Carrabelle may not be the first city on your mind if you’re planning to visit Florida, but it should definitely earn a spot on your list. This is especially true if you want to experience the richness of the Gulf of Mexico without all the crowds. This small coastal city in Franklin County is situated east of Apalachicola, sitting right at the mouth of the Carrabelle River on the Gulf. Despite its relatively small size, the city is a veritable destination on its own, especially for beach bums and nature lovers.
Incorporated as a town in 1881 before becoming a city in 1893, Carrabelle was a quiet fishing village before it became a booming lumber town during the Civil War. The demand for lumber, plus the construction of a railroad that connected Carrabelle to the Florida-Georgia line, further contributed to the city’s growth. However, a major hurricane struck the area, leaving the town devastated.
The city itself had a hard time recovering after the devastation, relying solely on fishing for its livelihood. However, it played a role in World War II, when its beaches became a training ground for soldiers.
Today, Carrabelle may no longer be a booming industrial town, but it is still a quietly exciting travel destination. It has some of the quirkiest landmarks, including the “World’s Smallest Police Station” and the red-and-white Crooked River Lighthouse. Its beaches are still relatively untouched and its marinas are fully functioning and active, offering some of the best offshore fishing or bay fishing opportunities on this side of the Florida Panhandle.
Carrabelle may be a small city, but don’t underestimate its fishing opportunities. With its enviable location on the Gulf of Mexico, Carrabelle is a destination worth checking out if you want to try both freshwater and saltwater fishing in one compact city, without having to elbow your way through the crowds.
Visit one of the marinas on the Carrabelle River where you can launch your own boat for a fee or book a charter boat. For some freshwater fishing, head up the river where the New River and Crooked River converge. Here you will find mixed fresh and saltwater that attract plenty of largemouth bass, redfish, and mullet. If you want to concentrate on each tributary, you can find plenty of bass and panfish along the Crooked River, while you should catch bluegill in the New River. During winter, you might also find plenty of saltwater fish species in the rivers so be ready with your gear and catch some flounder, redfish, and sheepshead.
Inshore fishing after the last bend of the Carrabelle River can also be quite productive. Find redfish in the tidal creeks, mudflats, and oyster bars, and in spots where the water gets saltier, you will find plenty of trout showing up. In the flats and sandy areas, you can target some flounder with glass minnows or shrimp-style lures, just weighted enough for the bait to reach the bottom.
Another inshore fishing destination worth checking out is nearby Dog Island, which you can reach from Carrabelle via a ferry or a boat. Its bayside is a famous shark nursery, so be ready with your live or cut bait. On the gulf side of the island, surf fishing can be quite fruitful. Venture 4 miles from the island to get to Dog Island Reef, a grassy flat reef right between Dog Island and Alligator Point, where you can target spotted sea trout, gulf flounder, bluefish, cobia, king mackerel, snapper, red grouper, and dolphinfish in the deep, and tarpon and pompano in the shallows. Here you can try trolling, fly fishing, baitcasting, or even chumming. Using live shrimp bait is advisable, as well as a pompano jig. Locate large drop-offs to increase your chances of finding fish.
The area around Carrabelle has plenty of reefs and wrecks, making it a great offshore fishing destination. Trolling in the deep for wahoo, common dolphinfish, king mackerel, sailfish, and cobia is the preferred way to fish here. You will also find plenty of gag grouper, amberjack, snapper, and triggerfish here because of the number of structures in the bottom. The best ways to catch them are with jigging or dropping live and cut bait to the bottom.
Carrabelle is a tarpon wonderland for many local anglers, who are able to target the fish species as they migrate along the Gulf Coast, right where shallow water and a white sandy bottom converge.
If you’re ready to level up and compete in fishing tournaments, Carrabelle might be the best city to start with. The city hosts several fishing tournaments, including the Annual Saltwater Fishing Tournament in June, the Kingfish Shootout in August, and an Annual Youth Fishing Tournament, all hosted at the C-Quarters Marina, plus the Big Bend Saltwater Classic, a 2-day saltwater fishing tournament on Father’s Day weekend.