Holmes, Walton and Washington counties
The Choctawhatchee River is Florida's third largest river system in terms of water volume discharged. Originating in the southern portion of Alabama, the Choctawhatchee River flows approximately 96 miles from the Alabama state line into Choctawhatchee Bay.
In general, anglers will enjoy the greatest success fishing when water levels are low and the river is within its banks. Nice stringers of bluegill and redear (shellcracker) are caught off the spawning beds in the spring and along river banks lined with deadfalls and snags the rest of the year. Crickets and wigglers are good baits for panfishing. Many local anglers swear by the catalpa worm, which can be frozen in clear corn syrup and used throughout the year. Try fishing the mid to upper reaches of the river system for your bigger bream. When the weather becomes hot, avoid backwater slough areas that may become low in dissolved oxygen, as the fish will move out of these areas. Try fishing at confluences where there is some exchange of water from the main stem. Largemouth bass are commonly caught on crankbaits, spinnerbaits and artificial worms throughout the river system. Big bass can usually be found around treetops and snags in the mid and upper reaches of the river and along the sawgrass flats down by the mouth. Sunshine bass (hybrid striped bass) and striped bass fishing is excellent in the spring and fall throughout the lower end of the river. These fish are stocked annually by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Preferred baits include finger mullet, live shad and shad-like lures. The best fishing is on the out-going tide at dusk or dawn. Areas to target include sandbars and points in the river. It should be noted that harvest and size regulations are different for the sunshine and the striped bass (see current regulations handbook). Boating access points along the Choctawhatchee River include US 90 (Caryville) and SR 20 (Ebro). There are several boat landings and a bait shop along River Road off SR 20 (east of Bruce). For access to the lower river take US 331 south of Freeport and go left on SR 394 about a mile and look for the signs.
Holmes Creek, a major spring-fed tributary of the Choctawhatchee, offers some excellent fishing. Several bream species can be found in abundance including longear sunfish, spotted sunfish (stumpknockers), redbreast sunfish and warmouth. Big shellcrackers can be caught along the channel side of water lily beds. The spotted bass, a close relative of the largemouth bass, is also native and is an exciting fish to catch. There are several boating access point along SR 277 (Vernon) and SR 79.
Local information on these rivers and their fishes may be obtained from the Division of Freshwater Fisheries Management, Northwest Regional Office (850-265-3676).
Largemouth bass fishing should be fair throughout the summer. Best baits for largemouth include live shiners or shad, Rat-L-Traps, or artificial worms or lizards. Bream (bluegill and redear) fishing should be good throughout the summer. Avoid backwater sloughs that lack flow during the heat of summer as these areas often have lower oxygen levels and become devoid of sport fish. Try fishing at the confluence of sloughs into the main section of the river. Try fishing along water lilies on sand bars, and around snags and stumps in the creek for bream. Best baits for redear are worms, and use worms, crickets or 1/16 oz. beetlespins for the other bream species. Crappie fishing should be fair during the summer. Try fishing deep areas in the river were structure (stumps or snags) is found. Set a few rods at various depths with shiners to locate schooling fish. Catfish fishing can be excellent during the summer months. Most catfish anglers use wigglers, chicken livers or prepared catfish baits and fish in the evening or early morning hours for these tasty fish.
The newly described Choctaw bass (a relative of the largemouth bass, previously described as a spotted bass) can be caught in Holmes Creek and the upper Choctawhatchee River above Hwy 20 using baits similar to those used for largemouth bass. Catch-and-release is recommended for this unique species; it is not as abundant as largemouth bass. Try lures that mimic crayfish, particularly near fallen trees or woody structures in fast flowing water. Log jams located in the bend of the river are often a good bet. Choctaw bass are often located in swifter water than largemouth bass. For more information regarding the Choctaw bass please visit MyFWC.com. Target sport fish transects conducted by the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission indicated good numbers of bream (bluegill, redear, redbreast, and spotted sunfish) throughout Holmes Creek. Sucker fishing can also be good, particularly in sections of the creek with deeper, slower moving water such as the section of river below Millers Ferry. Spotted sucker and blacktail redhorse are bottom feeders that can be caught in Holmes Creek using worms. Navigation through Holmes Creek may be hindered in some locations due to log jams spanning the entire length of the river. In low water, anglers may not be able to use certain ramps to launch motor boats, such as Live Oak Landing, due to steep drop-offs.