Upper St. Johns River and Lakes
This 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 Returns" 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.
The water level is a little above average but falling quickly in December. Fishing can really heat up as the marshes drain out and bring a lot of bait into the river and lakes. For bass anglers Lake Poinsett has had the best sizes and numbers in spring samples for the last couple of years. Lake Washington had good number of age-1 fish in 2019 and 2020 spring samples so those fish should be reaching good size. If a normal dry season develops this winter, fish should become more concentrated in vegetated areas with deeper water. Anglers should focus on wind-protected areas, such as coves, behind or inside bulrush patches, and around grassy islands. Many anglers prefer to fish the back channels and sloughs within the riverine section between SR 520 west of Cocoa north to SR 46 northwest of Titusville, when water levels allow. This is a great area to target for bream and crappie when water is receding from the marshes. Other river sections between lakes Winder and Poinsett, Washington and Sawgrass, and between Sawgrass and Hell ‘n Blazes can also produce. Most traditional methods for taking bass will work here. Plastic worms/jerk baits, spinner baits, weedless spoons, and twitching shallow-running minnow imitations are some favorites among many local anglers.
Crappie can be found around vegetated areas, especially bulrushes, sheltered from the wind. The bulrush lines on the west side of Poinsett are known to be especially productive if water levels stay up. Specks will also congregate in the deep bends of riverine sections upstream and downstream from lakes. Anglers should take fair numbers of fish by slow trolling artificials (small jigs and beetle spins, 1/32-1/8 oz.) or by drifting with live minnows in the deeper, open-water areas of lakes Poinsett, Winder, and Washington. Bends in the middle river section between lakes Winder and Poinsett can also be productive for crappie anglers, especially if water levels drop too low to fish the lakes. Curly-tail or tube jigs in combinations of pinks, greens, chartreuse and salt/pepper seem to be favorite colors. A 10 or 12 ft. jig pole tipped with an appropriately colored jig, can be very productive when methodically fished along grass and other vegetated edges along the river.
The spawning runs of the anadromous American and Hickory shad will peak during this quarter. Some American Shad and Hickory Shad have already been caught down by CS Lee and Mullet Lake in December 2020. The run of American Shad could be pretty good this years as we are looking for strong 2015 and 2016 hatches to come back to spawn. The water level falling back within-bank during January is generally ideal for shad fishing. The St. Johns River from SR 50 to Lake Harney is a historically productive area for excellent catches. When the flow is low the key to finding fish is finding the limited areas with moving water. Some anglers prefer trolling while others like to fly fish or cast with ultra light tackle from an anchored boat or riverbank. Walking the banks and wading to fly fish should be a pretty good option south of Lake Harney in February if waters continue to recede. The adventurous can also walk to the river from Brumley Road trail head in the Little Big Econ State Forest or from the Canaveral Marshes access on the south side of SR 50 between the river and Titusville. Commonly used artificials include shad darts, streamer flies, and miniature spoons and jigs. Anglers who hook shad will be rewarded with a strong fight and the aerial acrobatics of these long distance swimmers. Anglers are reminded that these shad species are saltwater fish, with a saltwater fishing license required by anglers planning to target or possess them when they move upstream into fresh water to spawn.
TrophyCatch 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 system:
Lunker Club (8 – 9.9 pounds): 404
Trophy Club (10 - 12.9 pounds): 74