Northern Florida is the best part of the state for fishing in the Gulf.  My favorite place is Panama City.  I normally stay in a condo on Thomas drive.  The beaches are white and beautiful and I'm near Capt Anderson's fishing boats as well as the jetties in St. Andrews state park.  The fishing piers are a short drive away.  Shore fishing can be productive at times but I have caught more large fish from party boats.  The largest fishing trip expense is the condo but you can get it for about half price, if you go in the off season.  However, some fish may not be in season, e.g. red snappers.

Fishing off the Jetties

The jetties in St. Andrews state park can be a great fishing spot especially for red fish and Spanish mackerel.  There is a fee to enter the park.  It is open during the normal daytime hours but you can buy a pass to enter when the park is not open.  It is a little expensive but it allows you to fish early and late when the fishing is best.  Walking the rocks can be treacherous, so you need to wear appropriate shoes and be careful.

In early Sept, the red fish are usually running by the jetties and piers.   The Half Hitch bait shop which is down the road a bit from Capt. Anderson's sells fish to use for cut bait.  It’s not difficult to catch a red fish off the jetties using cut bait or shad which can be caught next to the jetties.  The difficult part is catching a fish small enough to keep.  There is a slot limit on red fish and most are large fish which are over the limit.  I enjoy fishing for red fish off the jetties but I do lose a rig from time to time.  It appears there are rocks with jagged edges in the water where you fish.  I've learned how to rig with a slip sinker and floater where I usually only lose the hook and a piece of line.  When I have gone fishing in late Sept, I've caught Spanish mackerel and Grunts.  Both are good eating but I don't like them as well as Groupers or Snappers.  Menhaden shad is the best bait for mackerel but a gotcha lure which imitates a shad works well.  Also, raccoons live in the rocks and will steal your fish if you are not careful. 

Pier Fishing

Fishing off of a pier is less expensive than fishing the jetties and can be very productive, if you are there when a school of fish passes.  There are two fishing piers in Panama City.  The county pier is the one nearest to the condos on Thomas drive and it has a portable toilet on it.  The city pier is slightly farther down the coast.  Both piers seem to charge the same rates.  The last time I was there, it cost $6 a day and you didn’t need a fishing license to fish off the pier.  The advantage of this type of fishing is that you can see the fish and you aren’t constantly loosing your fishing rig.  Spanish mackerel and king mackerel are often caught using Gotcha lures or live bait fish especially during June through September while the water is warm.  The best bait for king mackerel is live bait.  You can catch bait fish with a sabiki rig which consist of several fly type hooks which imitate insects or minors.  It’s best to have a bait rod set up just for catching bait fish.  You will need a bucket to keep your bait fish alive and a grappling hook is useful in pulling in a big fish like a large king mackerel. Sabiki rigs with larger size hooks (i.e. #1/0) can also be used to catch spanish mackerel.

Party Boat Fishing

A party boat is an economical way to fish for big fish in deep water without chartering a boat.  A party boat takes 30 or more people out on a fishing trip and provides the fishing gear.  Each person pays a fee depending upon the length of the trip.  The short fishing trips aren't as productive since you don't go out as far where the bigger fish live.  A 10 or 12 hour trip is usually best for getting large fish since they go farther out.  Travel time is usually around 3 hours each way.  To catch the better fish like Groupers and Snappers, you need to go out far into the gulf and fish deep water usually around old wreck sites or structure.  I normally go on the 10 hour trip on a day when the waves are one to two feet high to avoid getting sea sick.  I've had good luck on Capt. Anderson's fishing boats.  They provide a fishing rod and cut bait but coolers are not allowed.  Sometimes I bring along some whole fish or large pieces of cut bait to increase my changes of getting a grouper.  The normal way to fish is to let your baited hook go down to the bottom and then reel it up about 2 turns.  However, to catch groupers you need to let your hook stay on the bottom until the fish takes it and then reel very fast to prevent the fish from heading to the bottom where they can snag your line on rocks.  There is now a Red Snapper season as well as a size and bag limit to prevent over fishing.  There are similar limits on Groupers.  I have had better luck catching snappers than groupers.  They seem to be more plentiful.  Snappers are very good eating fish and so are groupers.  However, some groupers can have worms in their meat.  You can usually tell if the fish is infected with worms by looking for dry skin patches.  This problem doesn't seem to exist with snappers.  On a 12 hour trip, I have caught red snappers, groupers and several other varieties of fish.  In the off season, Bee Liners are commonly caught with an occasional Lane Snapper, Grouper, and etc.  Bee Liners look a lot like red snappers but they are smaller and not quite as tasty.