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No clouds allowed in Florida’s Panhandle

Emerald Coast
Appalachian quartz sand gives the waters of the Emerald Coast their trademark blue-green color. A popular beach destination in the area, Destin is also a popular jumping-off point for deep-sea fishing. This October, the 65th annual Destin Fishing Rodeo takes place, and the competition is open to all. Each day’s largest catch is posted on the leaderboard by species. Prizes are awarded at month’s end.

Groups have plenty of opportunities to try sport fishing on charter sailings. Boats leave Destin Harbor on full- and half-day fishing trips. Boats carry 25 to 149 passengers. Deckhands put on bait and take off fish, and fish cleaning is provided on a tip basis. During season, more than 100 different species inhabit the gulf. Catches vary from red snapper to grouper and amberjack. Several harbor restaurants will cook an individual’s catch and add hush puppies, coleslaw and french fries for a small additional cost.

“We hold a number of fishing records because of the 50-fathom curve about 20 minutes out of the harbor,” said Sherry Rushing, travel industry sales director at the Emerald Coast Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Underwater, the ocean bottom drops off quickly to 300 feet. It’s where the sailfish, blue marlin, white marlin and wahoo are often caught.”

Beyond the water, Destin’s HarborWalk Village buzzes with activity in summer months. A 10-week concert series in early summer features genres from R&B, jazz, classic and modern rock. Groups can picnic before the show, and affordable fare is also prepared on-site by a featured local restaurant.

The dates of numerous other special events make great times for group visits to the Emerald Coast. Volleyball nets stretch as far as the eye can see for one week each fall and spring at Fort Walton Beach. The Emerald Coast Fall Classic averages 175 teams, and spring’s Emerald Coast Volleyball Week averages 275 teams. They are the largest four-person beach volleyball tournaments in the nation. Nightly parties at different venues welcome the public.

“We have some of the best amateur volleyball in the nation, played with good sportsmanship and a great deal of respect between teams,” said Mike Minich, tournament director. “People love to come down and watch.”

In June the Billy Bowlegs Pirate Festival will celebrate its 59th year at Fort Walton Beach. Thursday night’s Billy Bowlegs Torchlight Parade is followed by Friday’s water landing of the Krewe of Bowlegs and a staged pirate skirmish as intruders attempt to take over Fort Walton Beach. Afterward, the city parties with fireworks. On Saturday, pirates battle the mayor of Fort Walton Beach, who defends the city with its militia. Most years, the pirates hoist their Jolly Roger flag to signify the city’s surrender. Year-round, the entertaining Buccaneer Pirate Cruise sails from Destin Harbor to Choctawhatchee Bay.

Elizabeth Hey

Elizabeth Hey is a member of Midwest Travel Journalists Association and has received numerous awards for her writing and photography. Follow her on Instagram and Facebook @travelbyfork.