Last year I made a trip south to Florida during the dead of winter. In search of a fish but got more than we bargained for…a blessing of nature.
There is a river in North Florida named Santa Fe…warm and the color of a strong tea…At it’s headwaters it rises from the ground in magnificent fashion and starts it’s journey to the Gulf of Mexico. Not as a trickle but full flowing and ready to support the diverse ecosystem that surrounds it. Along its path there are beautiful blue springs that are nestled in pockets along the shoreline feeding the river as it grows. The banks are lined with cypress and live oaks draped in spanish moss. The river is home to manatees, alligators, numerous birds of every color and in my opinion…the jewel of this flow, the Suwannee bass. Although small…the world record is 3lb 14oz…the Suwannee bass is full of fight and a real hombre but wears the most beautiful colors of any black bass species. His favorite food are the crayfish which thrive along the limestone bottom this ancient river has carved. It’s not hard to catch a Suwannee since they are voracious feeders, all you need is a small jig or crankbait that mimicks a crawfish and the ability to not be completly hypnotized by the river’s beauty. To float and paddle the Santa Fe is an experience to behold because it is one of God’s great outdoor cathedrals. If you kayak fish I urge you to do a quick Google search, after you explore via the web give “Santa Fe Canoe Outpost” a call…they can set up a shuttle and give you all of the information you’ll need about camping and fishing on this river. The folks at the “outpost” love the Santa Fe and are eager to help anyone wanting to explore it. Make time for a trip to experience this jewel of old Florida and if you’re lucky you may hit the motherlode of the Santa Fe’s hidden gems, the Suwannee bass…
On this trip my good friend and I bolted out of North Georgia like wanted bandits. A rare winter storm that had left about six inches of snow and ice on the ground…we had this trip to North Florida planned for some time and nothing short of an apocalypse was going to stop us. With my Jackson Big Rig and his Coosa loaded we hit interstate 75 headed south. The normal time to get on the south side of Atlanta usually takes about an hour and a half but because of the weather it turned into a four hour trudge through traffic and slush but my trusty Subaru prevailed and just south of Atlanta the snow turned to rain and we put it in the wind. We were chasing my thirtieth freshwater fish species that I would catch in the first year of owning my Big Rig. It was just a fish but it was my holy grail at the time.
We had no idea what was in store for us, we knew it would be beautiful, we knew of the blue springs that were present on the stretch of River we chose to float and we knew there were Suwannee Bass present. Knowing all of that we still were clueless to the magnitude of what each of those aspects held.
The Santa Fe River’s beauty blew my mind…we arrived after dark at the Santa fe Canoe Outpost, set up our hammocks and got some rest. At day break we walked down to the water and stood there with grins on our faces, my buddy Sherrill said, “brother, this is going to be good.”
After launching we paddled upstream about a mile just soaking in the scenery, we then started our mini expedition to our takeout. My first cast into the mouth of a small feeder creek gave me my thirtieth freshwater fish… I had my Suwannee Bass. The rest of our two days on the water was just icing on the cake.
Here are some tips if you would like to give the Santa Fe a try:
1. Contact Santa Fe Canoe Outpost for shuttle information and river conditions.
2. Primitive camping is permitted and free on property not posted. Just leave the area better than you found it.
3. I used a #7 scatter rap in crawdad exclusively with much success but I asssume any medium running crankbaits in a crawfish pattern would work.
4. Carry a camera.
5. Water, we used a water purification filter to treat our water that we gathered from the numerous springs that flowed into the river.
6. We didn’t see any alligators or poisonous snakes but this is Florida and it is in their range so use caution.
7. Be prepared to witness one of the most beautiful rivers in the nation.
8. Lastly, be sure to get your Florida freshwater fishing license before you get there.
I hope anyone who decides to go to this beautiful place enjoys it as much as we did and catches that most unique and beautiful of the black bass…I guarantee that it will be at the top of your all time paddle trips and yes, Sherrill was right…it was as good as we exoected.
Thank God for little plastic boats!