Fish and Fishing the Choctawhatchee River
The Choctawhatchee River is a coastal river in southeast Alabama and the Florida panhandle. The Choctawhatchee River begins in Barbour County and flows through Henry, Dale and Geneva counties in Alabama before going into Florida and eventually to Choctawhatchee Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. Major tributaries include the West Fork just above Newton, the Little Choctawhatchee in southern Dale County, and the Pea River below Geneva. The watershed includes Blue Springs State Park in Barbour County, and the Choctawhatchee River is considered one of "Alabama's Ten Natural Wonders." US Geological Survey data indicates the average annual flow at Newton is 946 cubic-feet per second. Though it has some rapids and a drop in the upper portion, most of the Choctawhatchee River is typical of a coastal river in a southern forest region of cypress, oak and other hardwoods.
The Choctawhatchee River contains many typical coastal river fish species. While anglers enjoy catching species, such as channel catfish, spotted bass, and a wide variety of sunfish; the Choctawhatchee River also supports many fish, such as redhorse suckers and carpsuckers, that hook and line anglers seldom see. Some small, nongame fish are found in the Choctawhatchee River and other Coastal Plain rivers, but they are not present in the Mobile Basin. A few fish, mussels, amphibians, and reptiles in the Choctawhatchee River basin are rare and need further study.
This unimpeded river is considered a critical site for Gulf sturgeon spawning activity. The US Fish and Wildlife Service collected 522 Gulf sturgeon from October 9 through November 6, 2008; these fish ranged from one to 160 pounds. The different sizes caught indicated very successful spawning over the past few years. Population estimates indicate the Choctawhatchee River population has expanded by a third between 2001 and 2008. One fish had been tagged 17 years and grew from 35 pounds to 105 pounds.
The Choctawhatchee River drainage is home to 21 freshwater mussel species. It shares a unique fauna with neighboring Yellow and Conecuh river drainages, and seven of the species are found nowhere else. Two additional species are known only from the Choctawhatchee system. Unlike many rivers, the Choctawhatchee still has most of its mussel species. Dams are the primary culprit when it comes to elimination of riverine fauna. No major dams have been built on the Choctawhatchee River so it retains its free-flowing habitat. Also, some reaches of the river still have their wooded floodplain swamps, which are important in maintaining channel stability and removing pollutants and sediment from the water.
Aquatic snails have fared well in the Choctawhatchee River drainage. Twenty-one species have been reported or are suspected to occur there. None are believed to have been eliminated. One of the species, Graphite elimia, occurs only in the Choctawhatchee drainage. Two additional species, slackwater elimia and stately elimia, are limited to this and adjacent rivers. Reasons that no species have disappeared from this river are the same as those for mussels, the maintenance of a natural river channel and good water quality.
For more information on the Choctawhatchee River, please contact the District IV Fisheries Office.
Gangloff, M. M, and P. W. Hartfield. 2009. Seven populations of the southern kidneyshell (Ptychobranchus jonesi) discovered in the Choctawhatchee River Basin, Alabama. Southeastern Naturalist 8(2):245-254.