Santa Rosa and Escambia counties
The Escambia River is a 92-mile river of which 54 miles are found in Florida. The river has its headwaters in southern Alabama and is called the Conecuh in that state, changing names as it comes into Florida as it drains into Pensacola Bay. The Escambia is the fourth largest river in Florida and harbors the richest assemblage of native North American freshwater fish of any Florida river with 85 native freshwater species.
The river is easily reached by anglers. A set of maps is available from Blackwater Fisheries Research and Development Center, 8384 Fish hatchery Rd., Holt, FL, 32564; (850)-957-6175. The major landings are listed below:
Jim's Fish Camp - U. S. Highway 90, Pace, FL 32571; 850-994-7500. Located just off Highway 90, at the mouth of the river in the tidal delta. (Commercial fish camp, with facilities.) Swamp House Marina and Landing - 10421 N. Davis Highway, Pensacola, FL 32514; 850-478-9906. Located just off Highway 90, at the mouth of the river on the main channel in the tidal delta. (Commercial fish camp with facilities.)
Floridatown landing - Located on the eastern shore of Escambia Bay, near the mouth of the river in Pace, Florida. (Public landing, no facilities. Condition: Good.)
Quintette landing - Located on east side of the river, south of Highway 184, Santa Rosa County. (Public landing, no facilities. Condition: Good.) Molino landing - Located on the west side of the river, near Molino, in Escambia County. (Public landing, no facilities. Condition: Good.)
Cotton Lake landing - Located on west side of the river, at end of Cotton Lake Road, off U. S. Highway 29, Escambia County. (Public landing, no facilities. Condition: Good.)
McDavid Boat Ramp (Mystic Springs Landing) - Located on west side of river, near McDavid, Florida, off U. S. Highway 29, Escambia County, Florida. (Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission boat ramp, no facilities. Condition: Good.)
Bluff Springs Landing - Located on west side of river, near Bluff Springs, Florida, off U. S. Highway 29, Escambia County, Florida. (Department of Environmental Protection boat ramp, no facilities. Condition: Poor.)
Lake Stone - Located 1.5 miles west of Century, Escambia County, Florida, off Highway 4. (Lake managed by FFWCC; camping and picnic areas managed by Escambia County. Condition: Good.)
- Becks Fish Camp: Off Hwy. 29; (850-375-0383). (Located in Beck's Lake, and provides access to Escambia River.)
Anglers should note that high water and flooding can sometimes make the upper stretches of the river difficult to fish, and should check the current water stage online.
Numerous access points are available along the Escambia River. Three fish camps are located along Highway 90 between Pensacola and Pace. From these, the lower river and delta marshes may be accessed directly. A boat ramp is also located just below the mouth of the river on the northeast shore of Escambia Bay, just south of Pace. In addition, a popular public fishing pier has been built along Highway 90 (Simpson River) just west of Pace. Quintette Landing, north of Pace off Highway184, is good point from which to reach choice fishing spots of both the upper and lower river, including backwater areas. Other boat landings along the upper river include Molino, Webb Lake, McDavid, Cotton Lake, Bluff Springs, Kyser Landing, Sandy Landing (Closed Jan 1st to Feb 15th), Fisher landing (Century) and Oil Plant (North of Jay).
Anglers needing advice regarding fishing spots or information on river conditions can call Blackwater Fisheries Research and Development Center near Holt (850-957-6175), or Ted Brown at Becks Lake Fish Camp, LLC (850-375-0383).
Excellent largemouth bass fishing is expected during the months of April through June in the Escambia River. Small-to-medium size largemouth bass are abundant in the delta marshes around Highway 90, between Pensacola and Pace. Bass anglers should try to catch a falling tide and fish along the undercut banks of winding channels through the marsh. Soft plastic worms and lizards are currently catching plenty of fish in this area. Spinner baits are also working well. Anglers should let the water clarity determine the size and blade configuration of the spinnerbait they choose. Use willow leaf blades in gold or silver when the water is clear, but change to Colorado or Indiana blades after a significant rainfall when water clarity diminishes. Bigger largemouth bass are typically found farther up river, although they are not as abundant as in the marsh. Tributaries such as the White River and Simpson River are good bets, although the true giants will upstream of the cotton lake. Anglers should try soft plastic baits and shallow to medium diving crankbaits around logs and overhanging brush. Soft plastic frogs, such as the Zoom Horny Toad and Stanley Ribbit also produce nice bass and can be worked weedlessly through patches of aquatic vegetation.
Excellent fishing for bream, such as bluegill, redear sunfish (shellcracker) and spotted sunfish (stumpknocker), is expected on the Escambia River during the next several months. Fish can be found very shallow in early to mid April as the sunfish spawn begins. Good places to fish following the spawn include the marsh area near Highway 90. Anglers should fish red wigglers or crickets around eel grass in 3-5 feet of water. Beck’s lake, located farther up river, also offers good bream fishing and is located out of the current from the main river.
In addition to typical sunfish and bass species, the upper Escambia River also harbors other sport fishes such as spotted bass, longear sunfish, warmouth, spotted sunfish, shadow bass, and black crappie. While all these species can be caught from the mainstem river, large tributaries should not be neglected. Big Escambia Creek and Pine Barren Creek have spotted bass populations that are rarely exploited. Fishing success in the middle and upper river depends largely upon water levels. If above normal rainfall occurs, resulting high water levels may make the upper river difficult to fish, thus anglers should check river levels before visiting the middle and upper sections. Current water levels throughout Florida may be found on the internet at www.usgs.gov.
Anglers who would like to land a record-sized fish should consider blue catfish and flathead catfish. These large catfish are not native to our state, although both are native to the Mobile drainage. Historically both the state record for blue catfish (61.5 pounds, from Little Escambia Creek), and the former state record flathead catfish (43.5 pounds) were caught from the Escambia River. The top bait right now for blue and channel catfish is live crawfish. However, crawfish need to be rigged so they stay off the bottom, either by using a 3-way swivel or by pegging a float above the hook. Otherwise they will crawl under nearby structure and catfish will have a difficult time finding the bait.
The optimal bait for flatheads is sunfish, but anglers are reminded to familiarize themselves with current regulations. Live sunfish can only be used for bait, if collected and fished using hook and line. Sunfish cannot be used as bait on any other fishing gear (e.g., bush hooks or trot lines). Most anglers wait until dark and then target areas where you would normally fish for bluegill during daylight hours. Optimal fishing locations for these fish include outside bends, behind large snags in 8-10 feet of water. Use 6/0-8/0 live bait or circle hooks and stay mobile. Live baits will quickly draw the attention of a hungry flathead. If an area does not produce any bites after 30 minutes, then move to another spot. Anglers are also reminded that the flathead catfish is an invasive species to Florida, and keeping all fish caught is highly encouraged, since this species may negatively impact native sportfish populations (e.g., sunfish and catfish).
Striped bass fishing will be good in April and decline as the summer encroaches. Good locales for striper fishing, from April through June include the tidal, lower section of the river, from the thermal canal of plant Crist down to the Spoil Islands near the mouth of the river and any cold water refuge you may find. Dawn and dusk during a falling tide seems to be prime times for striper fishing. Some anglers have discovered great success fishing after dark especially near artificial lights. In the lower tidal section of the river, you should try to fish around points of land extending into the river, live mullet or menhaden make good baits. Anglers should use plugs that resemble bait fishes, such as shad or mullet. During these months, striped bass may often be found schooling at the surface and may be caught by casting into the schools with top water plugs or stick baits. Live shrimp or Bucktail jigs are also appropriate. Striped bass are available in the Escambia River as a result of long-term stocking by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Anglers should be aware of potential obstacles, such as downed trees and other debris in the river and exercise caution while navigating the Escambia River. Passages into some backwaters and sloughs that were formerly open may now be blocked. Downed trees and log jams can provide prime habitat and shelter for largemouth bass and bream, and anglers may want to try their luck in areas where these occur. A recent log-jam diversion was discovered on the Escambia River, north of Parker Island. Anglers will likely not be able to navigate through this diversion at this time.
It is illegal to take or possess alligator gar without a valid scientific collectors permit. Consequently, even attempting to take alligator gar that you intend to release is breaking the law. Alligator gar are native to Panhandle Rivers and can grow to more than 150 pounds. Their gator-like snout is distinctly different than the snout’s of spotted or longnose gar, the two other gar species found in the panhandle. Researchers are evaluating the population size and other biological considerations that will help inform possible future regulation changes (See: MyFWC.com/research, and then click freshwater, and alligator-gar).