We've been hearing the buzz term farm-to-table for a few years now. While eating a locavore meal is on point, it can be difficult to weed out the truly farm-sourced from the brand washed. Visitors to Florida's Emerald Coast won't ever face this dilemma. In fact, they won't find farm-to-fork at all. Are they bucking the trend? Nope, it's not that. Are there no farms in the region? Wrong again. The Emerald Coast has been serving up original 'farm-to-table' fresh for decades, in the form of Gulf-to-table. After all, when you're sitting on one of the richest fishing holes in the world, there's no need to do it any other way. Visiting Canadians will be happy to hear that they can savour Gulf-to-table three ways: hunting (fishing for dinner), gathering (dining) and socially (food festivals). Bon Appétit!
Naturally, the first option is to catch it yourself. Nothing ventured, nothing gained! Troll for trout, blue marlin or red snapper; all of which are found on local menus. Charter boats and fishing tours are easy to find as these all-inclusive sport adventures run year-round. However, what you snag on the line depends on the time of year.
Emerald Coast Convention & Visitors Bureau
When's the best time to fish?
There's no 'wrong' time to fish on the Emerald Coast. However, the high season for popular red snapper fishing is June and July. With some patience and luck though it's possible to catch one year-round. For the superstitious fishermen out there, off the coast of Destin seems to be the luckiest of spots. Anglers should mark October on their calendar for the Destin Fishing Rodeo. (More on that below!)
What can I expect to catch?
Blackfin tuna, almaco jack, blue marlin, cobia, kind mackerel, gag grouper, spotted sea trout, wahoo, flounder and yellowfin tuna are all examples of fish that are permitted to be caught along the Emerald Coast. World records have been broken by anglers fishing for red snapper on the Emerald Coast, with 40+ pounders a real possibility. With more than 30 types of tasty fish swimming in the Gulf (presumably just waiting to be caught), the options are extensive for people wanting to fish from the shore or out in the deep sea.
Can I take my catch home?
Yes. Most Canadians will take their catch to be cleaned, scaled, dressed and filleted, and then consume it at their Florida home or rental property. However, those not staying so long can indeed ship seafood home. Many operators can pack your fresh catch on ice in a cooler for bringing back to Canada. Catch a fish today, hop on a plane tomorrow and cook it up back home with friends!
Emerald Ghost Charters and HarborWalk Charters are two options to consider when deciding who to book a fishing trip with. They’ll give you tips on what is currently biting and what to bait your hook with. Generally you don't need to bring any gear with you, as everything is provided on charters.
Handy Web Resource
If you want to ensure you catch your preferred fish, there is a nice month-by-month guide of what is being caught on the Emerald Coast. Find it here: Full Net Fishing Charters.
Requirements for Non-Local Anglers
If you're fishing independently you will need to acquire a Florida fishing license. Obtaining one is quite easy and costs as little as $17 USD. You’ll need a different license for freshwater and saltwater fishing, or you can buy a combination license. If you only plan to fish while taking a charter boat trip, then you do not have to worry at all – the charter boats take care of all the licensing for you.
Emerald Coast Convention & Visitors Bureau
If you don’t fancy yourself an angler, travelling foodies will be pleased to know there's ample selection of seafood dining on the Emerald Coast. If you want to sample a range of local Gulf-to-table options, then you need to hit the streets, boardwalk and restaurants. Out here on the coast, fresh fish is a daily delivery, and each day’s delivery varies. A word to the wise: no need to ask, “What's fresh?” when it comes to seafood; it is all fresh. However, asking what the chef recommends will get you the most creative dish of the day.
How fresh is Gulf-to-table fresh?
There is no trans-ocean import, processing plant, long list of middle men or frozen fish here. The typical Gulf-to-table experience goes something like this: fish are caught in the Gulf, fish arrive at the local market or direct to the restaurant. Chefs prepare the fish; fish is served to you. You eat a delicious meal. All this within 12-24 hours. Does it get any simpler? To get started on the fresh Gulf-to-table path, consider visiting one or more of these seafood specialists:
Dewey Destin’s, Destin Harbor
That “fresh catch of the day,” usually limited to one option at restaurants back home? Well, Dewey Destin’s has been a family-run seafood business for generations, and their fresh catch list usually boasts no less than six options. They also have a location on Crab Island, serving snack and fried seafood baskets.
High Tide Restaurant and Oyster Bar, Okaloosa Island
For more than 30 years this classic seafood joint has been doing things right. And by right, we mean ultra fresh. While many restaurants in the area have expanded menus to include beef and chicken, High Tide keeps things almost strictly seafood. Coming here and ordering a chicken sandwich rather than a grilled grouper would be criminal!
Rick's Crab Trap, Fort Walton Beach
Broiled, steamed, grilled or blackened. How do you want your fresh seafood prepared? At Rick’s Crab Trap, the fresh oyster options are always a win, though the clams and crabs are hard to resist too. No one said you can't keep coming back until you've sampled it all...
37th Annual Destin Seafood Festival - this immensely popular festival is set to welcome 70,000 guests over three days. It hosts three stages for rock, reggae and country performances, and features both local and coastal talent. Sample the flavours and fresh bounty of the Emerald Coast, prepared by local food vendors. 10/2-10/4, varied hours. Click here for details.
Destin Fishing Rodeo - have you ever seen a marlin the size of a full grown man? We can't make promises but the odds are very, very high that you will at the Destin Fishing Rodeo. Consider it the ultimate fishing tournament. For the entire month of October, saltwater anglers of all ages are encouraged to participate. Get out on the water and set your line. It doesn't matter which type of fish you catch, nearly all gamefish qualify. Weigh-in at the docks by A.J.'s Seafood & Oyster Bar to enter your catch in the competition. The Rodeo sees 30,000 participants vying for over $100,000 in cash and prizes. 10/1 -10/31, weigh-ins occur 10 a.m. - 7 p.m.
Is catching a marlin on dad's bucket list?
See the official Visitor's Guide and start planning your trip!