Sugar white sands and clear, black, tannic acid water creates an incredibly beautiful contrast in bright sunlight.
Combine that with fast water swirling around and over huge, fallen trees, plentiful wildlife, stands of magnificent ancient cypress, plus solitude and one can visualize North Florida’s pristine Ochlockonee River!
Though my reasons for visiting the Ochlockonee River were of a business nature, the main motivation was a continuing search for the rare and always elusive Suwannee Bass.
These diminutive members of the black bass family are rarely found anywhere on earth other than the Suwannee and Sante Fe Rivers in North-Central Florida and the Ochlockonee River in the Florida panhandle. Nevertheless, when one is caught, it is often confused with the smallmouth bass from northern waters.
One of Florida’s best outdoor communicators, Herb Allen, says that a sure-fire way to start an argument among Florida’s freshwater anglers is to declare that smallmouth bass can’t be caught in state waters. In fact, people still insist that they have caught smallmouth from the Suwannee River or somewhere in the panhandle. Not so, say biologists with the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission.
"There has never been a documented smallmouth bass catch made in Florida," stated Commission Biologist Gray Bass. "The confusion may be in improperly identifying four of the five bass species that do live in state waters."
In addition to the largemouth bass, four other species of black bass are found in Florida. Though somewhat rare, the redeye bass, Suwannee bass, spotted bass and the shoal bass have all been verified in Florida’s freshwater rivers. Since all of these species possess smaller mouths and have similar colorations, anglers generally don’t recognize what they’ve caught. In fact, when questioning local fishermen in the Tallahassee area about the Suwannee bass, most had never heard of this feisty black bass.
Suwannee bass are quite attractive, very scrappy, and are somewhat wider and thicker than other types of black bass. They are generally thought to be more abundant in the spring-fed lower reaches of the Santa Fe River, which is a tributary of the Suwannee River.
Most all Suwannee bass tend to be smaller than other members of the black bass family. Therefore, a two-pound bass is considered to be a significant catch.
In fact, the Florida and all-tackle world record only weighed three pounds, nine ounces, and until one of my visits to the Ochlockonee River, only three line-class world records had been recorded.
Two and a half days on that gorgeous Florida river a couple of years ago netted me two rare Suwannee bass and an eight-pound line-class world record. Either of these slightly more than two-pound bass would have been large enough for the record, but both made my heart pound far more than any certificate will ever accomplish.
Despite the population boom in North Florida over the past few years, the Ochlockonee River remains a wonderfully lonely place.
During a recent visit, I only encountered two small jon boats with local fishermen that were interested in bream fishing.
My special jet boat allowed me to explore more than twenty miles of the picturesque but ever-changing beauty of the Ochlockonee River.
It was an experience that will always have a special place in my personal memory bank!
Bill Vanderford has won numerous awards for his writing and photography, and has been inducted into the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame as a Legendary Guide. He can be reached at 770-289-1543, at JFish51@aol.com, or at his web site: www.fishinglanier.com