Suwannee River bass fishing is a little-known commodity outside of the small river towns scattered throughout North Florida’s Big Bend section. It includes plentiful, often cooperative bass that can be ambushed at the entrances of tidal creeks along the southern end of the river. Those largemouth’s run up to 11 pounds and hide along wooden structure that lines the banks. Farther north, rocks and wooded areas hold the unusual Suwannee bass, a feisty subspecies that patrols the shoreline. There are also crystal-clear springs where big bass go to spawn each year.
During the usually mild winter and spring months — especially March and April — the scenic river is home to some of the most dependable bass fishing anywhere.
“The Suwannee in the springtime is probably the most rewarding fishing you can do in Florida, particularly when it comes to cold fronts and the impact that they have on our shallow lakes,” Cold fronts can play havoc with the natural lakes in Florida, but moving water is the most stable water you’ll find in the winter and spring.
Common Names – No other common names are known. It is sometimes incorrectly identified as a smallmouth bass, redeye bass or a spotted bass.
Description – A heavy-bodied bass seldom exceeding 12 inches long. The most unique characteristic of a mature Suwannee bass is its bright turquoise, blue coloring on the cheeks, breast, and ventral parts. The upper jaw does not extend beyond the eye. Also, there is a shallow notch between the dorsal fins with a distinct connection between the spiny and soft-rayed dorsal fins. A pattern of dark vertical blotches occurs along the lateral line. There is generally a distinct dark blotch where the lateral line meets the caudal fin. Scales are present on bases of dorsal, anal and caudal fins.
Subspecies – It is a distinct species with no known subspecies.
Range – Originally restricted to the Suwannee and Ochlockonee River systems of Florida and Georgia. Also occupies spring-fed lower reaches of the Santa Fe and Ichetucknee rivers, tributaries of the Suwannee River and the St. Marks and Aucilla/Wacissa systems where it was introduced.
Habitat – Generally prefers more rapidly flowing water along rocky shoal areas but is not restricted to these areas. Also found in large springs and spring runs. The Suwannee bass is designated a “Species of Special Concern” because of its limited range. Degradation of habitat or water quality in the Suwannee and Ochlockonee rivers could threaten this species.
Spawning Habits – Spawning occurs from February to June when water temperatures reach 65 to 68 degrees. Reproduction is similar to the largemouth bass including nest construction.
Feeding Habits – Young fish feed on aquatic insects and small crustaceans. Larger fish feed heavily on crayfish and also take small fishes.
Age and Growth – Suwannee bass are generally smaller than largemouth bass. A two-pound fish is considered large. It seldom exceeds a length of 10 inches or a weight of 12 ounces.
Sporting Qualities – First described as a species in 1949, the Suwannee bass is seldom fished for specifically due to its small size and limited range. For a small fish they are strong fighters when caught on light tackle. Like largemouth bass they will take live baits or artificial lures. Popular lures and baits include small crayfish-colored spinnerbaits, crankbaits, plastic worms, jigs and crayfish. As a sport fish, specific bag and size limit regulations apply, and you can register a qualifying catch as part of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s “Big Catch” program.
Eating Quality – White, flaky meat with a good flavor and may be prepared like other freshwater bass.
State and World Record – 3 pounds, 14-1/4 ounces caught in the Suwannee River in 1985. (Please check link for updates)