Blackwater and Yellow Rivers
Blackwater River, Santa Rosa and Okaloosa counties
The Blackwater River is a 58-mile long river in which 49-miles are in Florida. The river’s headwaters start in the Conecuh National Forest of Southern Alabama and enter Florida in Okaloosa County. The river flows from Okaloosa County through Santa Rosa County to Blackwater Bay, an arm of Pensacola Bay. The Blackwater’s sandy bottom, white beaches and large sandbars contrast with the tannic water that gives the river its name. A 31-mile section of river from Kennedy Bridge near Munson, Fl to Deaton Bridge in the Blackwater River State park is designated as the Blackwater River Canoe trail. The river is no longer navigable south of Deaton Bridge due to a log jam.
Fishing success on the upper reaches of the Blackwater River generally depends on water levels. High water makes this area difficult to fish; thus, fishermen should always check river levels before visiting the upper river. View current river conditions throughout Florida online. Anglers not fortunate enough to own vessels for fishing are reminded that numerous canoe outfitters are present in this watershed, and provide shuttling services for launching and pickup.
Access to the lower river is provided by boat ramps in Milton (Carpenters Park north of downtown Milton, just off Highway 191, and also Russell Harbor Park, just north of Highway 90, on the east side of the river opposite downtown Milton), and in Bagdad (improved landing east of downtown Bagdad, off Highway 191).
Three access areas to the upper river are provided by public boat ramps at Blackwater River State Park (off Deaton Bridge Road), three miles west of Holt (on Bryant Bridge Road), and a recently constructed county maintained ramp north of Bryant Bridge, in the Blackwater River State Forest. The latter two offer great opportunities for anglers. The summertime is the height of canoeing season. If you aren’t able to hit the water on a weekday during this time of year, be prepared for a crowd of paddlers that aren’t necessarily concerned about spooking your fish. Generally speaking, boat traffic dissipates the farther up river you travel. Other unimproved landings, suitable for canoes or light johnboats, are scattered along the remaining length of the upper river.
Yellow River and Shoal River, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa and Walton counties
The Yellow River is a 92-mile-long river of which 61 miles occur in Florida's Okaloosa, Santa Rosa and Walton counties. The Yellow River flows in a southwesterly direction into Blackwater Bay, an arm of Pensacola Bay. One major tributary, the Shoal River, joins the Yellow near Crestview, Florida. The Shoal River lies entirely within Florida with a length of 33 miles. The Yellow River has a sandy bottom, white beaches and large sandbars. A 56-mile section of River from SR-2 to SR-87 is designated the Yellow River Paddling Trail. View current river conditions throughout Florida.
There are numerous access points to the lower Yellow River system provided by two fish camps near the mouth of the river (Brown's and Lindsey's), south of Milton, and numerous landings along the river, including Guest Lake Landing (South of Holt), Milligan (below Highway 90), Crestview (highways 85 and 90), Blackman (Highway 2), and the Highway 87 crossing southeast of Milton.
NOTE: The Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission reminds anglers that it is illegal to possess Alligator gar, or even target them. That means you are breaking the law even if you intend to release the fish. Alligator gar are a native fish to Panhandle Rivers and can grow to more than 150 pounds. Their gator like snout is distinctly different than spotted and longnose gar, the two other species of gar found it the panhandle. Researchers are in the process of estimating the population size and will possibly remove the harvest restriction of this prehistoric fish. However, until then harvest is restricted.
Fishing for largemouth bass is expected to be excellent for the lower Blackwater River from April through June. Largemouth bass in this river typically run slightly larger than other rivers along the western Panhandle. It took more than a 9-lb fish to win the big-bass prize in a local tournament held on Blackwater River several years ago. Following the spawn, fish should move out from oxbows and side channels seeking cooler water temperatures. Although they are looking for moving water, anglers should still target areas slightly out of the current where these predators hide to ambush prey.
A good tactic for finding schools of post-spawn fish is to use a lure that allows the angler to cover plenty of water. Both square-billed crankbaits and spinnerbaits satisfy work well for this type of fishing because they can be retrieved quickly. Anglers should try to intentionally bounce their bait off the structure closer to shore then retrieve it quickly and make another cast. Once an area that contains a concentration of fish is located, anglers should slow down and fish methodically. Large females may be lethargic while recuperating from the spawning season, and unwilling to chase a fast-moving bait. A lightly-weighted soft plastic, such as a worm or stick bait, can be the ticket to a good day of bass fishing this time of year.
Striped bass fishing will be good until early April and declining thereafter. Populations are annually supplemented by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Appropriate places to fish for stripers include the lower river, from the Navy Recreation Area down to the Interstate-10 bridge near Milton and Pond Creek from the railroad tracks to the mouth of the creek. Some fish may be targeted later in the year, near the Blackwater diversion, upstream of the confluence of Big Coldwater Creek. Free-lining live mullet works well in the tidal section of the river and large jerkbaits such as Bangolures and Yo-Zuri baits catch fish near the diversion. Live shrimp or twister-tail type jigs are also appropriate.
The upper reaches of the Blackwater River, while more known for its aesthetic qualities, offers a unique opportunity for the adventure-bound angler. Access for this reach is limited to use of canoes and small jon-boats. Fishing success in the upper river depends largely upon water levels. Recent rains have caused the river to rise, thus improving access to most areas of the river. However, anglers should check river levels before heading to the boat ramp. Current water levels throughout Florida are available. The 31-miles section of river from Kennedy Bridge near Munson, Fl to Deaton Bridge in the Blackwater River State park is designated as the Blackwater River Canoe trail. The river is no longer navigable south of Deaton Bridge due to a log jam.
Principal sport fishes in this section of the river are longear sunfish, redbreast sunfish, shadow bass, largemouth bass, Choctaw bass and the occasional hybrid striped bass. Like the largemouth bass, Choctaw bass are one of five species of black bass that inhabit Florida. Choctaw bass fishing can best be accomplished by wade-fishing, with a canoe, or a light jon boat. Often, the most success can be had by positioning yourself on the shallow inside bend and fishing the deeper, outside bend. Casts should be made around areas of instream cover, such as logs and snags, especially where undercut banks occur in the bends of the stream. While live bait always works well for these species, spinning lures, such as beetle spins and rooster tails, are appropriate. Anglers should also be mindful of spooking fish, since the water visibility is often high during these months.
Fly-fishing this section of the Blackwater River also can be productive. If you are after larger predators try to match the local forage. Baitfish patterns, such as clouser minnows, deceivers, and muddler minnows, fished with short strips on a floating line work well. Small popping bugs or foam spiders will provide plenty of topwater action from several species of sunfish. When the surface action slows, slowly twitch a dark-colored wooly bugger. An unweighted wooly bugger will work with sinking fly line to get the fly deeper, but a weighted version is needed if using floating line.
Fishing for largemouth bass should be good from the Yellow River during the months of April through June. If targeting bass in the tidal section of the river, try using spinnerbaits or plastic worms during a falling tide. The spinnerbait bite should remain hot farther up river near the highway 87 boat ramp. Try intentionally bumping the lure into structure then letting it momentarily fall. This will cause the blades to collide with each other and imitate a wounded baitfish. The audible sound of the blades clanging together should cause any nearby bass to come and investigate the situation.
Striped bass can also be caught from the Yellow River due to regular supplemental stocking from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Dawn and dusk are prime times for striper fishing, and anglers should try to catch a falling tide and fish around points of land extending into the river. Live mullet, menhaden, or shad make good baits. Anglers should also try plugs that resemble shad or mullet, such as Bangolures and Yo-Zuri lures. Live shrimp or twister-tail type jigs are also appropriate.
Numerous channel and blue catfish have been reported during FWCC sampling surveys on the lower portion of the river. Logjams on outside bends and runs in the Guest Lake area appear to be holding numerous schools of fish between 2-8 pounds. Anglers seeking a tasty dinner or just an exciting afternoon on the river should try fresh-cut fish or chicken livers from a local bait shop or supermarket. Chicken livers are notoriously difficult to keep on the hook, but a roll of sewing thread can help. First, run the hook through the liver several times. Then simply wrap the thread around the liver and hook shank and you are ready to fish.
The Yellow River harbors other sport fishes such as Choctaw bass, longear sunfish, warmouth, spotted sunfish, shadow bass, black crappie, seatrout, redfish, croaker, mullet, and occasionally redbreast sunfish. The state record warmouth was caught in the Yellow River and can provide plenty of fun on light tackle. Try white beetle spins or a small soft-plastic crawfish imitation rigged on a jighead.
Fishing success in the upper river depends largely upon water levels. High water levels make this area difficult to fish, and low water levels limit navigation, thus anglers should check river levels before visiting this section of the river. Current water levels throughout Florida are available. Fish species commonly caught within this reach include; largemouth and Choctaw bass, longear sunfish, warmouth, spotted sunfish, and shadow bass. The upper reaches of the Yellow/Shoal Rivers also harbors an excellent Choctaw bass population.
Flathead catfish are also common in the upper reach of the river. It anticipated that flathead fishing will be excellent during this period. Anglers targeting these “river giants” should use live bait. The optimal bait for the species is sunfish, but anglers are reminded to familiarize themselves with current regulations. Live sunfish can only be used for bait, if collected and fished using hook and line. Sunfish cannot be used as bait on any other fishing gear (e.g., bush hooks or trot lines). Optimal fishing locations for this fish include deep flowing areas, downstream of a sharp bend in the river, behind large snags. Fishing for these catfish can also be done from big sandbars with your baits fished in the outside bends of the river. Anglers are also reminded that the flathead catfish is an exotic species to Florida, and keeping all fish caught is highly encouraged, since this species may negatively impact native sportfish populations (e.g., sunfish and catfish).
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission reminds anglers that it is illegal to possess Alligator gar without a Scientific Collectors Permit. Alligator gar is an endemic top predator found only in the Panhandle Rivers and grows to more than 120 pounds. Due to limited numbers, harvest is restricted. Their gator like snout is distinctly different than spotted and longnose gar, the two other species of gar found it the panhandle.
TrophyCatch is FWC's citizen-science program that rewards anglers for documenting and releasing trophy bass 8 pounds or larger.
Be the first to submit a trophy bass from the Blackwater or Yellow Rivers!