Striped bass in these rivers were stocked by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission in an effort to create a trophy fishery, and to reestablish this species in an area from which they had virtually disappeared.
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.
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.
The water clarity has been better in the Blackwater than most of the rivers in the Panhandle so far this year. While the upper portions of the river have been nearly unfishable the past few months, due to high water, the downstream areas near Milton have had reasonably good water conditions and the fish have been cooperating. The river is no longer navigable south of Deaton Bridge due to a log jam. Fishing conditions should only get better as the rain from up north continues to flush out into the bay. This should stabilize the river conditions and allow fish to settle into a predictable summer pattern. Bream fishing has been the most consistent through the early summer, and should continue on into summer. Most of the action has been from Milton down to the Interstate 10 Bridge. The bite can be slow some days, but the overall size has been impressive. Try crickets and worms under a bobber early in the morning and then use a weighted rig to probe deeper structure later in the day.
Fishing for largemouth bass has been best in the marsh portions of the river. High rain falls have decreased salinity values here, allowing freshwater-loving bass to move farther out into the bay. Try to catch a falling a tide and fish the numerous ditches and creeks spilling into the marsh. Lightly-weighted lures, such as a DOA shrimp or Texas-rigged trick worm seem to be catching the most fish and worm well around the submersed tape grass.
Chain pickerel (a.k.a. “jack fish”) are also being caught frequently by folks targeting largemouth bass. These toothy predators invade dense stands of spatterdock, or “cow lilies”, once the water temperatures start to heat up. Topwater baits, such as Zara Spook, attract a lot of attention, but generally result in few hooks ups. A better choice when targeting jack fish is a flashy spinner bait. Remember, these freshwater barracudas have sharp teeth, so you may want to upgrade to a heavier leader or even a small trace of wire.
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.
Bream fishing is the name of the game so far this year on the Yellow River. Anglers are targeting these great-eating panfish and are generally being rewarded with full stringers. Most of the action has been occurring upstream of the Highway 87 Bridge, but areas downstream are expected to improve as the river levels continue to fall. Anglers are using worms on the bottom or pitching live crickets under overhanging trees. They have commented that they can really be stacked up once you find where they are hiding. So if you catch a fish or two, fish the area thoroughly before moving on to another spot.
Largemouth bass fishing has been hit or miss this year, due to high water, but the Yellow River typically has the greatest abundance of 14-18” fish during annual FWC electrofishing surveys. Crawfish colored crankbaits, spinnerbaits, soft jerkbaits, and of course, lightly-weighted soft plastic baits account for most the bass catches on this river. Don’t overlook the Shoal River, which is a tributary of the Yellow that lies near Crestview. Abundance isn’t nearly as high as in the Yellow River, but the quality can be much better. During recent FWC electrofishing surveys, largemouth bass upwards of 6 pounds, chain pickerel (jack fish) up to 4 pounds, and several crappie over 15” were captured and released, mostly near the Highway 87 Bridge.