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).
Spring largemouth bass fishing is expected to pick up as water temperatures increase and the bass prepare to spawn. Recommended baits are live shad/shiners or loud crank baits. The Choctaw bass can be found in the upper reaches of the Choctawhatchee River and throughout Holmes Creek. The newly described Choctaw bass (previously recognized as a spotted bass) can be found in the upper Choctawhatchee River as well as throughout Holmes Creek. These black bass are usually found in faster moving water than largemouth bass and are often associated with log jams. One way to distinguish a Choctaw bass or spotted bass from a largemouth bass is the presence of a rectangular tooth patch on the tongue. The majority of the Choctaw bass diet is crayfish, therefore lures that imitate crayfish should be productive. Spotted bass and Choctaw bass currently fall under the same Northwest region regulation as largemouth bass: a 5 fish black bass bag limit and a minimum length of 12 inches. Choctaw bass are not as abundant as largemouth bass, therefore biologists recommend catch and release for this unique species. For more information regarding the Choctaw bass please visit myfwc.com at http://myfwc.com/news/news-releases/2013/may/07/choctaw-bass/ or http://myfwc.com/research/freshwater/sport-fishes/black-basses/choctaw-bass/.
The Choctawhatchee River and Holmes Creek have excellent populations of large bream. Spawning activity for bream will peak during the full moon in April and May. Use wigglers or earthworms on a #6 or #8 hook with a split shot sinker 8-12 inches up on six pound test line. Bream will aggregate around spawning areas, so if you begin to catch fish, fish the area for a while, more are sure to be around. The best bream fishing in the Choctawhatchee is usually reported from the upper sections of the river. Crappie fishing will be at its peak as they move into spawn. Many crappie are caught below the Highway 20 bridge west of Ebro. Try fishing the backwater lake areas around woody debris with small crappie minnows.
Catfish angling is also popular in the Choctawhatchee and should improve as the water temperature warms up and we move into the summer months. Try fishing in the deep holes. Use live bream on the bottom for flatheads up to 30 pounds and stink baits or night crawlers for channel catfish. Remember that bream can only be used for bait on pole and line or rod and reel by the angler who legally caught them. Panfish cannot be used as bait for trotlines or bush hooks. Anglers are encouraged to keep all flathead catfish since they are an invasive species and may negatively impact native fish.
Striped bass and sunshine bass anglers should fish the river delta in the early morning or evenings on an outgoing tide during the spring. Look for stripers feeding on schools of shad and cast into the activity with a lure mimicking the stripers’ prey. Large striped bass will be moving upstream on their spawning run as water temperatures approach 65-68 degrees. The bag limit for stripers, hybrids, and white bass is 20 fish per day, aggregate, but only three may be stripers that must be at least 18 inches in length. There is no size limit for hybrids or white bass. When fishing upstream, look for areas were the current is swift, and check your depth finder for deep holes adjacent to sandbars and points. The mouth of East River and the junction of Pine Log Creek and East River are good places to start fishing. Live shad and shiners should be free-lined off the back of the boat.