Thousands of people come to the Emerald Coast each year. Some for the sandy beaches, others for insanely good fishing in Destin. Many families head to the Gulf of Mexico to get Snapper, but local experts stay in the brackish waters and explore Destin bay fishing opportunities. It all culminates in October when fishing lovers come to partake in the Destin Fishing Rodeo.
It is on these flats and grassy marshes that the real fun takes place. Light tackle action, big and feisty fish, and all of this at a reasonable price – what more could you wish for? It’s your perfect annual fishing trip. Read on to learn all you need for your next trip!
Why is Destin Bay fishing popular?
What people refer to as “Destin Bay” is actually the Choctawhatchee Bay, which lies just north of Destin and stretches over a surface of 130 square miles. It is connected to the Santa Rosa Sound to the west and the Choctawhatchee River to the east. This body of water is a complex network of bayous, rivers, flats, marshes, oyster beds, brackish waters, coves, sandy patches, and reefs.
But it’s not just this diversity of water and landscape that makes the bay so special. Choctawhatchee Bay is an inlet of the Gulf of Mexico and is connected through Destin Pass. This means that the tides push the water, along with baitfish and crabs, from the Gulf into the Bay and the other way around. This water movement is what gives Destin Bay the edge over other popular destinations on the Emerald Coast.
The abundance of baitfish attracts gamefish – the fish you’re after. When the tide goes out of the Bay, through Destin Pass, it pulls all the fish food towards the mouth of the Destin Pass. The big fish swarm and the feeding frenzy begins. Once the tides start going towards the bay, bigger fish will follow their food upstream and head into the Choctawhatchee Bay.
What fish can you catch in Destin Bay?
Redfish, Speckled Trout, Black Drum, Sheepshead, and Flounder are the main fish species you can catch here. The most common and popular are Redfish and Speckled Trout. There are a lot of schools of these fish who put up a good light tackle fight for both novice and experienced anglers.
Fishing Destin Bay is a great option for families on vacation who want to spend the morning or afternoon on the water, have fun, and get a tasty dinner. But if you’re a pro and want some time alone with the rod and line, these fisheries won’t let you down either. Rent a kayak and fish the east of the Choctawhatchee Bay where you can get big (bull) Redfish and schools of Speckled Trout.
Redfish are Destin Bay’s signature catch. They’re big and strong and will put you to the test for sure. As well as being a first-rate gamefish, they’re actually quite a feast, with their flaky flesh making the top of any restaurant’s menu.
You can find a fair number of Reds in the easternmost corner of the Bay, near the mouth of the Choctawhatchee River. They will be swimming near shallow flats. They are not just feisty, but beautiful, too. Their red scales turn almost golden under the sunlight. Have your camera at the ready for some nice fishing photos.
As you move towards the middle of the bay, near the Mid-Bay Bridge, you will have a chance to find some bull Reds. They will feast off the bottom of the bay, so you should use a light sinker to keep your lure near the floor. In the morning you can use topwater lures like spoons or rattles around the flats. The noise will attract Reds in no time.
Speckled Trout are just as popular among anglers as Redfish, but more easily caught. You can find these fellas all around the Bay, from the east stretches near the marshes of the Choctawhatchee River mouth, down to Hogtown Bayou, and then west towards Destin.
Trout stay in shallow waters and swim in schools. If you manage to catch one of these toothy fish, you will soon find others nearby. They start showing up in January and stay here for the most of the year.
In spring, when they start breeding, you can also come across a number of Gator Trout (trout heavier than six pounds, or longer than 28 inches, depending on whom you ask). A rule of thumb for Gator Trout is the color of the inside of their mouth – if it’s like mustard, well, you’ve caught a really big fish. Well done!
How to Catch Reds and Trout in Destin Bay
There are two main ways you can go about this. Either choose artificial lures or go with live bait. Both of these will work, it’s just a matter of how you like to catch your fish. Redfish and Speckled Trout are generally not fussy, so you will have good chances whichever way you choose. You will also find a lot of baitfish here, so if artificials aren’t working, you can switch to live bait. Let’s have a look at how to make the most of your trip.
You can find scores of bait fish all around the Choctawhatchee Bay. Croakers swarm the marshes, streams, and other grassy parts of the bay, while you will find literally thousands of Mullet around the flats in the eastern part of the Bay and around the Mid-Bay Bridge. You can also find some Crabs and Shrimp throughout the bay, which work like a charm.
If you’re using circle hooks, let the rod double over once you feel the bite then start reeling, pulling the line up slowly. The key is to let the fish move and gradually come in. This is especially important with Speckled Trout as they have a sensitive mouth. If you jerk the line aggressively, you can tear their mouth up and lose the fish.
Reds and Trout respond well to spoons and plugs. Early in the morning, use topwater lures around the flats and you should have plenty of success. Use lures that have a nice, loud rattle to them, as the sound will make Reds and Trout strike it like crazy.
The flats and grassy banks around the Bay have a lot of potholes that hold really big fish. Use spoons and retrieve them fast to cover a huge surface. Don’t give the fish a lot of time to inspect your lure – move it fast to disturb the water surface and fire up the fisheries. If this doesn’t produce results, you can switch to some other lures, or some cut mullet.
The Best Destin Bay Fishing Spots
Destin Bay has a lot of productive fishing spots. You can fish several different terrains on a single day and probably catch a variety of fish, or maybe even land an inshore Grand Slam (catching Redfish, Speckled Trout, and Flounder in one outing).
You can fish from the jetties, rent a kayak and explore the marshes, book a charter to take you fishing around the flats, explore bridge pylons, fish on a fly, or simply try fishing from piers or the shore. Whichever you choose, here are the spots you should try out first:
East Pass Jetties
East Pass is the first stop for any angler who sets out from Destin. As the water salinity changes here with the tides, you will have excellent chances of landing really big fish. Redfish and Sheepshead are the most common catches, but anglers have caught the odd Spanish Mackerel as well, along with Trout, Flounder, and Sharks.
You should know that it can get a bit crowded here. A lot of vacationers take this route to visit Crab Island and explore the scenery, so you should come here first thing in the morning.
This is one of the best-known fisheries in Destin, which attracts schools of fish and scores of boating anglers. The bridge pylons attract numerous Redfish and Speckled Trout which stay here most of the year.
The bridge is a 10-minute boat ride away from the East Pass and offers excellent light tackle action. Once you’ve caught your share of Reds, head south to the nearby flats where Speckled Trout lurk in grassy patches. Here you will also find a number of deep spots where Redfish and even some Gag Groupers like to hide.
When you head east from the Mid-Bay Bridge, you’ll come across a network of grassy patches and flats with shallow water and a lot of fish. This is thw Hogtown Bayou.
This area fishes well for Speckled Trout and Reds throughout the year. In winter months, this is where the fish come to mingle and feed as the area gets a lot of sun at that time of year. From spring through fall, you can come here for the first-morning bite. Reds and Specks will strike your bait in a split second, so make sure to be focused.
The Hogtown Bayou is close to Santa Rosa Beach and a lot of anglers find it a great spot to wet the line. Kayak fishing is also quite popular, so if you want a good workout, come here and you won’t regret it.
The Choctawhatchee River is one of the best fisheries for Reds and Specks. It’s popular among local anglers, but you will also see a lot of travelers coming here to test their skills. You can catch a lot of bull Reds and trophy Trout on any given day. The fish will stay close to the river mouth, but you should also check around rock piles.
Although the fauna and flora are striking, make sure to stay safe and explore the river with a local. People have spotted alligators here. Many anglers come with a kayak, but the majority test their line from a boat. It’s easier to spot the fish that way. Most boats you come across here will have a casting platform so you can sight fish.
Destin Bay Fishing Seasons
The fisheries in Destin Bay stay solid year-round. You can get a decent catch even 365 days a year. The key is to know where the fish are each season.
Once the cold January front sets in, the fish will move from open waters towards streams, creeks, and inlets where they can find shelter and warmer waters. Redfish and Trout will head east, towards the flats near the Choctawhatchee River and stay there until the warm days of spring kick off.
During these cold months, the bite may be slower and each day can be a hit and miss. The fish are in the water, that’s for sure. The trick is to look for places with a lot of structure, or grass, where the fish can easily hide.
Come spring, you will start to notice a lot of Trout and Reds in the water. Once Trout start breeding, they will show up all over the bay. You will even be able to get some gator Trout around the bridges and bayous. Reds will be really hungry, so it shouldn’t take long before your cast ends with a big catch.
As the summer heat takes over, most people head out to the Gulf of Mexico to catch Red Snapper and other sport fish. Let them go! It means more water for you, and the bay is on fire. In fact, this is likely the best time of the year to come explore these waters.
Redfish, Trout, Sheepshead, and Flounder are swarming the flats, reefs, potholes, grassy patches, and bridges. If you want light tackle action at its best, head towards the eastern part of the bay. Once you’re done fishing near the mouth of the Choctawhatchee River, turn west and head towards the Destin Pass, fishing all the hot spots around the bay.
Even when the days become colder, you will have good chances of reeling in Reds, and Specks. They still won’t make their run towards cover, and on a fair day, you can go back home with a big, tasty dinner.
So, have you fished the Destin Bay before? What fish did you catch and where? What are some of your favorite fishing spots here? Which bait and lures did you use? We’d love to hear about it in the comments below!