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 upper Suwannee contacts: Suwannee River State Park 386-362-2746, Canoe Outpost 1-800-428-4147, Spirit of Suwannee Park 386-364-1683.
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 can be monitored on the Suwannee River Water Management District’s web page.
Reports from the middle Suwannee (Fanning Springs to the confluence) are good. Catfish anglers are having the most success followed by bream fisherman. Spotted sunfish and redbreast sunfish are the most common panfish caught on the river, any rig that will catch a bluegill will work on these beautiful fish. When targeting catfish, stinkbait or cutbait on the bottom is the most effective, if you don’t get a bite after a 15 to 20 minute soak, move up or down stream until you find the fish. Most people targeting bass in the spring are on the lakes but as spring turns to summer more anglers will come to the river. There were two TrophyCatch submissions in February from the river showing big bass are not just found in the lakes. Both Suwannee bass and largemouth bass can be found near downed trees or boulders. Throwing weedless crayfish imitations into this structure will bring the most bites.
Santa Fe River:
This river is a great place to catch Suwannee bass. These fish like rocky shoals and downed trees along the bank. You will find more fish in areas with good current than slow moving water. Scale down your usual bass tackle for this smaller mouthed species. This river also offers bluegill, redbreast and spotted sunfish as well as channel catfish. All these species are more readily caught using bait, crickets for panfish and stink bait for catfish, worms will get bites from anything. Conditions can change very quickly on this river. Water level, clarity and current can all have a huge impact on fishing success here. Taking time to learn the river will make you safer and more successful. Use caution around shoals as they can cause some serious damage to a boat prop.
A Trip Down the Suwannee
Join us for an imaginary trip down the Suwannee River that captures the mystery and adventure of one of Florida's most unique natural resources! Grab your paddle and check this link to read the story:
Fish graphics by Duane Raver, Jr.
More species information is available for:
Largemouth bass, Suwannee bass, Bluegill, Redear sunfish, Channel catfish, Redbreast sunfish
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): 16
Trophy Club (10 - 12.9 pounds): 3