Blackwater and Yellow Rivers

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.


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Blackwater River

Blackwater RiverSanta 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.External Website 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.


Current Forecast:

Fishing for largemouth bass is expected to be excellent for the lower Blackwater River from April through June.  Several reports in mid March suggested that the fish were biting very well, and this should continue through the spring as the water temperatures warm up. Largemouth bass in this river typically run slightly larger than other rivers along the western Panhandle, especially this time of year when the females are full of eggs.  Once the water nears 65° F, look for largemouth bass to spawn in slack-current areas off the main river.  Several largemouth bass up to 7 pounds were captured during FWC electrofishing surveys in backwater areas, such as Cooper’s Basin. Fisherman should pitch soft-plastic baits to visible beds or blind cast with a topwater bait if water clarity doesn’t permit sight fishing.  Make sure to return the fish quickly after catching it from a spawning bed.  Bluegill are constantly on the prowl for bass eggs this time of year, and a nest could be wiped out in short order by these thieves if it isn’t protected by the parent fish. Following the spawn, fish should move out from oxbows and side channels seeking cooler water temperatures provided by the current of the main river.  Although they are looking for moving water, anglers should still target areas slightly out of the current where these predators hide to ambush prey.  Hard jerkbaits in a chrome color have reportedly been working well recently. Fish them erratically with fast twitches. Vary the cadence until the fish let you know what they prefer.  Once a concentration of fish is located, anglers should slow down and fish methodically. Large females may be lethargic while recuperating from the spawning season, and unwilling to chase a fast-moving bait. A lightly-weighted soft plastic, such as a worm or stick bait, can be the ticket to a good day of bass fishing this time of year. Also, don’t be afraid to try a water-chugging topwater bait such as a Rebel Pop-R or a Storm Chug Bug.  Generally thought of as method for catching active bass, fishing a topwater bait is actually more of a finesse technique. The lure is worked erratically, but slowly near a piece of structure. This means it stays in the strike zone a long time and can often tempt a lazy bass out nearby cover for a snack.

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, offer 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 anglers should check river levels before visiting the upper river.  Current water levels throughout Florida may be found  Principal sport fishes in this section of the river are longear sunfish, redbreast sunfish, shadow bass, largemouth bass, spotted bass and the occasional hybrid striped bass.  Like the largemouth bass, spotted bass are one of four species of black bass that inhabit Florida.  Spotted 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 spotted 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.


Yellow River

FW_YellowRiver.jpgSanta 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. External Website

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.


Current Forecast:

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. 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 (spotted 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 Commission.  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 Bangolures and Yo-Zuri lures.  Live shrimp or twister-tail type jigs are also appropriate.

Numerous channel and blue catfish have been reported during FWC 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 anglers should check river levels before visiting this section of the river.  Current water levels throughout Florida may be found on the internet at  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.

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).


The Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission reminds anglers that it is illegal to possess Alligator gar, or even target them. That means you are breaking the law even if you intend to release the fish. Alligator gar are an native fish to Panhandle Rivers and can grow to more than 150 pounds.  Their gator like snout is distinctly different than spotted and longnose gar, the two other species of gar found it the panhandle. Researchers are in the process of estimating the population size and will possibly remove the harvest restriction of this prehistoric fish.  However, until then harvest is restricted.

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