Suwannee & Santa Fe Rivers

SUWANNEE & SANTA FE RIVERS (Columbia, Hamilton, Madison, Lafayette, Gilchrist, Alachua, Suwannee, Levy and Dixie counties)::

SUWANNEE & SANTA FE RIVERS the Suwannee drains from the Okeefenokee Swamp through limestone shoals stretches to become a large flood plain river in the lower reaches. Drastic water level fluctuations characterize the river and keep the fishery dynamic. The Santa Fe is the major tributary, heavily influenced by springs and unlike the Suwannee, has vast areas of submerged vegetation in the middle and upper reaches. These areas harbor abundant freshwater shrimp, waterscuds and aquatic insects, thus producing excellent growth rates for fish, particularly abundant redbreast sunfish and pugnacious spotted sunfish (stumpknockers). The upper Suwannee has only tree roots and rocky shelves for fish structure. The lower Suwannee has a band of waterlilies and eventually in the tidal portion, numerous wooded and marsh-lined feeder creeks.

(*Local upper Suwannee contacts: Suwannee River State Park 386-362-2746, Canoe Outpost 1-800-428-4147, Spirit of Suwannee Park 386-364-1683; *Local middle Suwannee and Santa Fe contacts: Sandy Point Marina 386-935-0615, Gene’s Bait & Tackle, Ft. White 904-497-2248; *Local lower Suwannee contacts: Sid’s Treasure Camp at Fowler’s Bluff 352-493-2950)

Note: Boaters should be extremely cautious on both rivers, as low water has made clearance over sand bars and other underwater hazards less certain. Use low water periods to develop better understanding of what exposed areas look like under normal river levels.

SUWANNEE & SANTA FE RIVERS depending on seasonal storms, water levels in both of these rivers can bounce back. If this happens and water enters the floodplain, it sets the stage for some great fishing. Right when the water recedes back into the river proper is the best time to catch your fill. For panfish, live bait such as crickets and worms work best. Cast towards the cypress knees and roots with your bait suspended about two-three feet down. On the other hand, if fishing from the bank use enough weight to get your bait down and stationary. Realize that the current will drag your baited hook downstream with time, thus providing another opportunity to cast and see what bites. During cold spells, fish may concentrate in holes, especially in creeks of the lower Suwannee River. Speckled perch become very active and can be caught wherever there is brush in either river. Check spring run entrances.

High tide fishing is always slow with best fishing during lower tides. It is also helpful to remember that the outer bends are always deeper, sand bars are on inside curves and lilies on outer bend means the current has left the bank and panfish like to spawn here. Both Suwannee and largemouth bass occur. Large fish are not the rule and remember that all bass in the river, especially Suwannees, prefer to feed on crawfish, so crawfish-colored lures prevail.