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).
Striped bass and sunshine bass fishing should be picking up with the falling river temperatures. As fall moves along, the stripers will be heading towards the lower part of the river and bay area where there are plenty of prey fish. Best success can be had with live bait (finger mullet, menhaden, or shad). Watch for fish striking the surface and then cast into the schools of baitfish. Artificial lures can also be effective; use baits that mimic the size and color of the baitfish present. Baits such as 3-5 inch shad colored shad raps, rattle traps, buck tails, and number 3 white Mepps spinners will all be work well. Largemouth bass can be found around submerged trees, creek mouths, and submerged vegetation in slower moving water. Spinner baits and artificial worms are the best bet; however, live baits are just as good. 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 because 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. Follow the link for more information regarding the Choctaw bass.
Excellent size bluegill and redear sunfish (shellcracker) can be caught in Holmes Creek fishing worms and crickets around brush and submerged vegetation along the shoreline. Navigation through Holmes Creek may be hindered in some locations due to log jams spanning the entire length of the river. Crappie fishing should pick up as the water cools down this fall. Fish small minnows around brush piles in 10 - 18 feet of water or use small crappie jigs (1/32 or 1/64 oz) and slowly jig around the brush piles. Flathead catfish may also be found in Holmes Creek and the Choctawhatchee River. It is best to use live bait (sunfish) when targeting flatheads in deeper areas of the river near bends and snags. Live sunfish can only be used for bait if collected and fished for using hook and line. Sunfish cannot be used as bait on any other fishing gear (e.g., bush hooks or trot lines). The flathead catfish is an exotic species to Florida, therefore keeping all fish is highly encouraged.