A Guide to Destin, Fort Walton Beach & Emerald Coast Fishing

    Emerald Coast fishing, which includes Destin, Fort Walton Beach and Okaloosa Island, is some of the best in Florida, thanks to the area’s easy access to the deeper areas of the Gulf of Mexico.

    But of the more than 20 species of sportfish caught in local waters, none is as highly prized as the red snapper, which many would argue is the best-tasting fish in Florida waters.

    The Emerald Coast fishing season for red snapper opened June 1 and continued through July 18. The fish were thick and hungry this year, a good bet for any angler hoping to get in on the action during the peak summer months.

    Conservation Success Story

    At one time, red snapper had all but disappeared from the waters of the Gulf of Mexico. For years, millions of young red snapper were caught and discarded in shrimp nets.

    But the shrimp industry changed course and the trawls were modified with devices to exclude any young snapper caught accidentally during the shrimping process. Red snapper stocks quickly rebounded, the fish multiplied in numbers, and the red snapper fishery is now viewed as a true conservation success story.

    It is not uncommon for party boats heading out of local ports to catch their legal limit in a matter of hours. As a result, some local charter boat captains can bank on running two, three, and sometimes, even four trips a day to the prime snapper grounds.

    Action-Packed Season

    Snapper season in the Gulf of Mexico lasts weeks, but for many anglers, there's enough offshore action to last a whole year. Heading out of Destin’s East Pass and within 10 miles, anglers quickly find themselves in 100 feet of water where the snapper congregate over reefs and wrecks, making Emerald Coast fishing so special.

    Snapper are voracious feeders that will hit live and natural baits, as well as a variety of artificial lures. This species, which is actually more pink than red, can live for more than 20 years and reach weights of more than 35 pounds.

    But if you want to land your name in the record books, the Emerald Coast is the place to do it. The largest red snapper, a 46-pound, 8-ounce whopper, caught in Florida was landed on a Destin fishing trip.

    Fall Fun

    But don’t worry, with snapper season over, you can switch gears and start getting ready for the legendary Destin Fishing Rodeo, a month-long tournament where anglers pursue everything from blue marlin to spotted sea trout.

    There isn’t another tournament like it in Florida. Established in 1948, this month-long event draws 30,000 anglers. And it doesn’t matter if you are fishing off a bridge or jetty, trolling for king mackerel from your center console, after grouper and snapper on a party boat or hunting the blue water for sailfish and marlin, you have the same chance to win cash and prizes.

    When You Go

    Florida law requires that both resident and visiting anglers possess a salt fishing license. Red snapper season runs June 1 through July 18. Anglers may keep two fish, 16 inches or larger, per day.

    To plan your visit to the Emerald Coast, go to emeraldcoastfl.com.