Pensacola Surf Fishing Bringing you the latest information on Florida Surf and Inshore fishing with a focus on the Pensacola Beach area
Small sharks can be caught right off the shore with a variety of baits.
 A small blacktip shark caught right off the beach.

Dubbed the "World's Luckiest Fishing Village", it's no wonder that Destin receives about 80% of all of the emerald coast's visitors each year. Many visitors come just to party, others to catch a charter on one of the largest commercial fishing fleets in the United States, and still others come just to fish Destin's emerald waters right from the sand on some of the world's whitest beaches. Destin is a popular surf fishing destination for many species including Pompano, Spanish Mackerel, Redfish, Sharks, and many others.  Dedicated anglers can be seen rolling their surf fishing gear to the water's edge on specialized carts and others can be seen walking the coast with nothing more than a spinning rod and a bucket with ice to carry their catch.

What Fish Can Be Caught in the Surf

Pompano are probably the most sought-after fish by surf anglers throughout all of Florida, and they are a very popular target in Destin.  The spring and fall "Pompano Runs" cause many missed days of work for local anglers as they are plentiful during these times.  You can read up on how to target Pompano here: How to Catch Pompano From The Surf

Small to midsized sharks are relatively easy to target and put up an excellent fight - just be to sure to target them when swimmers are not around.
 5 Foot Spinner Shark Caught From The Surf

Another one of the next most common targets of surf anglers is probably sharks, of any species - and Destin delivers year round. Although shark incidents are nearly non-existent, visitors are amazed every year at just how close sharks are to the coastline here on the emerald coast.  Many anglers target sharks religiously as they are a thrill to catch.  Surf Anglers specifically targeting sharks must adhere to Florida's Shore-Based Shark Regulations, and it is required to take (and pass) a free online course. Official information can be found here: Sharks | FWC

Ladyfish, although sworn off as pests by many anglers, make absolutely excellent chunk bait for sharks and they can be caught in great numbers throughout spring, summer, and fall, and they provide consistent action if you're looking to stay busy.  A fresh ladyfish chunk is hard to beat for shark bait and works very well as bait for Red and Black Drum as well.  You can find information about catching Ladyfish here: Catching Ladyfish from the Surf. Blue Runners (locally known as hardtails) also make excellent bait, and can be caught with similar tactics as those for Ladyfish.

Perhaps tied in popularity with sharks are Spanish Mackerel.  These speed demons are found throughout the northern gulf coast during late spring and throughout the summer and fall.  Visiting anglers often target "Spanish" due to the fact that they can be found in huge numbers, and also because you do not need specialized gear in order to catch them.  A silver spoon with a heavy leader, and a standard-issue spinning rod has been the demise of many Spanish Mackerel over the years.  You can read more in-depth information about targeting them in our How to Catch Spanish Mackerel article.

Other highly sought-after but less commonly hooked species of warm water fish include Cobia, which are present during a very limited window in early spring, and Tarpon which can be found during the warmer waters in summer.

Red and Black Drum can be found when the waters are cooler earlier in the year, and later in the fall. Surprisingly large Drum can be caught from the surf with even small pieces of squid and shrimp as well as Sand Fleas. Chunk bait also works well.  Our Surf Fishing for Redfish article can point you in the right direction for both Red and Black Drum.

Many other species can also be caught right from the beach, but not all of them receive as much fanfare as those mentioned above.  Some notable mentions include Bonito, Sheepshead, Bluefish, and Whiting to name a few.  Stingrays and Catfish are also a very common by-catch, especially by anglers using squid as bait. 

Whiting have often saved the day for many anglers as they are consistently found year-round and tend to be present only a few yards off the sand.  They can be caught with light gear by just about anyone, and are a great way to get kids hooked into "something" when nothing else seems to be biting.  Small pieces of squid, shrimp, or fish work great as bait.  More information can be found here: How to Catch Whiting from the Surf

Fishing Rigs for Destin Beach

Just like when choosing your bait, what you're chasing is going to determine how you should rig up.  When it comes to fishing the beaches in Destin, your tactics will be similar for surf fishing just about anywhere else on the Florida Panhandle. 

For the most part, you'll either be targeting fish with a standard hi-low rig, also known as a dropper rig.  Generally, anglers buy pre-made "Pompano Rigs", which are usually tied with 15 to 20 pound fluorocarbon leader material, and two dropper loops with a #2 to 2/0 circle hook and a small float on each loop as well. This should keep you busy with any Pompano-sized fish from Whiting to smaller Drum, and you will also get a few other species mixed in.  Generally, you'll be using a 2 or 3 oz. pyramid weight clipped to the bottom of the rig, which will hold bottom in most surf conditions.  Upsizing to a larger weight is necessary when the surf picks up, but you'll need to have larger gear as well.  There are more details on tying this up in our How to Catch Pompano article.

When targeting bigger fish, you'll likely be using a fish-finder rig, also known as a Carolina rig in the freshwater world. The exception here is that you will not be using an egg weight, but you will be using a pyramid weight on a sliding snap swivel.  The pyramid weights are necessary to prevent the weight from rolling in the surf.  Hooks in the 4/0 to 6/0 range are tied on to 40 or 60 pound leader, and will catch you Redfish as well as Stingrays and Sharks, but you may get bit off by the sharks.

When intentionally targeting sharks you will need a short (8" to 12") bite leader made out of either very heavy monofilament (200+ pound) attached using crimps or a single strand wire leader of the same length attached via a Haywire twist. Single strand is most commonly used for sharks, although heavy monofilament is somewhat popular as well.  Attached to the bite leader is another length of heavy monofilament, typically 80 or 100 pound test that is used to provide abrasion resistance against the sandpaper like skin of sharks.  The length of this section is dependent, if you intend to cast your shark rigs you have to keep the overall rig short or attach the abrasion leader via a line-to-line knot such as a blood knot or "FG" knot.  If you intend to kayak your bait out, there are more options and heavier lines can be used.

No matter what you are fishing for, handle the fish carefully and make sure you have some sort of a hook remover, even if it's just a pair of needle nose pliers. Saltwater fish tend to have teeth, and having a tool to remove your hooks will help fish survive when they are released.

For more detailed information you can read our article on Choosing the Best Surf Fishing Bait, and Half Hitch Tackle right in downtown Destin can supply plenty of additional local knowledge as well as any and all bait and tackle you should need.

Best Times of the Year to Fish Destin Beach

The best time of year to catch fish from the beach in Destin just so happens to coincide with Destin's busiest time of year.  Fishing is excellent from the surf in Destin from spring through fall, with things slowing down a little in the winter. Fish can absolutely still be caught in late fall and during the wintertime, however.

The spring Pompano run really kicks off the surf fishing season in Destin and throughout most of the emerald coast, and this begins right around the middle to end of March, before peaking in April. As the waters continue to warm throughout late spring and summer other species will be making their way into the area as well, including Spanish Mackerel, Blue Runners, Ladyfish, Bonito, Cobia, and even Tarpon.

Fishing without swimmers in the water is much safer for everyone around.
 Surf Fishing Destin Beach

Fishing on the beach in Destin and the surrounding area is consistent year round, and you can find our seasonal and month to month fishing calendar for the Destin area here: Destin Surf Fishing Calendar

Be mindful that whatever time of year you end up fishing in Destin, some areas of the beach fill up with swimmers very quickly and as a result it is often best to time your fishing trips early in the morning or in the evenings when the beaches are less crowded. This is especially true if you intend to target sharks. Not only is the fishing better, but you will have a better time without conflicting interests.

If the beaches aren't overly busy, such as during the non-peak season, it can also help to time your fishing with the tides.  Scouting out the beach during low tide can help you find areas that will be deeper once the tides change.  These area's will be likely to hold fish and increase your chances of success. During the peak seasons it is often best to have your poles put away by mid-morning, so timing the tides can be difficult.

Do you need a license to surf fish on the beach in Destin?

Yes - Unless you are under 16 or over 65 years old, in order to fish from any beach within Florida you need a valid saltwater fishing license.  There are some exemptions to the licensing requirements such as those for some veterans, so please check the official FWC recreational licensing site here: FWC - Do I need a license or permit?

As mentioned above, anglers fishing for sharks also need to take and pass the free online shore-based shark fishing course here: Sharks | FWC

Just remember, be safe, follow the rules, have fun, and catch some fish!