THE ST JOHNS- BASSIN’ DOWN THE RIVER TO THE DEEP BLUE SEA
It seems like a long time ago that Seth Fieder raised the AOY 2021 Trophy putting a period at the end of the sentence that was the Elite Series 2021. The offseason has been a LONG one, but the end is in sight, with the first tournament of the year being again on the St Johns River in Florida. This fishery has become a unofficial season “Opener” and it has become a venue that anglers cannot take for granted. Some years it has been dominated by sight fisherman, and other times it has been won on moving baits like spinnerbaits. The status of grass in the river seems to be a very big influence on how the event is won and who wins it. It has been won on flats as well as under docks. You can be sure that big fish will be caught and predicting who will hoist the trophy will not be easy. One successful formula has been flipping beaver baits. Others have found success with frogs, crankbaits, and, as with Rick Clunn twice in the past few years-
spinnerbaits. Bryan New is the defending champ having dropped two 20-pound bags followed by a 26-plus pound bag on the final day to win by throwing a lipless crankbait and flipping emergent vegetation.
The St. Johns River is the longest river in Florida at 310 miles. It flows north, and like most Florida waterways, the St. Johns has a very low flow rate and is often described as "lazy". Numerous lakes are formed by the river or flow into it, and as a river its widest point is nearly 3 miles across. It even boasts lunker fishing favorites like Lake George and Rodman Reservoir. The narrowest point at the headwaters is an unnavigable marsh. The river separates naturally into three major basins all managed by the St. Johns River Water Management District. Given Florida’s growth, the St. Johns, has been altered to make way for agricultural and residential centers, causing a rise in pollution and redirection that has impacted its ecosystem. The St. Johns River is separated into three basins and two associated watersheds
The upper basin of the St. Johns was significantly lowered in the 1920s with the establishment of the Melbourne Tillman drainage project through the digging of canals. The river is at its narrowest and most unpredictable in this basin. The most efficient way to travel on this part of the river is by airboat. Approximately 3,500 lakes lie within the overall St. Johns watershed; most shallow, with maximum depths between 3 and 10 feet. The river through the upper and upper middle basins lacks definition, and there is a sort of channel dominated by grasses and weeds with few trees. Two of the largest lakes in the middle basin are created by the river: Lake Harney and Lake Monroe. It is in this area that the waters become increasingly navigable. Just down river from Monroe the Wekiva River empties into St Johns. The river is smooth and lined by oak and other mixed-forest trees. The river is better defined towards the lower end of the middle basin, and there are distinct banks and trees instead of marshes, as well as a lot of wildlife- numerous species of frog, salamander, snake, turtle, and alligator. This all leads to Lake George- a vast body of water and the 2nd largest lake in Florida at 6 miles wide and 12 miles long, much of which lies within Ocala National Forest and Lake George State Forest.
There is a proliferation of largemouth bass, black crappie, and bluegill that make a major attraction for fishermen from all over the country. The St. Johns is home to 183 species of fish, 55 of which appear in the main stem of the river. The area from the intersection of its major tributary, the Ocklawaha River, along 101 miles to the Atlantic Ocean, is known as the lower basin. Between Lake George and Palatka the river ranges between 600 and 2,640 feet wide. Then, between Palatka and Jacksonville, that widens further to between 1 and 3 miles. This portion of the river is the most navigable. Palatka and Green Cove Springs have been popular tourist destinations especially for anglers.
Tides cause seawater to enter the mouth of the St. Johns River and can affect the river's level even into the middle basin. Although freshwater invertebrates inhabiting and comprising algae and periphyton make the foundation of food chain in the middle and lower basin, they are augmented by species from the saltier estuarine habitat. What does all this mean for prospective anglers? Well, both freshwater and saltwater species thrive here, and St. Johns River fishing adventures offer something for every visitor. However, the St. Johns doesn’t really conform to the mainstream concept of a river. You can forget all about your typical smooth-flowing, grassy-banked waterway, the St. Johns River is another kind of beast altogether, meaning there’s something for every type of largemouth angler.