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).
Largemouth bass fishing is expected to be good during the months of January through March in the Escambia River. Excellent fishing for 1 to 3 lb largemouth bass is usually found in the delta marshes between the mouth of the river and the hwy 90 bridge. Bass fishing is best along the winding channels and small creeks that cut through the marshes. Bass anglers should try to catch a falling tide and fish along the undercut banks of these delta channels. Many 12-15” largemouth bass were found along undercut banks in the area locally known as the “X” during a December electrofishing survey last year. Other marsh favorites include the East River and Gum Creek. Farther upriver, anglers should try areas of slack water in the numerous oxbows and sloughs. Top spots for bass during December shocking surveys by FWC biologists include William’s Ditch (located downstream from the Quintette boat ramp), Beck’s Lake, and Horseshoe slough (located downstream from Beck’s lake). Recent angler reports indicated that fish are being caught on Zoom finesse and trick worms in dark colors such as purple and redbug. Texas-rigged blue fleck lizards have also been catching fish. In the upper river, crayfish make up a large proportion of the food of bass and consequently make good bass bait. Crayfish can be collected with a dip net from ditches and sloughs along the river and its floodplain swamp. Crayfish-imitating crankbaits and Zoom speed craws also work well when live bait is not available.
Bream fishing should be good this time of year fishing around submersed vegetation and stumps. The area of river south of Century at Fischer Landing produced many large bluegill and redear during November electrofishing survey conducted by FWC biologists. Crappie have also been showing up quite a bit. Anglers typically focus on the section of river between Quintette Landing and Beck’s Lake, however many nice fish have been sampled during electrofishing surveys upstream of Rte 4. Use a 1/32 oz crappie jig in red/white, white/chartreuse, blue/white, or blue/black. Concentrate around deep trees in the 6-10 foot range and slowly work the jig around the structure.
The lower river is also a good place to fish for a mixed bag of saltwater fishes such as spotted seatrout, redfish, and sheepshead. The spotted seatrout bite has really heated up in the past weeks. Most of the fish anglers are catching are around the 15” size, but many fish over 20” have been caught as well. Jigs and Mirrolures seem to be the most popular offering by the locals. The sheepshead bite should continue to get better until these fish make their annual migration downstream. Try small to medium size shrimp on a jig head or below a sliding egg-sinker rig. This species of fish feeds on barnacles and other invertebrates around structure such as bridge pilings, which can provide great fishing opportunities for both bank and boat fisherman alike. Surprisingly, sheepshead are commonly collected during our electrofishing samples near the edges of deep grass. Fish a live shrimp on a Carolina rig through these areas to catch a mess a bandits. However, you may need lots of bait because it will be tough to keep the largemouth bass off your hook when fishing this area with shrimp.
Striped bass fishing will pick up during the cooler days of winter. In the past month, many anglers have been catching this species, a result of long-term stocking by our state fish hatcheries. The highway 90 bridge has been really hot lately for stripers. Use live shrimp or artificial baits that imitate baitfish.
The Escambia River also harbors other sport fish such as Choctaw bass, crappie, longear sunfish, and several species of catfish. Choctaw bass are more likely to be caught in the upper portion of the Escambia River or in the large tributaries such as Big Escambia Creek and Pine Barren Creek, and are rarely exploited. Fishing success in the upper river depends largely upon water levels. Both high and low water makes the upper river difficult to fish. Anglers should check the river stage before visiting this area. Current water levels throughout Florida may be found on the internet at www.usgs.gov.
Finally, channel catfish reportedly have been stacking up in deep holes with water more than 30 feet deep. Fishing for “Mr. Whiskers” should continue to get better as the water temperatures continue to decrease. Catfish move into these areas of deep water because it is less affected by the temperature change. Anglers should use earthworms or minnows fished on the bottom.
Anglers should be aware of potential obstacles, such as downed trees and other debris in the river as a result of past hurricanes and exercise caution while navigating the Escambia River. Access into some backwaters and sloughs that were formerly open may now be blocked. Downed trees and logjams created by the hurricanes 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 logjam has developed on the Escambia River, south of Sandy Landing. Anglers will not be able to navigate through this diversion at this time. Sandy Landing (located in the upper river) is closed between January 1st and February 15th.
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).