Blue marlin have been caught every month of the year off the Florida Panhandle. Even when it’s chilly on the hill, the cobalt rips far offshore stay warm enough to harbor billfish and other pelagics. Still, by late November when the fall light-tackle action slows down, most Emerald Coast enthusiasts have put up their rods in anticipation of summer. There are several alternatives to the recliner, however. Here are a few hot spots for an exciting off-season fishing vacation.
The Florida Keys
Easily the most accessible from Emerald Coast ports, the Florida Keys offer a strong line-up of sailfish tournaments throughout the island chain. The Florida Keys Gold Cup series kicks off with the Islamorada Sailfish Tournament in early December. The Cheeca Lodge Presidential Sailfish Tournament is held in later January, followed by the Islamorada Fishing Club’s event. This is finesse angling with refined techniques and team coordination. The final outcomes often hinge on single fish releases. Other individual events continue through April with the Marathon Premier Sailfish Tournament. The Keys offers a plethora of resorts and marina options for sportfishers to center consoles. islamoradasailfishtournament.com
Long a favorite get-away for Gulf boats, the Mexican Caribbean coast features a trio of options for an exciting sailfish bite, plus whites and small blue marlin for spice. Cancun and nearby Isla Mujeres can be reached by boats on their own bottom with experienced crews. Once there, the runs offshore are short. Cozumel is another popular island layover, along with Puerto Aventuras mainland. The weather is pleasant, the marinas offer the necessary provisions and the local communities are very hospitable and accommodating. Want to hone your bait and switch tactics? Head south of the border. visitmexico.com
The Bahamas are another close and friendly destination for Emerald Coast sport-fishers. With dozens of world-class marinas, deep blue water within minutes and a host of targets including bluefin tuna, wahoo, dolphin and blue marlin, this island nation was on the cutting edge of the sport’s development. If a tune-up for the Gulf tournament circuit is desired, this is the spot. There’s a strong itinerary of tournaments throughout the islands and you’ll be pitting your skills against top-notch teams. bahamas.com
Los Suenos, Costa Rica
It’ll take a detour through the Panama Canal if you want to fish your own sled, but year after year there’s no hotter strike zone than Costa Rica and the Los Suenos Resort and Marina on the Pacific Coast. Some of the most skilled crews in the world hone their teaser techniques here. Triple and quadruple hook-ups on 100-pound-plus Pacific sailfish are routine; striped and blue marlin are an added bonus. The three-event Los Suenos Signature Triple Crown kicks off in late January (with ladies-only contests right beforehand), with monthly follow-ups through March. Quality charter boats are also available for fly-in visits. lossuenos.com
Photos courtesy of the Islamorada Sailfish Tournament, Cheeca Lodge and Spa, The Mexico Department of Tourism, The Bahamas Ministry of Tourism and Los Suenos Resort and Marina.