During a recent trip to Florida, I experienced firsthand the cultural divide between the fast paced south, and the calmer vibe of the north and Gulf Coast.
Like California, Florida is a tale of two worlds.
It’s similar to the feud between the Hatfield’s and McCoy’s. Commentators agree both are different, but no one can explain why.
Southern Florida, a region that begins somewhere between Orlando and Ocala, is vastly different than communities to the north and along the panhandle.
What some call Old Florida, these towns established way before Mickey Mouse, and his friends took up residence at Disney World in Orlando.
Following Mickey came other theme parks, high rise condominium complexes, and Lamborghini’s forever changing the southern part of the Sunshine State, but communities to the north found a way to maintain a semblance of what attracted so many years ago.
On my return trip home to Oxford, Mississippi – I planned a three day stay in the historic fishing village of Apalachicola, located on Florida’s northwest coast in southern Franklin County.
Known as the Forgotten Coast, Apalachicola rests in the middle of the panhandle. The greater Apalachicola region is one of the earliest populated areas in Florida dating back to 1831.
The coastal communities of Apalachicola, St. George Island and Eastpoint, the heart of the Forgotten Coast, offer an authentic taste of Florida’s Gulf Coast.
Houseboats at River Watch
Just a block from the main shopping and dining district of Apalachicola is Houseboats at River Watch on Water Street. Proprietor Karen Hoff offers four floating homes with panoramic waterfront views of the Apalachicola River.
I stayed in a 500 Sq. Ft. home named “Rebels’ Rest” (VRBO – 1029857), a cozy one bedroom chalet that provided hours of entertainment including magnificent sunrises and sunsets, a daily parade of fishing boats, and a variety of wildlife that rivaled any National Geographic episode.
Karen moved from New Jersey in November 2012 as a tourist looking for permanent housing. Attracted to the history of Apalachicola, she eventually purchased the home she was renting and the accompanying marina. Since then she’s added three other floating homes ranging in sizes.
“People come visit because there are seek something low key,” said Hoff. “They like the adventure of it and looking for a place they can watch the river traffic, the wildlife and relax.”
Each home features a fully equipped kitchen, cable television, the Internet, comfortable beds, general living space, and a deck overlooking the river.
Oh, and fishing poles.
Because most of the fish you might catch off the deck are likely going to be Sail Catfish, you’ll need a guide to find trophy fish and varieties worthy of the dinner table.
Fishing off the Shores of St. Vincent
There’s a saying: “A bad day of fishing beats a good day at the office.”
That’s certainly true for me.
An avid fisherman, being near the water isn’t good enough. It’s torture not navigating the buoys in search of the elusive catch.
Born and raised in Apalachicola, in his 24′ Kenner Captain Rudy Gay with Apalachicola Charters picked us up from the deck of our floating home. He is a member of Apalachicola Bay Chamber of Commerce and holds a USCG (US Coast Guard) 100 Ton Masters Captains license.
He soon shared with us one of his favorite fishing spots eight miles from Apalachicola.
Years ago Captain Rudy’s family were care takers for St. Vincent Island, one of four barrier islands close to the mouth of the Apalachicola River and the town of Apalachicola.
In 1968 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service purchased the island for $2.2 million from Henry and Alfred Loomis who converted the 9-mile long island and converted it into a game reserve.
It was off the shores of St. Vincent Island we fished for red fish and speckled trout, and sheepshead using shrimp as bait.
“There is a natural beauty here. It’s very pristine, ” said Gay. “We don’t have trash floating around in the water. There is a lot of good fishing in this area.”
Battling storms during our trip we slipped in a few casts before heading back to shore. We hauled in a two-pound Flounder in the estuary of St. Vincent Island.
With rain showers on our first two days, maybe our last day would bring clear skies.
Tripletail – Love at First Bite
I have to be honest. I wasn’t so sure when Captain Jonathan Creamer of Salty Charters Florida told me we’d be fishing for Tripletail, a warm-water pelagic.
Captain Jonathan has been fishing Tripletail since he was a kid, but its only become popular in the larger fishing community within the past few years.
I’ve been fishing Midwest lakes and limited offshore fishing most of my life. I’d never heard nor fished for this breed. After a little online search, it appeared to be nothing more than a grown up sunfish.
Remember that saying? “A bad day of fishing beats a good day at the office.”
Early Sunday morning we met Captain Jonathan at boat ramp 910-928 off Highway 98. He was at the dock ready to roll when we arrived in a newer 24′ Glasstream.
“Okay Jonathan,” I said with reluctance. “Let’s learn about the Tripletail.”
Apparently, Tripletail like vertical structure. That explains why they typically congregate underneath crab traps.
As our morning of inshore, shallow water fishing began, Captain Jonathan rigged our lines with shrimp and bobbers. It was cloudy, so the conditions weren’t ideal.
He then guided us through several lines of crab traps – about 50 in all.
Within a few casts, I learned to get the bait as close to the trap as possible without getting snagged.
“Pop your line, rattle the bobber,” Captain Jonathan said.
There it was. I had my first Tripletail on my line. Unfortunately, it wasn’t over the 15-inch minimum according to Florida law.
But it wasn’t long that I had a three-pounder in the live well of the boat. My wife, Jackie, argues who caught the keeper as he took both our bait at the same time.
My bait was deep in his belly while he only lipped Jackie’s hook.
Just sayin’! I think the evidence is clear he took my bait first.
“The Tripletail puts the Grouper to shame,” said Captian Jonathan. “It’s been like a highway down here of people trying it out. It’s become very popular lately.”
Up the Lazy River with Apalachicola River Cruises
Captain Skip Shiver is a 5th generation Franklin County resident and grew up on the water. After years in the offshore fishing charter industry, law enforcement and a Florida Fish and Wildlife officer, Skip launched Apalachicola River Cruises.
Captain Skip leads tours aboard the restored “Miss America,” a Dutch built beauty straight from the Netherlands.
Skip’s love and knowledge for the area and the water surrounding it is unmatched.
As we glided across the brackish river, Skip pointed out the importance of the marshes to the ecosystem.
“As water comes down it floods our flood planes,” said Shiver. “It picks up the nutrients and sediments that have been waiting for the high waters.”
Those nutrients then feed the oyster beds for which Apalachicola is known.
During the cruise passengers get to see the natural beauty of the Apalachicola River and learn about the area from the vantage point of Skip’s boat.
While Apalachicola rests in the Sunshine states so-called “Forgotten Coast,” the quaintness of this piece of Old Florida leaves lasting memories. This southern town with a strong maritime culture is the complete package, leaving its visitors longing for more – hook, line, sinker, and oyster.
For more information:
Apalachicola Bay Chamber of Commerce & Visitor Center
Executive Director, John C. Solomon
122 Commerce Street
Apalachicola, Florida 32320
Houseboats at River Watch
309 Water Street
Apalachicola, Florida 32320
Captain Rudy Gay
Salty Charters Florida
Captain Jonathan Creamer
Apalachicola River Cruises
Captain Skip Shiver
About Russ Jones
A twenty-five-year award-winning journalist and media specialist, Russ Jones is a storyteller at heart. Jones career spans from serving as Sr. Vice President of News Operations for USA Radio Networks, social media oversight for the pro-Newt Gingrich Winning Our Future presidential campaign Super PAC, a former NBC news correspondent to implementing strategic branding and public relations campaigns. Russ earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Missouri in journalism. He has traveled the world and has a keen understanding of global worldviews. He has the ability and experience to develop strategic public relations and strategies for communities internationally.