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.
Water levels in the upper St. Johns River are pretty low to start the summer. As long as the water is low, the fish are concentrated in deeper bends in the river and navigation is difficult in traditional motorized vessels. The water should gradually increase as the wet season continues. As the flow increases the outlet end of lakes, such as the western end of Lake Poinsett, generally have the best water quality and are the best bet to find fish willing to bite. 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. 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 tasty 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.
Work the banks and emergent vegetation in the high water conditions for bass and panfish. Look for bass to be schooling where the river flows into the lakes and near the mouth of drainage canals. 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 and wider part of the river north of Lake Winder.
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): 360
Trophy Club (10 - 12.9 pounds): 69