Striped bass in these rivers were stocked by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission in an effort to create a trophy fishery, and to reestablish this species in an area from which they had virtually disappeared.
Santa Rosa and Okaloosa counties
The Blackwater River is a 58-mile long river in which 49-miles are in Florida. The river’s headwaters start in the Conecuh National Forest of Southern Alabama and enter Florida in Okaloosa County. The river flows from Okaloosa County through Santa Rosa County to Blackwater Bay, an arm of Pensacola Bay. The Blackwater’s sandy bottom, white beaches and large sandbars contrast with the tannic water that gives the river its name. A 31-mile section of river from Kennedy Bridge near Munson, Fl to Deaton Bridge in the Blackwater River State park is designated as the Blackwater River Canoe trail.
Fishing success on the upper reaches of the Blackwater River generally depends on water levels. High water makes this area difficult to fish; thus, fishermen should always check river levels before visiting the upper river. View current river conditions throughout Florida online. Anglers not fortunate enough to own vessels for fishing are reminded that numerous canoe outfitters are present in this watershed, and provide shuttling services for launching and pickup.
Access to the lower river is provided by boat ramps in Milton (Carpenters Park north of downtown Milton, just off Highway 191, and also Russell Harbor Park, just north of Highway 90, on the east side of the river opposite downtown Milton), and in Bagdad (improved landing east of downtown Bagdad, off Highway 191).
Three access areas to the upper river are provided by public boat ramps at Blackwater River State Park (off Deaton Bridge Road), three miles west of Holt (on Bryant Bridge Road), and a recently constructed county maintained ramp north of Bryant Bridge, in the Blackwater River State Forest. The latter two offer great opportunities for anglers. The summertime is the height of canoeing season. If you aren’t able to hit the water on a weekday during this time of year, be prepared for a crowd of paddlers that aren’t necessarily concerned about spooking your fish. Generally speaking, boat traffic dissipates the farther up river you travel. Other unimproved landings, suitable for canoes or light johnboats, are scattered along the remaining length of the upper river.
The largemouth bass bite is expected to be good during the summer months on the Blackwater River. The early season rain has brought the water level up and the bass fishing was red-hot last month. As long as the weather pattern continues to bring afternoon rain showers, there is no reason that the good bite shouldn’t continue. Try black buzzbaits early and late in the day and then switch to slow moving lures such once the temperature begins to rise. Jigs and soft-plastic stick baits like Senkos and YUM Dingers work well during this time of year fished around structure. Remember to spool up with new fishing line, because the Blackwater River consistently produces the biggest largemouth bass in our local rivers. Two beautiful specimens over 6 lbs were observed during recent FWCC electrofishing surveys in Cooper’s Basin, giving local anglers plenty of reason to get excited the local bass fishing opportunities.
Striped bass fishing will be slow during the summer months. Some fish are caught this time of year near the Blackwater diversion, upstream of the confluence of Big Coldwater Creek. Fishing for stripers should pick up during early fall when the water temperatures begin to drop and the baitfish stack up between the I-10 and Hwy 90 bridge. Live mullet and menhaden make good baits. Follow schools of baitfish and watch for the huge explosions caused by these line-sided monsters. Closing the deal is as simple as getting your boat in position near a frenzied school of stripers and then making an accurate cast. Don’t forget to hang on, because these brutes will put medium to heavy tackle to the test.
Farther up river, the fishing has been good. Be sure to check the current water levels before heading out, because the river stage can have a huge impact on your fishing success. Current water levels throughout Florida may be found www.usgs.gov. Recent electrofishing surveys in this portion of the river produced many Choctaw and largemouth bass, large bluegill and very colorful longear sunfish. Several hybrid striped bass were also captured near Bryant Bridge. Anglers don’t need to travel far from the parking lot by the bridge. Any water deeper than 2 feet is holding a few catchable fish. Beetle spins and rooster tails work well for sunfish and bass. Small crankbaits and texas-rigged crawfish imitations will help catch the bigger fish. Channel cats should be biting chicken liver or cut mullet on the deep outside bends during the day, then moving on to the sandbars in the evening.
Fly-fishing this section of the Blackwater River also can be productive. If you are after bass, try to match the local forage. Baitfish patterns, such as clouser minnows and EP baitfish patterns fished with short strips on a floating line work well. Small popping bugs or foam spiders will provide plenty of topwater action from several species of sunfish. When the surface action slows, slowly twitch a dark-colored wooly bugger around stumps and logs.
Santa Rosa, Okaloosa and Walton counties
The Yellow River is a 92-mile-long river of which 61 miles occur in Florida's Okaloosa, Santa Rosa and Walton counties. The Yellow River flows in a southwesterly direction into Blackwater Bay, an arm of Pensacola Bay. One major tributary, the Shoal River, joins the Yellow near Crestview, Florida. The Shoal River lies entirely within Florida with a length of 33 miles. The Yellow River has a sandy bottom, white beaches and large sandbars. A 56-mile section of River from SR-2 to SR-87 is designated the Yellow River Paddling Trail. View current river conditions throughout Florida.
There are numerous access points to the lower Yellow River system provided by two fish camps near the mouth of the river (Brown's and Lindsey's), south of Milton, and numerous landings along the river, including Guest Lake Landing (South of Holt), Milligan (below Highway 90), Crestview (highways 85 and 90), Blackman (Highway 2), and the Highway 87 crossing southeast of Milton.
The largemouth bass fishing should be pretty good during the summer. The bite seemed to have turned on after the river began to fall from the high water that occurred in May and then again in June. Anglers have been catching good numbers of bass on fast-moving plastics, such as flukes and floating worms. Buzzbaits have been catching the bigger fish, including bass over 4 pounds. If the river stays low for a long period of time, expect the topwater bite to die off, except for early in the morning. Try using slow-moving baits, like soft-plastic Zoom brush hogs and crawfish imitations once the sun gets up over the trees. Tossing small white or chartreuse spinnerbaits under overhanging branches can work well too once the water heats up.
Fishing for sunfish should be fair to good during the summer months. Several reports have been trickling in about some very large bluegill and redear being caught in the Yellow River. Bait fisherman have been catching them on earthworms and crickets. Beetle Spins and Road Runners have also been working well. If it’s redear you are after, head down river and fish the grass near the mouth. Crickets or worms under a bobber are tough to beat.
Striper fishing is expected to be slow during the summer, but will heat up again in the cooler months. Striped bass can also be caught from the Yellow River due to regular supplemental stocking from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
July tends to produce some of the best flathead cat fishing all year. The best anglers spend a few hours in the afternoon catching sunfish to use for live bait and then fish for these whiskered-monsters throughout the night. Make sure to target deep water in outside bends of the river that have lots of cover. Live shiners and bullheads (pollywogs) also work very well for flathead catfish Anglers are also reminded that the flathead catfish is an exotic species to Florida, and keeping all fish caught is highly encouraged, since this species may negatively impact native sport fish populations (e.g., sunfish and catfish).
Fishing success in the upper river depends largely upon water levels. High water levels make this area difficult to fish, and low water levels limit navigation, thus fishermen should check river levels before visiting this section of the river. Current water levels throughout Florida may be found on the internet at www.usgs.gov. Fish species commonly caught within this reach include; largemouth and spotted bass, longear sunfish, warmouth, spotted sunfish, and shadow bass. The upper reaches of the Yellow/Shoal Rivers also harbors an excellent spotted bass population. Many specimens over 3 pounds where observed downstream of the highway 85 bridge by FWCC biologists during spring sampling.
The Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission reminds anglers that it is illegal to possess Alligator gar without a Scientific Collectors Permit. Alligator gar is an endemic top predator found only in the Panhandle Rivers and grows to more than 120 pounds. Due to limited numbers, harvest is restricted. Their gator like snout is distinctly different than spotted and longnose gar, the two other species of gar found it the panhandle.