Nestled 80 miles southwest of Tallahassee, Franklin County encompasses more than 250 miles of unspoiled coastline and caters to anglers who desire an old Florida, low-key getaway with access to a widely diverse array of angling exploits. Within minutes of launching your skiff or pulling off the road to wade fish, inshore fanatics can find solidarity fishing skinny water around St. Vincent’s, St. George and Dog Islands. With an abundance of red drum, flounder, pompano, tarpon and speckled trout patrolling the numerous sandbars, channel ledges and oyster bars hugging the spoil islands and beaches, anglers can anticipate fast action no matter the time of year. Near-shore waters are equally productive and lead the way to impressive catches with kingfish, cobia, sheepshead, tripletail and much more. While it may be remote and undeveloped compared to most of Florida’s coastal community standards, the Forgotten Coast is just the way I like it!
For several years a trip to the Panhandle has been at the top of my bucket list. After speaking with Franklin County’s Board of Tourism on numerous occasions, it was confirmed this area needed further investigation. The varying venues and targets are seemingly incomprehensible, with easy access to dynamic inshore and offshore structures loaded with life. On our first morning in town, a relative term along the Forgotten Coast, we were able to meet up with Captain Dennis Crosby of Boss Charters. Operating out of Apalachicola, a region first inhabited by Franciscan friars arriving from Spain in the 1700s, the area is filled with rich maritime history, delightful southern hospitality, and is as enjoyable as you’ll allow it to be. Apalachicola has an incredibly historic waterfront and resonates with remembrances of an age once filled with steamboats, railroads, cotton and lumber mills. Yesteryear further shines through with vintage views of Victorian plantation-style estates overlooking the sound.
Heading into the late afternoon, having a cooler that will not close due to a few too many large fish tails sticking out may be your biggest problem.
Anglers fishing the Forgotten Coast can expect to connect with a mixed bag of inshore species including black and red drum, mackerel, trout and bluefish when searching out the coastal waters and caramel colored passes. Stay focused on targeting island or jetty points during a falling tide with ladyfish chunks and live shrimp rigged on ¼ oz. banana style jigheads—a proven approach.
Cruise out of the mouth of the Apalachicola River and you will stumble upon St. Vincent Island—a National Wildlife Refuge and undeveloped barrier island home to a variety of endangered and threatened species including bald eagles, red wolves, Sambar deer, sea turtles, indigo snakes and gopher tortoises. Through the natural flushing of the local watershed, key habitat for such a diverse, nutrient-rich environment makes this area incredibly sensitive.
Along the coastal waters of St. Vincent Island it was easy to see that the area was teeming with life. From the vast species of birds diving on schools of baitfish, to pods of porpoises, sea turtles and more, the area provided a stunning National Geographic style exhibition.
Our base camp for the trip was the picturesque coastal community of Carrabelle, which rests about 20 miles east of Apalachicola. With a population of just over 2,700, this is the place to experience small town nostalgia. With no crowds, the white sand beaches are perfect for any saltwater-loving family to take in and enjoy. It’s not unusual to spot wild deer, fox, bears, and blue heron at play throughout your travels around the region.
If you’re more inclined to head offshore to the deeper waters of the Gulf, Apalachicola, Carrabelle and East Point are also your gateways to offshore angling ecstasy. After a great day fishing with Captain Crosby, we retired early in anticipation of a powerfully mixed angling agenda with Captain Chester Reese of Natural World Charters.
Anglers visiting these rich offshore waters can anticipate tangling with healthy kings and large migrating cobia during the spring and summer months. Just a short ride out to one of the numerous channel markers on the outer bay, anglers can readily score with choice-sized blue runners. After you’ve loaded the livewell, ease up and anchor just ahead of the well-known limestone ledge near Dog Island’s coastline in 30- to 40-feet of water. The diversity of sea bass, grunts, gag grouper and king mackerel will attack live and dead baits, jigs and soft plastics. Head offshore to Franklin County’s deeper waters and you’ll find it hard to miss the massive towers that attract an array of saltwater predators.
Ranging from 20- to 35-miles offshore, the towers are maintained by the U.S. Air Force and the constellation is used for fighter-jet training out of Eglin Air Force Base near Panama City. The uniqueness of these structures is truly amazing and their coordinates are readily available on most fishing charts. Standing nearly 120 feet above sea level, these superstructures are labeled alphabetically and create unparalleled habitat in the relatively featureless Gulf.
Upon approaching these deepwater monuments, anglers can witness massive amounts of bait harassed by frenzied blackfin tuna, bonito, kingfish and barracuda. Migrating cobia can also be spotted along the surface, with an enticing swimbait enough to get their attention. Larger cobia, in particular, must be strategically teased to get them to fully commit. Many anglers often make the mistake of retrieving the lures too fast or too slow. The trick is to keep the lure several inches in front of the fish no matter the required rate of retrieve until they fully commit to crushing your offering.
Sight fishing with artificial lures always ranks high on my list and we were extremely fortunate to connect with a thick cobia. After a grueling tug-o-war and fine boat handling on Chester’s part, a hefty 50 lb. ling was landed. A freshly gaffed cobia will still be very zesty and untamed thrashing will be a common occurrence. I can’t begin to stress how important it is to remain clear of a green cobia on deck.
When fishing around the deep water towers you’ll want to flat line live offerings up to 50-feet behind the boat. Anglers can expect solid connections on each pass from a variety of species including smoker kings, mangrove snapper, gag grouper, jack crevalle, cobia and more. Heading into the late afternoon, having a cooler that will not close due to a few too many large fish tails sticking out may be your biggest problem.
On the ride back to Carrabelle Boat Club, we kept ourselves intrigued by the phenomenal day experienced by all. The only thing that could’ve topped the amazing day on the water was the local Cajun style feast in East Point. The Forgotten Coast’s mix of clean oysters, crisp clams, succulent scallops, fresh fish, spicy gumbo and savory shrimp will satisfy even the most discriminating seafood enthusiast. Franklin County’s traditional southern hospitality coupled with phenomenal inshore and offshore angling opportunities provide visitors a rarely found, authentic old Florida experience. One thing is clear, this is one of the most promising angling destinations I have visited in our beautiful state of Florida and I will most definitely be back and can’t wait to get lost again!
Rig it Right
With such a broad range of targets along the Forgotten Coast, anglers should have a variety of outfits rigged and ready to capitalize on whatever opportunities may pop up. Keep a few light action-spinning outfits spooled with several hundred yards of 10 lb. braid joined to a 36-inch section of 30 lb. leader. A 3000 or 4000 size spinning reel matched to a 7-foot fast-taper spinning rod is all you will need to capitalize on what’s rumbling in the caramel colored shallows. For larger game fish encountered farther offshore, 7-foot conventional rods with reels spooled with 25 lb. monofilament keep anglers connected to kings, cobia and more.