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Sunset 7:48

Panama City fishing guide provides an ultimate dock-to-dish experience.

charterHow many times have you stood helplessly by, biting your tongue while you watched a friend completely botch preparing and cooking a nice, clean piece of fish he (or she) labored all day in the hot sun, at the stern of a rocking boat, miles offshore, to land? Next time you plan an offshore fishing excursion in Northwest Florida, you may want to avoid committing a similar culinary faux pas and subjecting your dinner guests to overcooked cobia with the consistency of a retread tire. How’s that, you ask? For too many occasional fishermen, catching fish is a bit like the dog that chases the bus and doesn’t know what to do with it once he’s caught it.

Captain Todd Jones knows the waters (both inshore and offshore) around Panama City so well he could navigate them blindfolded on a moonless night. He also knows how to find his way to a good business idea. Captain Todd operates out of Sun Harbor Marina, docking his 27-foot center console Seacraft just steps away from Shipyard Grill. Like most charter captains, he has always cleaned the days catch and iced it down for his happy, worn-out clients before sending them on their way with a mess of clean fish and a load of unanswered questions about what to do with it once they get it home.

One evening, soon after Shipyard Grill opened, he noticed his clients walking with their bags of fresh catch right past the front door and patio of the restaurant, and the idea appeared to him as clear as a channel marker on St. Andrews Bay: why not offer clients the opportunity to have the restaurant professionally and expertly cook the fish they worked so hard (and spent their hard-earned dollars) to catch?

“There are many advantages to this ‘Hook and Cook’ approach,” says Captain Todd of his idea. First, he notes that somebody who rarely cooks the wide variety of edible Gulf fish they’re most likely to land avoids the stress of preparing it incorrectly.  Secondly, there’s no mess to clean up afterwards. Thirdly, fishermen often travel with spouses, other family members or friends who don’t join the expedition but still want to share the bounty, which Hook and Cook allows. Finally, fresh frozen fish is better than store-bought fish, but never-frozen swimming-this-morning dock-to-dish fish is in a stratosphere of its own.

Now, instead of lugging your fish home to Atlanta or Birmingham – or even Ohio – in a cooler strapped to the hitch-all of your Suburban, you walk 20 (more or less) steps from the boat to the dock-side restaurant, present your bag of fish and choose one of three preparations for your catch (fried, blackened or grilled – which the restaurant charges an average $13 to $15 to cook) along with two sides. (Although not quite as convenient, in addition to Shipyard Grill, Captain Todd can also deliver you with your fish to Captain’s Table Fish House Restaurant in Historic St. Andrews or to Treasure Island Seafood Market to be cleaned and delivered to J. Michael’s in Downtown Panama City.) Then you head back to your lodging to wash up and fetch your family and friends, and return with them to the Shipyard Grill to proudly treat them to an unforgettable meal that you caught four hours earlier, as you regale them with your fish tales. One of those people will certainly buy you a drink and toast your virtues as a fisherman and a host.

Be sure to check out Captain Todd’s episode on Hook and Cook on Emerald Tales airing in January on the Pursuit Channel (check local listings).  To book a charter with Captain Todd, please call 850-819-5829

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