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.
The rivers are a bit low; shoals may prevent passage in some areas. As always with the rivers, check weather reports and use caution when navigating. Black bass (Largemouth and Suwannee) will be feeding in preparation for the spring spawn. This season marks the traditional time of year to catch bigger fish; fish outer bends of either river for both types of bass with soft plastic baits (crayfish colors). Target fallen treetops, log jams, and vegetation edges. These areas and any warmer water inputs should attract and hold fish. A degree or two of difference in water temperature might be the key to locating fish that are ready to feed. Panfish should bite crickets or small artificial lures casted close to the bank and around woody structure. Fishing in the lower Suwannee is a good bet, and anglers have a chance to mix freshwater and saltwater species. Bounce pieces of shrimp over oyster beds when you see signs of feeding. Tidal creeks at low tide can corral panfish into deeper holes. Locate these holes and fish using small beetle spins spinners or jigs for an easy catch. Good numbers of Spotted Sunfish can be caught this way.
Numerous springs and groundwater inputs along the Santa Fe River should provide areas of warm water refuge as the winter season approaches. During prolonged cold spells, head to the Santa Fe and target these pockets of warm water for any fish that may be enjoying the warmth. Target any woody structure to lure out hungry bass and bream. Plastic worms and live baits are best for Largemouth Bass, while imitation crayfish should attract Suwannee Bass. Crickets, grass shrimp, and worms are common baits used for bream. Cut baits or other stinky baits fished near rip-rap and bridge pilings should produce catfish. If not, drop a line upriver of a log jam and allow the smell to waft down river to draw out a big cat.
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