Vets cruise free on Veterans Day dolphin encounters at Capt. Anderson’s Marina in Panama City Beach.

PANAMA CITY BEACH — The fish are biting, dolphins are jumping, and temperatures are dropping, as the Anderson fleet cruises through fall.


Though Capt. Anderson’s Marina, 5550 N. Lagoon Drive, and some of its boats were damaged during Hurricane Michael in October 2018, the Anderson fleet resumed fishing March 2. (Several private charters docked at the marina began running in November 2018.)


“The shuttle was upside down in the parking lot,” said Operations Manager Pam Anderson, who was able to move back into her upstairs office in May. "The Capt. Anderson II was the one destroyed.“


The destruction of the wood boat built in the ’60s is “an end of an era,” Anderson said. “Everything else is aluminum hull or steel. We have all aluminum hull boats now.”


The fleet includes a new boat, the Capt. Anderson V, which made its voyage to Panama City Beach from North Carolina. (Although the vessel’s original “airline seats” installed by the builder, Anderson said, were purchased from Australia.)


After purchasing the Capt. Anderson V, it was fitted with an air conditioner and a snack galley, two necessities with Florida heat and cruises. All Capt. Anderson’s vessels are equipped to serve breakfast and lunch sandwiches, snacks, beer, coffee and sodas. Meals range from bacon and eggs to ham and cheese sandwiches, hamburgers, hot dogs and grilled chicken sandwiches.


“We presently have five boats, the shuttle, the Capt. Anderson III, three head boats and two others owned by another,” Anderson said. “Capt. Anderson V is a six-hour boat, the Capt. Anderson IV runs five-hour trips and the Capt. Anderson runs 10-hour trips.”


According to Marketing Director Chelsea Ray, Capt. Anderson’s Marina is offering five-hour trips on Saturdays 7 a.m.-noon ($70), six-hour trips on Fridays 9 a.m.-3 p.m. ($75) and 10-hour trips Thursdays and Saturdays 7 a.m.-5 p.m. ($98) during November.


“We’re going to offer it and see how it goes,” said Anderson, who adjusts the schedule with demand — possibly offering fishing trips in December.


The prices include rod, reel, bait, tax and fishing license.


Head boats and most of the private charter boats are federally permitted, abiding by season openings and closings. During November, anglers can keep everything in the snapper family, except for Red Snapper.


"They can keep Lane, Black, White and Vermillion Snapper. Gag and Red Grouper, Porgy, Cobia, Mackerel and Mahi,“ Ray said.


The hurricane caused some of the artificial reefs closer to shore to move, Anderson explained, but the fleets are now acquainted with the new areas for fishing. (The reefs reached on the longer trips were OK.)


“Besides destroying what’s on land, the storm just ripped the (artificial reef) habitats to shreds,” Anderson explained. “The places we normally went to fish aren’t there. The hard bottom is covered up. ... It was sort of like starting from scratch, brand new fishermen."


As for the passengers, no experience is necessary.


“Under 5 are free; usually they fish with their parents’ pole. People will bring babies in carriers. There’s no age restriction, just need some kind of parental or adult guidance,” Anderson said. “My 8-year-old grandson (Anderson, aka ’Andy’) teaches others how fish.”


Her grandson, who fishes off her and her husband Ken’s dock, has become a sort of mascot around Capt. Anderson’s Marina.


“If anyone’s going to carry on the tradition, it’s him,” she said.


Anderson married into a family of fishing. Ken’s father, Capt. Max Anderson, began building Capt. Anderson’s Marina and offering cruises with his brothers in the 1950s.


Freedom Celebration


Capt. Anderson’s Marina is hosting the Veterans Day Freedom Celebration 9-11 a.m. Monday with free sight-seeing cruises for all veterans, retired and active duty, and their families after the program.


“We’ve been doing something for veterans since we operated the Capt. Anderson dinner boat, the Lady Anderson,” said Anderson, who was put in charge of the Lady Anderson dinner boat, built in 1973, till it retired in 2013. “We decided to have a celebration with different dignitaries from the bases. Neysa Wilkins will sing. ... Tyndall will present colors. A local pastor will do an invocation thanking them for their service.”


The Capt. Anderson III, a double-decker boat, will be the first to be filled for the Veterans Day cruise, and staff will help passengers who need assistance getting on board.


“We are under Coast Guard regulations with a step. We have ramps to help assist them. Then we will use the Capt. Anderson IV, then whatever other boats we need,” she said. “Sometimes we use one and then three. It’s best to make a reservation; just bring some form of military ID. Also, make your reservation for the immediate family, too.”


The Veterans Day cruise, a dolphin encounter, runs an hour and a half through St. Andrew Bay — home to a large population of wild bottlenose dolphins. The concession stand will be open to purchase snacks.


For reservations and more information, call Capt. Anderson’s Marina ticket office at 850-234-3435 or 850-234-5940 or visit CaptAndersonsMarina.com.