Choctawhatchee Bay is the perfect place to spend a day kayaking, jet or water skiing, or just enjoying a carefree day on the bay watching as dolphins swim by. Nestled between the cities of Fort Walton Beach, Destin, Niceville, and Freeport in the northwestern panhandle of Florida, Choctawhatchee Bay is a boater’s delight.
Encompassing Okaloosa and Walton counties, Choctawhatchee Bay has a surface area of over 129 square miles, is more than 27 miles long, and ranges between one and six miles across. Water depths range anywhere from wading depth to 43 feet. The Bay’s only access to the Gulf of Mexico is through Destin’s East Pass, or a 40-mile trip through the Santa Rosa Sound to Pensacola Bay.
Because of the twice daily exchange of salt and freshwater through the pass and the Santa Rosa Sound, a wide variety of marine life lives in the bay. Fishermen can look forward to salt and freshwater game fish such as Striped bass, Redfish, Speckled trout, Black drum, Largemouth bass, Bluefish, Spanish mackerel, Jack Crevalle, tarpons, flounder, and grouper. Dolphins, Sharks, and Alligator gar may also be seen.
Further north in the bay is Fred Gannon Rocky Bayou State Park, a favorite of campers. Rocky Bayou has been designated an Aquatic Preserve, and provides an important habitat for many rare and endangered species such as the Okaloosa darter and Gulf sturgeon. Several varieties of rare snails, reptiles, and amphibians can also be found here.
Other wildlife that frequent the area include the Bald eagle, Brown pelican, and the Tricolored heron. In 2005-2006 there were also reports of possible sightings of the very rare Ivory-billed woodpecker.
Pirates and Parasailing
Local history includes tales of pirates sailing through the bay to land and lay claim to the city of Fort Walton Beach. This event is reenacted each year in late May to early June with the annual Billy Bowlegs Festival, where pirate ships once again sail the waters and hold a mock attack against the city.
Of the many interesting places to explore along the bay, one of the most popular is located at the foot of Destin’s East Pass Bridge, where scores of boaters will drop anchor on what’s known locally as “Crab Island,” a submerged sandbar. There, boaters can spend an entire day enjoying music and water games.
Okaloosa Island is a popular spot along the bay for kiteboarders, ultralights, and parasailers. The bay side of the island provides the perfect location for letting little ones wade without any rough surf. Another local pastime is docking at one of the nearby waterfront restaurants and enjoying dinner and a sunset.
Choctawhatchee Bay provides seemingly endless bayous, creeks, and rivers to explore, and there’s virtually no limit to the various water activities to be had in the area. In order to get the most out of a trip to the bay, allow a few days to really experience it thoroughly. It will be well worth it.
This article is copyrighted by Beverly Hill