Tucked away between the world-class fishing destinations of Destin and Panama City, Santa Rosa Beach is a serene sanctuary compared. With fewer crowds, it’s a true angler’s haven nestled on the Emerald Coast. It’s no wonder fishing in Santa Rosa Beach is in high demand, with a perfect mix of untouched beauty and first-rate angling opportunities.
Santa Rosa Beach graces the shores of the Choctawhatchee Bay and its namesake River, along with the expansive Gulf of Mexico. This charming town offers a breath of fresh air from the bustling outside world. It has everything Destin has, yet it allows you to spend a few hours alone with your rod in the bay or the river. Or you can always head out with an experienced charter captain.
In this guide, we’ll talk about the allure of fishing in Santa Rosa Beach, unveiling some closely-guarded local secrets. You’ll learn all you need to know about the what, when, and how of the local fishing scene. Let’s dive right in.
Top Santa Rosa Beach Fish Species
Fishing in Santa Rosa Beach is all about living out your Florida Panhandle dream, it’s as simple as that. The town looks out onto Choctawhatchee Bay, with its Redfish, Spotted Seatrout, Sheepshead, Ladyfish, Black Drum, and even Tarpon. The beautiful Choctawhatchee River nearby is home to Bass, while the Gulf of Mexico is a short drive away with its Mahi Mahi, Wahoo, Yellowfin and Blackfin Tuna, as well as plenty of Billfish.
Additionally, you can head to nearby Grayton Beach and hunt for reef species. These include prized Red Snapper, Gag Grouper, Cobia, Amberjack, Triggerfish, Mackerel, and more.
If we were to name every single game fish available in Santa Rosa Beach, this guide would need at least two parts. For now, let’s talk about the top picks in the area…
Redfish and Spotted Seatrout
The inshore waters here are relatively shallow, teeming with one of the Gulf Coast’s most loved species. Red Drum – or, as they’re fondly called, Redfish – provide a complete angling experience, thanks to their fighting spirit and delicious meat. Reds bite well in deep holes, oyster bars, and marsh grass edges, which they frequent all year round. “Bulls,” oversized Red Drum, patrol the bay in the summer and fall.
In the impressive supporting cast of Flounder and Sheepshead, Spotted Seatrout definitely stand out. These species are also fantastic fighters that also make for an excellent feast at the end of the day. Plus, the tackle and bait you use for Red Drum is similar to that you’ll need to hook into Trout!
Snapper and Grouper
Come summer and Santa Rosa Beach draws anglers far and wide for the Red Snapper season. The thrill of the hunt for these elusive, feisty, and tasty fish is amplified by strict harvesting regulations.
Yet, fishing in Santa Rosa Beach has much more to offer beyond Reds. The shallow waters, nearshore reefs, and depths of the Gulf are also home to Lane, Mangrove, Vermillion, and Mutton Snapper.
If that’s not enough, within the Snapper-rich waters of the Gulf thrives another group of prized game species – Groupers. These aren’t as aesthetically appealing as Snappers, yet they’re just as coveted for their game qualities and tasty meat.
More than five species are regularly reeled in. These include the enormous Goliath Grouper, who are also subject to strict rules. Then, you have smaller – but no less exciting – Scamp and Red Grouper, massive Black, and the all-time favorite Gag Grouper, a heavy-tackle target that challenges anglers of all sorts.
Mackerel and Amberjack
Mackerel and Amberjack fishing in Santa Rosa Beach is an experience cherished by both locals and visitors alike. These species are widely celebrated for their speed, battles, and, of course, tasty meat. These fighters require medium to heavy tackle, depending on which species you’re after.
The Mackerel menu consists of King “Kingfish” and Spanish Mackerel, colloquially known as “Macks.” They’re often found patrolling the reefs and wrecks off Grayton Beach State Park, especially during the spring and fall seasons.
Meanwhile, “Reef Donkeys” – or Amberjack – are a true tug-of-war species. Their formidable power and endurance provide a match that even the most seasoned angler relishes. The key to finding Amberjack is heading to the offshore reefs and wrecks during the late spring and summer seasons. Pro tip: Amberjack fishing is a marathon, not a sprint, so patience is key!
Tuna and Mahi Mahi
Blackfin and Yellowfin Tuna, paired with the gorgeous Mahi Mahi, transform any Santa Rosa Beach deep sea fishing experience into a life-changing event. Tuna need no introduction, praised for their speed, power, and perhaps the best gastronomic value in the world.
Mahi Mahi, meanwhile, are easily recognized by their vibrant colors, theatrical battles, and the way they leap out of the water once hooked. Of course, Mahis are much more than a visual treat and also offer a delight for your palate. But don’t take our word for it! head out to the offshore trolling grounds from spring to fall to see it yourself!
Bonus: Santa Rosa Billfish
It’s safe to say that offshore fishing in Santa Rosa Beach reaches its apex with the pursuit of Billfish. You can enjoy the acrobatic displays of Blue and White Marlin or try to subdue Sailfish closer to shore. Even further out, there’s the option of monstrous Swordfish, too!
Of course, this level of fishing isn’t for the faint-hearted. Blue Marlin can tip the scales at 1,000 pounds, although anglers typically get much lighter catches. Plus, as a bonus to the bonus, there’s always a potential by-catch of Wahoo, Mahi Mahi, and Tuna on your billfishing trip!
How to Go Fishing in Santa Rosa Beach
The town’s economy practically revolves around fishing. This means that there’s a myriad of ways for you to fish, including trying out various techniques, methods, and types of fishing only locals know. Now that you know what you want to catch, let’s talk about how to do it:
Choctawhatchee River Fishing
The Choctawhatchee River is a haven for freshwater enthusiasts, known particularly for its exceptional Bass fishing opportunities. It offers a nice break from the salty ocean with its healthy population of Largemouth Bass, locally known as “bucketmouths.”
These fish are structure-oriented predators, which you can use to your advantage. Look for fallen trees, submerged logs, and weed lines to cast your bait and lure. The sight of a Largemouth Bass exploding on a surface lure is something everyone should experience.
Choctawhatchee Bay Fishing
Choctawhatchee Bay – locally referred to as “Choctaw Bay” – is a popular spot to go fishing in Santa Rosa Beach. Its fertile shallow waters are home to a variety of species, including Redfish and Speckled Trout.
You can also target these fish in Hogtown Bayou – the bay’s enclave. Anglers typically wade the flats or cast right from the shoreline, along grass beds and oyster bars during the early mornings and late evenings in the summer and fall. This period can result in trophy Specks and Bull Reds.
Santa Rosa Beach Surf Fishing
Santa Rosa Beach’s shorelines also provide excellent opportunities for shore fishing. You can check the bite for Pompano, Whiting, and Redfish right in town or head to nearby locations like Deer Lake and Grayton Beach State Park.
The key to a successful Santa Rosa Beach surf fishing experience is to pack the right gear and have a little patience. Don’t forget to get a fishing license, though!
Santa Rosa Beach Deep Sea Fishing
If you’re ready to venture out into the Gulf of Mexico, Santa Rosa Beach is a good starting spot. It offers access to offshore structures, reefs, and ledges with Amberjack, Mahi Mahi, Sailfish, Tuna, Marlin, and who knows what else. While deep sea fishing in Santa Rosa Beach, you’ll be mainly trolling for Tuna, Wahoo, and Billfish, or bottom fishing for Grouper and Snapper.
Key deep sea fishing locations include The Edge, a drop-off with depths of over 300 feet, and the Oriskany, an artificial reef nicknamed the Mighty O. To get there, you’ll need to book a trip with a local guide. More on that below.
Santa Rosa Beach Charter Fishing
Whether it’s fly fishing inshore, bottom fishing on the reefs, or kite fishing in the deep offshore waters, all the way up to overnight trips, charter fishing in Santa Rosa Beach is the best way to do it. The whole Emerald Coast is dotted with boats of all sizes, all ready to take you and your party on a real adventure.
There are hundreds of skilled captains with intimate local knowledge that can guide you to the best fishing spots. In fact, the absolute majority of honey holes are local secrets!
Top Santa Rosa Beach Fishing Spots
Now that you know what to catch and how to do it, it’s time to cover the where part. Santa Rosa Beach is next to Destin, so finding a good spot to wet a line won’t ever be a problem. Here are a few spots for you to consider:
- Hogtown Bayou. Nestled within the confines of the Chocto Bay, this is a perfect spot for a calm inshore trip for Redfish and Spotted Seatrout.
- Choctawhatchee Bay. This is actually one of the largest bays in Florida, known for its abundance of Reds, Seatrout, Flounder, Black Drum, Sheepshead, and more.
- 100-Fathom Curve. A must-visit area, the 100-Fathom is located just 10–12 miles off the coast of Santa Rosa Beach. The sea floor here drops to about 600 feet, offering everything from Grouper to seasonal runs of Marlin.
- The Edge. Another deep sea fishing spot that’s located a bit further from the Curve, the Edge is known for its Tuna, Marlin, and Sailfish opportunities during the summer months.
- Eastern Lake. This lake is within a 20-minute ride from Santa Rosa Beach. Locals come here to fish the spot where the lake outflows into the Gulf, targeting Pompano, Flounder, and Whiting.
- Baytowne Wharf Fishing Pier. Families and beginner anglers can fish without a boat and have a great chance of catching something interesting, such as Redfish, Trout, and even Sharks. It’s located near the Baytown Marina, a 15-minute ride from Santa Rosa Beach.
Santa Rosa Beach Seasons and Regulations
There are two things left to discuss – fishing permits and seasonality. Thankfully, licensed captains and guides in Santa Rosa Beach cover all the necessary permits for their anglers, so you won’t need to worry about anything but having fun.
If you’re a solo angler between the ages of 16 and 65, however, you’ll need to obtain a valid Florida fishing license. There are various ways to do it, so make sure to check all your options ahead of time. Plus, there are various bag and size limits, along with open and closed seasons. Check the FWC website for a breakdown of each species’s seasons.
When it comes to the best time to go fishing in Santa Rosa Beach, the answer is simple – every day is a good day to catch fish. Things begin to heat up in spring with Cobia making their presence felt, along with Yellowfin and Blackfin Tuna that remain in the area until late fall.
Summer in Santa Rosa Beach is the peak fishing season. You can target virtually anything that’s biting, from Snappers and Groupers to Mahi Mahi and Marlin. It’s also the beginning of the Red Snapper season, although the exact dates change every year.
Come fall and the attention switches to Redfish and Spotted Seatrout that actively bite in the inshore waters. The offshore action can also be extended if the area is blessed with an Indian summer. And, as the year moves into the winter months, the action doesn’t slow down at all. It’s Santa Rosa Beach and the Emerald Coast, after all!
Note that the summer period can be pretty crowded and there are also hurricane seasons. Always check the local forecast ahead of time.
Fishing in Santa Rosa Beach FAQs
Santa Rosa Beach: Destin’s Best Neighbor
From the calm waters of the Choctawhatchee Bay to the thrilling depths of the Gulf of Mexico, fishing in Santa Rosa Beach offers a myriad of opportunities. Here, you get world-class inshore fishing for Reds and Specks, rich reefs and wrecks full of Grouper and Snapper, and the mighty Gulf with real trophies. After all, can an angling adventure on the Emerald Coast ever be bad?! Try it out and let us know!
Have you ever been fishing in Santa Rosa Beach? How was it? Share your stories with us in the comments below.