August Fishing Highlights for Panhandle Waters
It’s hot. It’s humid. Get in the backwaters and it’s buggy. But August still offers lots of fishing opportunities all across the Florida Panhandle, both inshore and offshore. And angling remains one of the few recreational activities where the threat of the pandemic can be temporarily forgotten thanks to lots of sunshine, fresh air and social distancing.
One exciting—and very tasty—August visitor to our waters is the blackfin tuna. These powerful, fast-moving predators, averaging 8 to 12 pounds but with the 20-pounder always a possibility, move inshore to chase bait anywhere from 1 to 10 miles off the beach this month and on into October. They can be fished for much like anglers pursue trophy king mackerel, by slow-trolling or drifting live baits in the 6 to 8 inch range.
Blackfins are notably leader shy, however, and often avoid rigs with wire leaders. Some experts anchor upcurrent of reefs and wrecks and dump a combination of chopped chum sweetened with a few live pilchards or LY’s into the flow to lure them to the boat. (Like all tuna’s, blackfins taste best if bled immediately when caught, then plunged into plenty of ice.)
Kings and Spanish both remain abundant in area waters this month as well. The kings are typically in the same area as the blackfins, starting a mile off the beach and extending on out to the continental shelf, while Spanish may be right against the beach bar and up inside the larger bays as well as several miles out.
For kings, slow trolling live baits on a number 2 planer or downrigger around wrecks and reefs gets them—don’t forget a foot or so of number 6 wire to prevent cutoffs.
Spanish are easy to catch on a “tree” of straw-type or surgical tube single-hook lures or on small Clark spoons, either one with a 4 ounce trolling weight to get them down to the cooler water below the surface. Both species are often caught off area piers on frozen cigar minnows at this time of year.
Beach and Bay Fishing
Anglers will also find tarpon just off the beach until mid-September—fish them where you see them rolling. Live pinfish, cigar minnows or pilchards work well, but sometimes an 9-inch Berkley Gulp soft plastic swimbait on a 9/0 triple-strong hook works even better, allowing long casts and rapid retrieves to get them positioned just right—most experts prefer white or pearl color lures, and fish them on 40-pound-test braid and 6000-size spinning reels with stout 8-foot rods. Tarpon also move up inside in the large bays around the menhaden schools at this time of year. Catch them on DOA Baitbusters and similar soft lures cast to rolling fish.
For rod benders—that you can’t take home to eat—look for oversized redfish along with huge jack crevalle around bait schools in the bays, around the bridges and at the passes. These jumbo’s, 20 pounds and more, will readily grab large swimbaits as well as all sorts of live baitfish. Most fun is to catch them on large topwater lures with the trebles replaced with large single hooks, so that the fish can be easily released. These fish get more active as fall approaches, tapering off at the end of October.
Whiting bite all summer in the trough along the beach, and there are a few pompano mixed in, though not nearly as many as in spring. Fish Bites in sand-flea flavor is always a good bet, but a thumbnail-sized piece of peeled fresh shrimp also gets them—all area bait shops sell ready-made rigs for this fishing.
Trout fishing can be a challenge this month due to the warm water—look for them in the shade of deep water docks in the bays and along the ICW, or fish around lighted docks at night. The DOA Shrimp drifted with the current is often effective, but live shrimp free-lined or under a popping cork is the universal winner. Keeper-sized reds often show up in the same areas, and some schools also prowl the troughs of the beach.
Flats fishing for reds can be productive this month, as well—look for areas with plenty of grass and baitfish or crabs. Look for moving wakes or the tips of tails and dorsal fins to locate the fish. Getting into casting range without spooking them is the challenge—poling or wading works much better than using a trolling motor. Berkley GULP crab baits on a size 4/0 hook work well, as do the DOA Shrimp and shallow-running jerk baits like the Mirrodine or LIVETARGET Scaled Sardine. Best action is always on days with moving tidal currents—concentrate your fishing on the three days on either side of the new and full moons for maximum tidal flow.