Santa Rosa Sound
Santa Rosa Sound is a sound connecting Pensacola Bay and Choctawhatchee Bay in Florida. The northern shore consists of the Fairpoint Peninsula and portions of the mainland in Santa Rosa County and Okaloosa County. It is bounded to the south by Santa Rosa Island (also known as Okaloosa Island in the easternmost region of the sound), separating it from the Gulf of Mexico.
The Gulf Intracoastal Waterway between Pensacola Beach and Fort Walton Beach is routed through the sound.
Three bridges carry pedestrian and automobile traffic to the barrier islands on the south side of the sound. The first two bridges have the lowest clearance of any span over the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway. For this reason, many sailboats with masts taller than 50 feet must "go outside" and bypass the protected sound using the unprotected waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
The bridges crossing Santa Rosa Sound, including the names of communities on both sides of the bridge (mainland side, followed by island side) and center span clearances above mean sea level, are:
Brooks Bridge: Fort Walton Beach (55 feet clearance)
Navarre Beach Bridge: Navarre to Navarre Beach (55 feet clearance)
Bob Sikes Bridge (commonly the "Pensacola Beach Bridge"): Gulf Breeze to Pensacola Beach (65 feet clearance)
Santa Rosa Sound is a pristine body of water found in the panhandle running parallel between Highway 98 and some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. The sound is a 35-mile stretch of the intercoastal waterway. On each end you'll find a bay. To the east you'll enter Choctawhatchee Bay and to the west you'll find Pensacola Bay, which is surrounded by fascinating historical places including; Fort McRae, Fort Pickens, and Pensacola's Naval Air Station.
The greatest thing about fishing Santa Rosa Sound is the fact that catching a three-fish Santa Rosa Slam can easily be done. This requires catching a speckled trout, redfish, and flounder all in one fishing trip. Another appealing aspect is it can all be done using the same rod and reel. Ideally, you'll want to use a six-and-a-half or seven-foot rod with a reel that can hold at least two hundred yards of eight- to twelve-pound test line. If you want to give the trout and redfish a try on the fly rod, a six- to eight-weight outfit will work fine.
There are several good boat launches down on the sound, but you may be limited, depending on the size of your boat. Shoreline Park in Gulf Breeze has an excellent launch that can accommodate any size boat. If you're in Navarre, you may want to try the launch located next to Sailor's Grill on Navarre Beach.
For those who don't have boats, inshore charters are readily available.
It's also a good idea to check out the local tackle shops. Gulf Breeze Bait & Tackle located in Gulf Breeze carries a full line of live and dead bait as well as any tackle or equipment you could need. They're only minutes from the water and have a parking lot to accommodate boat trailers.
Roaming the Grass for Speckled Trout
Fishing for speckled trout is what Santa Rosa Sound is best known for. At anytime of the year the sound can produce a good stringer of fish. Summertime produces more fish, but the average size is much smaller. Much of the sound is made up of brown, sea-grass bottom. This grass is home to loads of small baitfish, which of course, the larger fish feed on. Equally important though, the grass keeps the oxygen level up and filters the water, which in return, is the reason why the water is crystal clear much of the year. Depending on where you are in the sound, you may find grass flats in only inches of water, yet in other places it may be so deep it's not even visible.
Much of the sound is made up of brown, sea-grass bottom.
Docks, rock structure,grass beds.
Once you reach the flats the fun begins. As with all types of fishing, there are countless different tactics to try. For myself, I like to drift or slowly move around using the trolling motor. You'll likely have better luck fishing shallow water early in the morning and then moving deeper once it begins to warm up.
When trout fishing, I like to use a combination of live and artificial baits. Speckled trout are one of those fish where the larger the bait, the larger the fish' definitely applies. If you're searching for big fish, try four- to eight-inch baits like pinfish, pigfish, mullet, or my personal favorite, croakers. For those anglers looking for quantity over quality, your best bet will be live shrimp. Expect however, to be harassed by every pinfish that comes along.
As I said above, I like a combination. This means I put a couple of live baits out behind the boat and then proceed to throw artificials off the bow. The only way to go in the mornings and late afternoons is with top water luresthe top water explosions you'll witness from trout are amazing. Most top water lures are similar and work much the same, although, I feel Rapala's Skitterwalk has something special about it and is my top pick. Once the top water action slows down you'll need to move to sinking lures, whether you're using soft plastics, hard lures, spinner baits, or flies, there should be no problem continuing to catch trout.
While redfish may be caught throughout the sound, the residential docks offer you the best chance of getting into them in good numbers. The ideal way to fish the docks is to use a trolling motor while moving from one dock to the next as you cast around and beneath them. The water depth around these docks will range anywhere from two to fifteen feet, depending on where you are in the sound and the length of the dock.
My favorite tactic for redfish is live bait fishing. Ordinarily you can fish the docks without a weight unless you encounter heavy winds or a strong moving tide. Taking that into consideration, splicing a 24- to 36-inch, twenty to 30-pound fluorocarbon leader to your line seems to work best. A wide variety of hooks can be used and should be determined by the type of bait you're fishing with. My preferred hook is an Eagle Claw #1 straight hook when using live shrimp. As with trout fishing, when using larger baits such as pinfish or mullet, you will need to increase the size of your hook to accommodate the bait.
Finding flounder can sometimes be the toughest part of completing a slam in the sound. They are mostly found around structure, which could include the docks where you were just searching for redfish.
Some of my favorite places to look for flounder are around bridges such as Bob Sikes Bridge, which connects Gulf Breeze to Pensacola Beach. You'll also find a handful of rock structures in the sound.