Florida and Georgia offer some truly unique fishing opportunities. But none are more special than a chance to catch Suwannee bass, which has one of the most limited ranges of any black bass.
Native to a handful of rivers in Northern Florida and South Georgia, Suwannee bass are very distinct from the largemouth bass that are much more common in this region. While largemouths favor still water and weedy habitat, Suwannee bass are strictly river dwellers.
Whether you’re after the “grand slam” of black bass species or are simply looking for a unique fishing experience, catching Suwannee bass is a rare adventure.
Suwannee Bass Identification
Suwannee bass have several characteristics that set them apart from more common species like largemouth and spotted bass. The most notable is their coloration, which on mature individuals includes a vibrant turquoise color to the lower jaw, gill plate and breast.
The overall coloration is a dark, mottled greenish-brown. The jaw of a Suwannee bass does not extend past the eye, and scales are present on the bases of the dorsal, anal and caudal fins.
Suwannee bass are significantly smaller than largemouth bass, typically measuring 10 to 12 inches in length. Therefore, any fish measuring 14 inches and weighing over 1.5 pounds would be considered a noteworthy catch.
Often, Suwannee bass are deeper-bodied than largemouth bass, giving them a chunky appearance, especially considering their smaller size.
The world record Suwannee bass weighed 3 pounds, 14 ounces, and was caught from the Suwannee River in Florida in 1985.
Native Range & Habitat
Suwannee bass are originally native only to the Suwannee and Ochlockonee rivers, both of which have their headwaters in Georgia before flowing through Florida and ultimately draining into the Gulf of Mexico.
Suwannee bass have spread somewhat beyond their native range. You also may encounter them in the Santa Fe, St. Marks, Wacissa, and Wakulla rivers of Florida. They also are in the Alapaha and Withlacoochee rivers, which flow through Florida and Georgia.
Suwannee bass prefer moderate to swift currents. These fish gravitate toward rocky shoal areas and hold around rip-rap embankments, fallen trees, and other cover wherever available.
Suwannee bass have a diverse diet made up primarily of crayfish and minnows, though they will also eat various aquatic insects and invertebrates. They spawn at temperatures between 65 and 68 degrees, occurring between February and June within their range.
Suwannee Bass Fishing Tips
Despite their pint-size stature, Suwannee bass are voracious predators and are often eager to chase down anything that resembles a meal. They share parts of their range with largemouth bass and often snatch crankbaits and plastic worms intended for largemouths twice their size.
But Suwannee bass are also much more comfortable in current. They’re similar to smallmouth bass in that respect, and for anglers familiar with catching river smallmouths, many of the tactics used to target Suwannee bass will feel familiar.
Suwannee bass usually position themselves along rocky banks, at the upper and lower ends of pools, and around fallen logs and boulders. Mouths of feeder creeks are often some of the best places to fish.
Many anglers catch Suwannee bass by working jigs and soft plastics that imitate crawfish along the bottom. Try casting diagonally upriver and across the current, and allow the water to carry your lure downstream like a crawfish that has lost its footing in the stream.
Crankbaits are also very effective for catching Suwannee bass. Choose a lipped crankbait with a tight wiggle like a Rapala DT6 or a Storm WiggleWart, and cast it around likely-looking cover. Suwannee bass often respond to vivid colors like a firetiger or a crawfish pattern.
Smaller spinnerbaits commonly draw strikes as well.
Suwannee bass put up a hard fight on light tackle, and a light spinning combo with 6- to 8-pound line is ideal for most situations.
Fly fishing for Suwannee bass is another thoroughly enjoyable way to fish for this unique species. A 7-foot, 4-weight fly rod is ideal for casting streamers like a Neer Nuff Crayfish or Clouser Minnow on small rivers with tight cover.
Suwannee bass often closely relate to bottom structure but frequently strike lures on the surface. Therefore, a topwater popper fly is a great option when there’s a good surface bite.
Where to Catch Suwannee Bass in Florida
The Suwannee River forms the core of Suwannee bass’ range, and although these fish have expanded their reach beyond the river, it remains arguably the best place to catch them.
Originating in the Okefenokee Swamp in Georgia, the Suwannee River is a deeply tannin-stained trickle near its headwaters, but it slowly clears after it crosses the state line and heads southward. The Florida portion of the river is a designated Wilderness State Trail, with abundant access.
The Suwannee River is popular among paddlers, and there are dozens of landings along its length in Florida. Much of the river flows through state parks and conservation areas.
Suwannee River State Park is a great place to camp, fish, and paddle the river. The park is located at the confluence of the Withlacoochee River with the Suwannee, and anglers can catch Suwannee bass in both rivers.
Several springs feed the Suwannee River farther downstream, supplying clear water and limestone bottom structure that provides ideal habitat for Suwannee bass.
Santa Fe River
The Santa Fe River, a tributary of the Suwannee, is another stream that supports a healthy Suwannee bass population.
Bank fishing access to the Santa Fe River is somewhat limited, and the best way to fish it is from a canoe or kayak.
Several excellent canoe landings are available on the lower Santa Fe River, including public ramps on CR-47 and US-27, which are part of the Santa Fe River Paddling Trail.
Farther upriver, the Santa Fe River is famous for disappearing underground for a significant stretch. The best Suwannee bass fishing is downstream from the river’s reappearance at River Rise State Park.
Lake Santa Fe also offers very good largemouth bass fishing in the Jacksonville area, so you can notch two types of black bass nearby.
Another waterway worth exploring is the Wacissa River, which emerges from a series of limestone springs east of Tallahassee. It’s truly one of the most beautiful rivers in Florida, and Suwannee bass have taken off here in recent years.
The Wacissa Springs Public Boat Ramp, located at the headwaters of this 12-mile-long river, is a perfect place to launch a canoe or kayak. Some of the best Suwannee bass fishing is immediately downstream, where spring vents and potholes dot the limestone river bottom.
Additional landings are along the Wacissa River Paddling Trail.
This small river is especially well-suited to fly fishing, and anglers catch many Suwannee bass along current seams and the edges of vegetation beds.
Where to Catch Suwannee Bass in Georgia
Stretching 114 miles in total length, the Withlacoochee River is a tributary of the Suwannee River. Most of the river lies in Georgia, and it arguably provides the best Suwannee bass fishing in the state.
Bridge crossings at Knights Ferry Road, the Clyattville-Nankin Highway, and Georgia Highway 31 all provide bank access to the river and can also be used to launch canoes or kayaks for float trips.
Floats between the bridges range from about 6 to 9 miles, making them perfect for fishing day trips. A little farther upriver, the abandoned (and supposedly haunted) Spook Bridge also offers access on foot.
Parts of the Withlacoochee River zig-zag across the Florida/Georgia state line, so take care to make sure you have the appropriate fishing licenses.
The Georgia portion tends to be tannic and somewhat turbid, so bring lures with some flash and/or vibration.
The 206-mile Ochlockonee River offers some solid Suwannee bass fishing opportunities in both Florida and Georgia. But the best fishing for this species tends to be in the latter, where the tea-colored water flows over a bottom of mostly white sand.
On the Georgia side of the state line, there are informal access sites at several highway crossings, including the Hadley Ferry Bridge and Highway 93, which offer bank fishing and launching sites for cartop boats.
A boat ramp for larger craft is located just off Highway 19.
The Ochlockonee River is loaded with fallen trees that provide ambush cover for Suwannee bass, and working spinnerbaits and soft plastics around timber can be highly effective.