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 have exceeded bank full heights during prolonged periods within the last 2 springs. The effect this can have is opening up new habitat for spawning. Fishing, therefore, is expected to be productive in the upper and middle Suwannee over the next couple years. Presently, water is up and fish are more spread out. Fishing will improve as levels drop below bank full. Water levels can be monitored on the Suwannee River Water Management District web page. When levels drop, target all sunfish in areas where cypress knees are most abundant. Redbreast sunfish prefer creek mouths and lily pad bed areas if water is deep enough and bottom not overly silty. Small artificial baits like beetle spins or crankbaits are ideal for casting as you float downstream. Fresh bait works too and might be a better choice for an angler with less experience working a lure. Catfish fishing will be in full swing this quarter. Many anglers set bush hooks overnight and work their sets come morning. Hook and line anglers will anchor upstream of bends and allow baited hooks to sink and simulate morsels being carried by the currents. Sometimes it is easier to tie the bow of the boat to a sturdy limb than setting an anchor. Deep rocky areas in the middle river are good summer catfish holes. During summer rains, catfish move to edge at night for forage.
Traditionally, this is the time of year to catch bigger fish. Largemouth and Suwannee bass will occupy heavy submerged structure when available. Suwannee bass tend to be more abundant in the Santa Fe River than the Suwannee. If spatterdock pads dominate the section of river you’re fishing, casting rubber rats or frogs for bass allows for easy coverage of this leafy habitat. Bass become active on tide changes in lower Suwannee river salt marsh creeks. Try clear, pink, white or crayfish colored-plastic worms. Mullet are common and can be seen/heard jumping regularly, especially near spring runs. Wrap filamentous algae around your hook, toss homemade chum balls (oatmeal consistency) in the area of your float, and wait for a hard fighting mullet to drag your bobber down. Look for surface ripples to target areas where they’re actively feeding. Additionally, this is the time of year that sturgeon are jumping, so slow down to reduce the risk of colliding with one of these massive fish.
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