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.
The Suwannee River offers great winter fishing opportunities, particularly in the lower stretches. In winter, Stumpknockers (spotted sunfish) congregate in the deep outside bends of creeks off of the main river. On the right day, they can be caught in large numbers, including fish that are very large for that species. Additionally, marine species run up the river to find warmer water from the springs. Snook, Redfish, and Sheepshead can be found farther upstream than any other time of year. Fishing structure just downstream of a spring or shallow creek can be very productive. In the middle and upper stretches of the river, Largemouth bass, Suwannee bass, Redbreast Sunfish and Spotted Sunfish are great fish to target near downed trees and rocky shoals. This river holds good numbers of Channel Catfish as well. Focus on deep holes found on outside bends; cutbait, stinkbait and hot dogs are all effective baits for catching these tasty fish.
Numerous springs and groundwater inputs along the Santa Fe River should provide areas of warm water refuge as the winter season approaches. This river may be the best place to catch a Suwannee Bass and late winter may be the best time to catch them. These hard fighting fish are most often found in moderate or swift current near downed trees or rocky areas. Fishing crawfish imitations and crankbaits over rocks and soft plastics in snags are the most popular lures for targeting these fish. Keep in mind that their mouths are a lot smaller than a Largemouth Bass’. This river also offers good fishing for Bluegill, Redbreast and Spotted Sunfish as well as Channel Catfish. Jigs, crickets, and worms are effective for sunfish and stinkbait fished on the bottom is proven to catch catfish.
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): 14
Trophy Club (10 - 12.9 pounds): 3