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Suwannee Bass by Kayak | River Gems

By Jean Wilson

Of all the black bass species found worldwide, the beautiful Suwannee bass has the smallest range and geographic distribution which just luckily happens to be in the rivers of my backyard. How fortunate to get to experience this amazing creature along with so many other riverine delights in such close proximity to my home. Kayak fishing these moving waters yields multiple species of fish and these little dynamos are always at the top of my catch and release list. True gems of the river!

Suwannee Bass By Kayak | River Gems

Range and Distribution:

Suwannee bass (micropterus notius), named in 1949, are their own distinct species. Their distribution includes the Ochlocknee, Alapaha and Withlacoochee rivers in South Georgia and North Florida, and also the Suwannee, Santa Fe, Ichetucknee, Withlacoochee, Aucilla, Wakulla, Wacissa and St Marks rivers of Florida.

Suwannee Bass By Kayak | River Gems

Size and Description:

Compared to largemouth bass, the Suwannee rarely exceeds one pound. Most are in the 10-12 inch range but can get up to 16.5 inches in length, with the world record being just under four pounds. A two pound Suwannee bass is considered large and Florida Wildlife and Fish Conservation Commission (FWC) allows Suwannees exceeding 1.5 lbs or 14” as eligible to be recognized in their Big Catch program.

Suwannee Bass By Kayak | River Gems

Suwannee bass have a stocky build, with dark vertical diamond-shaped patches along their lateral line and sometimes a dark patch at the base of their tail. When they reach maturation, and especially during the spawning months of February to June, the adults will have a beautiful turquoise hue on their jaws and cheeks. Oftentimes, their overall coloration becomes darker during the spawn.
There are a few other characteristics that help to distinguish them from largemouth bass. Even though the mouth of the Suwannee is relatively large, the upper jaw does not extend beyond the eyes. They have a small set of extra teeth on their tongue called a tooth patch. Their dorsal fin is not deeply notched like a largemouth’s would be.
The faster growing female Suwannee’s lifespan can be twelve years, a male’s only nine. Their conservation status is considered “Near Threatened”.


Here is an article that discusses the diversity of Micropterus, the black bass species, and their characteristics.

Black Bass: How many species are there?

Lures and Techniques:

Despite their small size, Suwannee bass are aggressive feeders and will often go after the same lures used to catch their bigger cousins. I have caught giant largemouth bass on the rivers with soft plastic paddletails or worms and on the next cast caught a Suwannee. Since crayfish are a large part of their diet a Texas-rigged craw or jig with craw trailer are solid techniques, especially good at getting the bait down to drag it through eel grass, drop under overhangs, into deep holes or to bounce off rock and wood. Minnows are another forage so they will also hit swimbaits, small cranks, spinnerbaits and in-line spinners.

Suwannee Bass By Kayak | River Gems

This article from the Georgia DNR includes public access points, launch sites and float suggestions, areas of higher concentrations and an interactive map. The fisheries biologist also includes additional lure suggestions and advice for targeting Suwannee bass in waters with different structure.

Habitat and behavior:

Suwannee bass are riverine fish who prefer the moderate to swift currents and neutral waters of rocky limestone shoals and spring runs. But because they were introduced to some rivers Suwannees have adapted to diverse habitats and can be found in woody structure, eel grass, bank overhangs and outcroppings, depressions formed by current and under floating mats of vegetation. They lie in wait in many parts of the river to ambush crayfish and minnows so cast your lures often and widely!
Their bedding and spawning behavior is similar to largemouth with the males making the beds and guarding the eggs. It’s an amazing sight to sit quietly in my kayak above a Suwannee bass bed in shallow clear water and watch the courting behavior and then later the dedication that the males display in protecting their future young.

Suwannee Bass By Kayak | River Gems

Here are other helpful sources of information, especially if the Sante Fe River in North Florida is your destination.

Catch A Suwannee Bass On The Santa Fe River

For fly fishing aficionados, this article describes areas on the Sante Fe that would be great for wading or kayaking.

My Jackson Kayak Fishing Team mate, Jon Hummel, describes his fishing trip to the Withlacootchee River in South Georgia to add the Suwannee bass to his bucket list.

My First Suwannee Bass

Just like folks in many areas of North America that are fiercely proud of their region’s smallmouth bass, so goes the same for me with Suwannee bass. There is an allure not only to their beauty, tenacity and small range but also to the wondrous waters that I love to paddle, explore and discover. Together this adds an even deeper level of appreciation and connection to nature and it’s immense mysteries.

~Jean Wilson
Jackson Kayak Fishing Team-Factory