No Need for a Boat to Stalk the Lunkers Lurking Along the Forgotten Coast
Photo by Chuck Simpson
Vicky Wiegand hauls in a nice seatrout from a foot-accessible fishing spot along the coast of Franklin County.
The sky was turning light gray as daylight approached and a gentle breeze tickled the back of my neck. I was in another world as 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 cast next to the shoreline spartina grass was under assault. It was all I could do to bring myself back to earth, gain control and land a nice 7-pound fish. The same scenario continued for the next hour or so until the rising sun’s rays eventually penetrated the clear, shallow water around me. Exposing its inhabitants, the light forced them to seek safety in deeper water.
On that particular morning, I was fishing along the back of St. George Island in Franklin County in an area just a short walk from where my truck was parked. It was Memorial Day weekend, and not a soul was in sight. Just like many other places along the coast, it’s one where a boat is not needed to experience quality fishing. It just takes a little homework to find them. With a few maps and a bit of exploring, a person can tap into some of the best inshore fishing available.
Wakulla and Franklin counties are unique because they offer miles of undeveloped coastline accessible by foot, and sometimes you don’t have to walk far. These spots can be extremely productive 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, but you must first spend some time figuring out when, where and how (for example, 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 roadmap of the area also helps. These maps can be purchased through various vendors, as well as county, state and federal agencies. Some aerial photography can be accessed online for free. When these maps are used properly they are excellent tools for locating and accessing fishable water.
Much of the coastline is either owned or controlled by the State of Florida, the county you are in or by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Access is generally not a problem, but you will want to check to ensure you are obeying the governing laws. Ignorance is no excuse, and fines are no fun.
Now that I’ve 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 numerous opportunities to the angler who doesn’t mind walking or biking. Turning south off U.S. Highway 98 on Lighthouse Road just west of Newport provides access to this portion of the refuge. A fee is required to enter the refuge, and you can pick up a map of the refuge at the 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. Tidal creeks hold generous numbers of seatrout and redfish during the late fall, winter and early spring. They’re also home to some very large alligators, so watch your step.
Farther to the west in Wakulla County is Wakulla Beach. Follow U.S. Highway 98 west of the Wakulla River a couple of miles, then turn south on Wakulla Beach Road. This will carry you straight to the Gulf. Wakulla Beach is also part of the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge. The possibilities are endless here from early spring to late fall. The creeks, grass shorelines, oyster bars and submerged grass flats are home to about every species of inshore game fish you can imagine, along with abundant wildlife, which can be viewed while you are fishing. Wakulla Beach has been one of my personal favorite spots over the years.
Continuing westward will lead you to the banks and mouth of the Ochlockonee River and Bay. This whole system offers year-round opportunities. To the east side of the river mouth is Mashes Sands. This section of coastline can be reached by turning south off Highway 98 and onto the first road east of the river, Mashes Sands Road. Take this road until it dead ends at the Gulf. This is all public access. From here you can walk west to the river’s mouth, or wade to the east as you fish the shoreline, nearshore structures 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 wading is not your ballgame, a county fishing pier extends into the river just north of the mouth. It’s open to the public and accessible from the same road used to access the water’s edge.
Now, let’s cross the river into Franklin County. Over the river to the west you will notice numerous places to fish along the bank of the Ochlockonee River. All can be reached by foot, as well as from the area under the western edge of the bridge. This side of the river can be productive throughout the year for the shore or wade fisherman. Our next stop is Bald Point. This is the area on the west side of the Ochlockonee 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. It’s 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 Highway 98, as well as the Turkey Point area and shoreline next to the Florida State Marine Laboratory. From Turkey Point to Carrabelle, and Eastpoint out to St. George Island, there are many places you can find 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 finding these out-of-the-way areas to fish on foot. With a little bit of effort I’m 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 find are very special and unique to our wonderful area. Leave it better than you found it, and “conserve and enjoy.”