Destin Offshore Fishing

Record fishing opportunities abound in the big-game fishing hub of Florida’s Gulf Coast.

January 7, 2015
Destin, Florida at night
Destin’s Highway 98 has a sign welcoming drivers to “The World’s Luckiest Fishing Village.” Jason Parkhurst

Once a sleepy little village, Destin is now a bustling town filled with locals and tourists there to enjoy not only the pristine white sand beaches and the emerald green waters, but the plentiful fishing opportunities as well.

Promoted as “the luckiest fishing village in America,” Destin is located in Florida’s Panhandle about halfway between Panama City and Pensacola — both good fishing destinations too, but Destin is by far the hub of the action. I recently read a small tourist magazine focusing on areas of Florida that anglers should visit to have a successful fishing adventure; to my surprise, Destin wasn’t mentioned in any of the articles or lists. Now, come on, man. Let me tell you about this jewel of the Emerald Coast and the pride of lower Alabama.

Beginning in 2003, the Emerald Coast Blue Marlin Classic, a large high-dollar marlin tournament, began at the Sandestin Resort in neighboring Walton County, attracting competitors from all over the world. I have experienced the thrill of winning this great tournament as part of Dreamin’ On‘s team in 2007 when we caught a 672-pounder. Oh yeah, if you think that’s good, what about recent tournament history?


It’s not like some other fishing destinations and tournaments where large catches are found only in pictures on the wall. Scott Cooper’s 613.4-pounder in 2013 and Travis Dorland’s 783.6-pounder in 2012 should keep the attention of anglers chasing large marlin today.

boat running off Destin
September and October is white marlin season in the Gulf. Jason Parkhurst

A Place to Mix Up The Action

It’s not always about the big one in the Gulf; you can also chase a variety of billfish and pelagic species. During the September and October white marlin season, this area rivals many other marlin destinations, with six to 10 shots a day at white marlin and plenty of blue marlin still around. Also, sailfish are often found in the nearshore waters throughout the late summer.


My first grand slam was achieved in the Gulf, but with the surge of excellent swordfishing, a super grand slam is certainly not out of the question these days. This past summer, Capt. Brady Bowman of Perfect Shot released three blues and a couple of white marlin in a single day, and I certainly wouldn’t be surprised if Bowman was the first local captain to record a super grand slam for this area — it seems he catches a swordfish on every overnight trip he takes.

If you are looking for a charter, Destin offers plenty of knowledgeable boat captains and well-maintained boats providing prolific fishing of nearly every type an angler could desire. Finding the right charter boat should not be difficult.

boats on Destin docks at night
The Destin Harbor includes the famous AJ’s Seafood & Oyster Bar, among other attractions. Jason Parkhurst

When not on the water, the boat harbor is a fun place to hang out or just watch the fish being displayed from the boats arriving back at the dock. Keep in mind that the whole month of October is a fishing rodeo, and the harbor is a great place to watch the fish being weighed in and to keep up with changes on the leaderboard.


The famous AJ’s Seafood & Oyster Bar is always a happening place to indulge. Walk the harbor’s boardwalk and the mile-long stroll could be the highlight of your day. On the way, you will pass the charter fleet, great eateries and wonderful shopping while enjoying genuine southern hospitality. So there you have it: pristine white sandy beaches and beautiful emerald green water turning to royal blue as you venture offshore for your shot at a big blue marlin. Filled with great places to stay and to dine in a family-friendly location, Destin provides fantastic southern hospitality one might expect to receive in this small town. Best of all, you don’t have to travel to foreign ports or use foreign currency to enjoy these great things.

I have traveled the world and not found a more beautiful sight than when the tide brings in the gorgeous emerald green water from the Gulf, reflecting the sunset as it settles over the white sand dunes of our beach. Wow, you have to see it to believe it!

blue marlin jumping out water
The Panhandle region of Florida has held the state record for blue marlin since the 1980s. John Ashley

The northern Gulf Coast kicks some tail when it comes to numbers of big blue marlin and other game fish caught off Florida, especially when size matters. It all started back in the early ’80s when Maury McPhillips set the Florida state record with a blue marlin weighing 745 pounds out of Panama City aboard Huntress with Capt. Randy Davis. Not lasting long, the state record was broken in 1985 with a 980.5-pounder caught by Destin-based angler Warren Culbertson.


Culbertson’s Florida state record stood until 2001 when a 1,046-pound blue was weighed in during the Bay Point Invitational Billfish Tournament in Panama City by Conrad Hawkins aboard Lucky 2. Attempting to make history again at Bay Point in 2006, Capt. Keith Quick aboard Sea Wolf challenged the state record weighing a 998.6-pound blue marlin, but it fell short. While its catch was not weighed in Florida, it was Sea Wolf, a 62-foot G&S Sportfish built in Destin, that had the last laugh among boats from the Panhandle, catching a 1,054.5-pounder during the Mississippi Gulf Coast Billfish Classic in 2002.

As anglers release most marlin these days, the latest of possible granders was released in September 2014 by Capt. Billy Teems aboard Fish N Teem. Teems’ big blue stretched out nearly the width of the 18-foot transom on the wire before she was released.


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