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South Walton Fishing - Year-Round Angler Fun

With 14 fresh and saltwater lakes, the Choctawhatchee Bay and the Gulf of Mexico included in the recreational waterfront, the South Walton beaches offer exciting fishing opportunities for anglers with all levels of expertise.

Freshwater Fishing

Fall is the best season for fishing, as all species are active in their search for food as the climate turns colder.

In the South Walton lakes, bass, bream, bluegill, mullet, catfish and shellcracker are abundant.

If fish could talk, they would tell you they prefer live bait, and especially live bait without hooks. Of course, if we did live in a perfect world, fishing as a sport would be obsolete as the fish would just jump into the boats.

Plastic worms or spinnerbaits work best for catching bass, and crickets, earthworms or small spinnerbaits are most effective in catching bream, bluegill, mullet, catfish and shellcracker.

In the winter months, you will most likely catch bluegill, shellcracker and bass, but you may have to search, as they will be in deeper water.

In spring, the action picks up with fish bringing life to shallow waters again. The best bets for bait are topwater plugs to catch bass and popping flies for bream and bluegill.

Summer is slower for bass fishing, but the other species mentioned are still biting. Mullet remains plentiful and can be successfully caught using doughballs and earthworm pieces.

Saltwater Fishing

Saltwater fishing in South Walton will bring you to the Choctawhatchee Bay. The species in this region include speckled trout, redfish, spanish mackerel, flounder, bluefish and cobia.

Speckled trout and redfish may be caught year round, but springtime brings a rise in their numbers as well as an increase in feeding activity. Spring also marks the beginning of great fishing for mackerel and cobia, as they have migrated north then west, following the coast. Summer brings flounder and bluefish into the bays in large numbers. Add these species to the trout, redfish and mackerel that are plentiful this time of year, and there are endless possibilities. Fortunately, these fish are not very particular about baits. Live shrimp, small bait fish, jigs, spoons and plugs will all take their share of fish.

Fall and winter fishing is devoted to trout and redfish as they head into the creeks and rivers. The fish will be found in deeper holes, so jigs and live bait fished on the bottom work best.

Bottom Fishing

Bottom fishing refers to fishing in the Gulf, over wrecks, reefs or any other bottom structure in water from 40-180 feet deep.

The bottom fish move closer to shore as the water warms. This makes bottom fishing much more accessible during September, October, November and December. There are fewer boats on the water at this time of the year, making competition less fierce and often yielding highly productive trips.

South Walton fish species that you will predominantly catch with bottom fishing are sea bass, triggerfish and several varieties of both grouper and snapper.

But don't let this type of fishing scare you away January through August. Bottom water fishing is also excellent in the spring, with copper-bellied grouper and red snapper abundant. Premium baits are live cigar minnows, pinfish and other bait fish. However, cut bait and large jigs will work as well.

Summer and fall see little decline in the action. The main seasonal difference is that in the warmer months, the seas are calmer, allowing for a more comfortable ride out to the fishing grounds.

Offshore Fishing

Offshore fishing is done from 25 miles or more offshore, and usually includes trolling live or artificial baits. Fall is the prime season for offshore action, when the largest blue and white marlin are caught.

Spring and summer also offer great offshore fishing, especially for dolphin, king mackerel and wahoo.

The most common types of species that you will catch with this type of fishing in South Walton are dolphin, tuna, king mackerel, wahoo, sailfish, blue and white marlin.

Surf Fishing

Surf fishing can be done anywhere along the 26 miles of beaches in South Walton, and is most productive from April through November.

Surf fishing species include pompano, Spanish mackerel, trout, redfish and bluefish. The preferred tackle is a long rod (seven feet or longer) and a large spinning wheel with 12-15 pound line. Shrimp, cut bait, jigs and spoons work well, but to catch pompano, sand fleas or small white jigs are most effective.

Fishing Regulations

For most types of fishing in Florida, state residents and visitors need a fishing license. Out-of-state residents are required to obtain a license for fishing from land or boat in fresh and saltwater. A seven-day license is available for $30, and an annual license is $47.

Florida residents need a license for fishing in saltwater from a boat or when wading in water over four feet deep. Freshwater fishing requires a license except when fishing from land, with a cane pole, or in the fisherperson's county of residence. An annual license for residents for either type of fishing is $17.

If you plan to be fishing in brackish waters, a mixture of fresh and saltwater, you must possess a freshwater license to keep freshwater species, and a saltwater license to keep saltwater species, or both if you want to keep species of both types.

Licenses may be obtained at most local bait and tackle shops, or through the Walton County Tax Collector's Office. To order a license in advance, call the office at 800/347-4356. A list of regulations concerning size limits, bag limits and closed seasons on all species can be found wherever fishing licenses are sold.

Charter Fishing Resort and Charter Fishing

Part of the joys of fishing in South Walton is the opportunity to fish at local resorts or on chartered boats.

The numerous ponds on and around the golf courses at Sandestin Resort have been stocked with largemouth bass and bream, and provide excellent fishing for guests of the resort. Sandestin's Baytowne Marina also offers deck boat rentals for recreational use in the bay. Guests of Seascape Resort and Conference Center, Cassine Garden, Emerald Coast RV Resort and Holiday Travel Park are welcome to fish in their stocked lakes and ponds.

Visitors to South Walton can choose from many charter boat and party boat saltwater trips by driving just a few miles west of South Walton to Destin East Pass. Names of specific charter and boat services can be found in the local yellow pages, at any local bait and tackle shop, or at the South Walton Information Center.

Charter boats themselves vary in size up to 60 feet in length, accommodating parties of six passengers or more, depending on what each boat is licensed to carry, including a captain and mate. The passenger load can vary from six to 30 depending on the boat.

Advantages of a charter trip include personalized service, first class comfort and excellent fishing, especially of the offshore variety.

Charters are offered for half or full-day trips. All equipment is provided however, you must bring your own food and drink unless advance arrangements are made.

Party boats are similar to charter boats except they are usually for shorter periods of time and can accommodate larger numbers of people. Party boats are large vessels, 50-70 feet in length, holding 20-90 persons, a captain and several mates. The boat usually provides rods, reels and all bait and tackle. Party boats offer half and full-day trips. They are less luxurious than charter boat trips, but the cost is considerably lower.

For more information about fishing in the South Walton beaches area, contact the administrative offices of Beaches of South Walton, P.O. Box 1248, Santa Rosa Beach, FL 32459; 800/822-6877.