Boatless in the Big Bend
Fishing the Big Bend on Foot
The sky was turning light gray signaling the approach of daylight. As a gentle breeze tickled the back of my neck, my mind was in another world while my eyes slowly followed a flock of small shore birds in flight. A smile crossed my face. Again, I had managed to escape reality by simply wading into knee deep water. Suddenly a large seatrout decided to test my reflexes. The topwater plug I had placed next to the shoreline spartan grass was under assault. It was all I could do to pull myself back to earth, gain control, and land a nice seven pound fish. For the next hour or so, the same scenario continued until the rising sun and its rays eventually penetrated the clear, shallow water I was fishing, exposing, and forcing its inhabitants to seek safety in deeper water.
On that particular morning, I was fishing along the back of St. George Island located in Franklin County. It was Memorial Day weekend and not a soul was in sight. The area I was fishing was only a short walk from my truck. This place, just like many other places along the coast of The Big Bend, is one where a boat is not needed to experience quality fishing. All a person needs to find these places, is a little homework. With a few maps and a bit of exploring, a person can tap into some of the best inshore fishing available.
The counties of Wakulla and Franklin are unique in the fact they offer miles of undeveloped coastline accessible by foot and sometimes by only walking a short distance. These areas can be extremely productive fishing spots at the right time, and there is enough diversity that a person can usually find a spot for every season. Therefore, year round fishing on foot is possible, though one must first spend the time to figure out when, where and how (i.e. the tides, time of day, time of year and why different fish are present at various times).
A good set of maps for the region is a very valuable tool when looking for out-of-the-way places to fish on foot. When I say maps, I am not necessarily speaking of an atlas. I am talking about nautical charts, aerial photographs, topographical maps and yes, a good road map of the area also helps. These maps can be purchased through various vendors, as well as county, state, and federal agencies. Some of the aerial photography can be accessed on-line for free. When these maps are all used together you will have a very good tool for locating and accessing fishable water.
Much of the coastline in the Big Bend Area is either owned or controlled by the State of Florida, the county you are in, or by the National Fish and Wildlife Service. Access is generally not a problem, but you will want to check to ensure you are in accordance with the laws that govern . Ignorance is no excuse, and fines are no fun.
Now that I have covered some of the basics of finding a spot to fish on foot, here are a few places to start exploring. The St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge east of the St. Marks River offers the angler who doesn't mind walking or biking numerous opportunities. This portion of the refuge can be accessed off U.S. Hwy. 98, at Newport. A map of the refuge can be picked up at the refuge office upon entering the gate. The refuge impoundments are separated from the gulf by dikes. Many of the tidal creeks in the refuge can be reached by walking or biking on these earthen structures. These creeks hold generous numbers of seatrout and redfish during the late fall, winter, and early spring. They are also home to some very large alligators so watch your step.
Farther to the west in Wakulla County is Wakulla Beach. This spot is accessed by following U.S. Hwy. 98, west of the Wakulla River a couple miles, then turning south on Wakulla Beach Rd. This road will carry you straight into the gulf. Wakulla Beach is also part of the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge. From early spring to late fall the possibilities are endless here. The creeks, grass shorelines, oyster bars, and submerged grass flats in this area hold just about any species of inshore game fish you can imagine, along with abundant wildlife which can be viewed while you are fishing. This spot has been one of my personal favorites over the years.
Continuing on westward will lead you to the banks and mouth of the Ochlocknee River and Bay. This whole system offers year round opportunities. To the east side of the river mouth lies Mashes Sands. This section of coastline can be reached by turning south off U.S. Hwy. 98, onto the first road east of the river, then continuing until it dead ends at the gulf. This is all public access. From here you can walk west to the rivers mouth, or wade to the east fishing the shoreline, near shore structure, and various channels entering the gulf. Numerous Trout, Redfish, Flounder and several other species of inshore saltwater fish inhabit these waters and are present at different times of the year. If wadding is not your ball game there is also a county fishing pier that extends out into the river just north of the mouth. It is open to the public and accessible from the same road used to access the waters edge.
Now lets cross the river into Franklin county. Over the river to the west you will notice numerous places to fish along the bank of the Ochlocknee River, all can be reached by foot, as well as the area underneath the western edge of the bridge. This side of the river can be productive for the shore or wade fisherman throughout the year. Our next stop is Bald Point. This is the area on the west side of the Ochlocknee River at the mouth. The land is owned, controlled and maintained by the State of Florida for public use. This area is a well known fishing spot and can be very productive at times. It is lined with a maze of oyster bars and channels that go from shallow to deep, depending on the tide.
Alligator Harbor, the area that lies between Alligator Point and the mainland, also offers wading opportunities accessible from U.S. Hwy. 98, as well as the Turkey Point area and shoreline next to the Florida State Marine Laboratory. From Turkey Point to Carrabelle, then along the way to East Point and out on St. George Island, there are numerous places a person can find and access for great fishing. A majority of the places are overlooked by the masses and hold fish on a regular basis during the season of the year when the fish are present in the given area. Homework and exploration are the keys to success when locating these out-of-the-way areas to fish on foot. With a little bit of effort Im sure you will be able to locate some special spots that will produce fish consistently without having to do much more than walk to the fish. Good luck and remember, these places you will find are very special and unique to our wonderful area, so leave it better than you found it and "Conserve & Enjoy".