Everything You Need to Know About Winter Fishing on St. Johns River

As the Sunshine State’s longest river at 310 miles long, the St. Johns River is one of the best fishing areas in Florida — and beyond. This unique river flows from the south to the north, mostly running parallel with the Atlantic coastline before it empties into the ocean near the Jacksonville area. 

What’s even more interesting is how this mixed saltwater and freshwater estuary is home to a variety of aquatic and other wildlife, making it the perfect destination for the avid angler. Here’s everything you need to know about casting a line on the St. Johns River, particularly during the winter months. 

fishing boat on st johns river

Different Types of Fish You’ll Find in the St. Johns River

Depending on where you’re fishing, you’ll typically encounter a few types of fish throughout the river, especially in the Lower, Middle, and Upper Basins. Here are a few examples:

  • Largemouth Bass: Revered as one of the areas to catch “legendary” largemouth bass, the St. Johns River is chock full of these spirited fish, even as the water becomes more brackish. Still, the purer the freshwater (namely in the Upper and Middle Basins), the better the chances are of coming across something substantial.
  • Striped Bass: Some consider this particular river to be Bass paradise, and for good reason! If you’re looking for a “reel challenge”, the striped bass is the perfect opponent. Here’s a hint to finding this particular species: head to the Lower Basin and Lake George, where cool springs offer a thriving ecosystem, especially during the colder, winter months. 
  • Black Crappie: Also called speckled perch or “specks” are all over the St Johns River, especially during those chillier winter months when they move towards the shallow water areas. You’ll likely find your fair share at the main stem of the river, as well as the Upper and Middle basins of the river. Other areas to check out include Jesup Lake, Beresford Lake, and Harney Lake.
  • Channel Catfish: Did you know that the St. Johns is one of the best catfishing rivers in Florida? You’ll find everything from channel catfish to bullheads, and even white catfish in some spots. Plus, you won’t need to focus on a certain area of the river to find these cats — they occupy nearly every mile of the waterway!
  • Redfish: Red drum are native to the Atlantic and Gulf Coast areas, and are especially prevalent in the river when they spawn once a year. This species can be some of the largest fish you’re going to find in the St Johns, so keep an eye on the lower part of the river as well as the area that meets the Intracoastal Waterway during the winter months.  
  • Other species to note: Keep an eye out for bluegill and redbreast sunfish, speckled sea trout, flounder, black drum, snook, and the occasional tarpon when the weather gets warmer. 

What to Add to Your Fishing Packing List

Florida winters are mild at best, but it’s smart to be prepared before heading out for a day on the water. Weather can be somewhat unpredictable, and the last thing you want is to forget an important piece of equipment and cut your day short!

Here are a few things you should be sure to add to the list:

  • Your valid fishing license for adults ages 16 or older (It’s also important to know the regulations in the Sunshine State before casting off) 
  • A fishing rod with a reel and fishing line or fly fishing setup
  • Sinkers
  • Hooks
  • Live bait (the go-to bait for the fish that swim in the St Johns is typically worms or chicken liver, shrimp, or even smaller fish depending on what you’re hoping to catch. You can also use artificial bait, but be sure to select the right kind for the species of fish you’re hoping to hook)
  • Needle nose pliers with cutters to cut the fishing line and help unhook your catches
  • Weather protection wearable gear (a sun hat, sunglasses, warmer jacket for when the sun sets, etc.)
  • Snacks
  • First aid kit (just in case!)

Top Tips for Winter Fishing on the St. Johns River

Know the Rules 

The rules of the water will vary from place to place, so it’s crucial to familiarize yourself with the local jurisdiction’s instructions before doing anything else. 

For one, the St Johns River is a unique venue — with a mixture of freshwater and saltwater fishing options readily available. That means that you will need both a freshwater and saltwater license in order to lure in some live ones unless any of these exemptions apply to your situation.

Know Where to Go

One of the best ways to fish the St Johns is via boat. But due to the nature of the river, the type of boat you use is going to matter greatly. The Upper Basin consists mainly of marshes, wetlands, and shallow waterways that are only accessible with a small vessel like a kayak or fishing dinghy. The Middle Basin by Lake Monroe downwards is navigable with a larger boat, so be sure to know your destination before selecting your vessel of choice. 

Here are some great areas to check out along the St. Johns:

  • Mayport Jetties, Mill Cove, and the George Crady Bridge Fishing Pier are all prime locations outside of Jacksonville to cast a line. 
  • Lake Poinsett near the Upper Basin and the city of Cocoa is known for its largemouth bass population. 
  • Taylor Creek is easy to access and has tons of largemouth bass and crappie to choose from. 
  • Lake Harney has it all: largemouth bass, crappie, and shad! Head down the Mullet Lake Road ramp for best access to the area. 
  • Lake Monroe is open and accessible by larger boat, so you can charter one here if you don’t have your own boat. 
  • Lake George has a plethora of largemouth and striped bass, but be sure to check out the lake’s blue crab fishery while in the area!

Find a Marina

Unless you happen to know someone with a dock on the river, you’re going to want to get acclimated with the best marinas in the area. Did you know that Morningstar Marinas has a Mayport location that is conveniently located right on the St Johns River, with a two mile commute to either the Intracoastal Waterway or the inlet to the ocean? That’s right: both Morningstar Marinas’ Mayport location makes it easy to cast off in some of the best fishing hotspots in the area!

→ Morningstar Marinas Tip: Check out this interactive fishing map to see what’s available in your area currently!

Know When to Fish

The weather can directly affect the mood and behavior of the fish in the river, so it’s important to know what type of day is going to produce the best results. 

Overcast days are going to be great for tricking fish into latching on to your shiny bait, but heading out during sunrise or sunset should yield similar results. Sunny days indicate you’ll need to head to darker waters, and plan to take your midday break when the sun is highest and the fish are able to see things more clearly below water. 

Morningstar Marinas Mayport

Located right on the St. Johns River, Morningstar Marina’s Mayport location is the ultimate fisherman’s dream destination. Only two miles out from the inlet to the ocean and two miles from the Intercoastal Waterway, there are a ton of great spots to cast a line for anglers of all levels of experience. 

At Morningstar Marinas, we’ve created a community of boaters who come together to enjoy life on the water. With locations up and down the Southeast and mid-Atlantic areas, our full-service marinas and seasoned staff are ready to help you make the most out of your next fishing adventure on the St Johns River. With the best blue water access in the area, on-site mechanic services, fuel, bait & tackle, and fish cleaning stations, Morningstar Marinas is more than just a place to stop in to refuel your boat—it’s a place to have a care-free, memory-making experience.