This adventure began back in January of this year. A gentleman living in the Florida panhandle was considering equipping his new bass boat with the latest in marine electronics and was clicking about on YouTube in an effort to compare the various sonar companies’ technologies.
In doing so, he came across a few sonar tutorial videos I had placed on YouTube, at the ends of which I had included further contact information. This fellow contacted me by text initially, and over the next few weeks, we traded phone calls, emails and additional texts, during which time I fielded technical questions pertaining to the various sonar technologies and brands he was considering.
So set was this fellow on doing things right the first time, that he wound up booking a flight from the airport in Fort Walton Beach to Austin for himself and his 15-year-old son in late February. Our plans were to do a combination fishing trip/sonar training spread over a full day.
Although the weather left much to be desired, we fished on Belton Lake in the morning, making extensive use of 2D sonar, down-imaging and side-imaging to find fish, and Garmin LiveScope technology to capitalize upon what we had found.
When the morning was over, my client and his son had landed 71 fish, most of which were white bass, primarily by working Hazy Eye Slabs vertically over deep water. More importantly, both saw how the use of sonar was essential in the fish-finding process.
After breaking for lunch, the two rejoined me for the land-based portion of the sonar training I normally provide to sonar owners when they hire me to board their vessel and train them on the units they own.
After journeying 660 miles for this education, this fellow was so pleased with what he had learned that he generously offered for my wife and I to stay in a beachside condominium he owns in Destin, Florida, following the busy summer season, which wraps up following the Labor Day weekend.
Having visited the Orange Beach, Alabama, and Pensacola, Florida, area previously, we knew the area well enough to know we would love to return there. We took my client up on his offer and, last week, traveled to Destin and fished two half-day trips in the area.
Our first trip was a four-hour morning trip with Captain Gabrielle Barnes, an area native who operates Lady Luck Adventures fishing guide service.
We chose an inshore trip, which meant we would fish more protected waters and do so with lighter tackle for smaller fish versus a longer run out onto the Gulf of Mexico for larger fish taken on heavier tackle.
On Sept. 7, my client, his son and I met Captain Barnes at 7 a.m. on the white sand shoreline behind The Gulf restaurant on Okaloosa Island and headed out onto the waters of Destin Harbor and the East Inlet which connects the harbor to the Gulf of Mexico.
Using pilchard minnows, which are locally referred to as “greenies” and which look like threadfin shad, we cast Carolina rigs, terminated with circle hooks and weighted with about two ounces of lead, toward fish-holding rocky cover.
Whenever Barnes suspected bluefish or Spanish mackerel were in the area, we cast metallic lures called “Gotchas” using another set of spinning rods. After observing the Spanish mackerel behavior, I gave my own MAL Heavy Lure a try as a pilchard imitation and successfully landed fish on that lure, as well.
By the time we came back in around lunchtime, we had landed a total of 17 fish, including blue runners, pinfish, mangrove snappers and Spanish mackerel.
Our second trip, attended by only my wife and me, involved about a 45-minute drive due west of Destin to the small town of Gulf Breeze, Florida.
There, we met Captain Dave Yelverton, a native of that town, and owner of Gulf Breeze Fishing Charters.
We launched from the public boat ramp at Shoreline Park in Gulf Breeze aboard Yelverton’s center console.
A multi-species approach was in order, as Yelverton had let us know well in advance that the fishing may be tough due to excessive rains reducing the salinity of the inshore waters we would be fishing. Hence, we look for whatever we could find and capitalize on it.
We did some casting to wooden pilings for speckled trout and redfish in multiple locations. I used a gold spoon and my wife used a popping cork with a live shrimp suspended beneath it. We landed a few fish this way and lost a good bit of bait to pinfish, which are like a saltwater version of sunfish — small and plentiful in the shallows.
We also checked out a cut connecting the bay system we were fishing with the Gulf of Mexico. That also produced little.
We moved on and fished some larger live baits over some deep-water structure. We got two bites, but did not convert those into landed fish.
Fishing remained tough right up until the final hour when Yelverton pulled up on a fairly flat, sandy bottom in about 12 feet of water where some seagrass was growing on the bottom.
We rigged up with Storm Chug Bugs on St. Croix Avid spinning rods equipped with Florida Fishing Product Osprey CE 3000 spinning reels with excellent drags. We used braided wire leaders connected to braided fishing line and began fan casting around the boat.
My wife and I both had our baits blasted out of the water and were fast to a pair of bluefish instantly.
The action continued for just shy of an hour during which time we connected (and occasionally disconnected) with both bluefish and Spanish mackerel. We cast as far as we could, then jerked the rod with all of the slack removed from the line so as to cause the cup-faced poppers to make a popping sound and send a splash of water ahead of their direction of travel.
The bluefish were all right in the three-pound range and really gave a good account of themselves.
Alas, all good things must come to an end, and eventually the bluefish blitz did so, but not before two harrowing moments for my wife.
On two occasions, as she reeled in bluefish and as she brought them to within 15 feet of the boat, sharks of between four and six feet in length attacked the struggling bluefish and, in a matter of seconds, nearly stripped all of the line off of the light spinning reel she was using.
Sadly, both of these sharks got away. We knew the chances of getting these back to the boat were low to start with, but one can always hope!
When all was said and done, we landed a total of 18 fish (not including multiple pinfish) on this trip, including speckled trout, bluefish, Spanish mackerel, a lizardfish and a small jack crevalle.
Captains Yelverton and Barnes are both competent, professional guides who clearly enjoy their trades.
Should you go, you may reach Yelverton at 850-203-0025. Barnes may be reached at 407-818-3141.
Obviously, I was focused on the fishing, but the Florida panhandle either side of Destin offers much more. The clean, white sand beaches are beautiful, the variety of (especially seafood) restaurants to choose from is almost overwhelming, the Gulfquarium and its dolphin and sea lion shows were enjoyable, the Destin Commons Mall (which includes a Bass Pro Shops store) and nearby outlet mall were an easy drive away, and the proximity to an airport served by Southwest Airlines kept the airfare in check.