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.
Fishing license information may be found at: Licenses. Instant licensing is available via Internetor telephone. Youth age 15 and younger fish for free. Alabama residents age 65 or older are not required to purchase a fishing license.
Possession and creel limits for Alabama public waters are listed at: Creel Limits
Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division has three boat ramps in Dale and Geneva counties. Clayhatchee and Newton boat ramps are in Dale County. Both of these ramps are suitable for small, shallow-running boats except during low water conditions. Spann's Boat Ramp is in Geneva County. The river is usually deep enough for shallow running outboard motors in this section. Another popular boat ramp is located at the Geneva City Park. Several bridge crossings over the Choctawhatchee River are very popular places to slide in canoes and small jon boats.
US Geological Survey gives water discharge estimates and gage heights near Bellwood and near Newton.
Alabama Water Watch has a report on the Chattahoochee River which includes coastal rivers such as the Choctawhatchee. Rivers of Alabama Website gives additional information about the drainage.
Pictures by Beth Maynor Young
The entire Choctawhatchee River in Geneva and Houston counties is considered navigable, which means the bottom of the stream is public land. The Choctawhatchee River is navigable in Henry County at Township 8N, Range 27E, Section 16 and all downstream from there. The East Choctawhatchee River in Dale County is navigable and in Barbour County is navigable at Township 10N, Range 27E, and Section 20 and all downstream from there. The West Choctawhatchee River in Dale County is navigable and in Barbour County is navigable at Township 9N, Range 25, and Section 36 and all downstream from there.
For more information on the Choctawhatchee River, contact Mr. Ken Weathers of the District IV Fisheries Office at 1-334-347-9467. Another useful site is Rivers of Alabama.
The Alabama Department of Public Health has issued a fish consumption advisory for the Geneva County portion of the Choctawhatchee River due to mercury. Information on the consumption advisories may be found at the Alabama Department of Public Health Web site, www.adph.org. Consumption advisory information is found in "A-Z Contents" under "Fish Consumption Advisories."
"It shall be unlawful to intentionally stock or release any fish, mussel, snail, crayfish or their embryos including bait fish into the public waters of Alabama under the jurisdiction of the Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries as provided in Rule 220-2-.42 except those waters from which it came without the written permission of a designated employee of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources authorized by the Director of the Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries to issue such permit. The provisions of this rule shall not apply to the incidental release of bait into the water during the normal process of fishing."
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.
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Prepared by: Fisheries Section, Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. This site is presented for information only the Fisheries Section cannot be responsible for the quality of information or services offered through linked sites, disclaimer. To have your site included, send your URL, email address, or telephone number to the Fisheries Web Master, firstname.lastname@example.org. The Fisheries Section reserves the right to select sites based on relevant and appropriate content of interest to our viewers. If you discover errors in the content or links of this page, please contact Doug Darr. Thank you.