“A tuna just jumped right in front of me!” Brandon Simon exclaimed over the phone.
I thought he’d told me that he was fishing from the beach.
“I am,” he said.
The pharmacy manager from Santa Claus, Indiana — who now lives in South Walton, Florida — explained that blackfin tuna come in close to shore, following temperature changes in the water.
Later Brandon texted me a photo of a reeler holding a tuna that he’d pulled in from the municipal pier in Panama City Beach, Florida.
“Don’t remember the last time I heard someone catching [tuna] off a local pier, though,” he said. “Shoulda grabbed the ‘yak. One of my buddies got one on his kayak. I ended up going inshore and slaying some sheepshead.”
“Can’t complain about the fishery down here one but right now.”
It was the fishery — along with a job offer — that brought Brandon to the area six years ago. He’s been a reeler all his life, since he was two years old. He grew up fishing for bass and then in bass tournaments.
About a decade ago, he got his first taste of saltwater fishing when he caught a king mackerel. And now that he’s moved to the Florida panhandle, he’s made the permanent mental switch.
“After saltwater fishing, I just can’t go back to freshwater,” he says. “I’m hooked. You cast and you never know what’s going to be on the other end of the line.”
What’s really got his blood pumping about his local fishery, though, are the redfish.
“I’ll chase them from a kayak, a boat, from shore… however I can get to them.”
When using a kayak, he looks for birds dropping down on baitfish and casts a topwater into the area where the birds are diving.
“Chasing redfish is a lot like chasing bass,” Brandon says. “They can be really aggressive, and when they want to hit something, they will.”
His personal best was a big bull that Brandon estimates to have been 35-40 pounds. He boated it from his kayak near Panama City Beach.
Brandon’s advice for folks who want to get started chasing reds is to start on the flats.
“Target the flats with a jerk bait or a gold spoon,” he says. “The water is really clear in the flats around here, so don’t drop the bait right on top of them or they’ll spook.”
Brandon prefers hot weather for chasing skinny water reds.
“In the summer months, they get up on the flats and you can get 20 or 30 a day with a gold spoon,” he says.
The slot for Panhandle reds is currently 17 to 27 inches with a limit of one per person.
“It’s really a catch and release fishery,” he explains.
And even when he’s not going after redfish, the awe that his local waters inspires is apparent.
“The saltwater fishery here is incredible,” Brandon says. “There are so many species out here. It’s the anticipation of not knowing what you’re reeling in, not knowing what’s going to happen on any given cast that keeps me wanting more.”