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 up in both rivers and with the summer approaching and the chance for rain increasing, water levels are not expected to go down significantly. Fishing is expected to be slow with the high water. However, the good news is that the high water increases the amount of habitat accessible to fish for spawning and foraging. This can cause a boom in the fish population leading to really good fishing in a couple years. You can monitor water levels on the water management district’s website. If/when levels recede is a good time to plan a fishing trip. In both the Suwannee and Santa Fe rivers, black bass (largemouth and Suwannee), will be feeding in preparation for the spring spawn. Be on the lookout for signs of bedding. Catfish activity will pick up with warmer nighttime temperatures. The Santa Fe is expected to hold more fish this quarter. Target outer bends and areas of sandy bottom with rocky outcrops, underwater shelfs, or woody structure. Typical soft plastics or live baits should produce bites from both species of bass. Areas of faster flows with underwater structure attract redbreast sunfish. Target panfish with crickets, worms, beetle spins, or ultra-small crankbaits.
In the upper Suwannee River, target areas of overhanging brush, around snags, or through vegetation such as pads. Those looking for panfish should check the lunar cycle and be prepared to mark the next full moon on your calendar. As the redbreast sunfish and bluegill spawn heats up, target shallow areas and submersed structure near shore using worms, crickets, or small beetle spins. Those after catfish should have success using any kind of smelly bait. Anchor upstream of your intended target, drop your line and allow the scent of the bait to drift down and draw out a big cat.
When we sample the river, we catch the most Suwannee bass around the Luraville area of the midldle Suwannee. In the lower Suwannee River, anglers will have an opportunity to catch both freshwater and marine species. Those after bass or panfish should focus their efforts up some of the many small feeder creeks. Quality sized spotted sunfish (stumpknockers) can be found up these creeks. When fishing for spotted sunfish in this area, check the tides. Time your trip around moving water (either outgoing or incoming flow) as this seems to get the fish active. If fishing a low tide, locate the deeper pools in the creeks and river where fish are holding. Just be sure you don’t get caught stranded in a low tide. For bass in the main river, we sample the most largemouth bass around the Fowler’s Bluff area.
Please be aware that as the river water warms Gulf Sturgeon will be making their annual migration up the river and will be jumping. They are thought to jump to fill their air bladders and communicate with other sturgeon, but they can be a hazard to boaters. Go slow, keep riders off the bow of the boat, and stay aware to avoid running into a jumping sturgeon which could cause serious injuries.
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