As the sun melts on the horizon, rays of sunlight sparkle across the smooth water. The world (and my mind) are silent here for a brief moment in time as relaxation washed over my body. Then, suddenly, my son calls out, “I’ve got one!” Instantly, we all jump into action as he strains to reel in the fish that is now ruffling up the smooth waters.
There is nothing else like this feeling of exhilaration as we watch him pull and fight against the line as he perseveres to reel in a “munster,” as he always affectionately calls his fish.
Over the years, we have traveled to many different locations to go fishing. Living on the coast and near local rivers, we have numerous options to go either freshwater fishing or saltwater fishing.
Steve’s Catfish Farm
Tucked amongst farmland up in Walnut Hill, FL, just a short 40-minute drive from Pensacola, Steve’s Catfish Farm will never disappoint. If you want some guaranteed fish to take home and fry, this is the place to go. But, of course, it’ll only be catfish. You can pay $5 per person to catch and release, or $2 per pound for fish you want to keep (they even filet it for you – which is very cool to watch, especially for the kids!). You can also enjoy their nice market, which sells local produce and homemade jams and jellies.
On your way up, don’t forget to stop by the Walmart on Hwy 29 for some “fiber nuggets”. They are not hard to find in the fishing section as you will smell them (and not in a good way – gross!). These work for us every time! Put a bobber on the line, as this will help the kids see when they have a bite, but for the bigger ones, put on a heavyweight and let it sink to the bottom – you’ll have to wait a little bit longer, but hopefully, you’ll catch a “munster.”
We have found that the best time to go is Friday after school gets out. It’s cooler weather, and the fish bite more in the evenings, but don’t drag your feet because they close at 5:30 pm. If you’d like to extend your fishing trip, the earlier, the better on a Saturday morning, for two reasons: fish bite more, and it gets crowded (and hot in the summer). They are closed on Sundays.
I highly recommend this place if you have never been fishing. Your children will be able to catch fish constantly, and afterward, they take care of cleaning and preparing the fish for you to take home.
Blackwater River (Milton, Florida)
Another great place to go freshwater fishing is Blackwater River in Milton. Reaching out to a friend, who has a place on Blackwater River, Jason Jones reports that by using just some bread balls, he catches bream, and using lures, he can catch some bass from his dock. Bass fish love shiny things, so if you like the idea of a cast and reel with some fancy lures, as my kids do, this is the place to go!
There are a couple of local places you can go if you don’t have a boat or a kayak. The state forest is full of little pull-offs that all have access to the river and a few boat ramps for some good fishing areas. There is the Oyster Bay Boat Ramp and the Russell Harbor Boat Ramp. Across HWY 90 is the Marquis Basin, which has some drive downs for fishing and spots by the railroad bridge.
While we’ve never been over to these locations, we do know a thing or two about bass fishing. Both my sons have tackle boxes filled with lures of all different kinds. Bass fishing is more their speed, as they can cast and reel in frequently, instead of just casting and waiting for a bite.
One of the most popular ways to fish down here is by boat in Pensacola Bay. Rob Weis, co-founder of the local outdoor brand Southbound Apparel, passed along his well-matured knowledge of saltwater fishing in the Pensacola Bay Area. Having taken his own son, now eight years old, since he was two years old out on the water, he first shares some veteran advice on taking your young kid out for a day of fishing on the boat.
Taking kids on a boat is no small feat, but here are some helpful tips to make for a smooth fishing trip.
First, as in everything, lower your expectations when children are involved. You are not going fishing, but more so, you are taking your kids fishing. Your first trips should be all about introducing them to the sport and creating a positive experience to connect having fun to fishing. That way, they will learn to love what you love to do, making it easier each time you go.
Make sure to pick a nice day with low surf (always check those forecasts!). Have your tackle box and poles, picking up the bait on the way at one of our local shops. Again, make sure you have sun protection, snacks, and drinks for the boat.
There are two types of fishing that your kids will love from the boat.
First, troll close to the sandbars along the beach roughly 6-8 mph with small flashy lures like those made by Clark Spoon or “gotcha lure” (watch out for those treble hooks!). Rob likes to run these lures about 100-150 ft behind the boat, and you will have the opportunity to catch some ladyfish, hardtail, and mackerel.
This is easy fishing and tons of fun for the kids, especially with all the marine life they will see. Dolphins, turtles, and sharks abound just offshore of the beaches.
Rob says any of our local artificial reefs are great if you are looking to hook some snapper or triggerfish. Also, check out our local county website for locations of reefs (ESC co artificial reef link).
Use whole or cut Cigar Minnows with a 5/0 circle hook and 1-3 oz weight. Rob also recommends using medium-weight spinning tackle instead of traditional heavy bottom fishing rigs to maximize the fun of the fight. He finds his kids can handle these rods better than heavier tackle.
Remember, it’s all about letting the kids reel in a few fish and hopefully bring one home for dinner. The more fun the kids have, the easier your day on the boat will be!
He also notes that you can drop some lines with live shrimp around any of our bridges for some good fish as well.
Rob cautions, though, to make sure to check the Florida Fish and Wildlife website for local regulations and laws and always make sure you have your fishing license. Even if you go just one time, it’s worth making sure you have one, and all the money goes into the conservation of our local wildlife.
If you don’t have a boat, you can still go fishing from the shore…
This past summer, my boys had fishing off the beach down to a science.
We stop by Gulf Breeze Bait and Tackle Shop on our way out to the beach just before you turn off to get on Bob Sikes Bridge. We pick up some live shrimp and frozen squid, then roll the windows down and cruise to the clear, sandy waters that house a plethora of fish.
Of course, we catch catfish (because they are everywhere!), but we’ve also caught pompano, redfish, pinfish (as always, again great to throw out as bait), and that one time we caught a shark! We also managed a pufferfish (super cool) and a barracuda (ate our line, though, so we never brought it in, but you can better believe we stayed out there all day trying to catch it again!).
Typically, we park anywhere and fish from the sand. However, you will need to make sure it’s not crowded as you need space to fish. We prefer the sound side because it’s normally not as crowded down at the last parking lot before Fort Pickens. If you have a pass to Fort Pickens, you can fish there and even go to the pier for some good fishing. You can also go the other way past the Portofino Towers to find more isolated spots.
Another option is to pay to fish from the beach pier. However, it fills up quickly – especially at the end! From the pier, we have caught tarpon, mackerel, and wahoo (depending on the time of year). It’s also a cool place to watch other people catch fish!
From the pier, you also have a bird’s eye view of dolphins and even sharks!
When the boys want to practice their cast and enjoy catching fish, we head down to the bayou for some saltwater fishing. The fishing pier at Bayview Park is a great spot. We have caught catfish, redfish, croaker, alligator gar, trout, pinfish (my son’s favorite to catch and use as bait for the “big ones”).
It’s really a fun place to catch a bunch of different types of fish. We’ve even caught a sea turtle and a stingray (neither of which I recommended you catch)! Unfortunately, I would not recommend eating anything from the Bayou either; this is just fun practice for us.
For bait, we use anything from bread pieces and hotdogs to frozen squid or shrimp, which you can pick up at any of the local bait shops. Our “go-to” bait shop on this side of town is the Outcast Bait and Tackle Shop on Barrancas Ave.
Learning and growing together as a family on all our fishing adventures has brought us closer together.
Fishing is a lifelong sport that we can enjoy together. Not to mention, my children have learned patience as they sometimes have to wait over an hour to hook their first fish. During this time, we don’t allow technology, only imagination… and sometimes reading, but in all seriousness, they need to be watching their line.
Our kids have learned perseverance, frequently losing the fish they have been struggling to reel in for ten minutes sometimes. They have to realize that sometimes you lose and have to start over.