Suwannee and Santa Fe Rivers
Columbia, Hamilton, Madison, Lafayette, Gilchrist, Alachua, Suwannee, Levy and Dixie counties
The Suwannee drains from the Okeefenokee Swamp through limestone shoals stretches to become a large flood plain river in the lower reaches. Drastic water level fluctuations characterize the river and keep the fishery dynamic. The Santa Fe is the major tributary, heavily influenced by springs and unlike the Suwannee, has vast areas of submerged vegetation in the middle and upper reaches. These areas harbor abundant freshwater shrimp, waterscuds and aquatic insects, thus producing excellent growth rates for fish, particularly abundant redbreast sunfish and pugnacious spotted sunfish (stumpknockers). The upper Suwannee has only tree roots and rocky shelves for fish structure. The lower Suwannee has a band of waterlilies and eventually in the tidal portion, numerous wooded and marsh-lined feeder creeks. High tide fishing is always slow with best fishing during lower tides. It is also helpful to remember that the outer bends are always deeper, sand bars are on inside curves and lilies on outer bend means the current has left the bank and panfish like to spawn here. Both Suwannee and largemouth bass occur. Large fish are not the rule and remember that all bass in the river, especially Suwannees, prefer to feed on crawfish, so crawfish-colored lures prevail.
Local middle Suwannee and Santa Fe contacts: Sandy Point Marina 386-935-0615.
Local lower Suwannee contacts: Sid's Treasure Camp at Fowler's Bluff 352-493-2950.
The enacted "No Wake" zones from Dowling Park downstream to the upper estuary have been lifted.
Note: Boaters should be extremely cautious on both rivers, as low water has made clearance over sand bars and other underwater hazards less certain. Use low water periods to develop better understanding of what exposed areas look like under normal river levels. Also available are current water levels throughout Florida on the Internet at www.usgs.gov.
Water levels are good and it’s expected to be a productive quarter. The best fishing occurs when water levels pass through the cypress root edge which is utilized by many types of fish. To target tasty panfish such as bluegill, redbreast sunfish, and spotted sunfish, use natural baits such as crickets and worms pitched up near the shore amongst cypress knees and other woody structure. Start with your hook at 2-3 feet deep, then experiment with different depths if necessary. Artificial lures such as beetle spins and tiny crankbaits will also produce fish. The winter months are when the lower tidal creeks of the Suwannee hold larger spotted sunfish. Fish for these on a falling tide. Target deeper holes, outside bends, and spring entrances during cold spells for panfish and crappie. Good bass fishing should continue with cooler fall/winter temperatures. Your best bet for bass is with artificial lures, especially soft plastics, near drop-offs, woody structure, or around any vegetation you can find. Dark spinnerbaits, crankbaits, worms, and crayfish have been effective. In the Suwannee River, target eddies behind large cypress trees and feeder creek mouths. Anglers looking to catch Suwannee bass can do so by fishing much the same as they would for largemouth bass. Suwannee bass tend to target crayfish, so take advantage of this fact by flipping a jig & pig or any crayfish-imitating bait. Your best bet for Suwannee Bass is in the Santa Fe River and the confluence of the two rivers. Catfish will move to shallower areas after dark. Target catfish with cutbaits or stinkbaits there or on the bottom of deep pools. If fishing from the bank use enough weight to get your bait down. The current will drag your baited hook downstream. Further downstream and closer to the Gulf, anglers can expect to find saltwater species congregating in deeper holes in cool weather. These should take baits such as live shrimp or a jig bounced slowly along the bottom.
TrophyCatch is FWC's citizen-science program that rewards anglers for documenting and releasing trophy bass 8 pounds or larger. The following TrophyCatch bass have been submitted from the Suwannee and Santa Fe Rivers:
Lunker Club (8 – 9.9 pounds): 13
Trophy Club (10 - 12.9 pounds): 3