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.
Largemouth Bass fishing may not be the most popular this time of year however, recently while conducting electrofishing surveys, FWC biologists reported seeing good numbers of bass (a couple even over 4 pounds) between the mouth of Coldwater creek and the south entrance of Carpenter’s Park in Milton. For most of the year, the Largemouth Bass seemed to be scattered throughout the main river. However, once water temperatures in the river are consistently below 60 degrees Fahrenheit, bass start seeking warmer water in backwater canals and in basins off the main river. These slower moving shallow areas allow for the sun’s light to penetrate to the bottom substrate heating it more readily. Anglers should note that darker less dense bottom substrate such as mud or muck will retain more heat than dense sandy bottoms and the northern side of a canal or basin will generally receive more sunlight this time of year, allowing it to warm the fastest. Many times, the anglers who can take advantage of these warmer water refuges are quickly rewarded with a full fish box. Anglers should focus on structures like docks, stumps, or laydowns within these backwater areas and make long casts with spinnerbaits, or crankbaits trying to bump through the structure on the retrieve. If this does not prevail, try slowing down your tactics and use a light weight spinning rod to cast a weightless senko or a Texas-rigged craw imitation into isolated cover being sure to pick each structure apart with several casts before moving to the next.
Bream fishing is typically slow this time of year, but recently several anglers have boasted of catching Bluegills over 1 pound and a biologist witnessed a fish that weighed over 2 pounds. For the best chance at one of these trophy gills target the lower section of the river from Coopers basin downstream to the I-10 bridge. Anglers have been reporting the best results when targeting structure like docks and laydowns in off channel lakes where the water temperature is a couple degrees warmer than the main river flow. Use live bait on a light-wire #4-6 Aberdeen hook weighted with a small split-shot or slip-sinker under a bobber. When possible, it is always best to have both crickets and worms on the boat because on any given day one could out fish the other.
With water temperature in the river getting below 60 degrees Fahrenheit, the Striped Bass bite should be on. 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 on a fluorocarbon leader either 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, since 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.
Along with Striped Bass other popular gamefish species such as Redfish and Speckled Trout can be found patrolling in and around the mouth of the river in search for the seasonal schools of menhaden and mullet. Anglers will typically do well targeting deep holes in the river using a jig-head with a gulp shrimp or other grub style soft plastic to locate hungry schools of white and speckled trout, lazily waiting to feed on baits being washed over head by the tide. If this does not prevail try slow trolling a jerkbait, jig, or suspending lure along the bank. The best trout and redfishing has typically been from the highway 90 bridge in downtown Milton to the I-10 interstate bridge with many anglers reporting large numbers of trout being found in the deep hole at the pond creek convergence.
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).
Fishing success and access to the upper reaches of the Blackwater River are generally dependent on water levels. 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. 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.
Largemouth Bass fishing on the Yellow River is expected to be good from January through March. The Yellow River has one of the most consistent bass fisheries of the surrounding rivers, which is evident by the full boat ramps and constant traffic of bass boats moving up and down the river throughout the entirety of the summer months. Now that the cold weather has set in for good, many outdoorsmen have left the river behind trading in their bass boats for shooting houses. With this reduced pressure, the river should be ready for the taking if you are not afraid to bundle up. The water temperature in the river reaches its lowest point this time of year sending the bass looking for warmer water refuges. Anglers should target areas away from the main river depth and flow in search for back water basins and shallower areas with slack flow. The sun usually keeps the water temperature a few degrees warmer here. Areas such as Log Lake and the slough downstream of Grimes Lake are good examples of this habitat and have produced several fish close to seven pounds in sport fish surveys conducted by FWC biologist in previous years. Anglers should use Texas-rigged Zoom Baby Bush Hawgs or other soft plastic presentations to target any cover off the bank or along outside bends being sure to pick one location apart before moving to the next. Down river anglers should focus on off-channel habitats like Skim Lake and the Weaver River strands again focusing on outside bends and isolated structure. In the lower river channels anglers can use a variety of lures ranging from weightless Senko style presentations to stick and twitch style baits that require less maintenance once tied on.
The lower tidally influenced section of the river and its four mouths also hold popular gamefish like Redfish and trout (Speckled Trout, and White Trout) that 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 and winter 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 jerkbait around deep holes in the lower river 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.
Striped Bass fishing should be at its peak in early January and February, generally slowing down when temperatures begin to climb close to March. During the colder months striped bass invade the river mouths in search for the seasonal schools of menhaden and mullet that can be found here. For the best chance at wrangling one of these studs, anglers should use a live mullet or large menhaden on a fluorocarbon leader either under a large cork/balloon or free-lined. Anglers should focus on deep holes and outside bends in the lower sections of the river where the striped bass tend to hide waiting to ambush bait. Good areas include the lower Weaver River portion, the skim lake portion, as well as the two other mouths of the river. The striped and hybrid bass fishery on the Blackwater and Yellow Rivers is a result of long-term stocking done annually by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Bream fishing on the Yellow River can be difficult this time of year. Those dedicated anglers who are looking for a few panfish for the frier should focus on the lower river (below hwy.87) and fish off channel habitat like lakes and slack current areas where the water temperature tends to stay a few degrees warmer. For the most productive fishing anglers should use a live bait on a light wire #4-6 Aberdeen style hook weighted with a small split-shot and fished under a cork. Target laydowns, stumps, submersed brush piles, and other forms of cover where the fish generally hold tight this time of year. While crickets seem to be the best at enticing these stubborn fish to bite this time of year, it is always best to keep both crickets and worms on the boat for when the bite slows.
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 Yellow River system are provided by 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.
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!