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.


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): 88

Trophy Club (10 – 12.9 pounds): 16


Current Forecast:

What a difference a year makes. Last year we were looking at record low water levels going into the winter/spring. This year we have plenty of water courtesy of Irma and a generally wet summer. The extended flooding of the marsh has grown a lot of bait. The river should get lower and lower throughout the January-March period. Bait from the marsh will fill the river as the waters recede. Find areas where the bait is filling in from the marsh and there is often a feeding frenzy with multiple species participating. Likewise, the sections of the lakes where the river flows into the lakes are often good places to target bass when the river has been high and is dropping. Plastic worms/jerk baits, spinner baits, weedless spoons, and twitching shallow running minnow imitations are some favorites among many bass 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. 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. Twister tail or tube jigs in combinations of pinks, greens, chartreuse, salt and pepper, and pearly whites seem to be the most productive 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 vegetation edges along the river.

The spawning runs of the anadromous American and Hickory shad occur in this quarter. The St. Johns River from Hatbill Park to Lake Harney is a historically productive area for excellent catches. Other river sections where shad anglers may be successful are between SR 528 and SR 50 and the stretch between Lake Harney and Lake Monroe. Some anglers prefer trolling while others like to fly fish or cast with ultra light tackle from an anchored boat or riverbank. Falling water conditions after a hurricane flood can make for exciting fishing when the shad go after the abundant mosquitofish and grass shrimp that are washing into the river from the draining marshes. 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 a saltwater fishing license is required to target/possess shad.


FWC Facts:
DeFuniak Springs is home to one of the two naturally round lakes in the world.

Learn More at AskFWC