Pensacola is situated in the Florida Panhandle, a strip of coastal land in northwestern Florida bordered by beautiful waters of the Gulf of Mexico. This city is one of the largest urban areas on the Emerald Coast and boasts several beautiful beaches, including the world-famous Pensacola Beach.
Apart from its white shores, Pensacola is one of the oldest ports in the United States. It’s known as “America’s First Settlement” when it was discovered by Spanish explorer Don Tristan de Luna but was abandoned before becoming the first city when ships carrying supplies were destroyed by a hurricane. Pensacola has had five different governments since then, earning it the nickname "The City of Five Flags". Today, its ties to its military roots still run deep, serving as the host for the first U.S. Naval Air Station which is the base of the Blue Angels Flight Demonstration Squadron.
Pensacola is one of the busiest ports along the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway, a 3000-mile inland water route providing passage for barges and commercial vessels. This man-made aquatic passageway is used by recreational vessels as well, and fishing charters particularly traverse this waterway since it’s a great source for fishing and is a key angler location in Florida. This strip of the saltwater route makes its way to nearby Santa Rosa Sound.
The “Western Gate to the Sunshine State”, is a laid-back city with around 52,975 residents but draws in thousands of visitors from all over the United States. Tourists flock to this seaside city for its beautiful white beaches, crystal clear waters, and of course, year-round fishing. Pensacola is so famous for its angling hotspots that it’s been nicknamed the "Red Snapper Capital of the World".
So whether you’re on board an offshore charter with an experienced local captain, or fly fishing off the coast, the Pensacola Bay Area is bait to every angler. Between the Gulf of Mexico, three inland bays, and a freshwater river, this city has it covered. With almost year-round sunshine and mild climate, it’s no wonder that Pensacola is a favorite among tourists and anglers.
Pensacola is a famous fishing destination because of its inshore bays, marshlands, flowing rivers, and grassy flats spread throughout this city. If you don’t find what you’re looking for inland, you can go reef fishing nearshore or further out offshore to the deep waters.
Inshore fishing is a little different in Pensacola due to its unique geography with Santa Rosa Island serving as a boundary between the bays and deepwater. So if inshore is your game, you’ll find plenty of options such as Pensacola Bay, Pensacola Pass, East Bay, Escambia Bay, Santa Rosa Sound, and Big Lagoon. The shallow flats and docks in these areas are perfect for generous populations of redfish, speckled trout, and flounder. The estuaries are ideal habitats for inland fish, so hiring an inshore boat with a seasoned guide can show you where to target species such as sheepshead, mackerel, and black drum. In the summer, the shallows welcome the arrival of the powerful, strong-willed pompano and Florida’s famous game fish, the tarpon, where you’ll find them in large aggregations along the surf.
You can hire a nearshore charter, which stays close to the shores of Pensacola Beach but takes you out to the Gulf of Mexico. What makes Pensacola perfect for anglers is that they don’t need to travel far from the coast, and you can find numerous reefs or ledges just within the boundaries of inshore and offshore fishing. This is a perfect spot to hook some mackerel, redfish, bonito, vermilion snapper, and triggerfish.
During the summer, Pensacola earns its nickname as the red snapper season hits, and all lines are trained towards the reefs. Having a chartered guide gives the upper hand during this time so that you can find all the rocky structures that the red snapper likes to hide in, but since they are so bountiful, you shouldn’t have any problems hooking one. While you’re out in the open water, be prepared to snag other beauties such as groupers, snappers, triggerfish, amberjack, scamp, and cobia. Each summer, during the peak of saltwater fishing, the Pensacola Bay Area attracts anglers from around the region with the annual International Billfish Tournament on the last weekend of June.
So if you want to go for bigger game fish, you need to ride out into the Gulf, where you can catch offshore sportfish such as Mahi, wahoo, yellowfin tuna, blackfin tuna, sailfish, and marlin. With a knowledgeable guide, you may even find some elusive swordfish.
Pensacola Beach is known for its pier fishing with three nearby piers that are popular in the spring when fish swim toward the northern region of the Gulf after winter. Several piers will even have bait and tackle shops where you can lease gear or buy bait, although some may charge fees to set up lines in the water. During the spring, you can expect to catch pompano, mackerel, red drum, black drum, bluefish, and jack crevalle. If you’re lucky, you might even score some kingfish, cobia, and mahi-mahi. Some piers worthy of noting would be Pensacola Beach Gulf Pier, Navarre Beach Fishing Pier, Fort Pickens Fishing Pier, and Pensacola's Catwalk.
One of the reasons Pensacola is an angler’s paradise is that you can fish right from the beach. Surf fishing requires different techniques and equipment, such as longer rods, but if you’re familiar with it or have done it before, it should be a no-brainer. Pensacola Beach, Big Lagoon State Park, Perdido Key State Recreation Area, and Johnson Beach are some great surf fishing spots. In these areas, you can expect to catch some pompano, flounder, bluefish, mackerel, spotted seatrout, and redrum.
The fishing season in Pensacola is considered year-round because there isn’t a time when your line won’t hook something. During spring, various species are abundant, and fly fishing is in full swing in April and May to welcome the arrival of cobia and king mackerel, respectively. You can sight fish with ease along shallow flats and beaches for female trout, redfish, Spanish mackerel, and pompano. Near the estuaries or reefs, you can get some good size amberjack and speckled trout.
When summer arrives in June, the red snapper season begins which will reel in anglers from all over to the reefs hoping for a world record, but they’ll snag some good size cobia as well. King mackerel, Spanish mackerel, and bonito can be found in the shallows and along the emerald coast, and surf fishing can hook some beauties as well. July and August will see the most variety of species, with bluefish, ladyfish, mackerel, and even sharks coming up close to the shore.
September brings the rains in Pensacola, so inshore fishing is more common, where redfish and small mahi-mahi can still be hooked in nearby rocky structures. Closing out autumn is the arrival of the bull redfish from the Gulf, which is a great time for fly fishing. The flounder will start to show themselves in good size numbers in the bay as winter comes closer.
The early winter season will see clearer waters, and so inshore fishing for speckled trout in the rivers is great during this time. Flounder, redfish, and sheepshead will be plentiful in the beaches and the bay, along with pompano and Spanish mackerel.
Pensacola Bay and the Gulf of Mexico are havens for saltwater charter fishing. Hiring a charter is highly recommended so your veteran captain can show you the best game-fish areas, have the proper gear, show you techniques, and make sure you fish at your heart’s content within the bounds of the law. In Pensacola, you can charter either a small private vessel or go onboard a larger party boat. On offshore trips, different methods can be used for snagging game fish, such as trolling, bottom-fishing, sight casting, or drifting to give you the advantage. After your fishing charter, you can go to one of the local restaurants where you can have your catch cooked.
The Florida Circumnavigational Saltwater Paddling Trail starts in the Pensacola Bay Area which offers kayakers the chance to paddle the entire state of Florida. This city is where the Great Florida Birding & Wildlife Trail begins. Some great spots to start your trek include Fort Pickens, Big Lagoon State Park, and the Pensacola Bayfront where there are many biking and running trails.
Pensacola is rich in history and culture, so visiting downtown and heading to the Historic Pensacola Village should be on your list of things to do. Out here, you’ll see preserved period houses, museums, and one of Florida’s oldest churches. Other places to visit would be Palafox Street, The Veterans Memorial Park, Pensacola Lighthouse, the T.T. Wentworth, Jr. Florida State Museum, the National Naval Aviation Museum, Fort Pickens National Park, Fort Pickens State Park Aquatic Preserve, and the Big Lagoon State Recreation Area.
Pensacola Beach on Santa Rosa Island is an award-winning white beach, one of the longest barrier islands in the world, and considered the center of the Florida Gulf Coast. This family-friendly beach has numerous activities such as snorkeling, surfing, scuba diving, or strolling along the bustling Pensacola Beach Pier. You might even see some sea turtles dig their nests here during the spring and summer!