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.
With water temperatures falling and bait fish moving back into the river you can almost taste the plate of freshly blackened striper filets and steamy cheese grits. Declining temperatures can only mean one thing, fall striped bass fishing on the Blackwater River! These large predators spend the summer months up the river in cold water refuges found in creeks but leave to feast on the large schools of bait that enter the lower river this time of year. Anglers will have the best luck fishing a live menhaden or mullet under a large cork/balloon or free-lined. If this doesn’t work, try fishing a large swimbait in a white or mullet pattern or large curly-tailed soft plastic on a jig head with a good quality hook. Striped bass are normally found around deep holes in the main river channel or near schools of bait this time of year. Anglers should target the stretch of river from the Navy MWR Boat ramp to the I-10 interstate bridge over the Blackwater. While navigating the river be sure to be on the lookout for showering bait schools, they are generally a dead giveaway that a hungry school of striped bass are not far. The outstanding striped and hybrid bass fishery on the Blackwater River is a result of long-term stocking done annually by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Largemouth bass fishing is also expected to pick up this time of year. Focus on the lower marsh section of the river with a spinner bait or bladed jig in a white or chartreuse color. Target shallow eelgrass flats and near dense patches of milfoil that could provide cover for smaller bream or minnows. If this action slows, try fishing a shallow diving square-bill crank bait or a soft plastic fluke and cover large amounts of water around woody debris or cypress knees farther upriver.
Bream (Bluegill and Redear sunfish) fishing is expected to be excellent this time of year. It is hard to beat a live cricket fished under a cork, but a red worm or wiggler is a close second. The most productive locations seem to be around the emergent vegetation located on the inside bends of the lower river, as well as woody debris or stumps just under the surface. Anglers can also try using small spinner baits like a 1/32 oz beetle-spin or a small, skirted tube on a jig head to target hard to fish spots. Anglers have also done well using poppers or wooly buggers on fly tackle. Recent electrofishing samples conducted by FWC biologists found large numbers of bream along cover on the main riverbank as well as along the mouths of slews just off the main river.
Along with bass and bream, the lower portion of the river is also home to some popular game fish species including warmouth, mullet, redfish, flounder, white trout, and speckled trout. Around November when the water temperatures have cooled, anglers can find large numbers of white and speckled trout congregating in deep holes in the main river. Popular spots to target these trout are both under the Hwy.90 bridge and the I-10 interstate bridge over the Blackwater River, as well as the mouth of pond creek. Anglers should use a gulp shrimp on a jig head, slowly bouncing the jig off the bottom of these holes. If that doesn’t work, try slowly trolling a jig or jerk bait along the perimeter of these areas.
Access to the lower river include boat ramps in Milton, at Carpenters Park (north of downtown Milton, off Munson highway), Russell Harbor Park (North of Hwy 90 in Milton), Navy MWR Recreation Area (North of Hwy 90 in Milton), and in Bagdad (east of downtown Bagdad, off Highway 191).
For anglers wishing to access the upper sections of the river by boat it is recommended to check current water levels at www.usgs.gov before heading to the launch. Historically, the river is at its lowest stage this time of year, which can make access to some locations difficult to navigate. Low water levels are only an issue for boaters, wade fishermen and kayak/canoe fishing are not as restricted. Anglers should take advantage of low water levels by targeting deeper holes in the outside bends of the river. Make a stealthy approach and use a light tackle spinner bait, or a 4” finesse worm, or small Senko fished on a Texas-rigged. To target bream, use a small 1/32oz beetle spin, live cricket or worm under a cork. While fishing these deep outside bends, anglers can also target channel and bullhead catfish by fishing a bait on bottom near woody debris or a logjam. Anglers see the most success using cut mullet strips, store-bought catfish baits, or chicken livers fished on a small khale hook close to the bottom.
If you do not own a canoe or kayak, rest assured because the Blackwater River is often called the canoe capital of the country. The river has numerous outfitters who offer canoe and tube rentals and trips, which include shuttle services and pickup. Access to the upper river is 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 south of Hwy 4, in the Blackwater River State Forest. Other unimproved landings, suitable for canoes, kayaks, or light metal boats, are scattered along the remaining length of the upper river.
The Yellow River has consistently held one of the best Largemouth bass fisheries in the region. This statistic is not only evident when reviewing long-term monitoring data recorded seasonally by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, but regularly demonstrated by tournament anglers making the long run from tournaments on other local rivers in order to fish the Yellow River. As water temperatures are beginning to decline Largemouth bass will be leaving the main river channels and seeking thermal refuge on shallow water banks and in creeks or backwater basins. Anglers can capitalize on this trend by using white or chartreuse bladed jigs, spinner, or buzz baits to cover large amounts of water in search for foraging bass. These techniques will also work well when fishing the mouth of the river, remaining weedless when fished around eel grass and dense patches of milfoil commonly targeted this time of year. If this does not pan out, anglers should try fishing soft plastics, like a 4” zoom lizard or a more traditional curly-tailed worm, fished Texas rigged targeting woody cover like cypress knees and down trees. Anglers should focus on the stretch of river from Guess Lake downstream with some of the best fishing being along the Yellow Rivers lower mouths near the Blackwater Bay.
Anglers wishing to target bream (Bluegill and Redear sunfish) can also take part in the excellent fall fishing on the yellow river. For the best action, anglers should use a small presentation like a 1/32oz beetle spin, underspin, or a skirted tube on a jig head to fish around patches of vegetation as well as stumps or downed trees visible just under the surface. Once the fish are located anglers can slow down and fish a live cricket or worm under a cork in order to maximize their catch. When the bite is slow some anglers do well making the switch to fly tackle using poppers and wooly buggers. When bream fishing the Yellow River, it is not uncommon for anglers to catch a mixed bag. Some of the common species caught using these tactics this time of year include Bluegill, Redear sunfish, Long-ear Sunfish, Spotted Sunfish, Warmouth, Shadow Bass, Black crappie, and Choctaw Bass.
While the bass and bream fishing can provide not stop action throughout the fall on the Yellow River, anglers looking for a little more adrenaline in their day may choose to target some of the larger inshore predators. Redfish and Trout (Speckled Trout, and White Trout) are commonly found gorging themselves on showering bait schools of mullet or menhaden that move into the lower sections of the river in the fall months. For the most action, use a Mirrodine suspending twitch bait, gold or silver spoon, or a swimbait in a white or mullet pattern and make repeated cast in and around these bait schools found near the mouths of the river. If anglers struggle to locate schools of bait, then try slowly trolling soft plastic jigs or a jerk-bait around deep holes in the lower river in order to locate schools of hungry trout feeding deep. Some of the best spots for anglers to try these tactics are around the island in the rivers northern most mouth (Couy’s Basin), along the deeper outside bend of Caucus Shoal in the Weaver branch, and around the deep holes where the river mouths connections are located.
The Yellow River is also home to one of the best Flathead catfish fisheries in the state. With two of the most recent state records being harvested from its waters, there seems to be more and more people beginning to flock to the Yellow River to hunt for their own river monster. While these colossal cats can be elusive, for the best chance anglers should fish a live bait on a large (6/0-10/0) khale or circle hook with enough wait to hold it securely to bottom. Common live baits include blacktail redhorse, and spotted suckers, with the best choice being a live bream, but anglers are reminded to check their local regulations. Live bream can only be used as bait if collected and fished by means of hook and line. It is against the law to use a bream as bait for bush hooks, trot lines, jug lines, or by any other fishing gear. The best locations to target these flatheads are in deep holes in the river, near a current break or adjacent basins, deep outside bends in the river, or near structure such as hard bottom areas or logjams. The biggest catfish are most active at night, so anglers should target their best location in the late afternoon and fish into the night so their live bait is ready when that flathead of a lifetime comes lurking.
The access points to the lower Yellow River system provided by a Brown’s fish camp near the mouth of the river, 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), the Highway 87 crossing southeast of Milton, and several spread out along the Eglin AFB range. Anglers are reminded that historically, the river is at its lowest stage this time of year, which can make access to some locations difficult to navigate, it is recommended to check current water levels at www.usgs.gov before heading to the launch.
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.
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!