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.
Fishing for largemouth bass is expected to be excellent for the Blackwater River from April through June. If you are looking for the Panhandle River with the best chance to land a trophy bass, then look no further than the Blackwater River. Data from FWCC electrofishing surveys and local anglers both agree that this river has some of the best fishing around, as far as quality bites go. Start off looking for prespawn bass in the basins upstream from Carpenter’s park. Both hard and soft jerkbaits are a great choice and have been producing bass upwards of 5 lbs in the past few weeks. Fish these baits with erratic, fast twitches followed by a few second pause. Vary the cadence until the fish let you know what they prefer. Once the spawn is on, switch to crawfish or bluegill imitations to tempt bedding bass, or try a noisy topwater lure such as a Rebel Pop-R or a Storm Chug Bug. As always, hungry bass can be found in the lower river or marsh section. What these fish lack in size, they make up for in vicious strikes and a decent fight on light-weight tackle. Try a weight-less finesse worm or DOA shrimp for some fast-paced action.
Bream anglers should keep an eye out on the creek just upstream from the Hwy 90 bridge in Milton. Spring rains will cause a freshwater runoff here that attracts nearby bluegill and red eared sunfish. Live crickets or wigglers will work under a bobber or fished on the bottom with a small sliding sinker.
Striped bass fishing will likely be fair during early April and declining thereafter. Populations are annually supplemented by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Good places to try for stripers include the lower river, from the Navy Recreation Area down to the Interstate-10 bridge near Milton and Pond Creek from the railroad tracks to the mouth of the creek. Once the heat of summer arrives, try near the Blackwater diversion, upstream of the confluence of Big Coldwater Creek. Dawn and dusk are prime times for striper fishing, and a falling tide is best. Free-lined live mullet make good baits. Anglers should also try plugs that resemble mullet or menhaden, such as Bang-o-lures and Yo-Zuri lures. Live shrimp or twister-tail type jigs can also work.
The upper reaches of the Blackwater River, while more known for its aesthetic qualities, offers a unique opportunity for the adventure-bound angler. Access for this reach is limited to use of canoes and small jon-boats. Fishing success in the upper river depends largely upon water levels. High water makes this area difficult to fish, thus fishermen should check river levels before visiting the upper river. Current water levels throughout Florida may be found www.usgs.gov. Principal sport fishes in this section of the river are longear sunfish, redbreast sunfish, shadow bass, largemouth bass, Choctaw bass and the occasional hybrid striped bass. Like the largemouth bass, Choctaw bass are one of the species of black bass that inhabit Florida. Choctaw bass fishing can best be accomplished by wade-fishing, with a canoe, or a light jon boat. Simply park the canoe on the sandy beach of an inside bend and wade fish the deep water of the outside bend for heart-pounding action on light tackle. Casts should be made around areas of instream cover, such as logs and snags, especially where undercut banks occur in the bends of the stream. Live bait works well for these species, but spinning lures, such as beetle spins and rooster tails, are also an excellent choice. The water is generally clear in this section of river, so using fishing line or leaders less than 14 pound test will typically translate into more bites.
The upper Blackwater River is also one of the area’s finest destinations for the freshwater fly fisherman. White sand bars and shallow runs provide excellent opportunities for the wade-fisherman to quietly present streamers such as clouser minnows, deceivers, and muddler minnows, to both Choctaw and largemouth bass waiting in nearby log jams. Small popping bugs or foam spiders will also provide plenty of topwater action from several species of sunfish.
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.
Fishing for largemouth bass and sunfish (shellcracker and bluegill) should be good to excellent from the Yellow River during the months of April through June. If targeting bass in the tidal section of the river, try to catch a falling tide. Recent reports indicate hungry largemouth bass were being caught on a variety of plastics, including craws, trick worms, and creature baits. Lots of fish over the 12” minimum limit, with a few fish pushing 3 pounds. Cast as close to the bank as possible, as river bass utilize very-near shore structure. After working the bait 10-20 feet off the bank, reel it in and make another cast.
Dense beds of cow lilies (also called spatterdock) will begin to form in early summer. These lush clumps of vegetation provide refuge for small baitfish and will ultimately attract predator fish such as largemouth bass, pickerel, and sunfish. Pickerel tend to use shallow water cover and flashy lures, such as spinnerbaits. Be sure to fish the outside edge of the cow lilies, when targeting largemouth bass or sunfish, as they tend to use deeper water than pickerel.
The Yellow River harbors other sport fishes such as Choctaw bass, longear sunfish, warmouth, spotted sunfish, shadow bass, black crappie, seatrout, redfish, croaker, mullet, and occasionally redbreast sunfish (The state record warmouth was caught in the Yellow River).
Striped bass can also be caught from the Yellow River due to regular supplemental stocking from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commision. Dawn and dusk are prime times for striper fishing, and anglers should try to catch a falling tide and fish around points of land extending into the river. Live mullet, menhaden, or shad make good baits. Anglers should also try plugs that resemble shad or mullet, such as Bang-o-lures and Yo-Zuri lures. Live shrimp or twister-tail type jigs are also appropriate.
Numerous channel and blue catfish have been reported during FWCC sampling surveys on the lower portion of the river. Logjams on outside bends and runs in the Guest Lake area appear to be holding numerous schools of fish between 2-8 pounds. Anglers seeking a tasty dinner or just an exciting afternoon on the river should try fresh-cut fish or chicken livers from a local bait shop or supermarket. Chicken livers are notoriously difficult to keep on the hook, but a roll of sewing thread can help. First, run the hook through the liver several times. Then simply wrap the thread around the liver and hook shank and you are ready to fish. Natural baits such as shiners, minnows, and crawfish also work very well for channel and blue 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 Choctaw bass, longear sunfish, warmouth, spotted sunfish, and shadow bass. The upper reaches of the Yellow/Shoal Rivers also harbors an excellent Choctaw bass population.
Flathead catfish are also common in the upper reach of the river. It anticipated that flathead fishing will be excellent during this period. Anglers targeting these “river giants” should use live bait. The optimal bait for the species is sunfish, but anglers are reminded to familiarize themselves with current regulations. Live sunfish can only be used for bait, if collected and fished using hook and line. Sunfish cannot be used as bait on any other fishing gear (e.g., bush hooks or trot lines). Optimal fishing locations for this fish include deep flowing areas, downstream of a sharp bend in the river, behind large snags. Fishing for these catfish can also be done from big sandbars with your baits fished in the outside bends of the river. 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 sportfish populations (e.g., sunfish and catfish).