levels. Visiting fishermen can even compete by pier fishing, but those with boats hold a bigger advantage. Annually, around 30,000 fishing teams compete with $100,000 of cash prized handed out throughout the month. Weigh-ins are held every night in front of AJ's Seafood and Oyster Bar for those who just want to observe.
The next biggest tournament, but certainly not the last, is the Emerald Coast Blue Marlin Classic held in Sandestin Baytowne Marina and Resort. This premiere marlin tournament takes place at the end of June with an average of 70 teams competing for $1.4 million dollars in cash prizes. This is one of the more serious tournaments with a buy in and some fierce competitors. However, some massive marlins are hauled into the resort marina for weigh-ins and each year it creates quite the spectacle in Destin.
Eating the Fish
Those who book charters and want to sample some of their fine catches will find many boat captains more than willing to gut and grill the massive bounty of the sea right on their boats or on a nearby beach. However, visitors don't need to be daring deep sea anglers to enjoy the fish found around the Emerald Coast.
Dewey Destins is one of the oldest restaurants in Destin and it didn't last so long by having subpar food. Though the restaurant has two locations now, the original is located in the house of Destin's first settling family down by the shore. Their red snapper served up with lemon juice and coated with herbs is excellent, but the real treasure within Dewey Destin's is their grouper sandwich. Visitors come from all over Florida to enjoy their massive fried fish creation.
Over in Panama City, overlooking what is hailed as one of the Emerald Coast's most beautiful beaches is Sharky's. This seafood restaurant commands the crowds of those who hunger for fresh seafood. This is no easy reputation to earn considering the city has attracted a number of restaurants on the coast. Visitors can enjoy deck dining right up on the sand with live entertainment and fresh seafood brought in from surrounding ports daily. Their red snapper and tuna are ever-popular, but most come for the wide selection of shellfish served in massive portions.