Upper St. Johns River and Lakes

Brevard County

Upper St. Johns River and LakesThis 60-mile stretch of the St. Johns River is the southernmost headwaters where the tannin-stained river originates out of the vast marshes, swamps, water management areas and canal systems.  The river flows through a number of lakes ranging from 350 to 4,500 acres in size (Lake Hell'n Blazes, Lake Sawgrass, Lake Washington, Lake Winder and Lake Poinsett).  The river is not marked for navigation, flowing within a single channel downstream to Cocoa at which point the river becomes braided into multiple channels as the river flows across the floodplain downstream to Puzzle Lake. Water levels fluctuate around six feet annually between the dry (winter-spring) and wet season (late summer-early fall). These extreme annual water level changes can radically affect the physical dimension of the river, causing a less than 150 foot wide river to expand out over the flood plain and become several miles wide, changing the navigability of the river and the distribution of the fish. Most of the upper St. Johns River and lakes are surrounded by State-owned lands which makes it a very scenic environment for all users.

The "River ReturnsExternal link is a high definition television show about the St. Johns River that will air in October on PBS. Meanwhile their web site provides some excellent information about the river.

For further information, listings of fish camps, or ramp locations please contact our fisheries Regional Office in Ocala at 352-732-1225 or consult the Northeast Regional Freshwater Fishing Guide  PDF document.

Fishhound External link also offers a fishing forecast for St. Johns River External link.


Popular species:

Popular fish species

Fish graphics by Duane Raver, Jr.


TrophyCatchTrophyCatch Tracker

TrophyCatch External link is FWC's citizen-science program that rewards anglers for documenting and releasing trophy bass 8 pounds or larger. The following TrophyCatch bass have been submitted from the St. Johns River:

Lunker Club (8 – 9.9 pounds): 86

Trophy Club (10 – 12.9 pounds): 16


Current Forecast:

Water levels in the upper St. Johns River and lakes are super low to begin the summer but the rainy season should bring some flow. The fish, most anything you’d want to catch, are more concentrated in deeper river sections between the lakes from Puzzle Lake all the way up to Lake Hell’n Blazes. Much of the habitat in the lakes will be high and dry until the water level rise and many of the lake fish will be packed in whatever deep river water they can find at either end of the lakes. As water levels rise, anglers should find bass and panfish catches improving without having to motor great distances. Moving water resulting from seasonal rainfall usually stimulates feeding activity in the river. Anglers should target the edges of vegetation along banks, sharp bends, and drop-offs near shallow bars. Traditional methods for taking all species will work. Swimming plastic worms/jerk baits and twitching shallow-running minnow imitations are preferred tactics among many bass anglers here. Fly-fishing with a surface popper is also a very popular and productive way to catch both bass and panfish in the river section between Poinsett and SR 528. One more note on the river; the populations of exotic sailfin catfish, brown hoplos, and tilapia have fully recovered from the cold kill in 2010. These fish are all very abundant if you have any interest in them. As long as the water is very low you can find very dense groups of these fish. Tilapia have occasionally been taken on small spinners and jigs and are fun to catch when they do bite. But tilapia may also be taken by bowfishing and cast netting if you are looking to put some tastey fish in the box by means other than angling. Just remember that you cannot keep game fish that are caught with these alternative fishing gears.

Lakes Washington, Winder and Poinsett should also see improved catches for both bass and panfish as rising water levels inundate much of the vegetative communities around these lakes. Look for bass to be schooling where the river flows into the lakes and near the mouth of drainage canals. Bass and panfish fishing should also be good among the mixed bulrush, bonnets and emergent grasses located in the coves and around the perimeter of the lakes. Crappie anglers should take fair numbers of fish by slow-trolling artificials or by drifting with live minnows in the deeper, open water areas of Lake Washington and Lake Poinsett.


FWC Facts:
Florida Bass Conservation Center volunteers can assist biological staff in all aspects of fish culture and center management.

Learn More at AskFWC