Prefish Destin Tournament
The weekend of June 23rd is the Destin tournament for the Emerald Coast Redfish Circuit. We are currently tied for second in team of the year standings and fishing another spot we didn’t do so hot in last year, Choctaw Bay. We decided we were going to spend the weekend and figure out Choctaw Bay so we don’t have to make long runs back to Panama City. Last year, we couldn’t find the fish and went back to East Bay, almost ran out of gas and finished eighth. Everyone we talk to swears there are big fish in Choctaw Bay; they are just elusive.
We launched at Thomas Pilcher park at 8 a.m. and headed for Jolly Bayou; word is there are big reds on the bayou’s South Bank. We started on the north side by the Bridge and decided we were going to work around the whole bayou. I threw a SSB on a ¼-ounce head, and Jake Wright was throwing a Saltwater Assassin on a 1/8th ounce. We were getting a few pinfish pecks, but the water is so tainted from all the freshwater, there was maybe a foot of visibility. We moved in and out of the docks throwing around them and under them with nothing. As we went around the last dock, Jake threw and caught a 14-inch rat red. That gave us a little hope that there may be reds there. We finished working around the bayou not catching another fish, and the weather turned for the worst. We made the decision to run back to Panama City and just make the run again. We will need more than a weekend to figure out the east side of Choctaw Bay.
We wanted to check on the ride back to Panama City, so we launched at Bailey Bridge and ran to the first area. On the third cast, I hooked up, but apparently had a bad hook set, as the fish spit the bait by the boat. Jake hooked up and landed a legal trout but neither one of use were worried about keeping trout that day. We continued to move the flat and I hooked up again; this time it was a big red. I could see the wake and feel the weight on the rod, then I saw my bait fly out of the water and land about 10 feet from the boat. I paused with confusion and my line took off; a rat red picked it up and landed him instead. I know the way you work a SSB you can get funny hook sets, but two in a row spit the hook — unacceptable. I changed jig heads and baits to try and avoid losing another fish if possible. We made our way down the rest of the flat with short strikes and no fish.
The weather had begun to turn bad; we made the decision to hit one more spot on the way back to the landing. We pulled up, the water was tainted with 1 or less feet of visibility. As we moved toward the shore, I saw nervous water moving parallel with the shoreline. I cast in front of it and waited. I felt a thump and the drag took off. The water exploded as the rest of the reds in the school panicked and took off. I landed about a 4-pound red and knew enough now to decide a game plan for the tournament.
As much as we are trying to master every body of water we have to fish, we also need to have fish to weigh to maintain, if not move into first for team of the year standings. We will make the run back to Panama City, probably must stop by the marina and refuel to definitely make it back to weigh.