On The Fly Saltwater
by Polly Dean
After the northwest Florida Coast bends into the Panhandle, the village of Port St. Joe sits facing similarly named St. Joe Bay. Located in Gulf County, the bay holds miles of white sand beaches and shallow grass flats teeming with inshore species such as flounder, redfish and spotted seatrout. Blue runners and ladyfish add to the excitement, especially when casting a fly rod. Blue runners are turbo-charged smaller members of the jack family and will push a 6-weight rod to its limit.
The author with a 20-inch seatrout from Cape San Blas. Photo by Jimmy Jacobs.
Whether fishing from a kayak, boat, or wading, there are plenty of options throughout the bay. St. Joe Bay lies on a north to south axis, where the coastline makes a sharp turn to the north near the western end of St. Vincent Island. That 12,000-acre isle hosts a national wildlife refuge, as well as populations of red wolves and exotic Sambar deer from India. The southern and western sides of the bay are framed by Cape San Blas, while the eastern shore on the mainland is home to Port St. Joe. At the northern end the bay opens onto the Gulf of Mexico, several marsh islands dot the bay, providing fish-attracting cover for anglers to target. Shallow flats encompassing white sand or a mixed sand/rock and grass bottom favored by seatrout also are expansive within the bay.
In October of 2018, Hurricane Michael’s winds of 155 miles per hour wrecked havoc on homes and businesses located along this coast. The narrow strip of land at Eagle Harbor on Cape San Blas was breached, cutting the cape in two. Today the road on the cape still ends at this point, while repairs are being made to St. Joseph Peninsula State Park. But, the parking area for the swimming beach and the marina at the site are open.
Blue runners are a bonus catch that put up a surprising fight. Photo by Jimmy Jacobs.
Additionally, what Mother Nature ravished she quickly began to repair through sand silting in the breach caused by Michael. Now the peninsula is again in one piece and the silting has created a variety of new “sandscapes” for targeting the inshore game fish. The distinct drop-off and accompanying change from white sand to seagrass that is just off the breach site is a favorite holding area for seatrout.
My fishing partner and I stood along the drop-off for hours casting into the depths for trout, catching several in the 20-plus inch range. These were over the legal limit in size, which meant they had to be released. The legal limit is five trout within the slot limit of 15 to 19 inches in length. Catching wasn’t fast and furious, but more similar to a pace of a fish every 15 or 20 minutes. The fact that many of the trout were large kept us interested.
Another bonus of fly-casting here is the ability to get out of the wind from three directions. If the breeze is from the west, north or south, there are areas of Eagle Harbor that are shielded by shorelines. Only an east wind is not shielded. But, when the blow is from that direction, you can walk the shoreline out to the point on the south of the cove and wade back down the flat with the wind to your back.
After a lunch break, we walked south along the swimming beach and around the boat basin in the marina. Wading out on the mixed seagrass and sand flat, we cast to the white sand areas, which yielded several smaller trout, as well as one that measured 20 inches.
When it comes to gear, anything from a 6-weight on up to an 8- or even a 9-weight rod works. With wind being a common occurrence in saltwater angling, using the heavier rods is generally preferred, especially if throwing a bigger fly. And you never know when you may hook up with that 30-pound redfish, right?
We found success with Clouser Minnows. I stuck with my go-to Electric Chicken (chartreuse-and-pink) and my buddy used his always-reliable chartreuse-and-white. Another angler in our group was extremely successful with a small silver fly he called the Hover Minnow. Gurglers worked for the seatrout, as well.
Clouser Minnows were very effective on the seatrout. Photo by Jimmy Jacobs
Another expansive area of shallow wading water that we sampled is on the mainland side of St. Joe Bay. This flat stretches from just south of the public boat ramp in Port St. Joe down to where U.S. Highway 98 (Constitution Avenue) turns east away from the water. The water is easily accessible from abundant parking on the bayside of the highway. Again, here the bottom is covered basically with seagrass with interspersed sand holes. A particularly good section is just north of the bridge on U.S 98 that spans a small tidal creek entering the bay.
Wading out from shore to cast to the edges of the white sand holes is a good tactic. Besides seatrout, this area also gives up some smaller redfish.
On The Fly South’s Jimmy Jacobs with a redfish from the St. Joe waterfront. Photo by Polly Dean.
If your taste runs more to fishing from a power boat, virtually the entire bay has seagrass flats that can hold seatrout. One such area of note is just north of Blacks Island. This small patch of land is in the southeast part of the bay and home to an exclusive resort. A channel runs past the north end of the island and the flat on the opposite side is 3 to 4 feet deep and popular with boating anglers for seatrout action.
Boating anglers find success just north of Blacks Island. Photo by Jimmy Jacobs.
Rick Lee of the Atlanta Fly Fishing Club with a St. Joe Bay trout. Photo by Polly Dean.
When you consider the beauty of the surroundings, the ease of angling the region and the quality of the seatrout it gives up, it’s not hard to know why St. Joe Bay and Cape San Blas are excellent fly casting areas.