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Santa Fe River

Just one of the unique things you'll find on the Santa Fe: the Suwannee bass

    The lower Santa Fe River in north-central Florida is a gorgeous mid-size flow that rises from the ground at the aptly-named River Rise State Park just north of High Springs. From this point, the Santa Fe flows generally westward and meets up with the Suwannee River roughly thirty miles downstream. It is an amazingly beautiful and unique river featuring brisk shoals, lots of wildlife, and numerous springs that influence the river by making the water very clear and cool. The Santa Fe gets lots of human visitors as well, but the vast majority of these people are just enjoying a day spent paddling down a pretty river. Like most Florida rivers, the Santa Fe doesn't get a whole lot of fishing pressure.

    Perhaps the most interesting feature of the Santa Fe is the presence of a little-known species of black bass: the Suwannee bass. In fact, many experts consider the Santa Fe the premier Suwannee bass fishery in the world! Of course, those same experts need to mention that the Suwannee bass can only be found in a handful of rivers and creeks in Florida and southern Georgia. Suwannees don't get very big (the world record, taken from the Suwannee River in 1985, is 3 pounds, 14 ounces), but they are a stocky, dark, beautifully-colored bass that fight amazingly well. Suwannees average around a pound, but you will swear you have a three-ponder on your line until you get them to the boat.

This nice Suwannee nailed a floating jointed minnow bait

     The diet of Suwannee bass consists largely of crayfish, so any lure you have that could be mistaken for a crawdad is a good bet. I have caught Suwannees on small jig-and-craw combinations, 4-inch plastic worms, crawfish-colored crankbaits, topwater poppers, and floating minnow baits. The general consensus is that Suwannees tend to hang out in areas of more current, but I have not personally noticed much of a difference in the number of Suwannees caught near shoals versus slower areas. Many of the limestone shoal areas do have large beds of eelgrass, and my guess is that wading the shoal areas while pitching to the current breaks and eelgrass might yield a bonanza.

Of course nobody's complaining about a regular old largemouth bass, especially a nice one like this!

    Due to the clarity of the water (it is tannic-stained, but very clear), I would recommend sticking to lighter line and probably wouldn't go over 8-pound test. Of course, using lighter line can get you into trouble if you run into one of the big largemouth that inhabit the Santa Fe. Like most Florida rivers, the Santa Fe has the capability of producing a ten pound bass. I would not, however, classify the Santa Fe as a prime big bass destination. Most of the largemouths will run between one and two pounds, and I normally just fish with smaller baits in the hopes of enticing both species.

Can you spot the redbreast to the left? She's about three feet deep. To the right is this stuff called whitewater. You don't find much of it in Florida, but the Santa Fe has a little.

    No matter what species of fish you are seeking, your luck will be dramatically improved if you wear polarized sunglasses. Though the water is very clear, polarized sunglasses make it possible to see an extra five or six feet through the water and spot both fish and underwater cover where fish might be hanging out.

    The Santa Fe is an outstanding panfish river, with redbreast, shellcracker, dollar sunfish and bluegill the most populous species. When the redbreast are turned on, you can expect to get a bite almost every time you make a good cast. While most panfishermen use crickets or worms, the bream on the Santa Fe will devour flyrod poppers and sliders. I have never caught very big bream from the Santa Fe, but locals swear that they are there. You can also do pretty well on channel, white, and bullhead catfish by fishing anything smelly and bleeding in the deeper holes near cover.

There are only about a gazillion of these little brawlers in the Santa Fe

    The Santa Fe gets a good bit of canoe traffic, particularly on nice weekends. There are numerous access points and places where you can rent a canoe or kayak. I have dealt with Jim at Santa Fe River Canoe Outpost and heartily recommend them. There are at least five huge springs between Highway 441 and 47 that offer canoe rentals, camping, or both. Scuba diving classes are also a common sight in many of the spring runs, and I encountered two such classes on a recent trip. There are also a few places to launch motorboats, especially below highway 47, and motorboats are a fairly common sight from a few miles above 47 all the way down to the Suwannee. There is no shortage of access here!

Everybody got your scuba gear?



Santa Fe Links

Current River Level

Santa Fe Map Santa Fe trip report (there are a couple more here as well)

Sea Kayak Florida's Santa Fe page

Suwannee Bass info

Outfitters & Attractions

Santa Fe River Canoe Outpost- I have used SFRCO and they do a great job!

Suwannee River Canoe and Kayak

Adventure Outpost

Ginnie Springs

Blue Springs

Rum Island Retreat



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