Heartlander Abroad Part II: Mexico Beach
By Josh Gowan
The iconic family vacation, an escape from the familiar scenery and brain-numbing doldrums of our day jobs, when we lock up the home front and pack enough food and luggage (and in my case fishing gear) to start a new civilization on a deserted tropical island. Of course, any hopes of starting anew and populating our own little piece of paradise were dashed when we realized we were all related, so procreation was out of the question, and we burned through (pun intended) all 8 bottles of 50 SPF sunscreen by Wednesday!
Mexico Beach, part of the “Forgotten Coast” on the inner stretch of the Florida Panhandle is truly a gem. Thinking back, I’m not quite sure how we happened upon the locale last year, but we’d been to Gulf Shores and Destin, and we’re looking for something different, and we certainly found it! My sister wanted to drive into Panama City one night and eat and shop because she’d never been there, and we were all reminded of why we liked Mexico Beach so much!
It is the equivalent of taking one of our small towns in the region, Portageville for instance, and stretching it along the beach. No high rises, no stoplights, and most importantly no crowds. The only negative trait of this particular destination is that it’s only about five miles from the next time zone, causing our iPhones to switch back and forth regularly, and at least once activating my 5am alarm an hour early!
While my travel companions look forward to the R&R side of vacation, I was there to fish, and fish I did! After four years of fishing the Gulf of Mexico from various places, one week per year, I fall into the “veteran tourist” category of fishermen. My rapid climb up the ranks is due to persistence and application, and more trial and error than the Manhattan Project!
I love to shore fish, and brought everything needed to keep four lines in the water at all times. Unfortunately, the majority of my catch consisted of saltwater catfish. The locals say they are not good to eat, and I didn’t keep any to try, a mistake I will not repeat next year. You see, I have come to understand something about the locals. They are privy to a ton of unbelievably white, meaty fish that does not exist outside of saltwater, and therefore deem fish that us lowly mid-westerners/southerners find delicious not worth the trouble of cleaning! I have been told by multiple locals that shark is not worth feeding to your dog, and let me tell you something my friends, it is phenomenal to my landlocked palette! It filets just like catfish, and pan-fried in cornmeal it tastes better than crappie, and you all know my love for fried crappie! Next year I will definitely try the catfish for myself, and make my own judgment!
Soon after arriving at our townhome, I met Lieutenant Colonel Scott Allen, who worked at Tyndall Air Force Base (right next door) and lived there full time. Not only did Scott send us to the best restaurant we’ve ever been to and let us borrow his array of ocean toys (long board, kayak, etc…) while he was at work, but he took Wednesday off to take myself and my brother-in-law Crow out in his boat fishing. The fishing was slow and Scott was apologetic, but we had a blast, especially Crow who reeled in a 27 inch king mackerel which I grilled the next night! We were surrounded by dolphins at one point, and jumped some of the biggest, bluest waves I’ve ever seen!
On Thursday my mother and stepdad/fishing buddy Perry showed up, and Friday morning found us on the pier and me intently trying to get Perry on some ocean fish! It didn’t take long, and he was bringing in an array of small fish with the Sabiki rigs that we cut up for bait, and once we found the right spot we reeled in shark after shark after shark! We kept our limit and I filleted and pan-fried them for lunch, the plate was clean in a matter of minutes!