Pensacola Fishing: A Guide for Visiting Anglers
May 14, 2021 | 9 minute read
Reading Time: 9 minutes

Pensacola is a true “wish you were here” destination, known for its sunny weather, warm seas, and white sandy beaches. For many people, that’s where the vacation ends. But you’re different. You look at this subtropical paradise and think, “I wonder what fish I can catch.” Good for you, because Pensacola fishing is simply out of this world.

In this article, we’ll cover every aspect of fishing in Pensacola. Learn what you can catch and how to do it. Get practical info on fishing spots, seasons, and much more. In a few minutes’ time, you’ll have a working knowledge of Pensacola’s various fisheries and know how to make the most of them.

Why Pensacola?

Where do we even start? The city’s surrounded by bays and beachfronts that hold a who’s who of inshore game fish. It’s also known as the “Red Snapper Capital of the World,” so you know you’re in for a feast. Then there’s the deep sea bite. Oh boy, the deep sea bite. It takes a while to get to the best waters, but once you do, you can hook into some real apex predators.

It’s not just the fish that make Pensacola special, though. The city has a large charter fleet and multiple piers to wet a line from. You can also take part in angling events and competitions pretty much all year. In short, everything about this corner of Florida is set up with fishing in mind. All you need to do is show up and enjoy.

Top Catches in Pensacola

Every town has those signature species that you just have to catch when you visit. Here, that’s basically everything. Pensacola is home to many of the country’s top game fish, after all. Luckily, you can break them down into three clear groups based on where they live.

Inshore Sport Fish

A happy woman holding a large Redfish caught while fishing in Pensacola

The shallows around Pensacola are full of Redfish, Speckled Trout, and Flounder. These are the some of the most popular inshore species in the country. But in Pensacola, they’re just the baseline. Sporting anglers also target big Pompano in the surf. These relatives of Permit are stong, stubborn, and can be almost impossible to spot. And yes, they taste great.

There’s one species that you have to bow your head to when you mention Pensacola’s inshore bite: Tarpon. This is quite simply the perfect game fish – huge, strong, and super spooky. Tarpon spend their summer breaks lounging in the shallows. They show up in huge groups and crowd for space along the beaches. They’re a little like us, when you think about it.

Delicious Reef Fish

A man and a boy holding red and vermilion snapper caught on a fishing trip out of Pensacola, FL

The reefs around Pensacola are home to some seriously good eating. Close to shore, you’ll find tasty treats like Triggerfish and small Snappers. There may also be bigger fish like Cobia and King Mackerel, depending on when you visit. As you venture farther out, you start to see all the big names in bottom fishing.

So what can you catch? It’s a long list. Red, Lane, Mangrove, and Vermilion Snapper all live on Pensacola’s reefs, as do Red, Gag, Scamp, and Black Grouper. And don’t forget the trophy-sized Amberjack. This is the “Red Snapper Capital of the World,” but even out of Snapper season, you’re in for a mighty fine meal after a day on the reef.

Deep Sea Monsters

A man holding a large yellowfin tuna on a charter boat in the Gulf of Mexico

Feel like getting your hooks into something bigger? Don’t worry, Pensacola has it all. Bluewater anglers can fight their fill of Mahi Mahi and Wahoo, as well as Yellowfin and Blackfin Tuna. These are true big game predators and they’re also great to eat. Test your skills and fill the coolers? Sounds like the definition of a win-win.

The fun doesn’t stop there, though. Head far enough, and the Billfish come into play. Pensacola has access to some of the favorite hunting grounds of Sailfish, White Marlin, and Blue Marlin. You can even find Swordfish if you know where to look. Safe to say, you need to come well prepared when taking on these majestic beasts.

How to Fish Around Pensacola

So you know what you want to catch, but how do you get to it? The two main ways to fish in Pensacola are chartering a boat and trying your luck from shore. Both can earn you a tasty meal and a barrelful of fun. Here’s a summary of the pros and cons of each option.

Charter Fishing

A large charter boat cruising in the Gulf of Mexico

If you want to catch lots of fish, this is the way to do it. Fishing on a boat makes you much more agile and opens up a range of techniques that just aren’t possible from shore. It also lets you get to Pensacola’s famous bottom and big game fisheries. And that’s just the boat. On a charter, you’ll also have a seasoned guide and quality gear to really give you the upper hand.

You can either charter a small, private vessel or board a large “party boat” with other anglers. If you know your way around a rod, party boats can be a good way to get to the Snapper grounds on the cheap. However, complete beginners and serious sport anglers are better off on private boats. They give you much more flexibility, and the crew will be able to give you their full attention.

Pier and Surf Fishing

A man surf fishing on a beach at sunrise, with a large bird standing nearby

“I don’t like boats, does that mean that I can’t go fishing?” Not at all. Pensacola has several piers and endless beaches that you can explore on your own two feet. Obviously, you’re more limited with what you can catch. Inshore species like Pompano and Redfish will be your main targets. However, pier fishing can earn you Kingfish, Cobia, and even small Mahi if you’re lucky.

The difference between surf and pier fishing isn’t just the species. The great thing about surf fishing is that, if you bring your own equipment, you have complete freedom about when and how you fish. Pier fishing is more of a one-stop-shop for a few hours of fun. You can roll up, rent a rod, and catch some fish. It doesn’t have the full “outdoorsy” feel, though.

Pensacola Fishing Spots

You’re spoiled for choice with places to fish in Pensacola. Even on foot, you’ve got several piers and endless beaches to explore. Jump on a boat, and the sky’s the limit. In fact, there’s so much variety that it’s impossible to cover every single spot. Instead, here are a few local favorites to whet your appetite.

Pensacola Beach Gulf Pier

Pensacola Beach Gulf Fishing Pier stretching into the sea, as seen from the beach

At almost 1,500 feet long, you can catch a huge range of fish from Pensacola Beach Pier. Reel in Sheepshead, Flounder, and Drum near the beach. Battle Cobia, Kingfish, and even Mahi Mahi at the end. Heck, people have caught Sailfish here in the past!

The pier costs $7.50 per angler, with discounts for kids, seniors, and military personnel. You can rent rods and buy bait at the pier’s tackle shop. They also sell snacks and drinks, and there’s a restaurant if you get more hungry. You’ll hopefully catch your own lunch, though.

Pensacola Bay Fishing Bridge

If you’re looking for hassle-free fishing on a budget, this is the spot for you. Drive right onto the bridge and park up where you want to fish. Put out your chair and drop some shrimp. Before long, you’ll be reeling in a mix of Trout, Redfish, Spanish Mackerel, Sheepshead, and more. 

You don’t need a license to fish from the bridge. Just pay $5 per vehicle and $2 per passenger, or walk on for $2 each. The problem with the bridge is that it’s pretty narrow, so it can be tough to turn around in a big truck. That, and the fact that it gets very busy in high season.

Update April 2021: The Pensacola Bay Fishing Bridge has been closed until further notice.

Johnson Beach

A view towards the sea on Johnson Beach, a popular surf fishing spot on the Florida Panhandle

Looking for some good old-fashioned surf fishing? Head to literally any beach facing the Gulf. You’ll find soft sands, clear water, and a range of fish species (think Redfish, Sharks, and Catfish, as well as Tarpon and Pompano in season). The main problem you’ll come across is the crowds.

We chose Johnson Beach because it tends to be less busy than most. On top of that, it holds fish pretty consistently. However, you should be aware that the far eastern end is an unofficial nudist beach. Don’t worry, you’ll usually find plenty of empty beach between them and everybody else where you can cast in peace.

Pensacola Pass

Pensacola Pass is the deepest point in the bay. It’s also the only way in or out for miles around. This makes it a bottleneck for any migratory fish. If you’re looking for a reliable place to fight big fish inshore, this is about as good as it gets.

The most iconic time to fish here is when the big Bull Redfish come through in the fall. However, you can pretty much always find something here. Jacks, Flounder, Trout, Sheepshead – pick any of Pensacola’s inshore species and chances are, they stop here when they’re in town.

Escambia Bay

An aerial view of the upper Escambia Bay near Pensacola, FL

If you’re big on backcountry fishing, you’ve got to explore the upper Escambia Bay. It’s only a stone’s throw from the city but it has some of the best shallow-water fishing in Pensacola. This is where you’ll find true Gator Trout and big tailing Redfish, as well as tasty Silver Trout and Flounder.

One of the most productive spots to fish is the marshy area where the Escambia River meets the bay. You can also explore the bayous on the east side of the bay. If you somehow get bored, you can always switch things up by fishing around the bridge pilings for Sheepshead.

Oriskany Memorial Reef

There are a lot of wrecks in the waters around Pensacola. None of them compare to the Oriskany. This decommissioned aircraft carrier was sunk in 2005 to create the world’s largest artificial reef. At over 900 feet long, it’s so big it earned the nickname “Great Carrier Reef” among locals.

The Oriskany sits roughly 20 miles offshore in just over 200 feet of water. It holds every tasty treat you could ask for: Snapper, Grouper, Amberjack, and so much more. The best part? The wreck’s so big that you’ll find space even on busy summer days.

When to Visit

A busy summer's day on Pensacola Beach, with lots of people in the sea and on the beach
Pensacola is busiest in summer, but the fish are here all year!

The vast majority of people visit Pensacola during the summer. This is when the city’s in full swing, with huge crowds on the beaches and hundreds of boats out on the water. However, this isn’t some sleepy resort town that shuts up shop in the winter. There’s plenty to do – and catch – all year round.

Pensacola Fishing Seasons

If you’re after detailed information, you can find a full month-by-month breakdown of local fishing seasons on our Pensacola fish calendar. For now, here’s a rough explanation of how the fishing changes over the course of the year.

In spring and fall, a variety of species migrate along the Gulf Coast past Pensacola. Cobia, Pompano, and Spanish Mackerel are the top targets in spring, alongside Triggerfish during their brief open season. The fall favorites are Bull Redfish, which move inshore as the water cools, and Amberjack, which have a short autumn harvest season.

Summer is as busy in the water as it is on land. Inshore, Tarpon, Trout, Sheepshead, and more fill the bays. Offshore, it’s the perfect time to take on big game species like Marlin, Sailfish, Tuna, and Mahi Mahi. And of course, the June-July Red Snapper season is the best time of year to visit Pensacola’s reefs. 

Snapper are the summer favorite, but Grouper fishing is at its best in winter. Fewer anglers and colder water means big, hungry fish that won’t think twice about gobbling up your bait. It’s a similar story in the shallows. Redfish, Flounder, and Trout are all holed up in the bay and on the lookout for an easy meal. This makes it an ideal time for fly fishing in Pensacola.

Pensacola Fishing Tournaments

A man holding a large Lionfish caught at the Pensacola Lionfish Classic
A winning catch at the Pensacola Lionfish Classic (FWC, Flickr, CC BY-ND 2.0)

Pensacola hosts a variety of fishing competitions each year. Feel like you can rival the Gulf’s top anglers? The Pensacola International Fishing Tournament has been putting people’s skills to the test since 1970. It’s still one of the top tournaments in town. 

Maybe you want to help preserve the local reefs while you compete. In that case, the Pensacola Lionfish Classic is the one for you. This event raises awareness about the highly-invasive Lionfish while also reducing their numbers. Dive into the water to spear as many as possible, then enjoy a big fish cookout at the end.

Of course, the most popular events are the “rodeos” like the Flora-Bama Fishing Rodeo. These are fun-focused events that anyone can join. Buy a family ticket for 50 bucks and head out to test your luck. Join the offshore division for big fish and big prizes. There’s something for everybody.

Fishing in Pensacola: Making the Most of Paradise

A woman fighting a Tarpon on a fishing charter in Pensacola, with two other anglers on the boat watching

Pensacola is one of America’s most popular vacation spots – and it’s easy to see why. This is a stunning part of the country with some of the best weather to boot. Look beyond the beauty and you discover something even better: incredible angling in every depth of water, with fun fishing events all year round to keep you busy. In short, Pensacola’s fishing is perfect.

Have you ever been fishing in Pensacola? Did you catch any of the fish we mentioned? Drop us your thoughts and fish tales in the comments below!

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