February 26, 2024

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Complete Guide to Fishing at Panama City, Florida

Reading Time: 9 minutes

There are many reasons to visit the Florida Panhandle, but Panama City stands out. Shopping, museums, nightlife, and restaurants – there’s something for everyone here. And if you go fishing in Panama City Florida, we assure you, you won’t want to leave.

The extensive bays, sandy beaches, and rich offshore waters are enough to keep any angler entertained for a lifetime. So read on. In this guide, we’ll walk you through all you need to know about fishing Panama City Beach’s more grown-up sister city. Let’s dive in.

What fish can you catch in Panama City?

The sheer variety of fish you can catch out of Panama City says a lot about the potential of fishing around here. No matter the season, there’s always something biting. Close to town, off the beaches, and way out in the Gulf of Mexico – wherever you are, don’t miss out on these top catches…

Inshore and Bay

A young boy in a blue shirt, sunglasses, and a baseball cap standing on a fishing boat in the calm inshore waters of Panama City and holding a large Redfish on a clear day
Photo courtesy of North Bay Inshore

Panama City sits between no fewer than four bays, so it’s no surprise that inshore fishing is big around here. Not sure what to target? The following fish rate as highly for their sportfishing credentials as they do on the dinner table.

  • Redfish. Talk to any inshore sportfisher in the Panhandle, and it won’t be long before they mention Bull Redfish. Reds grow up to 50 pounds in this part of the Sunshine State every fall, and have a devoted following. There’s more to Redfishing in Panama City than Bull Reds, though. Smaller Redfish live in the area’s bays and backwaters all year round, and it can be amazing fun to sight fish on the fly or to target them with live bait and light tackle.
  • Flounder. They might look funny, but Flounder are some of the best-tasting fish you can find in shallow water. Although you can technically find them all year round around Panama City, they’re most common from fall through early winter. Try the local tradition of gigging for these Flatfish in the bay with a pitchfork-like spear or fish with rod and reel around passes and nearshore wrecks. Be sure to check the regulations, though – you usually aren’t allowed to keep them during their spawning season.
  • Trout. Spotted Seatrout, Speckled Trout, Yellow Mouths… whatever you call them, Panama City’s “Specks” are firm favorites inshore. One of the best things about them is that they’re available all year round and bite particularly well in the winter. They also taste great and respond well to both live bait and artificials. What more could you ask for?

Off the Beaches

A woman in a pink vest shirt standing on a dock after a fishing trip in Panama City while holding a large Kingfish with a number of other small fish behind her
Photo courtesy of Reel Twisted Charters

Travel out of the St Andrew’s Inlet, and you’re in the Gulf of Mexico. These warm waters wash over a flat, sandy seabed that’s covered in artificial reefs, wrecks, and other fish-filled structure. All this makes the local beaches irresistible for migrating nearshore fish, which stop by Panama City from spring through fall. Look out for:

  • Cobia. You know the fishing is heating up when the first Cobia arrive off Panama City Beach. These delicious migratory fish only stop by briefly but, when they do, it’s big news. Reserve a boat with a sight fishing tower and look for them cruising westwards through the clear, emerald waters. Peak season takes place in April and May, but they sometimes stick around well into the summer. 
  • Mackerel. You can catch two types of Mackerel from Panama City: Spanish and King Mackerel. Both are good to eat and fun to catch, but the larger “Kingfish” are the ones that get the most attention. King Mackerel start to appear shortly after Cobia and regularly reach 30–40 pounds. You can catch them by trolling or live bait fishing over wrecks from May to October. Meanwhile, Spanish Mackerel flock to the bays and beaches from early spring through fall. These smaller, colorful fish are great fun to catch with kids.
  • Tarpon. Panama City may not be the first place you think of for Tarpon fishing in Florida. But you can have just as much fun fishing for “Silver Kings” here as you can in big-name destinations like the Keys. You can spot these huge armor-plated fish rolling past the beaches from June through August, gulping air as they go. They’re called Kings for a reason – you can catch and release monsters of up to 150 pounds around here!

Offshore Reefs and Wrecks

A family of anglers of different ages and genders posing with their haul of different Snappers and a Gag Grouper after a successful fishing trip in Panama Beach on a sunny day
Photo courtesy of King Slayer Charters LLC.

Offshore fishing out of Panama City is first and foremost about one thing: food. The relatively shallow waters of this part of the Gulf of Mexico mean tasty bottom fish are within easy reach. Some of these fish are here all year round, but they’re heavily regulated. Depending on the time of year, you’re likely to target:

  • Red Snapper. The poster child of Panhandle’s fishing scene is bold, bright, and sells out in restaurants across the Gulf of Mexico. Weighing up to 50 pounds, Red Snapper are extremely sought-after. This popularity comes at a cost. They have very strict seasonal openings – usually in June and July, with a couple of weekend openings later in the year, too. If you catch them during their closed season, you can return them to their natural habitat by using a descending device.
  • Grouper. As a general rule, the further you go into the Gulf of Mexico, the sweeter the rewards. Many local anglers take day-long excursions and travel over 40 miles into the Gulf to deep sea fish for any one of the delicious local Grouper species. Gag, Scamp, Red, and Warsaw Grouper all live within reach of Panama City. Just keep an eye on their seasonal openings. Once you get to your fishing spot, get ready for a haul. Heavy tackle is a must for these bottom-dwelling monsters!
  • Mahi Mahi. Just because you’re in the Panhandle, don’t give up on catching a pelagic fish. Mahi Mahi are also known as “Dolphinfish” but they look nothing like the dolphins you’ll see swimming around Panama City. Instead, they’re bright green and golden. They often swim in schools around Snapper and Grouper spots from spring through early fall. Troll to and from the reef, and you could well hook one. Eat them fresh off the boat and enjoy some of the best-tasting fish on the planet!

How to Go Fishing in Panama City

If anywhere’s set up for fishing, it’s the Panhandle. Panama City is no exception. Hire a boat to experience the amazing deep sea fishing Panama City has on its doorstep or go it alone in the area’s multiple bays and shorelines. Whatever you choose, you’ll be in for a workout – these seas are teeming with fish!

Fishing Charters

A view across the deck of a fishing charter in Panama City, Fl, with three men sitting and enjoying the ride while three trolling rods trail lines in the boat's wake on a clear day
Photo courtesy of Grand Slam Fishing Charters

Chartering a boat is hands-down the most effective way to experience the Gulf of Mexico. That’s because captains use their years of personal experience to find the best spots to catch fish. You can tailor these trips to your own needs, too. Choose between an inshore, beach, or offshore trip – or mix things up if the boat and conditions are right.

All sorts of boats moor in the city’s multiple marinas, each coming with a captain or guide with their own unique experience. Many Panama City fishing charters can take up to six passengers.

Most deep sea fishing charters around Panama City focus on bottom fishing around the reefs and wrecks. Sometimes, they’ll troll to and from the fishing grounds. But you can also hire a guide to fish the protected waters inshore. This is no less of a challenge! Sight casting in shallow water can be the ultimate test of your fishing skills.

Party Boat Fishing

A view from the flybridge of a party fishing boat in Panama City, FL, looking down towards a large group of anglers gathered on the deck and posing for a photo with the wake of the boat visible behind them
Photo courtesy of Long Shot Charters – F/V Big Shot

Are you a solo angler looking to access proven fishing spots at a fraction of the cost of a private charter? Party boats – or “head boats” – sell individual tickets on larger vessels that can carry upwards of 20 people at a time.

These trips mainly focus on reef fishing, with Snappers, Grunts, and Spanish Mackerel among the common catches. Tackle and some bait come as part of the package, but it’s worth asking if you can bring your own live bait to increase your chances of catching fish.

Solo Fishing

Three rods perched in the sand near Panama City, casting lines into the surf on a blustry day

You don’t need to charter a boat to catch fish out of Panama City. Just grab a rod, reel, and some bait or lures, and you’ll be well on your way. Solo fishing can be slower than fishing with a guide, but there are few better ways to while away a few hours out of doors.

Depending on the time of year, you might want to fish from piers and jetties. Otherwise, you can fish the surf off the beaches or wade in the Grand Lagoon and other local bays. The bay system is also easy to navigate in a kayak or pontoon boat.

Choose your bait and lures according to where you’re fishing and what you want to catch. Cigar minnows are irresistible to Kingfish, which lucky anglers can catch from piers and jetties. Just be sure to use a wire leader if you’re targeting these toothy fish! “Gotcha” jigs can also land a whole variety of fish around the piers, and nothing beats sand fleas for fishing the surf. However, if you’re looking to catch a bit of everything, you can’t go wrong with live or frozen shrimp, or squid

Where to Fish in Panama City

A view across some reeds towards a calm lake in St. Andrews Park, Panama City, on a clear day

With four marinas across the city and multiple land-based fishing spots, you’re never far away from fish in Panama City. The city sits between four bays – West Bay, East Bay, North Bay, and Saint Andrews Bay. Meanwhile, the inlet gives direct access to the Gulf of Mexico. Check out one of these hotspots if you’re not sure where to start:

  • St Andrews Bay. This 69,000-acre estuary is home to a huge variety of fish. Its waters are saltier than most estuaries, making it the perfect home for inshore fish like Speckled Trout and Redfish. What makes it particularly attractive to fish – and anglers – is its variety of water depths and seafloor coverings. From shallow grass flats to deep channels, there’s somewhere for fish to hide and hunt in every season of the year.
  • St Andrews State Park. Directly across the bay from Panama City, St Andrews State Park protects both sides of the inlet. One of Panama City’s most popular fishing piers stretches out from the park into the Gulf of Mexico, while the jetties put you right in the path of fish swimming in and out of the inlet. Away from the Gulf, the back side of the park looks out onto a huge stretch of wadable grass flats.
  • Gulf of Mexico. This section of the Gulf of Mexico is known for being flat, shallow, and sandy. With very few places to hide in the seabed, bait fish and predators congregate around any kind of structure they can find. The waters out of Panama City are full of artificial reefs and wrecks that provide exactly this. That’s why this is one of the most rewarding places to fish on the planet. If you’re willing to travel 70+ miles, you can sometimes find big, pelagic predators, too. But with the quality and quantity of bottom fish around, is it really worth it?
  • Deer Point Lake. With all this talk of saltwater fishing, it’s easy to forget about the freshwater fishing that Panama City offers anglers. The 5,000-acre Deer Point Lake is just north of the city and is a renowned destination for Bass and Panfish.

Panama City Fishing Regulations

An infographic featuring the flag of Florida, a vector of a boat, and the FishingBooker logo, along with text stating "Panama City Fishing Regulations: What You Need to Know" against a blue background

Almost everyone over the age of 16 needs a fishing license in Panama City, Florida. However, all legitimate Panama City fishing charters cover licenses for everyone on board. For more information on licensing in Florida, check out our comprehensive guide.

Most sportfishing species in Florida have special regulations that govern when you can catch them and how big they must be for you to keep one. Red Snapper, Grouper, and Triggerfish have particularly strict seasons. Check the current regulations from the MyFWC website if you’re planning to keep your catch for the dinner table. 

Regulations for fish in state waters (up to 9 miles from shore) are different from federal waters, and only a few boats have federal permits. If you have a certain species in mind, make sure to check the boat’s licensing before you book. This is easy to do on FishingBooker.

Take to the Water in Panama City, Florida

A view across some choppy waters towards the town of Panama City in Florida's Panhandle region at sunset, with an orange hue visible beyond a beach and two high-rise buildings in the distance

You might not have considered fishing in Panama City before, what with all the parties and condos in neighboring Panama City Beach. But this town has its own, very distinct, character. It’s also ideally set out for fishing, with freshwater, bay, and ocean angling all accessible in a matter of minutes. So come on over. If all these fish weren’t enough to tempt you, the dolphins and beautiful scenery of Florida’s Emerald Coast will make this a vacation to remember!

Are you planning a trip to Panama City? We can help match you up with your perfect fishing charter or show you the way to the area’s best bait and tackle stores. Just get in touch below!

The post Fishing in Panama City, Florida: The Complete Guide appeared first on FishingBooker Blog.

By: Cat
Title: Fishing in Panama City, Florida: The Complete Guide
Sourced From: fishingbooker.com/blog/panama-city-fishing/
Published Date: Thu, 14 Dec 2023 11:59:44 +0000

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