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 can be monitored on the Suwannee River Water Management District’s web page.
With hurricane season upon us, water levels could fluctuate drastically and make finding fish a challenge. However, once they are found, anglers can expect to catch good numbers. Catfish anglers have done well this year and that is expected to continue. This river provides an ideal spawning habitat for channel catfish and contains good numbers. When targeting catfish, use the current to your advantage, use strong smelling baits fished on the bottom. If you don’t get a bite after 15 to 20 minutes, move up or down stream until you find the fish. Bream species caught here are usually spotted sunfish and redbreast sunfish, while they don’t get quite as large as bluegill or redear they are just as good to eat and a lot of fun to catch. Beetle spins, crickets, worms, and jigs tipped with shrimp all work well for these beautiful fish. Bass fishing in the Suwannee River gives you the opportunity to catch both largemouth and Suwannee bass. You will find Suwannee bass in snags with good current and rocky areas. Largemouth bass can be found congregating around structures like downed trees, docks, and boulders usually in areas with slower currents. In rivers, crayfish are the preferred prey for both species so using any crayfish imitation is a good idea. As the water temperature cools, snook will begin to congregate in the warmer waters close to springs. With snook numbers continuing to increase each year, the Suwannee River offers a unique opportunity to target these prime gamefish in North Central Florida.
Santa Fe River:
In this beautiful river Suwannee bass are more plentiful than largemouth. These fish seek out cutbanks, boulders, shoals, and downed trees for cover. Having at least moderate current is crucial to finding these fish. Keep in mind a two- or three-pound Suwannee bass is an exceptional fish. Also, be sure to use an appropriately sized lure, they have small mouths compared to the more common largemouth bass. spotted sunfish, redbreast sunfish and catfish can also be caught here. Using natural baits will be the most productive tactic to catch these fish. Crickets are a favorite bait for panfish. Stink bait, chicken gizzards, or livers work well for catfish. Worms can catch just about anything here. With the clear water in the Santa Fe River, lighter tackle will provide more strikes from wary fish. As water temperatures cool, fishing near the mouth of springs should provide better numbers due to fish congregating in the warmer water.
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:
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): 17
Trophy Club (10 - 12.9 pounds): 3