Karen and the Oktoberfest

By David Angier

It appears that beer, not rain, will be flowing at Panama City’s 29th Annual Oktoberfest this weekend.

As of 6 a.m. Friday, Tropical Storm Karen, which was approaching the Panhandle with winds around 60 mph, was being shredded by upper-level wind shear and not expected to strengthen. The Weather Channel predicted that Karen would weaken before making landfall somewhere near Mobile, Ala.

The worst weather in Bay County was expected Sunday.

That’s good news for Oktoberfest, which starts today at 4 p.m. on Harrison Avenue downtown Panama City with more than 40 retail booths, 20 unique beers to sample, real Bavarian food, live music and entertainment. The festival runs from 4-10 p.m. Friday and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday.

For complete information, go to http://www.pcdib.com/#!vstc1=page-2/vstc0=oktoberfest.

 

Gulf Coast Jam Fest starts Thursday

This weekend’s Pepsi Gulf Coast Jam has got a lineup that can’t be beat.

From country legends like Charlie Daniels, Trace Adkins and Toby Keith, to hot young performers like Darryl Worley, Eli Young Band, Colt Ford and Brantley Gilbert – this event will have something for everyone.

Starting Thursday and going through Saturday, stages will open all over Panama City Beach: Boardwalk Beach Resort on Thomas Drive, Frank Brown Park on Back Beach Road, Edgewater Beach Resort on Front Beach Road, Club La Vela on Thomas Drive and the Harley-Davidson Stage in Seahaven.

Gates at most of the stages will open at 9 a.m., with performances going until 3 p.m. when the action on the main stage at Frank Brown Park will pick up. After hours performances will go into the early morning hours at Club La Vela.

Thursday night, Trace Adkins takes the main stage at Frank Brown Park from 9:15 to 10:45. Adkins debuted in 1995 with the album “Dreamin’ Out Loud” and has since released seven more original albums and two greatest hits compilations. He has had more than 20 Billboard country music chart hits including No. 1s: “(This Ain’t) No Thinkin’ Thing,” “Ladies Love Country Boys,” and “You’re Gonna Miss This.”

He’s also been on “Hollywood Squares” and “The Celebrity Apprentice,” as well as authored an autobiography called “A Personal Stand: Observations and Opinions from a Free-Thinking Roughneck” and appeared in the movie “The Lincoln Lawyer.”

Friday night’s main event gets devilish when The Charlie Daniels Band takes the stage at Frank Brown Park from 7:30 to 8:45 p.m. Daniels is best known for his No. 1 Country hit “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” but has been performing since the 1950s. He was inducted into the Grand Ole Opry in 2008 and the Musicians Hall of Fame Museum in 2009.

He’s followed by Brantley Gilbert from 9:15 to 10:45 p.m. Gilbert’s “Country Must Be Country Wide” was No. 1 on the Hot Country Songs charts in 2011 and in 2012, “You Don’t Know Her Like I Do” also reached No. 1.

Saturday finishes off the event with Darryl Worley taking the main stage from 6 to 7 p.m. Worley has had 18 singles on Billboard Hot Country charts, including No. 1s “I Miss My Friend,” “Awful, Beautiful Life” and “Have You Forgotten?” which was No. 1 for seven weeks.

From 7:30 to 8:45 p.m. Eli Young Band takes the main stage. The members of Eli Young Band, Mike Eli, James Young, Jon Jones and Chris Thompson, met as students at the University of North Texas. Their No. 1 hits include, “Crazy Girl” and “Even If It Breaks Your Heart.”

Then Toby Keith finishes it off from 9:15 to 10:45 p.m. A platinum-selling musician and country music writer, Keith hit the scene with the release of his 1993 album “Toby Keith.” He has an extraordinary list of hit singles including: “Should’ve Been a Cowboy,” the most played country song of the 1990s; and “How Do You Like Me Now,” the No. 1 country song of 2000.
For complete information, tickets and scheduling go to http://www.gulfcoastjam.com.

Here’s the Lineup

Saturday

Main Stage at Frank Brown Park
4 p.m. – gates open
5-5:30 p.m. – PSO winner
6-7 p.m. – Darryl Worley
Darryl Worley has had 18 singles on Billboard Hot Country charts, including No. 1s “I Miss My Friend,” “Awful, Beautiful Life” and “Have You Forgotten?” which was No. 1 for seven weeks.
7:30-8:45 p.m. – Eli Young Band
The members of Eli Young Band, Mike Eli, James Young, Jon Jones and Chris Thompson, met as students at the University of North Texas. Their No. 1 hits include, “Crazy Girl” and “Even If It Breaks Your Heart.”

9:15-10:45 p.m. – Toby Keith
A platinum-selling musician and country music writer, Toby Keith hit the scene with the release of his 1993 album “Toby Keith.” He has an extraordinary list of hit singles including: “Should’ve Been a Cowboy,” the most played country song of the 1990s; and “How Do You Like Me Now,” the No. 1 country song of 2000.

Team Cocktail Stage at Boardwalk
9 a.m. – gates open
10-10:30 a.m. – Keelan Donovan
10:45-11:15 a.m. – Gimm-Icky
11:30 a.m.-12:15 p.m. – Mockingbird Sun
12:30-1:15 p.m. – Black Jack Billy
1:45-3 p.m. – Craig Campbell
3-5 p.m. – DJ Hish

Landshark/Jim Beam Stage at Edgewater
9 a.m. – gates open
10-10:30 a.m. – Slamabama
10:45-11:15 a.m. – Hoss Skelton
11:30 a.m.-12:15 p.m. – Griffin Peterson
12:30-1:15 p.m. – Tyler Farr
1:45-3 p.m. – Colt Ford

Pepsi Experience Stage at Frank Brown Park
11-11:20 p.m. – after show TBA

Harley-Davidson Stage at Seahaven
9 a.m. – gates open
10-10:30 a.m. – Grayson Rogers Band
10:45-11:15 a.m. – Anthony Orio
11:30 a.m. – 12:15 p.m. – Brothers Osborne
12:30-1:15 p.m. – The Cadillac Three
1:45-3 p.m. – Corey Smith

Late Night Stages at Club La Vela
1:30-2:30 a.m. – Mockingbird Sun
1:30-2:30 a.m. – Zachary Carter

Friday

Main Stage at Frank Brown Park
4 p.m. – gates open
6-7 p.m. – Blackberry Smoke
7:30-8:45 p.m. – The Charlie Daniels Band
Charlie Daniels is best known for his No. 1 Country hit “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” but has been performing since the 1950s. He was inducted into the Grand Ole Opry in 2008 and the Musicians Hall of Fame Museum in 2009.
9:15-10:45 p.m. – Brantley Gilbert
Brantley Gilbert’s “Country Must Be Country Wide” was No. 1 on the Hot Country Songs charts in 2011 and in 2012, “You Don’t Know Her Like I Do” also reached No. 1.

Team Cocktail Stage at Boardwalk
9 a.m. – gates open
10-10:30 a.m. – Garrett Miles
10:45-11:15 a.m. – Friends of Lola
11:30 a.m.-12:15 p.m. – Danielle Peck
12:30-1:15 p.m. – Erik Dylan
1:45-3 p.m. – Tracy Lawrence
3-5 p.m. – DJ Hish

Landshark/Jim Beam Stage at Edgewater
9 a.m. – gates open
10-10:30 a.m. – Ryan Kendrick
10:45-11:15 a.m. – Hannah Ellis
11:30 a.m.-12:15 p.m. – Michael Ray
12:30-1:15 p.m. – Angie Johnson
1:45-3 p.m. – Chase Rice

Pepsi Experience Stage at Frank Brown Park
11-11:20 p.m. – Cole Taylor after show

Harley-Davidson Stage at Seahaven
9 a.m. – gates open
10-10:30 a.m. – Sarabeth
10:45-11:15 a.m. – PSO 6th runner up
11:30 a.m. – 12:15 p.m. – Chris Weaver Band
12:30-1:15 p.m. – TBA
1:45-3 p.m. – Drake White and The Big Fire

Late Night Stages at Club La Vela
midnight-1 a.m. – Drake White and The Big Fire
midnight-1 a.m. – Zachary Carter
1:30-2:30 a.m. – Erik Dylan
1:30-2:30 a.m. – DNA

Thursday

Main Stage at Frank Brown Park
4 p.m. – gates open
6-7 p.m. – Tate Stevens
7:30-8:45 p.m. – Kip Moore
9:15-10:45 p.m. – Trace Adkins
Trace Adkins debuted in 1995 with the album “Dreamin’ Out Loud” and has since released seven more original albums and two greatest hits compilations. He has had more than 20 Billboard country music chart hits including No. 1s: “(This Ain’t) No Thinkin’ Thing,” “Ladies Love Country Boys,” and “You’re Gonna Miss This.”
He’s also been on “Hollywood Squares” and “The Celebrity Apprentice,” as well as authored an autobiography called “A Personal Stand: Observations and Opinions from a Free-Thinking Roughneck” and appeared in the movie “The Lincoln Lawyer.”

Schedule

Team Cocktail Stage at Boardwalk
9 a.m. – gates open
10-10:30 a.m. – Joe Bachman
10:45-11:15 a.m. – The Vespers
11:30 a.m.-12:15 p.m. – PSO 2nd runner up
12:30-1:15 p.m. – Katie Armiger
1:45-3 p.m. – Greg Bates
3-5 p.m. – DJ Hish

Landshark/Jim Beam Stage at Edgewater
9 a.m. – gates open
10-10:30 a.m. – Jordan Covington
10:45-11:15 a.m. – PSO 4th runner up
11:30 a.m.-12:15 p.m. – PSO 4th runner up
12:30-1:15 p.m. – Kirstie Lovelady
1:45-3 p.m. – Jerrod Niemann

Pepsi Experience Stage at Frank Brown Park
11-11:20 p.m. – Kirstie Lovelady’s Red Solo Cup After Party

Harley-Davidson Stage at Seahaven
9 a.m. – gates open
10-10:30 a.m. – County Line Road
10:45-11:15 a.m. – PSO 5th runner up
11:30 a.m. – 12:15 p.m. – PSO 3rd runner up
12:30-1:15 p.m. – Natalie Stovall and The Drive
1:45-3 p.m. – Brett Eldredge

Late Night Stages at Club La Vela
midnight-1 a.m. – The Kicks
midnight-1 a.m. – Zachary Carter
1:30-2:30 a.m. – DNA
1:30-2:30 a.m. – Zachary Carter

Performers’ information was compiled from Wikipedia.
Performance Line-Up was gathered from http://www.gulfcoastjam.com/lineup/

Locals Get in Free to Daytime Concerts Today Only!

 

The first ever Gulf Coast Jam is hitting Panama City Beach today and organizers have announced that today is “Locals Appreciation Day” and will allow all area residents to attend daytime concerts at any of the stages today at no charge. 

It is important to note that this perk is only for today, Thursday, September 26th and only for the daytime shows.  You will need tickets for the shows starting this evening.  Though are area expects several thousand out of town visitors for this event, there are still some Weekend Passes available.

For ticket information, call 888-512-7469 or visit their website at www.gulfcoastjam.com.  General Admission Passes for the weekend are only $139 while supplies last.  Panama City Beach country music fans can stay up to date with all the weekend has to offer by downloading the Pepsi Gulf Coast Jam Mobile App on your smart phone or visiting their Facebook page.

Some of headliners on the line-up include: Trace Adkins on Thursday, Brantley Gilbert on Friday, and the one and only Toby Keith on Saturday. Stages will be at Frank Brown Park, Edgewater Beach and Golf Resort, Boardwalk Beach Resort and Seahaven Beach Resorts.

 

BEWARE – Panama City Beach Rentals Craigslist Scam

Craigslist scams were something I once regarded as a mythical event often heard about, but never seen. However, right now, as we speak, there are several vacation rental scam postings for Panama City Beach on Craigslist currently taking thousands of dollars from potential guests, tarnishing our image in Panama City Beach as a safe destination, ruining vacations and causing harm to the integrity of credible locals. In this post, we’re going to talk about what to look for in a scam posting, share some links of definite scams and possible scams and talk about how you can prevent being scammed yourself.

I know, I know. I’ve been very MIA for the last few months. I’ll address that in another post later on, which will share what I’ve been up to and where we’re going with PCBDaily in the future. But today, I wanted to talk about something very important that has been affecting our Panama City Beach Vacation Rental company the last several weeks.

What some of the scams look like.

The particular property of ours that is being used for their scam is one of our Penthouse condos. It’s attractive for the scammer to use because it’s large, very desirable and would be considered an easy rent if put at a low price (half what we actually charge). This particular property has been booked through October for months, and since availability is tight this summer, an open property is very alluring to potential guests.

Here is this property’s page on our website.

When I was originally authoring this post, I was planning to link to the scammers post on Craigslist, but it has finally been removed. If it comes back up again, I’ll post a link so you can help us click Prohibited.

In the scam listing, they just copied our text and used it verbatim in addition to using our pictures. All of it they got right from our website.

In the listing, they provide no contact information, just the ability for the potential guest to send an email to the person who listed it (1st red flag).

When you reply to the listing, you’ll get an email from the scammer usually within a few hours stating the property is available, even though it’s July (2nd red flag).

When you inquire for more information, they’ll provide you with very little and when you ask for a phone number, they’ll either give you a Skype number or an obscure US number or they’ll offer no number at all (3rd red flag). And if you get them on the phone, they’ll likely sound foreign. Numerous victims have told us this particular scammer is from Australia.

In addition, this particular scammer is actually using my first and last name on his fabricated rental agreement and has told some, via email, that they are me.

If you decide to rent the property, they’ll want deposit payment through PayPal (4th red flag). They will send you a PayPal invoice and you’ll pay them that way. I’m not completely certain of the international security of PayPal so I’m not sure how they are getting away with this, but this is how they are doing it.

Side note: I’ve had several mention that they use PayPal as a means of accepting payment.  I want to stress that if someone wants you to pay with PayPal, that shouldn’t be an immediate reason to run away.  However, it should be a flag for you to ask more questions and make a greater attempt to validate the rental property and the person renting the property.   

Other ways I’ve identified suspected scam postings is by looking at listings for condos in resorts that I know do not allow dogs or cats (most of them) as regulated by their HOA. All of the scam postings I have found, the scammer states that dogs or cats are ok. This is an extra check-box you have to check when you put up the listing. They are checking this box intentionally in hopes of luring a greater number of people into their trap.

Things you can do to prevent being a victim.

First off, anything you find on Craigslist for rent, please proceed with absolute and complete caution. There are things you can do to protect yourself.

1 – Ask for a phone number and talk to them.

There are some legitimate people trying to rent their property on Craigslist, and those people will be willing to talk to you over the phone to rent their property. Ask for a phone number and call them. Ask them questions about the property, ask them about the area, and get a feel for who they are. A good way to figure out if they are legitimate is ask them questions about the area only a local or someone who travels to the area frequently would know.

2 – Ask for references.

We are a member of the Panama City Beach Chamber of Commerce. Anyone can call them and verify our membership. They can call the local Convention and Visitor’s Bureau and verify our business that way.

Additionally, if you’re talking to someone about their property, ask them for other local business or personal references. It’s important to ask them for local references that have a local phone number (850). The more well known the references the better.

I know or know of most businesses in the area and I have a vast, deep network of acquaintances in Panama City Beach. If you are having trouble vetting a rental, just call me anytime and I’d be glad to help.

3 – Only pay with a major credit card over the phone.

Lastly, use the protection that likely comes with your major credit card. Issuers like Discover and American Express are widely accepted and offer unparalleled consumer protection if something goes afoul. Additionally, a scammer will not be able to take your credit card payment as they don’t have a US merchant account because it would provide a clear paper trail back to them. If they demand payment via PayPal, Money Order or Cashier’s Check, run away and keep looking.

I understand some individual property owners may not be able to accept credit cards, and this will affect them negatively, but this is one of the important safeguards that you as a consumer should hold dear and not go beyond the protection of.

Side note 2: I understand your comments in that as an individual property owner, PayPal is one of the easiest ways to accept credit cards or online payments.  Again, this isn’t meant to affect you in a negative way.  But, as a consumer, the safest way to pay would be to use your major credit card since you are likely to be able to dispute the charges if something goes afoul. 

For those that have found the perfect place and PayPal is the only way you can pay for it – ask lots of questions, do everything mentioned here to validate the property and the person renting it, listen to your gut, and you should be just fine. 

What you can do to help.

The only way to stop the scammers from posting in our area is to become such a pain in the butt that it’s not worth their hassle anymore. Craigslist will automatically remove a posting if it is flagged enough times. You can flag a listing by clicking on the Prohibited link at the top.

I have an account at IFTTT.com (free), which is an if/then website that will take an action (something that happens) and create a trigger (do something based on that action). I have a “recipe” created that will send me a text alert whenever a new posting is put up on Craigslist based on specifications that I defined.

Here is a link to my recipe – you can click on it, create a free account and activate the recipee to get the alerts as well.

IFTTT.com/recipes/103256

 

Whenever you get an alert, just click on the link, and if it has “P C B L P Penthouse” in it, then it’s a scam – click Prohibited.  This is one of my properties that is regularly being used in this scam.

Additionally, you can post links to other listings that come up that you suspect are scams in the comment section of this post and we can all look at them and decide together if they are scams.

If you’re a property manager or property owner, regularly check Craigslist for your properties.  Setup a few search alerts through IFTTT and watch diligently.  Additionally, if you have a property that has been used as a scam, take the headline of that scam listing and use it to create your own listing with “BEWARE” or “SCAM” at the beginning.  Then explain in the listing what is going on, that it is a scam and who to contact directly for questions (provide phone number).

Please watch Craigslist for scams, please help us shut these scammers out and please be careful if you are trying to rent through Craigslist.

Insider’s Tips for your Next Beach Trip

The Panama City Beach Convention and Visitor’s Bureau sent out an email asking for insider tips and it got me thinking about what I often tell our guests when they ask for the same thing. When I think of insider tips, I think of ways to save money, time and effort so that a vacation can be as easy and relaxing as possible.

Being in the property management business, I’ve learned over the years the best time of year to be here, the best places to stay and what to bring when you come to make things easier.

The best time of year to come.

This is the biggest question I get on a regular basis. Of course, the answer depends on a lot of things, like school schedules, whether you’re coming with your kids (or not), what you’re wanting to do while you’re here, etc.

Most come during the spring or summer time, based on school schedules for the kids, and inherent in the principles of supply and demand, rates and occupancy is higher during those periods.

But, if you’re willing to take the kids out of school for a vacation, or if you’re traveling without the hinderance of school schedules, you should definitely try the beach during a shoulder season.

What is a shoulder season?

A shoulder season is a time of year where it’s warm enough to justify a beach trip, but it’s not during a time when the majority of travelers can come down.

March is super busy and that business peaks out the first week in April and sometimes bleeds over to the second week. However, the remaining weeks in April and the first two weeks in May is a phenomenal time of year to be here and usually the beach is pretty quiet. Along with the fewer numbers of people here, property management companies and property owners are typically very willing to work a deal to keep their place rented. All you have to do is ask for the deal or make an offer.

Although, be careful with low-balling as some will see that as a red-flag that you won’t take care of their property.

If you prefer the Gulf waters a little warmer (mid 80 degree water temps as opposed to mid 70’s), you should definitely come in late September or October. The weather is fantastic, the water is still very warm from summer, there is almost no one here and rates are sometimes half what they are in summertime.

And as a general rule of thumb, if you’re looking for a 3 bedroom or larger place, book as far in advance as possible for the best deal. If you’re looking for a 1 or 2 bedroom, the best deals are usually to be had the closer you are to your arrival date.

The best places to stay.

Again, this largely depends on preference and what you’re wanting, but generally, if I can park the car for the week and walk everywhere, I’m a happy camper.

There are a lot of areas in Panama City Beach where this just ins’t possible, but if you can stay around Pier Park, you can easily accomplish this.

Here are some of the resorts around Pier Park that are easily within walking distance:

Most of these, are just a short walk on the beach to Pier Park, which offers pretty much all the dining, shopping and entertainment you could want while you’re not at the beach.

What you should bring with you.

Most of the accommodations options in Panama City Beach are gulf-front condos, homes and townhouses. When you’re staying in one of these options, typically you’re responsible for groceries and sundry items.  And if you’ve done this before, you’ve probably got your first day grocery list all planned out already. 🙂

Typically check-in day is Saturday, and if that’s when you’re coming in, you know that evening the grocery stores are packed and mostly sold out of anything you’ll need.  Savvy travelers come with the basics that will carry them through the first day or two and hit the stores after everyone else has frenzied the shelves and staff has restocked.

If you’re flying, this probably isn’t possible, but if you’re like the majority of our visitors, you’re driving.  Pack enough toilet paper and non-refrigerated food items to get you to Sunday or Monday morning and you’ll save the headache of finding the grocer out of stock and waiting in super long check-out lines.

Also, plan your grocery trip for an early morning time, when it’s likely most others are wanting to be sleeping in after the previous day’s travels.

Have some tips of your own?

You’re a veteran tourist, right?  Leave some of your pro-tips in the comments below!

Spring Break is Here – Total List of Schools on Break

Every year the weather warms, the skies clear and the college kids go on break, flocking to the beach.  And after a few months of studies, who can blame them?  You know I’ve had a tattered relationship with spring break, and consistent with many in the community, I cringe at the thought of what some of them do while they are here.  However, being in the Panama City Beach vacation rental business (shameless SEO plug), I know first hand that spring breakers are just about the only business to be had during the month of March.

Technically, Spring Break started the last week in February.  But this week is the first real week of the season with the majority of the traveler influx starting next week.

Total list of schools on spring break this week (2-9).

Ball State University (In)
Boston College (Ma)
Bowling Green State University (Oh)
Central Michigan University
College Of Charleston (Sc)
College Of William & Mary (Va)
Columbus State University (Ga)
Duke University (Nc) Mar 3-17
Eastern Michigan University
Emerson College (Ma)
Florida Atlantic University
Geaorgetown University (Dc)
Grand Valley State University (Ma)
James Madison University (Va)
Loyola University Of Chicago
Michigan State University
Northeastern University (Ma)
Northern Michigan University
Pennsylvania State University
Santa Fe Community College (Fl)
Southern Illonois University – Edwardsville
Universite Laval (Qb, Ca)
University Of Central Florida
University Of Florida
University Of Michigan
University Of Mobile (Al)
University Of North Carolina – Charlotte
University Of Pennsylvania
University Of South Dakota
Valencia Community College (Fl)
Valparaiso University(In)
Vanderbilt University (Tn)
Villanova University (Pa)
Virginia Western Community College
West Virginia University
Western Michigan University

Total list of schools on spring break NEXT week (9-16).

Auburn University(Al)
Belhaven University (Ms)
Bentley University (Ma)
Boston University (Ma)
Bridgewater State University (Ma)
Colgate University
Duke University (Nc) Mar 3-17
East Tennessee State University
Eastern Illonois University
Eastern Kentucky University
Emory Uiversity (Ga)
Ferris State University (Ma)
Florida State University
Geaorge Wahington University (Dc)
Harding University (Ar)
Howard University (Dc)
Illonois State University
Indiana State University
Iona College (Ny)
Liberty University (Va)
Miami University – Oxford (Oh)
Middle Tennesee State University
Misouri State University
Mississippi State University
North Carolina State University
North Dakota State University
Northern Illonois University
Ohio State University
Old Dominion University (Va)
Purdue University (In)
Sam Houston State University (Tx)
Southern Illonois University – Carbondale
St. Cloud State University (Mn)
St. Louis University (Mo)
Syracuse University (Ny)
Temple University (Pa)
Tennessee State University
Texas A&M University
Texas State University
Texas Tech University
Troy State University(Al)
University Of Bridgeport (Ct)
University Of Idaho
University Of Kentucky
University Of Louisville (Ky)
University Of Memphis
University Of Miami (Fl)
University Of Mississippi
University Of North Carolina – Chapel Hill
University Of North Dakota
University Of Notre Dame (In)
University Of Pittsburg (Pa)
University Of Rochester (Ny)
University Of South Alabama
University Of South Carolina
University Of South Florida
University Of Southern Indiana
University Of Southern Mississippi
University Of Texas – Austin
University Of Utah
University Of Virginia
Utah State University
Virginia Tech University
Webster University (Mo)
Western Illonois University
Western Kentucky University
Winthrop University (Sc)

Ever Seen a 90lbs Amber Jack?

Now every offshore angler loves a good tale of dedication, careful planning and a skillfully executed record catch…. this is not that tale. Those guys were somewhere else and we were all that was available. So here is what happened instead.

So this story really starts back before Christmas when several friends and I went spearfishing way offshore in 150′ of water.  On that trip we got some very large amberjacks (69lbs and 82lbs) and I was pretty sure I saw a cubera snapper for just an instant in the low visibility. I was willing to concede that I could have been suffering  from narcosis due to the depth. I was pretty sure its tail was as tall as my torso from hip to shoulder though and I got a really good look at the scales.  But I had doubts about what my own eyes were reporting so we didn’t back dive the site that day. That split second has haunted me ever since and I made up my mind that at the very least almacos and AJs were worth going back for a second peek. A month later we finally got our break in the weather and my charter boat wasn’t booked so we headed out to the deep reef.

This is the same spot I saw the cubera last time. My buddy and I prepare to dive, double checking our gear and that our Go Pros are recording. This spot is just at 150′ to the sand and sometimes the current out here can get pretty extreme, so we always drop the marker buoy at the same time the divers hit the water to eliminate any lateral swimming in the column that you might have to do if the current has already pushed it far off the top of the site. Well that’s well and good except the last guys to run a spearfishing trip on my boat must have had the buoy get snagged as there was no weight and only about 50′ of line on it. We will have just 15 minutes of bottom time before we will have to ascend due to the amount of nitrogen we will have absorbed into our bodies. So as we prepare to dive bomb the ledge we hope for great visibility and no current so we can see and easily swim to the reef.   Fate was on our side though, vis is 60′ or better and the dark limestone stands out starkly against the sand below us as we kick past 70′ and get swallowed in a swarm of Almaco jacks. 70 or more almaco jacks envelope us for the entire dive from this point until we return to the surface.

The top of the limestone is in about 126′ deep and as we get the lay of the land hovering over the high side of the break , some truly large and very curious AJs start creeping by us amidst the Almacos. On any other trip I would be slinging steel into the Almacos, but I am a man on a mission. I came for my date with a cubera snapper and that is all I care about. Copper belly gags are visible in the distance warily watching us as well. I ignore them as soon as I can make out their body shape as grouper. Cubera are the holy grail of Gulf Spearfishermen because they are fast, strong, smart and incredibly wary.  He isn’t out in the open, so I decide to check under the ledge which also holds a small cave that we have yet to explorer more than 10′ into.  As I drop down and kick on the bayonet style mounted flashlight on my Ocean Rhino I don’t see anything under the 10′ ledge UNTIL…. a 120lb baby goliath grouper shoots out and silts up the whole ledge reducing the visibility to zero.  RATS!!

I take the moment to collect the 2 halves of a broken fishing rod that has been laying in the sand and then decide that the Cubera will have to wait for another day as I am not about to crawl into a cave at the bottom of the ocean with zero visibility and hope to corner several fish as large as I am. So plan B was to get a nice jack.  So with our nitrogen limit rapidly approaching, I decide to get off the bottom to preserve my remaining minutes of the dive. Almacos and a few really nice amberjacks that look better than 40lbs are circling in range. I start to load my spearshaft and notice one of the big jacks eying me and actually swimming towards me!  I stop watching it and just focus on loading, knowing it is going to be right on top of me when I band the gun. Sure enough, the AJ comes with in 5′ of me. I try to line up for the sweet spot; the fish actually gets closer and swims between me and the low piece of the ledge forcing it on a completely predictable path. I pull the trigger with my thumb, the AJ is just a few feet off the spear tip.  I prepare myself for the epic war that usually happens when a diver shoots a large, powerful fish.  My plan was to try to get a hand in the fish’s gills and scissor lock my legs around his tail to immobilize it and then finish it with my dive knife. The fish will buck and head butt me in the face to get me to let go if I can grab it.  I have had my nose busted, mask broken and regulator ripped out of my mouth in the past.

Anticlimactically due to the closeness of the fish, my shot instantly turns his lights off and there is no struggle. I quickly secure my fish to my stringer and double check on my buddy. He is also holding a nice Almaco on his stringer and we begin our ascent. I decide to launch my fish to the surface on a lift bag to the waiting boat and we slowly ascend with me thinking how awesome the dive would have been if we could have gotten the cubera.

When we get on the boat I am amazed to see the jack laid out and taking up the entire 320quart cooler with its tail curled up the side. It is completely obscuring the two 45lb jacks and several scamp that our other divers got on their dive site earlier. I grossly underestimated its size on the bottom. The guys on the boat are still complaining about having to lift it into the cooler.

Back at the Bay Point Marina we use their Retired billfish weigh tower to mount our digital scale and figure out exactly how big this fish is….. and it turns out to be my biggest to date at 89.5lbs! Proving once again it is far better to be lucky than good. Even better, upon reviewing the camera footage you can clearly see the large Cubera snapper make a break into the cave earlier in the dive, I never noticed it in the open but there it was! So we’ll be back out on the deep reef as soon as the weather clears.

Short of going to the Keys or Hawaii, Panama City Beach has some of the best diving in the country.  Want to dive Panama City?  Visit PanamaCityDiving.com