Destin is a world class fishery and one of the top vacation destinations in the United States. Whether you are going fishing on vacation or for vacation, it’s good to know what's biting so you can book the best Destin fishing charter experience possible.
Destin is the number one most popular fishing city in the US and has earned the nickname “The Billfish Capital of the Gulf.” Located close to the continental shelf, Destin has easy access to some of the best offshore fishing in the gulf. Monster billfish are caught here every year, along with tuna, mahi mahi, red snapper, and grouper to name just a few. Destin isn’t only an offshore spot though, if inshore fishing is your game, tarpon, snook, redfish, and speckled trout are all cruising the shallows. Destin is a stout fishery with incredible opportunities in various water types making it the perfect spot for any angler to take a trip.
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When the air and water starts to warm up around Destin, the fish come to life eating everything in sight. Along with the fish, tourism heats up and Destin starts to get busy leading into the summer.
Inshore, speckled trout and cobia move into shallow water provide prime opportunities to snag one. Cobia are interesting fish that play by their own rules roaming where they want, when they want, and will cruise around solo or in groups. They are also a big deal in Destin with the Cobia World Championship, HarborWalk Marina Annual Cobia Tournament, and the Hog’s Breath Cafe Annual Cobia Shootout being held here every spring. Around March cobia move into the warmer waters of inshore flats and channels after leaving their winter grounds near southern Florida. Speckled trout also move to shallow water as they prepare to spawn which is the best time to catch a monster trout. The biggest trout head to spawning grounds and all the activity makes them hungry and aggressive.
Moving just a little farther away from shore the nearshore bite is on fire with amberjack and mackerel flooding the Emerald Coast. Amberjack are arguably pound for pound the strongest fish and put up a hellacious fight. Easily growing over 100 pounds amberjack live on the reefs and hunt for baitfish. Spanish mackerel are the smaller cousin of the kingfish or king mackerel but despite their size, they are one of the most fun sport fish to catch. At three feet long and growing up to 14 pounds these fish are much smaller than some of the other species but they dart through the water in large schools and use their speed to catch prey. Oftentimes a group of anglers will all get hooked up at once when a school of mackerel comes through.
During the spring in Destin, offshore fishing showcases several species migrating in and out of the area. Many species overlap offering additional fish to target.. This is the rare time where many species overlap and you have more fish to target than usual. We are not covering any species in this section because spring is between peak seasons of several fish but this doesn’t mean the fishing is slow, actually quite the opposite.
Summer is the peak season for many of the most sought after fish but also Destin tourism. If you’re looking for a lively place on and off the water, this is it. Peak bite is on with bucket list species inshore, nearshore, and offshore as the warm weather takes over.
Tarpon or “The Silver King” patrol the shallows during their stay in Destin waters. These fish grow over 100 pounds and their startling power is unmatched by any other inshore fish. Tarpon go from zero to 100 in an instant, one moment they are slowly cruising the flats but in a flash, they have already crushed your bait, jumped twice, and are now taking line at an alarming rate. This fish is on many angler’s bucket list because they are impressive but also challenging to catch. Tarpon are notoriously picky eaters and trying to get one to bite is no simple task but in the warm summer backwaters of Destin, there are more opportunities than anywhere else.
Snook are another popular bucket list fish particularly trying to catch a giant. Also hanging around the backwaters, schools of snook ambush baitfish in the flats and channels. These fish typically are just over a foot long but during their peak bite in the middle of summer giant snook growing over three feet long can be caught. With giant fish roaming the warm shallow water summer in Destin is one of the best places to catch the fish of a lifetime.
As the water just offshore begins to warm up the pelagic species move in close and go on a feeding frenzy. Sailfish are usually caught far offshore but in the summer they move in close. You can target these fish with kite fishing to keep the bait skipping on the surface but they will also take a trolling bait as well.
Red snapper is probably the most popular fish in the summer when their season in federal and state waters open. Summer red snapper fishing in Destin is top notch with tons of fish using the nearshore and offshore reefs as cover. The grouper bite is also on fire and like snapper, you will find them on the reefs. Both of these fish ambush prey around the reef and bottom fishing with jigs or cut bait is a sure fire way to get hooked up. These fish are big and live in deep water which makes it a tough battle but the reward is delicious.
Deep sea fishing Destin in the summer has more species in peak bite than any other season. Along with the variety of species, the biggest and most prized trophy fish in the Gulf also shows up in the summer. The blue marlin can grow over 1,000 pounds and somehow they feel bigger when you are in the fighting chair. These beautiful fish are exceptional predators and catching on is an incredible experience. Their smaller cousin the white marlin also shows up in the summer and while they weigh around 150 pounds do not underestimate their strength because they can take line just as easily. Every June, Destin hosts the Emerald Coast Blue Marlin Classic where anglers compete for over two million dollars in cash prizes.
The other fish that love warm water are kingfish and mahi mahi or dolphin as they are sometimes called. These fish tend to top out around 50 pounds and their speed makes reeling one in difficult because they can cover ground quickly. Trolling is the most common and effective way to catch most offshore fish but if you find a school of mahi you can cast bait at them but be careful that you don’t get spooled on lighter tackle.
Fall fishing in Destin has the Destin Fishing Rodeo, runs of bull redfish, and the second peak season for cobia and amberjack. The weather starts to cool off but the water stays warms and kicks off the best season for fishing in one of the best locations on earth.
Redfish, flounder, and speckled trout are red-hot from September through November which is the perfect opportunity for an inshore slam(catching one of each in a day). As things begin to cool the trout move back into the shallow backwaters ahead of winter and proceed to eat every chance they get. Flounder are firing on all cylinders in inshore waters as they get ready to head back offshore to spawn.
The fall is the best time to target huge bull redfish as they move into shallow inshore waters. All of the biggest reds that have been feeding near the piers, jetties, and bays all year move into the shallow backwaters with the rest of the redfish to spawn. This flood of redfish with both large numbers and size only happens in the fall and the action is ridiculous. If you’re serious about catching monster redfish then fall is when you need to be in Destin.
Fall nearshore fishing in Destin looks a lot like the spring with many of the same species doubling back through the area on their migration to wintering grounds. The hot bites come from cobia, amberjack, and Spanish mackerel. These fish are trying to fuel up before they reach their wintering grounds and as long as the water temperature stays moderately warm these fish will hang around and continue to feast.
Fall is home to the Destin Fishing Rodeo, a month long fishing tournament that attracts big crowds and is a great spot to see some massive fish. With over 240 boats participating the results are spectacular and anyone can enter as long as they fish on a boat registered in the Destin area. This tournament takes advantage of the continuing peak bite from summer that carries over into fall.
The blue and white marlin bite is still just as hot giving anglers a bigger window to catch that trophy fish or maybe win the tournament. While the mahi mahi are gone the kingfish continue hunting baitfish until the water temperatures begin to drop closer to winter. The fall deep sea fishing is just as good as summer with the ability to land fish from 50 to 1,000 pounds.
Winter is slow in the city but out on the water, the fish are still biting. The peak bite in Destin during the winter months is much different than the other months with many species being absent while some are less active and other fish are extremely aggressive and actively searching for food. The bite stays on all winter long with a different set of target species.
The inshore waters during winter still have redfish and trout but they are not as active this time of year. Sheepshead and black drum are remarkably active despite cooler water and they are hungry. Sheepshead group up anywhere they find a structure that holds the barnacles, crabs, and baitfish that they eat. Catching sheepshead can be tricky even though they are small fish, they are well known for being bait steelers. Find a good structure and keep your bait securely on the hook after that it will be bent rod after bent road duking it out with these feisty fish.
Black drum come into the shallows fired up for their spawn which happens in the winter. Just like their relative the redfish, all of the biggest fish head to the shallows where you have the best shot at catching one. While somehow they aren’t as popular as their copper colored cousin, these fish offer all of the same rod bending action and delicious meat.
The offshore target species change the most during winter in Destin with marlin and kingfish leaving but making way for the wahoo to take over. Wahoo are one of the most exhilarating pelagic species to catch and they take Destin by storm every winter. These fish are long, fast, toothy, angry fish with the ability to reach 80 pounds or more. They are fierce predators that are notorious for crushing bait and taking off only to snap the line seconds later either from their speed or their teeth. If you want to go fishing this winter, the wahoo in Destin are more than worth the trip.
While all of the peak bites and migrations were covered there are some species that are always around and hit hard all year long. Tuna can be hauled in throughout the year when deep sea fishing Destin. If you are looking for a formidable fight the yellowfin and blackfin tuna hold their own. These fish have an amazing ability to go on run after run even when you think they are ready to quit.
Swordfish hang out in the offshore waters around Destin throughout the year with the only difference in bite being whether you fish during the day or at night. They can also grow to over 1,000 pounds and frequently spend time in water that’s 1,400 feet deep. At night and in the mornings they come to the surface to hunt but either way, if you hook on in 1,000 feet of water or right at the surface, this fish will make you earn it.
While the redfish and speckled trout have seasons when the bite is especially good, they are around all year. Redfish are hearty and thrive in various water temperatures, hot or cold but trout move in and out of the bays to find the right spot.
Updated on May 3, 2023
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