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.
Have you gotten used to your summer fishing routine yet? If you are like me, that means getting up early, catching what you can during the first few hours of daylight, and then retreating back to the air conditioning before lunch. Well if you haven’t gotten used to that routine yet then good, because things are about to change – for the better. The days are getting shorter, the water temperatures are dropping, and fish are getting more active. Fall on the Blackwater River means one thing: Striper fishing. These monsters spend the summer far up river, seeking the coolest water available but leave their hidden holes to gorge on the abundance of baitfish that migrate into the river this time of year. Good areas for striped bass are the lower sections of river from the Navy Recreation Area down to the Interstate 10 Bridge in Blackwater Bay. Live mullet or menhaden make good baits as well as big hard-plastic jerkbaits and large curly tailed grubs. Be on the lookout for showering schools of mullet and other baitfish that get pushed out of the water by hungry hordes of stripers feeding below. FWC biologists witnessed this happen several times last November near the train trestle bridge near Milton. Striped bass are available in the Blackwater River as a result of long-term stocking by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Largemouth Bass fishing is also predicted to be excellent this time of year. Focus on the marsh section of the river using topwater baits early and late in the day. Later on, switch over to a DOA shrimp and fish it with an erratic retrieve. If that doesn’t work, try spatterdock (cow lilies) beds farther up river. Don’t forget about a Texas-rigged 4-inch finesse worm if the bite is tough.
Bream (shellcracker and bluegill) fishing should be good on live baits such as crickets or worms, around emergent vegetation near the mouth of the river. Live baits also work farther up river, but anglers may want to try small spinners, such as Road Runners or Beetle Spins, or lightly-weighted jigs around visible wood cover. Anglers have also been doing well on flyrod poppers and wooly buggers.
In addition to sunfish and bass, the lower river also harbors other sport fish such as warmouth, spotted sunfish, seatrout, redfish, croaker and mullet. The saltwater fishing really picks up in November. Pond Creek and the train trestle in Milton are two good areas to try. Anglers can expect to catch good numbers of white and spotted seatrout, along with the occasional slot-sized redfish.
Fishing the upper river can be difficult this time of year because the river is usually at its lowest water stage. However, things may be different this year with all of the rain. Current water levels throughout Florida may be found on the internet at www.usgs.gov. Low water is only an issue for anglers fishing from boats and paddle craft. Wading can be an extremely successful tactic, because the lower water tends to congregate fish in the obvious deep holes in the runs and outside bends. Approach these areas quietly, as the water is very clear and the fish can be skittish after they have endured an almost entire year of canoes and fishermen. For bass, use small soft plastics on a light jig head or Texas rig. Soft jerkbaits or Senko-type baits in the 4” size fished on a weightless hooks can also work very well this time of year. For bream fisherman, its tough to beat a live cricket fished underneath a small cork, but beetle spins and road runners will also work. Don’t forget about the catfish that live in these same deep holes as well. Chicken livers or cut mullet fished on the bottom will give you a likely shot at channel catfish and bullheads about the size of your favorite frying pan.
Anglers without a canoe or kayak are reminded that numerous canoe outfitters are present in this watershed, and provide shuttling services for launching and pick up.
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.
Largemouth bass fishing should be good this fall on the Yellow River. Bass fishing on the Yellow River has been considered by many to be the best in the area. Recent surveys conducted by the FWC support this statement and indicate that there is an abundance of quality-sized Largemouth bass in the river. This time of year can be prime time for hitting this local hotspot. Fall means it’s time to trade in the tank tops for light jackets and switch out those slow moving soft plastics for sputterin’ buzzbaits. The fish should be shallow and aggressive, so a quick-moving topwater can be just the ticket for the loading the boat with some fall bucket mouths. Buzzbaits also allow anglers to cover lots of water to find active fish. Angles should focus on the middle and lower portions of the Yellow River for the most consistent action, between Guess Lake and Brown’s Fish Camp.
Farther up the river, Near Hwy 2, try shallow diving crankbaits or crawfish imitations. The river is typically at its lowest during the fall, so most of the fish will be concentrated in the deep holes that line the outside bends and runs of the river. These holes are easy to spot while wading or floating in a canoe. They are darker in color, compared to the shallow sand flats surrounding the holes. Approach these areas quietly and make accurate casts to nearby lay downs and other current breaks.
Using a flyrod with a chartreuse or white popping bug is another good tactic for catching bass, as well as other species that swim in these deep holes. Other fish species commonly caught within this reach include; Choctaw bass, bluegill, redear sunfish, longear sunfish, warmouth, spotted sunfish, and shadow bass. All of these species put up a great fight on a fly rod and also make a nice addition to fall fish fry.
Although low-water conditions historically prevail during fall and early winter, unseasonal occurrences of high water may make this area difficult to fish, thus anglers should check river levels before visiting the upper river. Current water levels throughout Florida may be found on the internet at www.usgs.gov.
Fishing for several saltwater species should be excellent during October and continue until late fall. Anglers should fish around the mouth of the Yellow River and the numerous dis-tributaries that spill into the bay. Spotted sea trout tend to stack up in this area during this time of year. Try portions of the Weaver River using spoons and soft-plastic jigs. Trolling a jerkbait is also a good method for covering water to find hungry schools of sea trout. Once located, anglers should change to casting lures, such as soft-plastic jigs or Mirrodine twitch baits, to increase their chances of catching this exciting sport fish.
Flathead catfish are also common in the Yellow River and recently produced the new state-record fish. 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. Recent reports have indicated that anglers are catching big fish as far downstream as the mouth of the Yellow River. Fish similar live baits around any log jams or brush piles and move frequently to locate productive areas. The trick to consistently catching a mess of flatheads is to stay mobile until you find a productive logjam. Typically, the best logjams are ones that have been there a long time. Find a logjam with vegetation growing on it and you likely have just found a new hotspot.