Let’s face it, August in the Panhandle is a great time to go to Maine and maybe try a little smallmouth and salmon fishing.

But for those who remain in Florida, there’s still plenty of good fishing to be found along the state’s northwest shores. Plenty of heat and humidity, too, but that’s the Sunshine State in late summer.

Inshore Trout

For those who don’t mind getting up before daybreak, sea trout will be active along the marsh edges, creek mouths, oyster bars and longer piers from first light until about an hour after sunrise. The larger fish hang around these areas looking for pinfish and finger mullet, and throwing a big topwater like the Rapala Skitter Walk or Zara Spook and others that “walk the dog” with a zig-zag action as the rod is twitched will catch some lunkers. (So will fishing live pinfish under a cork, but that’s a lot of work capturing the baits.)

For those who don’t like working topwaters or can’t get the rhythm right, a mullet imitation like the Slick Lure or DOA Baitbuster will also score on these big trout. Both are single-hook lures of soft plastic, so they’re particularly good choices where there’s a lot of floating grass that fouls the hooks of topwaters.

Though the topwater bite is brief on most days, cloudy mornings with a breeze to riffle the surface can extend the bite several hours. Days with moving tides, of course, produce a better bite.

Most anglers fish 2500 to 3000 size spinning gear, medium action 7-foot rods and 10 to 15 pound test braid for the trout—add 18 inches of 20-pound-test fluorocarbon leader, tied in with a double uni-knot, to “stiffen” the rig and prevent hooks from tangling the braid.

There are still plenty of trout to be caught in the brighter hours, but it’s mostly in the open bays, around wrecks, pilings, over hard bottom, near markers, or any structure that holds bait. Sometimes just a few diving birds can mark a big school of trout, and sometimes you can actually sniff them out—the scent of fresh fish sometimes drifts off a slick as lots of trout tear into baitfish.

These fish are easiest to catch with live shrimp suspended on a 1/0 thin wire Kahle style hook a few feet under a popping cork—pop the cork every 30 seconds or so to make a fish-attracting surface disturbance. Plastic-tailed jigs in both shrimp and shad-tail styles also get them—3/16 to ¼ ounce sizes are best to depths of 6 feet, ¼ to 5/16 at 8 feet and more.

The good thing about fishing bait schools offshore is that if the trout don’t cooperate, the Spanish, jacks and ladyfish will—there’s always something eager to stretch your line around a mass of bait.

Head ‘Em off at the Passes

The passes can also produce in August—big redfish hang around these areas throughout the warmer months picking off bait as it comes and goes. The best way to catch them is to drift a live crab, pinfish or mullet along with the drift of the boat. The fish will be looking up-tide, so a bait drifted with the flow comes to them naturally and usually gets eaten.

The Berkley GULP flavored crab also works very well in this tactic, as does the DOA Baitbuster in the heavier version and the DOA Softshell Crab.

Because the fish are keyed on bait moving with the current in the passes, anchoring and fishing a bait in one spot is usually less effective. The fish often hang close to bridge pilings, but can pop up anywhere in the channel.

These tend to be big fish, 15 pounds and up, so heavier gear is called for—two-hand baitcasters with 40- pound test braid, or 4000-size spinning reels with heavy action 7-foot rod and 20- to 30-pound test braid will handle them.

The same rig works for catching big reds off the piers, and add a length of wire and you might land a big kingfish, as well.

Outside the Inlets

Move outside the inlet and use the same gear with a foot-long live mullet, a large pinfish or live cigar minnow and you’re likely to hook up with a jumbo kingfish drifting the edge where the darker inshore water meets the green water of the Gulf. Kings require a hook in the nose and a stinger treble hook on a short length of wire, pinned just under the skin behind the dorsal fin—otherwise they chop the bait in half and don’t get hooked.

Tarpon also run this seam on occasion, and will hit both live mullet and live crabs readily.

Both kings and Spanish will be loaded up anywhere from 1 to 10 miles off the beach this month, particularly around artificial reefs and bait schools—find them at dawn by looking for diving birds. It’s common for some blackfin tuna to be running with the kings.

Fishing a live LY, sardine or cigar minnow on a short length of number 6 wire with a stinger will catch all these species. Heavy spinning gear and 40-pound-test braid is best—otherwise, the sharks are likely to eat your tuna before you get it to the boat.

In short, inshore, on the beaches or offshore, here’s lots of great Panhandle fishing this month despite the heat, and a shower and the AC await when you get back to shore.