You may ponder, “So, what’s this Nearshore Gulf Fishing? I want to go Deep Sea Fishing!” Nearshore or Near Coastal Gulf Fishing is Pensacola’s answer to Deep Sea fishing. Some local Captains define Deep Sea Fishing as going beyond the 9-mile Florida State Waters boundary into Federal Waters. But it’s not really that deep, and you won’t be in the Sea. Frankly, I am not sure of the definition of Deep Sea Fishing. What’s deep, 1000 feet? 3000 feet? And what’s the Sea? The Sea of Galilee? The Black Sea? The Baltic Sea? Well, around here we have the Gulf of Mexico, an incredible fishery that can be as clear as the Caribbean and loaded with fishing opportunities! And it’s pretty deep – around 75 to 150 feet where we usually fish. Generally, there’s really no need to go any deeper. But, we can call it Deep Sea Fishing if that makes it sound like more fun!
The Gulf of Mexico around Pensacola is truly a delightful fishery. We have relatively deep water close to shore, and it’s loaded with multiple species of fish, including Red Snapper, Gag Grouper, Mangrove Snapper, Scamp, Mahi Mahi, Triggerfish, Amberjack, Barracuda, King Mackerel, Spanish Mackerel, False Albacore (Bonito), Cobia, Redfish, Sharks, Rays, and so on and so forth, depending on the time of year of course. Our local community has done an excellent job building fish havens out of old bridges, derelict ships, and other man-made structures. We also have some excellent natural bottom spots that hold a lot of fish. And we don’t have to take a 2-hour boat ride to get to them. Most of our Gulf fishing is done within sight of land. That means shorter boat rides and more time to fish.
One of my favorite fishing methods in the Gulf is to anchor over or just up-current of some structure and start a chum line. Generally, within a few minutes, the chum will begin to pull multiple species of fish including Red Snappers, Mangrove Snappers, and Grouper up from the bottom, which in turn attract Barracuda, Amberjacks, and Sharks to the area. Bait fish often hide under the boat in a cloud, and that’s when it gets wild. The ticket to catching Red and the very wary Mangrove Snappers this way is to hide your bait in the chum. The lighter tackle used, the better. BUT… you have to be ready to handle a strong fish on that light tackle. More often than not the Snappers bolt to the structure and cut us off, but sometimes we outsmart them and put a few in the cooler. We can also run some live or cut bait down on conventional tackle to help fill the fishbox. It’s almost like fishing in an aquarium. Very much fun!
Another technique while the chum line is working is to freeline a large live bait on heavy spinning tackle. You never really know what will hit a live mullet, pinfish, hardtail jack, or Gulf minnow when it’s just out there swimming around. But whatever it is, it’s usually big and powerful. I have seen a King Mackerel hit one and skyrocket 15 feet into the air, bait and hook in mouth. It’s amazing!
During Red Snapper season we generally go to proven spots and fish either cut bait or live bait down near the bottom, or wherever the fish appear in the water column. These hungry brutes and their pals range up into the 20 pound range, and will put even the strongest angler against the gunwales, trying desperately to hang on to the rod. Again, you really have to see it to believe the power of these fish. We also get an occasional keeper Grouper while targeting Red Snapper.
Sometimes we troll, sometimes we sight fish, sometimes we use live bait or cut bait on or near the bottom, sometimes we even jig swimbaits just off the bottom on large spin tackle. We’ll pick the most appropriate method for the targeted species, and hope for calm seas and light winds while we’re out there.
If anybody on the boat gets seasick, we are coming back in to calmer waters right away. Nobody wants to get stuck on a boat in the Gulf while they are green. It’s a miserable feeling. If you are susceptible to motion sickness, I suggest you talk with your MD about treatment before you arrive. If you forget, many of my anglers report having had good luck using chewable regular Dramamine the morning of the trip. I am not a Doctor, but I did stay in a Holiday Inn Express last night…
Come see me and we’ll hit the Gulf so I can expose you to some of its magic! It’s one of the most amazing and beautiful fisheries anywhere.