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).
Good largemouth bass is expected during the next several months on the Escambia River. There have been a few decent bass reported around the Quintette boat ramp. Most have been small, but several close to 4 pounds have been caught. Anglers are using red shad or purple plastic worms rigged Texas style. Down in the marsh area, shallow-diving square bill crankbaits in crawfish and shad colors are working the best. The bass bite should continue to improve as the water levels become more stable and the water clarity increases.
Bream (shellcracker and bluegill) fishing is expected to be good for the Escambia River during the months of October, and then taper off as water temperatures decrease. Anglers have been using fly rods rigged with small poppers in yellow and white colors to put a few fish in the cooler near Quintette boat ramp. Farther down river, red wigglers and crickets fished under a cork have been catching a few redear sunfish. Most of the bream have been running small lately, but size should improve with the onset of fall and the resulting cooler temperatures.
This time of year, the mouth of the river and the surrounding delta also produce a mixed bag of saltwater fish species such as seatrout, flounder, and redfish. Anglers should try soft-plastic jerkbaits, such as a Zoom fluke, in chartreuse and white colors rigged on a ¼ ounce jig head. Fish it with slow hops along the bottom to target flounder and redfish, or jig erratically for sea trout and the occasional largemouth bass. Gulp! shrimp in natural and new penny colors also work well and should rigged and fished the same way. It’s not uncommon to catch a redfish, flounder, speckled trout, and a largemouth bass all in one day using these baits on the Escambia River.
Striped bass fishing will pick up during the cooler days of fall and early winter. Good locales for striper fishing include the lower section of the river, from the thermal canal down to the spoil islands near the mouth of the river. 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 are also catching striped bass farther upstream, near the spill way, on live shrimp and inline spinners. Striped bass are available in the Escambia River as a result of long-term stocking by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
The Escambia is also an excellent place to fish for large flathead catfish. Several state-record flatheads have been taken from this river. The best bait for the species 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). Optimal fishing locations for this fish include deep flowing areas, downstream of a sharp bend in the river, behind large snags. Fishing for these river giants can also be done from big sandbars with your baits fished in the outside bends of the river. Anglers are also reminded that the flathead catfish is an exotic species to Florida, and keeping all fish caught is highly encouraged, since this species may negatively impact native sport fish populations (e.g., sunfish and catfish).
In addition to typical species already mentioned, the Escambia River also harbors other sport fishes such as spotted bass, warmouth, shadow bass, and black crappie. A number of crappie were caught in the last FWC electrofishing survey near the Hwy 4 bridge and farther upriver. This is the time of year to break out the live minnows and small tube jigs to load the boat with this delicious panfish.
While all these species can be caught from the main-stem river, large tributaries should not be neglected. Big Escambia Creek and Pine Barren Creek have excellent Choctaw bass populations that are rarely exploited. For more information regarding the Choctaw bass please see this news release. Crappie fishing should also be good to excellent during this time. Optimal baits are small minnows and curly-tailed jigs fished slowly around brush piles.
Anglers should be aware of potential obstacles, such as downed trees and other debris in the river as a result of recent hurricanes 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 also provide prime habitat and shelter for largemouth bass and bream, and anglers may want to try their luck in areas where these occur. A log-jam is still present on the Escambia River, south of Sandy Landing. 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).