By: Bob Pitts, Visitor Use Assistant, Gulf Islands National Seashore
One of the most impressive aspects of Perdido Key is its extensive and diverse recreational fishing opportunities. Whether you bring your boat, charter a local guide service, use a kayak, or simply stand on the bank with a rod, there are fish in reach biting all year-round.
Perdido Key, being an island, means that water and fishing are literally in every direction. Perdido and Escambia Bays, the various bayous, tidal creeks, and respective rivers make up the estuary system here. The Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) links them together along the north side of Perdido Key via Big Lagoon on the east end and Old River to the west. The Gulf of Mexico lies to the south.
Local fishing is broken down into two general categories: inshore and gulf side. Major differences will be the target species of game fish and equipment used. Of course even with all of the trends that can be teased out, fish behavior can still be unpredictable, so experimentation is often rewarded with unique or exceptional catches. It is not unheard of for folks to target grouper in the bay with specific tactics at different times of the year.
Big Lagoon State Park and Johnson’s Beach, part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore, both offer excellent access to the sprawling grass flats on either side of the ICW. Both parks have an entrance fee. Ideal fishing locations will be where any changes or differences in the underwater environment might hold bait. These areas also provide cover for game fish to ambush prey. Good fishing habitats in these areas are provided by shallow drop-offs along the channel and grass beds, potholes, or structure such as the many navigational day boards and buoys. Bridges, docks, and other underwater debris also provide good fishing structure throughout the inshore side.
Most anglers fish these areas with light to medium spinning tackle (8-20lb). Common catches are redfish, trout, and flounder. Mangrove snappers and jack crevalle can also be caught. Baits range from live minnows and shrimp to frozen or fresh cut baits. Baits are usually fished on Carolina rigs on popping corks depending on the desired presentation. Both soft and hard artificial baits can also be productive. Nearly anything inshore can be caught on a ¼ oz jighead rigged with a soft plastic bait. Retrieve your bait at a slow to moderate speed with an occasional twitch or pause. Even fly fishing, though not usually common in saltwater, is becoming ever more popular. One of the most consistent strategies in the area is to fish lighted docks at night as bait is attracted to the lights and gamefish follow. Remember to respect private property if you try this method.
The fishing possibilities really open up on the gulf side. The same inshore tactics work in the gulf as well, plus there are additional options and considerations. Surf fishing, depending on conditions, can require a little more tailored equipment and provides a different type of experience. There is nothing better than relaxing on the beach, checking your bait periodically and then having a school of bluefish come down the beach and hit your rig.
Both Johnson’s Beach and Perdido Key State Park offer miles of access to the gulf for their respective entrance fees. Dead shrimp and sand fleas are common baits used to target pompano and whiting. Other cut and live baits are used effectively as well. Baits are fished on dropper loops with pyramid weights. Casting spoons and plugs is another option. Schools of Spanish mackerel and bonita often swim down the beach feeding on available forage. There is always a chance of hooking into a big redfish, black drum, or even a shark along the gulf beaches.
The ability to get off the beach with a boat opens up trolling and bottom fishing options. Red snapper are carefully managed and are abundant in the region. Spanish and king mackerel are ubiquitous in all but the winter months. These game are targeted by small boats and even kayaks in the near shore environment under fair weather conditions. Larger offshore boats can find amberjack and big game such as billfish further out. Many area marinas offer charters for this type of activity and hold annual tournaments between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
A local go-to, as the rest of the bite slows a little over winter, is sheepshead. These fish spawn through the end of the winter. They can be easily be targeted around any structure in the passes where the estuarine bays meet the gulf at either end of the key. Fish using fluorocarbon leaders, sharp hooks, and shellfish for bait. Most folks use live shrimp or fiddler crabs.
An online search will show many bait shops and charters in the area. Asking the friendly locals is always a good bet. There is always something biting out here on the key.
For information on regulations in Florida visit http://myfwc.com/
For information on regulations in Alabama visit http://www.outdooralabama.com/