Holmes, Walton and Washington Counties:
The Choctawhatchee River is Florida's third largest river system in terms of water volume discharged. Originating in the southern portion of Alabama, the Choctawhatchee River flows approximately 96 miles from the Alabama state line into Choctawhatchee Bay.
In general, anglers will enjoy the greatest success fishing when water levels are low and the river is within its banks. Nice stringers of bluegill and redear (shellcracker) are caught off the spawning beds in the spring and along river banks lined with deadfalls and snags the rest of the year. Crickets and wigglers are good baits for panfishing. Many local anglers swear by the catalpa worm, which can be frozen in clear corn syrup and used throughout the year. Try fishing the mid to upper reaches of the river system for your bigger bream. When the weather becomes hot, avoid backwater slough areas that may become low in dissolved oxygen, as the fish will move out of these areas. Try fishing at confluences where there is some exchange of water from the main stem. Largemouth bass are commonly caught on crankbaits, spinnerbaits and artificial worms throughout the river system. Big bass can usually be found around treetops and snags in the mid and upper reaches of the river and along the sawgrass flats down by the mouth. Sunshine bass (hybrid striped bass) and striped bass fishing is excellent in the spring and fall throughout the lower end of the river. These fish are stocked annually by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Preferred baits include finger mullet, live shad and shad-like lures. The best fishing is on the out-going tide at dusk or dawn. Areas to target include sandbars and points in the river. It should be noted that harvest and size regulations are different for the sunshine and the striped bass (see current regulations handbook). Boating access points along the Choctawhatchee River include US 90 (Caryville) and SR 20 (Ebro). There are several boat landings and a bait shop along River Road off SR 20 (east of Bruce). For access to the lower river take US 331 south of Freeport and go left on SR 394 about a mile and look for the signs.
Holmes Creek, a major spring-fed tributary of the Choctawhatchee, offers some excellent fishing. Several bream species can be found in abundance including longear sunfish, spotted sunfish (stumpknockers), redbreast sunfish and warmouth. Big shellcrackers can be caught along the channel side of water lily beds. The spotted bass, a close relative of the largemouth bass, is also native and is an exciting fish to catch. There are several boating access point along SR 277 (Vernon) and SR 79.
Local information on these rivers and their fishes may be obtained from the Division of Freshwater Fisheries Management, Northwest Regional Office (850-265-3676).
Striped bass and sunshine bass fishing should be in full swing. Most striped bass and sunshine bass will move into the lower river and the bay during the winter months. Good fishing spots can be found along deep holes in Pine Log Creek, Black Creek, and Mitchell River. Best success can be had with live bait either finger mullet or shad. Many anglers watch for fish striking the surface and then cast into the schools of baitfish. If using artificial lures use baits that mimic the size and color of the baitfish present. Artificial baits such as 3"- 5" inch shad colored shad raps and rat-L-traps are good bets as well as in-line white spinners. The bag limit for stripers, hybrids, and white bass is 20 fish per day, aggregate, but only three may be striped bass that must be 18 inches in length. There is no size limit for hybrids or white bass.
Largemouth bass can be found around submerged trees, creek mouths, and submerged vegetation in slower moving water. Spinner baits and plastic worms are the best bet however; live baits are just as good. The newly described Choctaw bass (previously recognized as a spotted bass) can be found in the upper Choctawhatchee River as well as Holmes Creek. These black bass are usually found in faster moving water than largemouth bass. One way to distinguish a Choctaw bass or spotted bass from a largemouth bass is the presence of a rectangular tooth patch on the tongue. Choctaw bass are often found near log jams and the majority of their diet is crayfish, therefore lures that imitate crayfish should be productive. Spotted bass and Choctaw bass currently fall under the same Northwest region regulation as largemouth bass: a 5 fish black bass bag limit and a minimum length of 12 inches. Choctaw bass are not as abundant as largemouth bass, therefore biologists recommend catch and release for this unique species. For more information regarding the Choctaw bass please visit myfwc.com at http://myfwc.org/news/news-releases/2013/may/07/choctaw-bass/ or http://myfwc.org/research/freshwater/sport-fishes/black-basses/choctaw-bass/.
Excellent size bluegill and redear sunfish (shellcracker) can be caught in Holmes Creek fishing worms and crickets around brush and submerged vegetation (particularly recently submerged terrestrial vegetation). Multiple redear sunfish greater than 10 inches (several of which were greater than 1 lb each) were found in Holmes Creek during FWC electrofishing surveys this past fall. The highest catches of bream were located in the section of Holmes Creek between Miller’s Ferry and Live Oak Landing. Good sized chain pickerel can also be caught in Holmes Creek and the Choctawhatchee River as well. Try spinner baits, weedless spoons, or crankbaits. Crappie fishing should pick up this winter. Fish small minnows around brush piles in 10 - 18 feet of water or use small crappie jigs (1/32 or 1/64 oz) and slowly jig around the brush piles. The presence of snags and log jams that often span the width of the river can make navigation in Holmes Creek difficult. A logjam spanning almost the entire width of the river in a bend below Culpepper Landing makes navigation downstream fairly hazardous at this time. Despite the increased river levels from the summer rains, Live Oak Landing boat ramp remains extremely steep and boaters should use caution.