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 on the Blackwater River is heating up fast this spring. This is evident not only by the large number of anglers attending the local tournaments but also by the large bags being weighed in at the end of each tournament. As temperatures continue to climb the bass are chowing down preparing to head shallow to spawn, making this time of year your best chance at landing a fish of a lifetime. When on the hunt for these pre-spawn largemouth, anglers should start deep near their wintering hides and work towards the shallow areas where the bass are suspected to spawn. Anglers should select “search” baits that allow long casts followed by a fast retrieval to cover large amounts of water. Some common search baits that work well this time of year are spinnerbaits, square-bill or flat-sided crankbaits, or chatterbaits in colors that mimic prey items like crayfish, bluegill, or shad. Once an area with a concentration of fish is located, slow down and use more finesse-like techniques to ensure you don’t miss any large lethargic females that could be preparing to or recovering from a spawn. Some finesse-like presentations that are best for the late spring/early summer fishing include a zoom speed worm or other soft plastic worm rigged weedless or with a small pegged weight, a wacky-rigged Senko or stick-bait, or even a structure-jig or heavy football-jig for punching cover or targeting a deep bed. Some common areas along the Blackwater River that anglers report finding bass on bed would be along the shallow stretches of Moccasin cut, the shallow margins and docks in Magnolia basin, or on the lower sections of river and marsh fingers near the mouth of Pond creek and the southern exit to Marquis Basin. Once a bed is located anglers should keep their distance ensuring not to cast a shadow on the bed and make repeated cast to the bed. While the male may be caught after just a couple casts the female may take much more coercing.
Striped bass fishing on the Blackwater River is on its last leg for the year as water temperatures climb into the spring and summer, however, anglers have still been finding some smaller schools of fish gorging on baits in the deep holes in the lower river. While the chance of landing a monster striped bass may be lower this time of year, it hasn’t stopped some anglers from filling the cooler with 2 to 8 pound schooling fish with the occasional 10 to 15 pound fish mixed in. For the best chance at finding these striped bass, anglers should target deep holes in the lower river between the Navy MWR boat ramp and the I-10 interstate overpass in the early morning or late afternoon with live baits like live menhaden or small mullet. Anglers have reported the best luck when using down and side facing sonar to scan deep holes in the river until a school of fish is located. Once located anglers should deploy live baits either free-lined on a small khale hook or fished under a slip cork where depth of the bait can be adjusted. Anglers are reminded that the outstanding striped and hybrid bass fishery on the Blackwater River is a result of long-term stocking done by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Bream fishing typically reaches its peak this time of year on the Blackwater River, and with anglers remaining to catch trophy sized bluegills (including fish over 2 pounds) into the late winter months, this bedding season could truly be one for the books! When on the hunt for these panfish target the lower section of the river from Coopers basin downstream to the I-10 bridge. Common places for anglers to locate bedding fish are around the docks and shallow sandy margins of Magnolia basin, along shallow sand bars along the main river section near the Navy MWR boat ramp, and areas where small feeder creeks spill into oxbows or basins off the main river. While anything from a flyrod to a cane pole or the classic Zebco 33 can be used for hunting these panfish anglers should 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.
Gamefish such as redfish and speckled trout can also be found in the Blackwater River in spring and summer months. While these fish are more tidally dependent, they can commonly be found as far up the river as Wright’s basin. When targeting these redfish or trout, anglers typically do well targeting deep troughs or holes near or in some association with a shallow bar or grass flat nearby. While nothing beats a live croaker fished either free-lined or under a cork, many anglers report good success when using live shrimp, mullet, or even cut bait. For the more active angler wishing to cover more water, try using a Mirr-o-lure Mirrodine suspending twitch bait, a jerkbait, or a spinnerbait to target the same troughs and grass flats near the mouth of the river. Some good areas to target these reds and trout are along the southern exit to Marquis basin, and the mouth of Pond creek, along the marsh fingers just north of the I-10 interstate overpass, as well as the old wooden barge structures just to the southwest of the interstate overpass.
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 most unpredictable 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 great from April through July. 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. As water temperatures steadily climb, the bass in the river are feeding heavily trying to recover from their winter down time and pack on the pounds before heading shallow to spawn. This makes the spring and early summer months the best chance at landing a monster sized Largemouth. When hunting for these pre-spawn bass anglers should start fishing in deep water near where the bass are suspected to winter and fish shallow to where the bass should spawn. This ensures that you won’t miss any staging areas where the bass could be held up feeding heavily before moving up to spawn. Anglers should select “search” baits that allow long casts followed by a fast retrieval to cover large amounts of water. Some common search baits that work well this time of year are a Berkley Chapo topwater, a spinnerbait, or crankbaits in colors that mimic prey items like crayfish, bluegill, or shad. Once a staging area is located anglers should slow down and use more finesse-like techniques to ensure you don’t miss any large lethargic females that could be preparing to or recovering from a spawn. Some finesse-like presentations that are best for the spring/early summer fishing include a zoom lizard or other soft plastic worm rigged weightless or with a small shaky-head, a wacky-rigged Berkley general, or even a structure-jig or heavy football-jig for punching cover or targeting a deep bed. When bass fishing on the Yellow River anglers should focus on the tidally influenced section of the river south of the highway 87 overpass and preferably fish a falling tide. Areas where anglers report finding bass on bed include the lower section of the Weaver and Skim Lake strands especially on the shallow inside bends, as well as shallow edges of
off-channel lakes along the lower river strands. Areas like Caucus shoal on the Weaver strand or around the island in the rivers northern most mouth Couy’s cut are great examples of good areas to find bass on beds this time of year.
The lower tidally influenced sections of the river also hold popular gamefish like Redfish and Trout (Speckled Trout, and White Trout) that can commonly be found along the troughs and grass flats of the Yellow River’s 4 mouths. Anglers targeting these reds and trout should use baits like a suspending mirrodine twitch bait, a jerkbait, or a gold or silver spoon to make long casts over deeper troughs or around points and pockets along the grass edges. Many times, these gamefish will wait for the tide to push baits past before ambushing their prey so anglers should try to fish a moving tide when possible. If the artificial lures are not producing, you can never go wrong fishing a live bait. Shrimp, mullet, or croakers, fished under a popping cork or freelined on a light fluorocarbon leader are almost guaranteed to produce quality fish.
Bream fishing is expected to be excellent on the Yellow River this spring and summer. Anglers looking to fill the cooler with some bull breams should try to fish a falling tide a few days into a warming trend to catch the bream moving shallow to spawn. Anglers should focus on the lower tidally influence section of the river south of the highway 87 overpass and target dense lily pad mats along the entrances to off channel basins, brush piles and laydowns out of the current, and along the areas where feeder creeks spill into the river. While some anglers report good catches using artificial lures like small bettlespins, tubes, and crappie jigs, 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 or cork less with just a small split-shot.
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.
Fish graphics by Duane Raver, Jr.
More species information is available for:
Largemouth bass, Spotted bass, Bluegill, Redear sunfish, Sunshine bass, Striped bass, Black crappie, Channel catfish
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!