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
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
This nice Suwannee nailed a floating jointed
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
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
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?