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 Blackwater River is a local gem that provides the outdoor enthusiast with plenty of options this time of year. Besides being the canoe capital of Florida, these tannic waters produce some of the biggest Largemouth Bass found in the rivers of the Panhandle. However, striper fishing is where it’s at this time of year on the Blackwater River. This annual appearance is not a quiet one, as surface explosions from a big striper can be heard from quite a distance. Anglers targeting this species generally look for surface activity, such as large boils on the surface or mullet schools showering out of the water. Once located, cast floating-minnow plugs (like Rapalas or Rattlin’ Rouges), bucktail jigs, or swimbaits into the frenzy. A hungry school of stripers can show up anywhere. This can range from the Blackwater State Park down to Blackwater Bay, but the prime area is typically between the Hwy 90 and I-10 bridges. The striper and hybrid striper fishery is a direct result of the long-term stocking of this species by FWC biologists.
Largemouth Bass fishing is expected to be good to fair on the Blackwater River this time of year. Anglers should target the marsh area during the latter part of an outgoing tide or the beginning of an incoming tide. Look for fish to be hanging underneath undercut banks are around dock pilings. DOA shrimp worked erratically back to the boat is a favorite tactic of local fisherman, but don’t overlook a black buzzbait on an overcast day. Farther up river, target stumps and laydowns in coves off of the main river, such as Cooper’s Basin. There are quite a few places similar to Cooper’s Basin, and most of them will hold quality fish during this time of the year. Some of them are popular with other anglers and are easy to access, while others will require smaller boats or kayaks to gain entry. The extra effort is often worth it, as these fish are less pressured and sometimes easier to catch. Spinnerbaits with gold blades or square billed crankbaits will allow you to cover more water, but slow down if the bite is tough and use Texas-rigged soft plastics, such as a 7-inch trick worm in purple or black.
Bream fishing is expected to be fair this time of year on the Blackwater River. Anglers in the marsh section should focus on undercut banks during an outgoing tide. Anchor and fish a red wiggler or small nightcrawler on a #6 hook. Use a light weight and fish it on or near the bottom for a chance at a big redear sunfish (shellcrackers). If you are fishing farther up river, try to get out of the current, either at an eddy on an outside bend or in a cover off of the main river. Look for fish to move up shallow into submerged vegetation if the sun has been out for a few days. This small warm up is just enough to get big sunfish into the feeding mode, which can provide some fast action in an otherwise slow time of year.
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 Yellow River offers anglers the opportunity to tangle with many different species of freshwater fish. Stringers of hand-sized bluegill and redear sunfish are common, as well as giant Flathead Catfish (Florida –state record was caught from the Yellow River in 2011). To top it off, a Chain Pickerel weighing nearly 6 pounds was caught from the Yellow River by a local angler fishing for Crappie. With all of these options, anglers may have a hard time choosing which fish to target, but it doesn’t get much better than Largemouth Bass fishing on the Yellow River. FWC electrofishing surveys have indicated that this waterway holds an abundance of chunky 2-3 pound fish that should be holding in areas out of the current, just off the main river. Target these fish in oxbows and sloughs, such as Log Lake or Guess Lake, using small spinnerbaits or Texas-rigged soft plastics. Farther downstream, several nice fish were sampled in the marsh areas at the mouth of the Yellow River, Skim Lake, and the Weaver River. The current here is slower than farther upstream, so you can get by with lighter-weighted plastics that fall seductively in front of a hungry largemouth. DOA shrimp and un-weighted Senkos fit the bill for this kind of fishing.
Bream fishing may be a bit slow this time of the year, but live bait fished around structure should produce some fish. Bring crickets and worms if possible, because one type of bait will generally out fish the other on any given day. Crickets have reportedly been working the last few weeks. Anglers near the Miller Bluff area are fishing these under a float and watching for any movement, as the bites have been very subtle. If you are fishing in the tidal section of the river, try to catch a falling tide for best results. There were also several big redear sunfish (such as the one pictured) observed in the middle section of the river between Log Lake and Guest Lake during recent surveys by FWC biologists. Try to fish slightly deeper water in places of reduced current, or wood cover located in the runs and outside bends of the river.
Stripers, hybrid stripers, and spotted sea trout should be biting near the mouth of the Yellow River, as well as in Skim Lake and the Weaver River. Try trolling small crankbaits, lipped-minnow imitations, or soft plastics rigged on a jig head. These fish usually stack up in outside bends and other deep sections of the river, so slow down and fish the area thoroughly if you pick up a fish or two trolling.