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 is expected to be fair to slow during the warm summer months. Your best bet is to fish early and late before the sun gets high. Use a fast-moving spinner bait or square-billed crankbait to cover water and find active fish. You still may be able to coax a top water bite on a popping or chugging lure or a weedless frog fished over floating grass. Once the sun gets up, the bass will likely move to deeper structure and become less active. Probe deep holes around outside bends and the mouths of sloughs with slow-moving lures like Texas rigged plastic worms or rubber-skirted jigs. Some fish may hang around the weeds all day, because they give off live-giving oxygen, so don’t give up on a hot weed bed if you find one.
Striper and hybrid-striper fishing can be very slow this time of year unless you make a concerted effort to find spring creeks feeding into the bay that provide a thermal refuge for these otherwise cold water-loving species. Live bait, like Menhaden or finger mullet, rigged on a single hook with no weight is the best way to catch them when you find them. But be ready with fresh line and good knots when you do find them, because the average size will be 5-10 pounds with 20-pound fish being fairly common.
Bream (Bluegill and Redear Sunfish) fishing should be fair to good depending on river level. Try crickets and worms down in the marsh section early in the morning, especially on an outgoing tide. As the day warms, move upstream and the same baits around stumps in the shade. Using a flyrod rigged with a cricket (known locally as “slashing”) can be a great way to spend a lazy warm afternoon filling up a cooler for the weekend fish fry. Use a short roll cast to slide the 6-legged offering under tree branches, while slowly controlling the boat with a trolling motor or sculling paddle.
Be sure to check the current water levels before heading out, because the river stage can have a huge impact on your fishing success in the upper river. Current water levels throughout Florida may be found at www.usgs.gov. High, muddy water following a recent rain usually result in low catches of bass and bream but can be good for catfish.
Anglers don’t need to travel far from the parking lot by the bridge. Any water deeper than 2 feet is holding a few catchable fish. Beetle spins and rooster tails work well for sunfish and bass. Small crankbaits and Texas-rigged crawfish imitations will help catch the bigger fish. Channel Catfish should be biting chicken liver or cut mullet on the deep outside bends during the day, then moving on to the sandbars in the evening.
Fly-fishing this section of the Blackwater River also can be productive. If you are after bass, try to match the local forage. Baitfish patterns, such as Clouser minnows and EP baitfish patterns 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 around stumps and logs.
It can be hard to the leave the comfort of the air conditioning this time of year, but a trip to the Yellow River could make it all worthwhile. The trick is to fish early in the morning or late in the evening and be flexible as to the species you target. Try bringing a flyrod with a small, rubber-legged popping bug to cast under tree branches in sloughs and oxbows off the main river channel. Panfish of all species, including Largemouth Bass, will be hiding out here and will smack this floating fly with reckless abandon. After the sun gets high, move back to the main river channel and switch to a small spinnerbait or beetle spin and work it through deeper cover to target more bass and bream that have moved to cooler water. Finally, park the boat under a shade tree and fish peeled shrimp, chicken liver, or fish chunks on a bottom rig with a 4/0 hook. Hopefully you find that shade tree on a deep outside bend, near a log jam. If so, it won’t be long before Mr. Whiskers comes calling and you can retreat back to the house with a cooler fill of fresh fillets, ready for the fryer.
Fishing success in the upper river depends largely upon water levels, but adventurous anglers are often rewarded with larger-than-average fish in this section of the river. Shallow water and numerous stumps keep the fishing pressure at a minimum, which means there are bigger fish here that have seen fewer offerings from fishermen. But fishermen should check the river levels before leaving the house. Current water levels throughout Florida may be found on the internet at www.usgs.gov. 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. Many specimens over 3 pounds where observed downstream of the highway 85 bridge by FWCC biologists during spring sampling.
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 in 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!