Florida Panhandle vacation fishing

My cousin got married in Santa Rosa Beach, FL last month, which provided my family a great opportunity to go on a week long beach vacation. Baton Rouge has been pretty chaotic lately so it was nice to get out of town for a while.

I was able to get in a couple of half days of fishing from the Kilroy. Most folks would probably fish the saltwater being so close to the beach, but I guess I’m not like most folks, I chose to fish a couple of different freshwater spots. The first was one of the coastal dune lakes that are unique to South Walton County. In fact only a handful of locations around the World have coastal dune lakes.

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The water in this lake was very tannic which gave the bass and bream a very dark look, almost entirely black at times. I ended up catching lots of small bluegill, with the fly rod, on nymphs, but only landed one skinny bass on a popper. It felt great to get out in the kayak again as it had been a while.

My next trip out in the kayak would be on a spring fed creek that holds the newest member of the black bass family, the Choctaw bass.

The put-in I chose to use for access had a spring right next to the launch, amazing how clear the water was in the pool where it was bubbling in. The creek was a beauty too. From afar it really didn’t look all that different from a slow bayou in Louisiana, with all the cypress and gum trees. The water clarity though, was much better than anything you’ll find in Louisiana, thanks to the numerous springs that fed the creek. There was also a large amount of submerged vegetation too, this was a very healthy environment, full of life, and it looked bassy as hell.

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I paddled up about a mile and floated and fished back from there. It didn’t take long to land a few fish on the fly rod. The stumpknocker were plentiful as were the redbreasted sunfish. I then put the fly rod down and started tossing a soft plastic around the stumps and lilies, that’s when I landed my first chain pickeral on the day. He wasn’t too big, but he was fun. I’d soon find out that this creek was loaded with them and that soft plastics were a bad choice for what the locals called jackfish. I was broken off shortly after catching my first one, then broken off again moments later, those teeth are no joke. I decided that was enough of that and tied on a buzzbait. A wise man once said “any fat kid can catch a fish on a buzzbait” or something like that, so I decided it was time to exercise my inner fat kid.

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I was having a blast catching pickeral on the buzzbait. They would absolutely hammer it, sometimes launching themselves out of the water like rockets! Most were small, but a couple went over 20″. I missed one choupique(bowfin) that I would have liked to have back. He nailed the buzzbait, not sure how I didn’t get a hook in him, he was every bit of 30″ though.

The fishing was going great, everything was visual, so I was enjoying myself, but the bass were eluding me to this point. I was finally able to change that around a group of submerged cypress, catching a healthy 14.5″ Choctaw. After the release of the Choctaw I noticed that the mother of all spiders was on my bow. I guess he hopped on from one of the nearby cypress trees. We’ve got fishing spiders in Louisiana, but I’m not sure we’ve got them that big.

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I continued throwing the buzzbait and picked up a few more pickeral, mostly in the slack water, either around cypress trees or lilies. Just before takeout I was able to pick up a couple chunky little largemouth too.

In the end, my goal was accomplished, I was able to land a Choctaw bass, on a beautiful stretch of river. The real story though was catching a dozen or so chain pickeral, or southern pike as I’ve decided to start calling them. What they lack in size they make up for in fight – what a fun fish. I might have to check out some other spring creeks next time I’m in the panhandle on vacation, such amazing fisheries.

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