Redneck Riviera Fishing
Meat Fishing of the White Sands of Panama City Beach
In 1979 I was just out of the University of Georgia working for a poultry production company. One of the vendors to that company had made it a practice to take all of the "service men" down to the panhandle of Florida for a fishing trip. That trip, about 32 years ago, was my first ever trip to the whitest beaches in the world, from Panama City Beach to Destin. And that trip was also my first of many trips back to the area for pilgrimages to the sea for fresh fish and a great time catching them.
After last years fiasco, much of which was overplayed in the media, with BP and the oil spill, the beaches have returned and so have those who worship the Sun gods. The beach was literally packed from what I could see from our boat. I'm not one to lay out on the sand - although my wife will do so all day given the opportunity. I do believe with the one year off from most fishing pressure, the fish had time to grow and populate. But I'm jumping ahead now.
Business for me has been very demanding and much less profitable for some months now. I work harder and harder for less and less return. I know I'm not alone in that sentiment, and I also know I'm fortunate to even be around right now. But one thing I seem to have found over the many years I have been in business, sometimes what you are doing just doesn't matter. That is when you need a break - and I think that is why God made the space between hunting seasons filled with opportunities to go fishing.
Just last week, Monday was about normal with Monday issues. People that needed stuff immediately because they had ordered late and forgot there was a lead time - or a few repairs that simply required support. Tuesday I had plans on making some fresh sales calls but the company I had planned to call on had a fire and there was no opportunity for me to visit, so I was at home going over some repairs on our air conditioner. I had a call from a very close friend. He said, "hey, get in the car with your wife and join me an my wife at this condo in PCB." I thought for a moment how nice that would be to just spontaneously jump in the volvo wagon, point it South and head for the sea. Then I woke up and said, "no, I don't think we can afford it right now."
This is a very determined good friend. Besides that he had to add to the story he was painting just a little, "I put 100 pounds of fish on the dock today in 4 hours, and it would have been more but several of the fish were not big enough." Ok, he had my interest again, but once again I kept studying the budget. "Look, if we left now we would still have to buy dinner on the road, we won't get their until late, fishing tomorrow at 5 am and then turn around and head back here the next day?"
Undaunted, he asked for my wife's cell phone number. Of course I gave it to him, I wanted to go but needed her support. He called her and in his special way of saying things, told her how close the condo was to the beach - that the beach had been beautiful the past two days - and heck, the condo was free for us to use! Come on down - and besides, big boy needs a break! She looked at me and said, "we really can't afford that trip, can we?"
Honesty sure has a way of screwing up a good plan. In the call, he had told me - look, if you come down we will go fishing on a half day and not only that but red snapper season opens tomorrow - the first snapper of the season will be caught - our best opportunity! I'll front you the cost of the trip - just get in the car and come on down!
We thought about it for a good hour, then it took another 45 minutes to find some beach towels and my fishing hat and a few other sundry items - at 4:45 we were getting on I-985 heading South into Atlanta for the trip to the sunny shores of Panama City Beach, Florida. We made the cruise right through downtown Atlanta hitting the reverse commute traffic on the way in and no construction run on the other side going out. Down through Columbus, Georgia - across the Chattahoochee into Alabama and through the beautiful Southern town of Eufala, Alabama. On to Dothan, past the landmark Dobbs BBQ, then the small towns right at the Florida line with tons of fresh produce like melons and strawberries. Passing under I-10 we knew we were about 90 minutes from our beds, 5 a.m. would be coming very early.
We made it to the condo, had a quick mango margarita with our friends then off to bed. My biological alarm clock was ringing in my ear at 5 as my bud knocked on the bedroom door to get up. Fortunately, PCB is on Central time so I actually got in an extra hour sleep. We went down to the convenience store getting 3 ham sandwiches, a cup of coffee and some jerky to take on the boat. Then we pulled back across to the docks where our enthusiastic guide's boat was docked. No captain in sight - we called him. Of course it was 5:15 and the charter wasn't until 6, but my bud calls the guy and says, "early bird gets the work, where are you?"
Only a few minutes later Captain Guy Ward, www.niceguycharters.com, pulls up into the parking lot next to us. "You old men want to go catch some fish?" All he had to say to me and we were on the dock loading our important stuff into his center console for the trip offshore. Oh we were in for it.
Captain Ward is a young Florida native that knows his craft and has been fishing for about 8 years in the area. He competes in a lot of fishing competitions for king fish as well as others up and down the coast. Even though this particular trip wasn't a perfect trip, it wasn' t his fault - unless he has some control over the weather I don't know about. When we exited the jetty the waves were already pushing up. By the time we were 6 miles offshore - it was a rockin. With a steady 25-30 mile an hour South wind against the tide - we were getting punished. Did I mention this is a 21 foot center console? I weigh about 285, my friend is really close to my size so both of us cannot be on the same side of most boats - particularly this one in 4 foot seas. We had bought $40 worth of bait before we exited the jetty and were trying our best to get something on these pogies. Nothing was going to strike.
Captain Ward kept us fishing when he could find a spot he thought might work. We even pulled into some protected waters where he knew about a hole - and we landed a couple nice grouper - who's season had ended the day before! When we got to the dock - we were empty handed. I forgot to throw in that we also had an unfortunate, and unavoidable problem with the Mercury motor. It had an oil pump go out and we needed to hit the dock a little early.
After clinging to the side of the boat for my dear life for 4 hours, getting about 4 hours sleep, and having one adult beverage after going fishing, as soon as I got back to the condo I took a shower and laid down for a quick nap. Several hours later, my wife and my bud and his wife could be heard laughing downstairs. How nice is that - I didn't have to go out on the beach and got a nice nap. Wow, one of my best ever trips to the beach.
When I went downstairs I was told we were getting ready to go out for seafood. A must when you are in PCB. We were going to Hunts Seafood where PCB gets a little bit of its reputation for the redneck riviera - across the street is a strip club AND a cheap hotel. Wow, all those tasty raw oysters then walk across the street for topless-a-go-go? Probably not on this trip with the wives! While we were at dinner, a plan was explained to me that I hadn't been made aware of since I was napping. We were not leaving in the morning - but going fishing again. The captain had already been called and the trip lined up. His boat was fixed and running great he said - so 5 am again, here we come.
As the sun was just making its first small streaks of light across the few clouds I felt the breeze blowing straight up the bay into my face. Ugh, I surely hoped this wasn't going to be a repeat performance. Captain Ward was already on the boat - hit us up with "early bird gets the worm" as we boarded. "We are catching out own bait today," he said as we pushed off and started backing off the dock. As soon as we passed the "no wake zone" sign he was off to the races all the way to the buoy we were going to target about 6 miles out. Limited waves, actually more like rolls as we motored out nearly full speed. What a difference 24 hours makes. We got up close to the buoy and he started throwing special artificial baits with tiny hooks intended to catch the pogies we needed for bait. Soon we had a couple of dozen baits in the live well and it was time to go for some kings.
I expected we would head out and start trolling somewhere. Nope, we backed off a good 50 yards or so and tied on treble hooks with a fresh live pogie. It was at least a good 30 seconds before the first fish was on - another good 30 seconds before the second king slammed into the other bait - a double with 20 pound king mackeral! Awesome. Once these were in the boat, we did it again - so within 10 minutes we had filled our limit on kings! Off to the snapper hole. Six or seven miles to the West Captain Ward started circling. He told us to bait up our rods with circle hooks - drop to the bottom - crank up 5 cranks. BAM - fish on! Yes, in only a few minutes we were actually filling out our limit on red snapper - with really decent fish. My first fish up was a solid 5 pounder.
We pulled up after filling the cooler and were about to pull out when Bud hooked an nice 4 foot shark - and it was off to the races. ZZZzzzzziiiiinnngg - I just love the sound of line being stripped off a reel in 80 feet of water! After we boated it, we headed back East to find the Captain his kings. Instead - we landed two nice Spanish Macks and two Bonita he could use later for bait - although they pulled great. Four hour tour was up so we headed to the dock.
How much easier is it to go in from a day on the water with no chop, small waves, tight lines, fish in the cooler and all done in less than half a day! We dropped the fish off with "Country boy" at the fish house - 74.6 pounds - and told him we'd be back at 1:30. Off for a quick shower, some good seafood for lunch then back to the fish house. A cooler full of a mix of fish makes a trip to the coast very worthwhile. If you have the inclination - call Captain Ward - set up a time and catch some fish. He is also a solid choice for inshore fishing for red fish and sea trout.
With the temperatures hovering just over 100 on our way North - I had to call my friend and thank him for pushing us to make the trip. I did need the break - we all do sometime - and this made it for us. What a great time!