November fishing in Panhandle waters brings on redfish and mackerel.
The biggest reds, well beyond the 18- to 27-inch slot, are there to spawn— they spend most of the year off the beaches and around nearshore reefs, but in fall they move into the bays and passes to spawn. Most of these fish are in the 15- to 25-pound class, a few as heavy as 30 pounds.
(Our Gulf redfish don’t usually get as enormous as those on the Atlantic Coast, where fish of 40 pounds and more are caught every year, but they’re plenty big enough to test any angler’s skills.)
Finding these pods of redfish can be surprisingly simple — they sometimes drive schools of baitfish to the surface and turn the water to a froth. The white water can be seen from hundreds of yards, and any angler who gets within casting range and throws pretty much any type of artificial lure into the melee will be instantly hooked up.
(It’s best to avoid treble hook lures since all these fish must be released, and 20-pound-tackle and heavier is best to allow a short fight and successful release.)
Good places to start looking are the large bridges that cross St. Andrew and Choctawhatchee bays. In St. Andrew Bay, the appropriately-named Redfish Point is another obvious location, but any area where there’s a pinch point or bar sticking out into deep water can bring the fish — Courtney Point, Buena Vista Point and Military Point are all worth checking.
While the reds hit anything when they’re attacking a bait school, they can be picky at other times. Fishing a live menhaden, grunt, pinfish or finger mullet will turn on the bite — these are drifted with just enough weight to keep them near bottom, particularly around the bridge pilings.
Keeper-sized reds tend to relate more to the shoreline than the adults, and are often found around docks and marine debris within a few hundred feet of shorelines, as well as cruising the edges of the shallow flats and prowling up into oyster creeks. Jigs and weedless spoons are favorite offerings, but they also readily take live shrimp or cut pinfish or mullet.
They sometimes push right up into the shallowest areas on high tides, where they can be caught by throwing soft plastic jerkbaits or Berkley GULP crabs a few feet ahead of them. Most anglers rely on medium spinning gear and 15-pound test braid with a couple feet of 25-pound test mono as leader for school-sized reds.
Fall Mack Attacks
The other primary target for Panhandle anglers in the early weeks of November will be Spanish and king mackerel, which swarm along the beaches and around the wrecks and reefs until the bait schools begin to migrate south, usually when water temperature drops below 68 degrees. (It’s 77 as this is written.)
Spanish are noted for not only being really abundant around the Half-Hitch piers along the beaches, but also for prowling into the Destin Boat Basin and well up inside both St. Andrew and Choctawhatchee bays. The most dependable areas to catch them, though, are usually around nearshore bait schools and artificial reefs anywhere from 100 yards off the beach to 5 miles out.
Small Clark spoons pulled with a 1-ounce trolling sinker ahead will usually produce a limit in short order, though they can also readily be caught by casting jigs and spoons. They hit hard and make impressive runs when caught on medium light spinning tackle and 10-pound test braid. (Don’t forget a foot or two of 40-pound test fluorocarbon or number 2 dark wire to prevent cutoffs.)
Kings also are caught in good numbers around the piers, though they come and go this close to shore. They’re more abundant anywhere from a half-mile off the beach to the reefs 20 miles out. The schools can be huge, and, like reds, they often chase bait to the surface and can be located due to lots of diving birds as well as the occasional "skyrocket" where a king may leap 10 feet into the air.
Kings can be caught trolling single hook Drone-type spoons behind a number 2 planer on most days, though they sometimes get finicky under pressure. Anchoring up and chumming with cut threadfins or cigar minnows, then fishing a live bait in the slick is the sure way to connect when there’s a good current running to spread the scent of the chum.
The kings caught this way may be much larger than the 5- to 8-pound schoolies usually caught by trolling, with 20-pound fish a regular catch. Heavier wire is a must for catching these razor-toothed fish —number 6 dark wire is the usual choice — fished on medium-heavy spinning gear with 30-pound-test braid or so.
The action on both species has been continuing to Thanksgiving in recent years due to warmer weather, but a strong cold front can push them out overnight — so get them while you can.