Fishing Florida’s Panhandle — Game On in Panama City

Catch the action in photos taken over three days of fishing Panama City, Florida, inside and outside.

July 5, 2017
A smoker king mackerel boatside off Panama City, Florida
Summer is a great time for smoker kings not far off Panama City. Capt. Matt Parramore (left) and I hold a 40-pounder boatside so Jason Arnold could get this shot. In the fish’s mouth is a brand-new size Rapala, the Magnum Divebait-40 Saltwater X-Rap. Jason Arnold /

There’s no shortage of great jumping-off points for anglers in Florida’s Panhandle region, and right smack in the midst of all those productive waters sits Panama City. I’d been through the area a number of times but had never really fished it, so when I had the chance at the end of June to join Rapala’s Dan Quinn and SF contributing photographer Jason Arnold for three days of sampling the inshore and offshore action, I jumped at the chance. Smart decision, as this gallery reveals.

Where is Panama City, Florida?
Where is Panama City, Florida? Courtesy Google Earth
Leaving the dock at Panama City
Leaving Sun Harbor Marina on our first (inshore) day, we cruise into Saint Andrews Bay aboard Capt. Matt Smith’s 21-foot Cobia bay boat with a second-station tower. Doug Olander / Sport Fishing
Saint Andrews Bay and waters around Panama City, Florida
Having not fished this spot before, I was amazed and impressed at just how much inshore area a guide like Smith has to fish. Saint Andrews bay and adjacent bays just go on and on to the northwest and southeast. Courtesy Google Earth
Angler fights bull redfish in Saint Andrews Bay
First blood: Dan Quinn eases to the boat the first redfish of the day, that turns out to be a 20-plus-pound bull. The lure is a Storm 360 GT Coastal Largo Shad, a lure not quite available yet when we fished it. Doug Olander / Sport Fishing
Panama City bull redfish
Quinn pauses for a photo before releasing the morning’s first red. In the background is the Highway 98 bridge that separates Saint Andrews and East bays. Guide Matt Smith said we’d catch bull reds here and we caught ’em, in about 20 feet of water. Sometimes concentrating on fishing became difficult with a most amazing and very cool air show of F-16, F-22 and other fighter jets in flight and practicing landings at Tyndall Air Force Base over the bay and seemingly just over our heads. Doug Olander / Sport Fishing
Spanish mackerel on a Rapala Shadow Rap Shad.
I ease to the boat a fair-sized Spanish mackerel that hit a Rapala Shadow Rap Shad over a shoal area in the middle of Saint Andrews Bay. Jason Arnold /
A southern flounder scoots across the bottom
A southern flounder scoots across the sandy bottom near the Saint Andrews Pass jetties. We caught two keeper flatties that morning. Jason Arnold /
At the live-bait station, Panama City
Early the next morning, our offshore skipper, Capt. Matt Parramore, backs his 27 Cape Horn up to a live-bait station for a dipnet full of live cigar minnows for chum and to supplement our lures. Doug Olander / Sport Fishing
Hard over on a spinning rod off Panama City
Quinn handles a spinning rod bent hard over with one of several runs that a smoker king makes around the boat. Doug Olander / Sport Fishing
Capt. Matt Parramore hefts a large kingfish into his boat.
Parramore has his hands full, hefting over the gunwale Dan Quinn’s big kingfish. Doug Olander / Sport Fishing
Big kingfish that ate a Rapala X-Rap Magnum 30.
Parramore assesses a challenging unhooking job. In the big king’s mouth: a Rapala X-Rap Magnum 30. Doug Olander / Sport Fishing
Big Gulf of Mexico red snapper on a Williamson Arrowhead jig
This big red snapper hit a 3.5-ounce Williamson Arrowhead jig for Jennifer Parramore, the skipper’s better half. Doug Olander / Sport Fishing
Monster of a lane snapper
Lane snapper don’t get a whole larger than this beast hefted by Jennifer Parramore, caught over a shallow bit of relief that Matt noted on his sounder that day while trolling plugs. Doug Olander / Sport Fishing
Split view shows red snapper underwater and angler in boat
Quinn eases another red snapper to the boat from a small bit of structure in about 60 feet of water off Panama City. Jason Arnold /
A kingfish struggles by the boat.
On my third cast retrieving a jerkbait hard and fast, this kingfish whacked it, and with light braid, put up a spirited fight. The lure is a Rapala X-Rap Saltwater. Jason Arnold /
Angler with a lovely Atlantic bigeye
Matt holds up a surprise catch — a striking Atlantic bigeye that hit a Williamson Koika jig, another lure Quinn brought for us to try that was just a bit too new to be available in the United States at the time. Doug Olander / Sport Fishing
Portrait of an Atlantic bigeye
Bigeyes — family Priacanthidae — are found around the world in warm/tropical waters and characterized by their red coloration and strikingly large eyes. They don’t grow a lot larger than this. Doug Olander / Sport Fishing
Kingfish grabs a deep jig
Whille Quinn dropped over a heavy Williamson bucktail jig for another red snapper, it was interecepted on the way down by this aggressive king mackerel held by Capt. Matt Parramore. Doug Olander / Sport Fishing
Just the Cook Restaurant in Panama City, Florida
We sampled a different seafood restaurant in Panama City each night — and all will be revealed in our full feature article in Sport Fishing magazine next year. In the meantime, this shows one of those and certainly among the more unique eateries. It’s primarily a takeaway cafe (on a houseboat!) and serves truly world-class dishes. Doug Olander / Sport Fishing

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