Explore fishing, paddling, and nature at the Fitzhugh Carter Tract Conservation Area in Chipley

July 7, 2018

FWC has several Jon boats available to use free of charge. Lori Ceier/Walton Outdoors

An extraordinary encounter with nature abounds just south of Chipley in the northwest Florida Panhandle. Located just west of Highway 77, 5 miles north of State Road 20 in the Greenhead community, the Fitzhugh Carter Tract functions as an independent parcel of the Econfina Creek WMA. Four days a week, this 2,175-acre conservation area is open to the public offering an abundance of fishing, paddling, and exploring. The land is owned by Northwest Florida Water Management District (NWFWMD), and is managed in a collaboration with Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).

The tract contains a wide variety of habitat types, including xeric sandhill uplands, portions of upper Pine Log Creek, various wetland habitats, and clear, sand-bottomed lakes. Non-native sand and slash pine plantations have been harvested, and the uplands are currently being restored to their original condition of longleaf pine and wiregrass. Exploring will take you along scenic wetland vistas including views of pond cypress, water lilies, and a variety of native flowers blooming spring through fall.

Picnic area along one of the ponds. Lori Ceier/Walton Outdoors

While it is in part a wildlife management area, the Carter Tract is also a mitigation bank property, purchased by NWFWMD to offset development impacts to other wetlands in the surrounding areas. The primary objective of the Carter Tract is the preservation and restoration of the wetlands and surrounding uplands on the property. Thus, recreational use is limited and more intensively managed on this wildlife management area than most others in the Northwest Region. While the Carter Tract is open to access on foot everyday during daylight hours, public vehicle access is limited to Friday through Monday (except during established hunting seasons) and is restricted to improved roads. Camping, swimming, horseback riding, use of bicycles and ATVs are all prohibited on the area.

The Carter Tract was operated as a popular fishing ranch by its owner, Mr. Fitzhugh Carter, in the 1960s and 1970s.  During drought conditions, some of the old cypress boats Mr. Carter built and rented to anglers can be seen exposed on pond banks throughout the area.  The tract was later leased as a private hunting area.  Knowing the rich history of recreational use and recognizing its potential for high quality recreational opportunities, NWFWMD entered into an agreement with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to manage the property for limited recreational use and to conduct ongoing monitoring of fish and wildlife resources.  Recreational activities include seasonal hunting, fishing, hiking and bird watching. Visitors to the area will often spot white-tailed deer, wild turkey, songbirds and wading birds, including little blue herons, tricolored herons, and snowy egrets.

The Fitzhugh Carter Tract is located at 2830 Chain Lake Road; Chipley, Florida 32428. ::MAP::

Hours are Friday – Monday 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. (8 p.m. in the summer months). Reservations are required. Call 850-773-2631.

Hunting opportunities

The Carter Tract is a part of the Econfina Creek Wildlife Management Area. Persons using wildlife management areas are required to have appropriate licenses, permits and stamps. Click here to learn more.

Dogs on this WMA

  • For purposes other than hunting, dogs are allowed, but must be kept under physical restraint at all times. Dogs are prohibited in areas posted as “Closed to Public Access” by FWC administrative action. No person shall allow any dog to pursue or molest any wildlife during any period in which the taking of wildlife by the use of dogs is prohibited.
  • Be sure to check regulations for hunting with dogs.

A special opportunity fishing program on the Carter Tract provides a unique opportunity for anglers of all ages to fish in cypress and sand-bottomed ponds that are characteristic to this region of Florida. The fishing program operates four days per week (Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday) year-round with the exception of established hunting seasons. Boats are located on the lakes for use free of charge, and lifejackets and paddles are provided.  For more information about the Carter Tract or to reserve a boat, call (850) 773-2631.

J. B. Hillard of DeFuniak Springs describes the special fishing opportunity experience at the Carter Track:

What an amazing 2,175 acre pristine tract of land that is tightly controlled, yet the public is allowed access on a limited basis. Also amazingly, it’s all free, including use of boats for fishing and hunting.

Documenting the day's catch for FWC records. Photo courtesy J.B. Hillard
Documenting the day’s catch for FWC records. Photo courtesy J.B. Hillard

You don’t just go and use the Tract willy nilly….there are strict rules to follow and there are no exceptions. For instance no boats or trailers are allowed. A canoe or kayak is o.k. but must be inspected before they are allowed to proceed. No electric motors, you paddle using provided oars or scull. Boats are provided on several lakes and are nice big Jon boats. Seats do not have a backrest, so if you want one, better bring you own that will clamp to the seat. They come with anchor, life preserver, and a creel kit that includes a first aid kit.

Bass are catch and release only, bream min. size 8 inches limit 20, crappie min. size 10 inches limit 10. Aggregate limit 20. Catfish no limit or size. Limited catch but still a lot of fish if there are two in a boat. You record every fish you catch by length and whether or not you kept the fish.

Travel is restricted to roads marked on the map. There are many roads and trails for foot traffic only. Each day, there no more than 20 folks on all the lakes at any one time.

Boats are provided on several lakes and are nice big Jon boats that come with anchor, life preserver, and a creel kit that includes a first aid kit. Photo courtesy J.B. Hillard
Boats are provided on several lakes and are nice big Jon boats that come with anchor, life preserver, and a creel kit that includes a first aid kit. Photo courtesy J.B. Hillard

I was lucky to catch a fisherman just coming in at Dry Pond. We talked for a long time and he gave me a wealth of information on how to fish the lakes. He’s a regular and you can tell by just watching how he maneuvered and all he had for tackle and gear. For instance he had a huge battery he put in the front of the Jon boat to hold the bow down for easier paddling and bucking the wind. I would never have thought of that. Of course the ideal boat for these lakes is a canoe or kayak.