Ok, so I, or someone on the River Bassin staff, is going to try and “preview” each Regional Stop so that folks can A.) See the boundary map in plenty of time for the stop and B.) start scouting/researching the rivers that are in bounds and C.) Share some basic knowledge/tips and even photos of what to expect…aka, getting you pumped up for the stop!!! Yes there will be some photos shown in the preview articles, but all BIG fish (over the 20 inch/5lb range) will only be shown in photos at the bottom of the article and will not say which river system they came from. In fact, this particular article should be interesting because the photos I’m posting of myself are nearly 10 years old now! Pre Jackson Kayak and pre wearing PFDs etc so just be warned! Ha!
The Crawfordville, FL map is below this paragraph but before you look at it I want to mention a few things about it and all the maps for the 2015 regional stops. This year the boundaries will each have this embedded Google map on the tournament page that shows the eligible fishable water by tracing a line on roads. The maps may vary greatly in “size” with some being large boundaries and some being smaller. This is dependent on many factors; sometimes there are more rivers within 45 minutes or 1 hour of a host location and sometimes there are less which means we have to extend the boundary further to maybe grab a certain “good” fishery or two. You’ll also notice the maps will also be very unusual, random shapes this year. You might ask, “Why is that?” Well, it is actually to help give YOU clues to where rivers systems are. These unique fingers/shapes on the perimeter of the boundary are capturing a part of a river system. Once you find the name of the river and are zoomed in on it then you can do research and satellite imagery scouting throughout it’s “in bounds” entirety.
For the Crawfordville, FL stop, hosted by The Wilderness Way, you have most of the rivers within an hours drive, with the exception of two, part of the Chipola to the far west of the boundary and some of the Suwannee to the far east (1:15 at its furthest point and 1:30 respectively). So, for the most part everyone is going to be fishing within an hour’s drive. Ok, enough talk, lets preview some of the main river systems within the boundary!
Chipola River: Starting on the far western boundary we have a fun portion of the small/medium sized Chipola River. We snuck it in bounds because it is a unique fishery in the fact that it is the only river in bounds that still has a “fishable” population of shoal bass. In fact, it is the only place in Florida that you can catch one since the main Apalachicola River has been dredged and no longer has the preferred habitat of the shoal bass (rock). It may be over an hour to fish here, but it is a completely different, and possibly more familiar, experience to some anglers over the vegetation laden, spring-fed or swampier rivers closer to Crawfordville. It also has another species of bass in it called the Choctaw bass, which is very similar to a spotted bass. Read more about this newly discovered and confirmed species here in this article. Aside from Choctaw and Shoal bass, anglers will catch largemouth in this river system. If you want to see an old, I mean OLD video I made that includes this river then click this link and skim to the 6:45 mark to see what the Chipola looks like (at high water). Keep an eye on the Chipola because under the right circumstances a winning stringer could come from this jewel.
Appalachicola River: The Chipola River actually flows into the massive Apalachicola River which has a portion in bounds as well. This is a VERY large river that drains much of the state of Georgia, including notable shoal bass fisheries the Flint and Chattahoochee which starts way up in the north GA mountains. Like most of the rivers in this stop you will have a lot of saltwater migratory forage species that make their way to and from the Gulf of Mexico upstream into the freshwater. The Apalachicola certainly has its share of forage for bass to get very very large by feeding on. However, most would not consider the Ap the best “kayak” fishery due to its size and abundance of bass boats. Having said all that, the bigger the ocean, the bigger the fish so if someone can pattern the big largemouth of the Appalachicola they may just paddle away with a nice stringer. TIP: If you go here try targeting sloughs, oxbows or any creeks you can find because that is where the bigger boats can’t get as easy and where bass like to spawn that time of year.
Ochlocknee River: Moving further east on the map if you look at the top of the boundary you will spot the finger that sticks up clueing you in to the medium sized Ochlocknee River system just upstream of Lake Talquin. <Be sure to note that the HWY 90 bridge has a big red line on it which signifies the boundary between the Ochlocknee and Lake Talquin – you cannot fish downstream of this bridge>. The Ochlocknee River is the western habitat for another rare black bass species, the Suwannee bass. You can see the owner of The Wilderness Way, Robert Baker, holding a small one here in this photo. The Suwanne is a black bass that doesn’t get too big (2lbs is a nice one) but what it lacks in size it makes up for in beauty and fight! They are dark, almost black on top, lighter on the underside but have turquoise on their gills and around their head as well. They’re definitely one to put on your bucket list. Aside from the Suwannee anglers can expect to catch largemouth bass in this river. You’ll also notice, especially below Lake Talquin, that the river is a much darker color than the Chipola system. A lot of this dark color comes from the fact that the river drains a lot of lowland swampy areas that are more acidic. These swampy areas get blacker water because the leaves/needles from the trees that live in the swamp fall and decay in the stagnant water. Eventually that water makes its way through the swamp and into the main river bringing that copper, tea or black colored stain with it. This river is winds downstream like a snake with white sand banks on the inside river bends. The more you head downstream closer to the gulf you’ll notice that there are a lot of wild sloughs, fingers and oxbow lakes. The Ochlocknee is not far from Crawfordville and with the proper pre-fishing and river scouting it could be where some folks end up doing at.
Wakulla River: We’ve made our way to the middle of the map and to the rivers closest to our host, The Wilderness Way, in Crawfordville, FL. Probably one of the crown jewels of the boundary is the spring fed, and very short, Wakulla River. The freshwater portion of the river is only about 9 miles long which would make you think it is small, right? Well, not exactly. It is a medium sized river and to say the least there is still a good bit of volume in this river that erupts from the Floridian aquifer at the spring head located at Wakulla Springs State Park. You see, this river system in Florida has been flowing for nearly a hundred miles making its way to the ocean….under ground! Finally, when it does emerge, it is a beauty worth paddling and fishing because it also boasts Suwannee bass, largemouth bass and literally crystal clear 72 degree water erupting from the springs year round. I caught the bass in the photo in 2009 and it was a healthy 4 1/2 lbs. You’ll notice a wealth of vegetation, birds, manatees, and even some gators sun bathing. The Wilderness Way also owns an outfitter right at the HWY 98 take out on the Wakulla called TNT Hideaway. If you are looking for a shuttle back up to your vehicle I am sure they can help you out. Although the life and bass are abundant (and visual apparent) on the Wakulla it can be a tough fishery due to the clear water. There is also only one fishable 4-5 mile section due to the river being off limits to fishing from the springhead (St Park) down to the Shadeville RD (365) bridge where anglers are allowed to put in and float down to the HWY 98 bridge or past it into brackish water where they can take out at Shell Island Fish camp (a great GREAT place to stay during this event by the way). Even if you don’t fish it on tournament day it is worth paddling and fishing at least a half day while you’re down for the event. If you want to learn more about one of the the United States largest and deepest springs and its massive liquid labyrinth, and check out all of the mammoth tusks and mastadon bones that have been found in the system, read some of these articles…they will blow you away! Divers Break Record For Longest Cave Passage and try the interactive virtual cave dive at this link. You know what, just Google the river and while you’re sitting in the cold during the winter you’ll see why you’ll be dreaming about this river until March 7th weekend arrives!
St. Marks River: The St. Marks meets the Wakulla River basically where they both enter the Gulf of Mexico. The St. Marks also has Suwanne bass and largemouth for river bassers to target. It is partially spring fed and is the first of a couple rivers on this list that tend to bounce up and down from the surface and then disappear underground back to the aquifer and then it could be a hundred yards or miles before they remerge. When they re-emerge it could be a small 100 yard section of river before it disappears or it could be a long accessible and floatable section of river…I’m telling you, FL rivers are wild and chaotic WHICH happens to be perfect for kayak fishing! The St. Marks is a small/medium sized river and has a darker hue that is almost copper at times when it flows over limestone or sand. There is little public access on the floatable river section that finally spills into the ocean, but it has a decent population of bass. It may take knocking on a few doors to find a place to put in to make the float trip down to the HWY 98 bridge but it could be worth it due to the light bass pressure the river sees. The St. Marks also happens to be where the infamous goose attack occurred. If you haven’t seen the video, click on this link.
Wacissa River: The next sizeable river east is again a spring fed medium sized river called the Wacissa, and yes it is just as wild as its name! It is truly a marvel in its own right boasting clear fertile waters, numerous types of aquatic vegetation, incredible bird life, many alligators, turtles and of course healthy Suwannee and largemouth bass! From where the launch is at the spring head there are only 4 access points on the Wacissa, but the amount of fishable water is insane due to how many fingers, islands and creeks it boasts. At the spring head you’ll notice the river is crystal clear, as all springs are, but further downstream it starts to finally mix with some tanic water from nearby creeks giving a nice subtle stain to the water that still doesn’t overpower the ability to sight fish. Do some research on the Wacissa and scout out the access points but beware that it may take some time because it is a maze of dirt roads and when fishing this river make sure all your partners know where the take out is and that you don’t get too far apart…it is easy to get lost in this wilderness and don’t even think about going through the “slave canal” section because we don’t need the FL fish and game folks searching for you in the swamp that night! It’s risky, it’s wild, but it very well could pay off for some strategic river basser who figures out how to catch the bass on the Wacissa and the strategy on how to best fish it on tournament day.
Aucilla River: The Wacissa actually joins the Aucilla when the swampy section known as the “slave canal” trickles into it bit by bit just upstream of the HWY 98 bridge. The Aucilla, until it connects with the Wacissa, is a smaller river that boasts a darker colored than the Wacissa due to it not being as dependent on underground springs – this is a true surface water drainage for the most part. However, it is just as remote and wild in its own way because like the St. Marks this river appears and disappears from the surface when it gets closer to its end in the gulf. The photo on the right is one of my all time favorite photos that I took on a trip to the middle Aucilla river section. The entire Aucilla, which basically begins on the border of GA and FL, is in bounds and if you thought there were no “rapids” in Florida then you may be in for a surprise if you fish certain sections of the Aucilla. It and the Chipola are the two rivers in bounds that actually do have some class 1 rapids and I suppose a couple rapids that, at right water levels could be “nearly” a class II. The interesting thing about the Aucilla is that you will likely not catch any Suwannee bass here (even though it is connected to the Wacissa), especially once you get upstream of the Wacissa to the first “disappearance” of the river back underground. It is also a dirt road party trying to find some of the access points, but if it takes a little work then I don’t need to tell you river bassers what that could mean about the fishing.
Econfina River: It may be called a “river” but the Econfina is really closer to a creek. However, when in FL a creek can be very skinny one moment and then the next it can open up into a wide “lake like” section so don’t discount this river or any of the creeks that are not mentioned in this article. In fact, those could be the low pressured areas that allow you to take home the title! The Econfina is a darker river that is fed mainly by surface water runoff. I say “mainly” because pretty much all of the rivers in this area from the Chipola over to the Suwannee on the eastern boundary have some springs feeding into them. Some are just larger springs than others. I’ve never caught or heard of any Suwannee bass in the Econfina so you’ll mainly catch largemouth here. If you try to research this river don’t be fooled by your findings because there is another Econfina “Creek” just outside the boundary to the west (near Panama City). Anyway, you can finda’ the bassa’ on the Econfina’ so good luck figuring out how to make them bita!
Withlacoochee River: Like the Econfina you have to be careful when researching the Withlacoochee because there is another Withlacoochee River in Florida as well! Yes, crazy that a name that odd is used twice…I mean it’s not like this is “rocky creek,” “little river” or “new river” which I think there is one of in every state! The other Withlacoochee is in south FL near Tampa and does hold some big big bass, but that’s for another year when its in bounds. As far as this Withlacoochee goes it also holds bass, both Suwannee and largemouth bass that like to hang out on the deeper outside bends that the limestone rock creates. You’ll also find them around any wood in those deeper holes as well. The population of Suwannee bass is better than the Ochlocknee but still you’re more likely to catch largemouth here than a Suwannee. Here is a photo of a nice sized Suwannee bass I caught on the upper sections of the Withlacoochee on my first trip there back in 2005 or 2006. Clearly this fish is healthy and the fishery is fertile enough to produce some big largemouth that could win the tournament. Only 10 miles of this tanic medium sized river is in bounds before it joins up with our final river we will cover, the Suwannee.
Suwannee River: We have about 30 river miles in bounds for the larger Suwannee River. Certainly this river gets a good bit bigger downstream but the in bounds portion I would still say is “large.” This is of course where the Suwannee bass gets its name. You’ll catch largemouth bass and the occasional Suwanee bass here as well. It is a darker colored river with limestone rock lining the banks just like the Withlacoochee. Further downstream bass boat tournaments are common and some of the weigh ins can certainly be impressive. Those bass are connected to the bass up here and they’re all swimming in the same fertile water so there is no reason a winning River Bassin stringer couldn’t come out of the Suwannee River.
- Other small, but floatable/fishable rivers in the area: New River, Sopchoppy River, Fenholloway River, Telogia Creek. Spring Creek.
- For those who haven’t fished in Florida I would mention that yes if it is sunny you will see alligators sun bathing. Don’t worry, they don’t bother you and it’s really nothing to worry about.
- Keep in mind FL is a good state about providing information on their paddling trails. Do some research and the put ins and take outs aren’t hard to find even though they may be remote. Also, sometimes there are more put ins and take outs than the paddling trail shows.
- If the weather has started to warm at all, the fish will either be right in pre-spawn or spawning when we’re there so it should be a great tournament for catching. Cold fronts do push into the panhandle of FL so be prepared for mornings possibly in the upper 30s or low 40s and highs in the 50s or low 60s too. However, the high is usually in the low 70s that time of year.
- Best fishing tactics? Well, in the clear water with vegetation you’re best off pitching and flipping in it or working a frog or other soft plastic over and around the edges. Buzzbaits are also effective and don’t get caught up in grass as easily as plugs. If you’re in the darker colored water then the normal spinnerbaits, crankbaits, chatterbaits, soft plastics and jigs work well around structure such as limestone rock bluffs, cypress trees/knees in the water and normal blowdowns. Get there early and pre-fish is the best advice I can give you!
- Again, best place to stay if you’re fishing close by is the Shell Island Fish Camp because the lodging is inexpensive and they have a variety of lodging options from camping to cabins, motel rooms and park models. You could also catch redfish or largemouth right out from their landing so that’s not a bad thing either.
- Ok, now all the rest of the photos below are photos that I took or am in, or are from trips that friends of mine have made in these waters. There are no river names listed in the photos but I promise you that literally any of these river systems can win this tournament on any given day. If you’re proficient in vegetation and clear spring fed rivers then go ahead and target those waters. If you’re not then you’ll find the fishing in those locations very VERY tough so maybe target the rivers with a little more tanic stain.