Pensacola Surf Fishing Bringing you the latest information on Florida Surf and Inshore fishing with a focus on the Pensacola Beach area
Santa Rosa Sound provides miles of prime habitat with plenty of ways to reach the water.
 Large Spotted Trout Caught In Santa Rosa Sound

At roughly 35 miles long, Santa Rosa Sound provides countless fishing opportunities for boaters and kayakers as well as offering plenty of access points for anglers fishing from shore.  As part of the Intracoastal Waterway, the protected waters of Santa Rosa Sound separate two access points to the Gulf of Mexico, with Pensacola Bay on the west and Choctawhatchee Bay on the east. Much of Santa Rosa Sound is relatively shallow which allows for a large amount of near-shore sea grass growth, creating a great habitat for marine life.  Redfish, Flounder, and Speckled Trout are a few of the species often sought out by anglers fishing "The Sound".

Types of Fish in Santa Rosa Sound

Redfish, Speckled Trout, and Flounder are the most sought after fish in Santa Rosa Sound by far, but they are not the only gamefish present. During the cooler months Sheepshead can be found near bridge pilings and Black Drum can be found throughout deeper channels. During the warmer months Jack Crevalle, Mangrove Snapper, and others can be targeted in the sound as well.

Santa Rosa Sound does see it's fair share of sharks in addition to the species mentioned above. Several types of sharks call these waters home, while others are more transient in nature. Most sharks will be more prevalent near the two access points to the Gulf of Mexico (Pensacola Pass on the West side, and Destin Pass on the East), but they can be found throughout the entire sound.

When it comes to inshore diversity, Santa Rosa Sound certainly delivers, and for anyone going after an "Inshore Slam" (catching a keeper Redfish, Spotted Trout, and Flounder all the same day) in the Pensacola area, they couldn't go wrong spending their time in Santa Rosa Sound.

Where to Find Fish In Santa Rosa Sound

Like any other body of water, finding the fish is the most crucial part of the day.  Santa Rosa Sound is relatively shallow overall, but anglers are able to find a diverse array of structure, grass flats and deep-water holes. Depending on the type of fish being targeted and the time of year, fish may be spread throughout the Sound or schooled up in one area. 

In the springtime and throughout the summer months baitfish such as scaled sardines and pinfish will be found throughout the grass flats, and mullet will also be cruising the flats and shoreline.  When baitfish are piled up like this, anglers can expect to find predatory fish nearby.  At this time of year Speckled Trout, Redfish, and Mangrove Snapper can all be found feeding on the baitfish in the flats, and it will be worth fishing any deeper water nearby as well.

Fishing areas that have some current will generally produce better than areas with slack water. Early morning is usually thought of as the best time to fish but timing your trips with the incoming and outgoing tides can increase your chances as the moving water can disorient the baitfish, sending the predatory gamefish into feeding mode.

A live shrimp under a popping cork will be almost impossible to beat when it comes to sheer numbers of bites, but if there are pinfish around you may have trouble keeping them off your bait.  If you find yourself getting "pinfished", it may be worth switching to artificial baits, or using other live or cut baits, including the pinfish themselves.  When it comes to artificial lures, MirrOLure MirrOdines, Rat-L-Traps, and Silver or Gold Spoons are very popular.  Soft baits such as white twister tail grubs on light weight jigheads also produce.  Light fluorocarbon leaders are the name of the game in areas that receive a lot of fishing pressure such as near public access areas, but as always, stepping up to a higher test leader will help you horse fish away from pilings and rocks.

During the colder months in late fall and throughout the winter most of the baitfish will have thinned out, and anglers won't find as many congregated gamefish as a result, but fishing is still ongoing.  The cold water will allow anglers a better sheepshead bite than the summer, as these fish will start to congregate throughout the water column around dock and bridge pilings.  Sheepshead are very light biters and difficult to hook until you get used to fishing for them.  They are generally caught by anglers using fiddler crabs or small pieces of shrimp.  Fishing for sheepshead is one of the few times anglers commonly prefer "J" Hooks over Circle hooks when fishing within the sound, since a quick hookset is often vital to catching these fish.  A Dropshot rig or Carolina Rig with a small J hook are popular rigs used for Sheepshead, and anglers can often be found wrapping their baits onto the hook with small pieces of mesh or various threads (Miracle Thread is one type) in order to keep Sheepshead from swimming off with their bait.

While not as commonly sought after as Speckled Trout, White Trout (a.k.a. Sand Trout) can also be found throughout hard bottomed areas of Santa Rosa Sound during the cooler months, particularly if you can find a hard bottomed area with some structure.  Unlike Sheepshead, White Trout are typically bottom oriented fish and anglers should rig up with the intent of keeping their bait on or near the bottom.  Small white jigs are commonly used, as well as small spoons.  White Trout are not large, and generally are under one pound in weight, but they can provide consistent action when they are around.

Accessing Santa Rosa Sound

Whether you enjoy boating, pier fishing, wading, or just want to toss out a line from the park, there are multiple options for anglers to fish Santa Rosa Sound.  In terms of shoreline, most of the larger public access areas lie between Gulf Breeze and Navarre, although there are some areas near the east end of Santa Rosa Sound in the Fort Walton Beach area. Below are a few options for anglers looking to get access to Santa Rosa Sound.

Shoreline Park - Gulf Breeze

The fishing pier at shoreline park extends roughly 300' into the sound and is a great place to catch bait and fish.
 Shoreline Park Fishing Pier

Shoreline Park provides anglers access to the Westernmost part of Santa Rosa Sound and has public access to wade fish as well as one of the nicest boat launches in the Gulf Breeze area.  The eastern part of the park is a dog park, but if you wade into deeper water you will generally be left alone.   There is a public access fishing pier in the middle of the park that extends out about 300 feet, and to a water depth of around 7 feet, depending on the tide. The pier is a great place to fish, but it often used by boaters to tie up and cast-net for bait, so be prepared to have a decent amount of traffic coming and going from the pier. On the west side of the pier there is a small swimming area but walking past that is a nice area to wade fish.  Shoreline Park is a great place to launch a kayak as well, if you are interested in doing so.

Bob Sikes Fishing Pier and Bob Sikes Bridge - Gulf Breeze / Pensacola Beach

Probably the two most popular fishing sites on the sound, Bob Sikes Fishing Pier on the north side of Bob Sikes Bridge, and the Fishing Bridge on the south side of Bob Sikes Bridge provide fishing action for thousands of anglers every year.  Both areas are free to fish, and the bridge itself lets land based anglers target much deeper water than most other access areas.  Although the fishing areas on the two sides do not connect, they provide anglers access to nearly the entire width of the sound. Any species that can be caught in the sound can be caught from the bridge.

Gulf Islands National Seashore - Gulf Breeze

In terms of seashore and ease of access for wade fishing, Gulf Islands National Seashore in Gulf Breeze is one of the best areas to go.  It provides access to a large area filled with natural grass flats with a few deeper holes mixed in and is a good spot to target Speckled Trout and Redfish, especially in the summer.  There are a few areas that are relatively easy to launch a kayak from as well, but you will have to carry your kayak a short way to reach the water.  The National Seashore is more secluded from boat traffic than Shoreline Park.

Gulf Islands National Seashore - Pensacola Beach / Santa Rosa Island

Located about 7 miles west of the Navarre Beach Bridge, The Gulf Islands National Seashore on Santa Rosa Island provides one of the few access points on the south side of Santa Rosa Sound.  This area provides land based anglers and wade fishermen easier access to deeper water than most areas on the north side of the sound and is a great place for anglers since you can walk from the sound side of Santa Rosa Island directly to the Gulf Side, and bring your gear with you, if you have packed light enough.

Oriole Beach and Woodlawn Beach - Gulf Breeze

Oriole Beach and Woodlawn Beach Boat Launches provide direct access to the north side of Santa Rosa Sound, and although they are not necessarily friendly for wade fishing, they do provide boaters and kayaker's access.  Both areas are surrounded by private piers that provide habitat for bait and gamefish to thrive as well as some deeper grass flats and holes.

Navarre Park and Sound Side Park - Navarre / Navarre Beach

Located directly across from one another, Navarre Park and Sound Side Park both provide access to Santa Rosa Sound.  Navarre Park, on the northern side of the sound, provides access to a 200 foot fishing pier as well as easy access for wade fishing.  On the south side, Sound Side Park provides a boat launch and many recreational activities as well as fishing access, although this area sees a lot of boat traffic from the launch, and is rather busy overall.

In summary, Santa Rosa Sound provides year-round access to protected water with numerous places to access excellent fishing due to a wide variety of habitat.  It is no wonder that anglers flock to the sound when other areas are too rough to fish, or when anglers are looking to catch their first Inshore Slam. Any day of the year, anglers can be seen boating, wade fishing and kayaking throughout the sound, and there is always something to catch.