By Robert Alan Richardson
As you can see by some of the photos accompanying this article, the Big Bend area of Florida with its enormous grass flats, near shore fishing, and offshore opportunities will provide for constant and consistent fishing action around Carrabelle and beyond. Sleepy little fishing villages like Lanark Village, St. Teresa, St. Marks, Panacea, Ochlochonee, Keaton Beach, Steinhatchee, Apalachicola, and Mexico Beach dot this stretch of Old School Florida where there’s nary a fast food joint to be found for miles in either direction. I did find one drive-thru in the area. His name was Big John at Big John’s side-of-the-road Cajun Boiled Peanut Stand. I drove right up to the window and got served some fine cuisine without getting out of my truck. That’s a plus for me these days.
High rises don’t exist here and the economy is driven by one thing; fishing. Old haunts like Alligator Bay, Bald Point, Dog Island Reef, Smokehouse Ledge, the Carrabelle River, Ochlochonee Bay, and many others have been producing catches, both recreational and commercial, for centuries. Scalloping, fishing, commercial oyster beds, bait boats, bait shops, marinas, boat shops, and anything associated with salt water are about all you’ll find here. And that’s plenty OK with me.
The last excursion to this area allowed our fishing crew to move offshore about ten miles, fish inshore at Dog Island Reef, and work the miles and miles of grass flats in behind St. George Island and Dog Island. It’s a fisherman’s paradise where the scenery is worth the price of admission. The sunsets coming out of the Carrabelle River each morning were extraordinary. Fishing saltwater in this area is a mixed bag of different species and this trip was no different. We encountered and boated grouper, king mackerel, Spanish mackerel, spotted sea trout, porgies, white grunts, black sea bass, bluefish, lady fish, and sharks. Other species to be battled in these waters might include red snapper, mangrove snapper, redfish, flounder, bee liners, cobia, and barracuda to name a few. You just never know what’s lurking beneath and what might come up on your hook. That’s what makes it so exciting.
Whether you decide to troll offshore with heavy tackle, troll inshore with light tackle, bottom fish, cast lures, or put live pinfish on a popping cork; it’s all up to you. Our little 18-footer can pretty much get us to any destination in the right conditions. The trip did not disappoint.
Every trip will provide stories of its own. This one was highlighted by a trip through Tate’s Hell. I can now say truthfully that I have been to Hell and back. This National Forest leading into Carrabelle and Lanark Village is rumored to have been named for a young man who got lost out there. The thousands of acres are nothing more than swampland. He allegedly returned to captivity after more than a year and described it as pure “Hell”. Therefore, the name. I can tell you this. You would not want someone to put you out in the middle of the night in that area. The mosquitoes are like something out of Jumanji (the movie). If Bigfoot does exist, I’m sure you can find him out there somewhere.
Another interesting story is that of the old navy barracks found in Lanark Village, about four miles from Carrabelle. These quarters are now home to dozens of families who live there full and part time. Once upon a time, they were one of the U.S. training headquarters for scuba divers. If you travel a few miles west, you will encounter what used to be Mexico Beach. It is now nothing more than a scrap pile of rubble after last season’s hurricane. So sad to see such a beautiful little place completely destroyed. You don’t mess with Mother Nature.
If you ever make a trip to Carrabelle, there’s one place you have got to stop. It’s called Fathoms. On Sunday of our trip, this little bar and restaurant was full from daylight to sundown. Locals flock to this place for the raw oyster bar, the drinks, and the other fresh-off-the-boat seafood. It was rockin’! If you’re not sure you want to fight (pun intended) that crowd, try out The Fisherman’s Wife. This little seafood joint has some of the best fried grouper you ever put in yo mouth.
We didn’t find time to visit the restaurants this time. We opted for eating in the room. Don’t get me wrong here; we ate high on the hog. Brunswick stew and pulled pork sandwiches, Miss Ila’s chili, and morning smoked sausage biscuits, along with the staples of boat sandwiches, Vienna sausages, smoked oysters, and Beanie Weenies can make up for restaurant food in a pinch.
If you ever decide to fish this area, may I suggest staying at the Franklin Inn? It’s less than a half mile to the boat ramp, gas station, grocery story, bait shop, marina, fish-cleaning station, ice machine, and restaurants. You can’t beat that. Of course, Carrabelle isn’t much bigger than that anyway.
We returned with some nice catches of fish for the grill and grease. We figured they cost us about $64 per pound. Guess that’s why they tasted so good.