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 are higher than average due to a wet start for the quarter, but should fall over the next couple months. Fishing can really heat up as the marshes drain out and concentrate bait fish into the river and lakes. If a normal dry season develops this winter, fish should become more concentrated in deeper water near vegetated areas. Anglers should focus on wind-protected areas, such as coves, behind or inside bulrush patches, and around grassy islands. In the river, tight bends with visible current lines and eddies are great places to look for feeding bass, crappie, and bream. Most traditional methods for taking bass will work here: plastic worms/jerk baits, spinner baits, and 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. Curly-tail or tube jigs in combinations of pinks, greens, chartreuse and salt/pepper seem to be favorite colors.
The spawning runs of the anadromous American and Hickory shad will peak during this quarter. The St. Johns River from SR 50 to Lake Harney is a historically productive area for excellent catches. When the flow is low, fish will be found in areas of 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 receed. Commonly used artificials include shad darts, streamer flies, and miniature spoons and jigs. Check fishing reports through online searches to determine when the run has arrived. 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): 431
Trophy Club (10 - 12.9 pounds): 79