LAKE POINSETT & WINDER - HEADQUARTERS OF THE ST. JOHN'S RIVER
There was a time when the first 40 miles, or so, of the upper St. Johns River provided possibly the best all-round angling in the entire World. In recent years, however, the
marsh and drainage basin comprising the first ten miles of those headwaters have been severely degraded by rapid silting of the deeper areas and an unnatural explosion of choking vegetation. Both of these appear to have been inadvertently caused by agriculture and livestock interests, which dug
canals to drain and claim valuable farmlands. The natural flow of rain and seepage water through the flats and marshes normally would have allowed a settling of the silt and for the fertilizer remains and other nutrients to be filtered out before reaching the main river. However, the canals acted as 'conveyor belts' and rapidly ejected both directly into the three natural drainage depressions at the true river headwaters. This situation, through the cooperation of the farming interests, the Government and interested sportsman-groups, is now being overcome and the upper basin is
returning to life.
Another less-noticed result of the upper St. Johns basin
decline was the ever-increasing concentration of sportfishing
further down-river. For the large population of local
anglers, the lack of quality fishing opportunities in the
areas of Lake Washington (the first lake of any appreciable
size on the St. Johns), and on to the actual headwaters area,
meant more and more excursions to and pressure on the more
northerly section comprising Lakes Winder and Poinsett, to
include the stretch of pure river (locally referred to as
'Middle River') between the two.
It is in this short stretch of the St. Johns that we
find indicators of the true quality of this fine river. Even
though the quantity of angler-hours is very high on the
Winder-Poinsett section, the fishing success has refused to
decline. If anything, it has even improved over the past six
years. Because they are such excellent bass lakes, and
produce tremendous numbers of speckled perch (crappie), we
consider the Winder-Poinsett location to be worthy of special
As the St. Johns River snakes out of Lake Washington and
through the lush, green marshes, it eventually forms a
'minor' wide spot in its trace some eight miles to the North.
This small (1496 acres), but highly productive, body is known
as Lake Winder. Approximately two and one-half miles long
and one mile wide, Winder's size is really deceiving. Due to
the large amount of aquatic growth (primarily large beds of
pepper grass and milfoil in the open waters and dense cane
and sawgrass around the perimeter), it actually appears much
smaller and, as could then be expected, much of its surface
area is totally inaccessible. However, it can be the more
productive of the two lakes, particularly for the
knowledgeable bass anglers. Bass are very populous and
usually eager to be caught. Winder is not known for trophy
fish, but it is especially good for overall quantities. If
good current flow is not present in the main river channel,
itself, most local tournament anglers will draw a direct bead
Winder is usually not considered a good speckled perch
lake and the other members of the 'brim'-type clans are often
difficult to locate. As we will find later, most anglers
find more than their share of these fishes in Lake Poinsett.
The main concentrations of open water vegetation in
Winder are found on the western half of the lake and,
particularly, along its southern end. The south portion is
where the entrance point of the St. Johns River lies and the
concentration of water-borne nutrients may be a factor
causing the growth. Normally, it is possible to find the
entrance of the north-flowing main river, but the heavy
growth often makes it a difficult process. Some good fishing
can be found in the southern stretch of river, but it is
usually shallow and vegetation-choked. Only anglers with an
'explorer' attitude and a large gas tank (it is at the
extreme distance from the nearest launch, as we will cover
later) normally venture into this section of water.
The bottom contours of Lake Winder have very little
variation and, other than vegetation, there is little true
'structure'. We do find a few open-water shell beds along
the eastern side of the lake and these can be excellent in
the early Summer and during the Winter months. The way to
locate these shells is to find the two and three foot depths
along the eastern side. Then, proceed due West until the
water begins to drop into four and six feet. The shells will
be on small rises, or high spots, that either lie just along
or jut out from the trace of the falling contour. Shallow
crank plugs, such as the Rat-L-Trap or Bagley Killer B One,
will produce in the warm months, especially after the spawn
and when the bass are inclined to chase bait fish on the
surface. During the colder months, the plastic worm is best.
Possibly the western half of the lake holds the most
potential for the newcomer to Winder. In general, this part
of the lake is a collection of large open-water grass beds,
with some intertwined stretches of hard sandy bottom.
Experience has shown that most spawning appears to take place
on the western side and, especially, in the northwest corner.
During the later Winter and early Spring, when the pepper
grass, hydrilla and milfoil beds are most thin, the spinner
bait is an exceptional lure. Additionally, the Devil's Horse
and Bang-O-Lure top-water action can be astounding. With the
coming of the spawn, it is often the plastic worm which must
be used to entice the fickle fish to strike.
As the vegetation thickens, the worm remains an
excellent choice, with 'flipping' being a deadly presentation
One of the most effective, but often overlooked, methods
for taking bass in this cover is the Johnson Spoon. Only a
few anglers have developed the approach and confidence
required to use this lure, but those who have often catch the
'most and the largest'. Possibly, the downfall of the spoon
actually lies in its simplicity of use. It has the most
enticing action ever designed into a bass lure, will easily
come through and over the thickest cover, casts like a
bullet, will not twist line, and runs shallow at a very slow
retrieve speed. Simply add a plastic worm or pork trailer to
the lure, cast it out and retrieve it very slowly through the
densest grass you can find. When possible, try and keep the
lure running one or two feet deep. The only 'trick' to the
spoon is knowing when to set the hook. Ignore the bumps,
taps and nibbles; ONLY set when there is a firm swim-off with
the lure. This insures that the fish has the lure and it is
securely in her mouth.
There are two small draining canals along the east
shoreline of Winder. Ignore these, unless recent heavy rains
have produced some current flow from their mouths. The look
interesting, but are not usually worth your precious fishing
The St. Johns exits at the northeast corner of Lake
Winder and plods northwards to larger Lake Poinsett. Along
this six miles of what is locally called 'middle river', we
find ample angling opportunities. The best times for the
river areas are March through June, when the dry season has
the water levels low. This will force the fish out of the
inaccessible backwater flats and into the main channel trace.
Look for the fish, particularly bass and catfish, to be near
the deeper holes at the bends of the river and wherever there
is any sign of moving water flow.
As can be expected in a river, the outside banks at the
bends are undercut a bit and have some of the deeper water.
However, the INSIDE of the bends will actually be the deepest
and more productive. The normal shallow bar will be found
coming off the point at the inside of the bend, but there
will also be a deep hole on both the up-river and down-river
sides of that bar. The down-river hole, because it is in an
eddy area and provides protection from the force of the
current, will be the key location.
Approximately one-half the way between Lakes Winder and
Poinsett, a canal intersects the St. Johns from the East
side. If a good current is running from the canal, look for
school bass to be feeding on the silt bar extending out from
the North side of the canal mouth. This silt bar is unusual,
in that it has built up until it actually extends nearly the
width of the river, gradually decreasing in size. If the
bass are not found near the mouth of the canal, be sure to
also check for them further out.
A few hundred yards up this canal, a side canal
intersects with it. The washout hole formed at this
intersection can be good for small bass if moving water is
present. Unless Mudfish and gar are your fun, proceed no
further up the canal than this junction.
Another small, narrow canal is found running off to the
East just prior to entering Lake Poinsett. This trace loops
around through the tall cane and runs into a shallow flat on
Poinsett. Avoid this area. It produces few fish and the air
boaters will run over you in it.
Speckled perch fishing is very good in this connecting
stretch of river immediately before and after their spawn.
Look for them to be schooled, at about six feet, in the
deeper sections of the main river. The long straight stretch
that runs in front of the first canal we spoke of is a good
Bluegills and shellcrackers provide excellent light
tackle angling all along the grass and pad areas of the
river, especially March through June. Some of the best
flyrod fishing to be found is right there.
Where the St. Johns enters Lake Poinsett, it makes a
very tight 'S' curve. Be especially careful here, in that
Joe Leadfoot usually comes slipping and sliding into and out
of that curve at 60 MPH. The airboaters are cautious, but
others seem to disregard the danger of this passage.
There are a couple of washouts at the intersection of
the river and the lake. Be sure to check these for bass. A
Rat-L-Trap and a Carolina-rigged plastic worm are good
Lake Poinsett (4300 acres) is approximately seven miles
long and three miles wide and lies on a northwest-to-
southeast axis. Because of this orientation, the cold front
winds of late Winter and early Spring comes barrelling
directly down its length. Accordingly, due caution should be
taken, as its waters can become very rough.
The terrain surrounding Poinsett is flat and has very
few trees, giving the impression of being in the middle of a
prairie. There is a large amount of open water in the lake,
with vast areas a aquatic growth on all sides, particularly
along the western shore. The open water averages some eight
feet in depth, while the cover zones have four, or less.
Poinsett is an excellent lake for all species of fish
and provides superior bass and speckled perch fishing. In
fact, the months of February and March often provide speckled
perch angling on an even par with that of Lake Okeechobee,
which bills itself as the 'speckled perch capital of the
Trophy bass are common for those using live shiners
during the Winter and early Spring. Spinnerbaits are really
productive until the vegetation getting too thick. Then, the
locals move to the spoon and plastic worm. There is little
surface schooling activity by bass on Lake Poinsett, save for
an area in the middle of the open water section (located
about two-thirds of the length of the lake to the South).
There are some a series of small, ill-defined humps and
associated shell beds here and some bass are nearly always
As we pass into the southern portion of Lake Poinsett
from the St. Johns, lets move up the western shoreline and
note the main features.
Immediately to our left, a large basin extends back to
the West. There is some eight foot water in the center of
this basin and we find hydrilla and pepper grass beds. The
western shoreline has heavy growths of reeds and grasses, but
drops off quickly into four and six feet depths. This is a
great early Spring location for both bass and speckled perch.
Proceeding up the western shore, we find heavy reed
growth and intermittent coves and pockets. Large beds of
pepper grass just outside the reed lines and mixed with the
lily pads inside the coves. The coves are good in the early
Spring and the speckled perch will spawn in the pad fields.
The bass will spawn in the very shallow areas to the rear of
the pads and in the edges of the reeds.
Once the spawning is complete, look for the bass to move
into the outer pepper grass beds near open water.
In the northwest corner of Poinsett, just before it
empties back into the St. Johns River, there is a canal
running to the West. It is behind the vegetation and a bit
hard to find, but is is good for bass during and after the
spawn. This is one of the few places in Poinsett that a
buzz-bait works well.
Approximately one mile down-river from where the St.
Johns exits from Poinsett, we find the Lone Cabbage Fish
Camp, one of few on the lake. A good three-ramp public
launch area, with ample parking, is located here. A few
hundred yards North, and just past the Highway 520 bridge, a
passable, but poor, ramp also exists.
Reversing direction at the Lone Cabbage Camp and moving
down the eastern shoreline, we find large pad fields along
the edges of the open water. Bluegills bed here in April
through June. Just past the pad fields, a heavily vegetated
arm extends back to the East. The small strip of open water
that runs in the middle of this arm is the real secret to
catching fish here. In the Summer months, this open area
will overgrow with hydrilla and pepper grass. However, in
the Winter and Spring, those growths are a couple of feet
under the surface. Don't fish the shoreline cover for bass.
Instead, toss a spinner bait in the open water areas and work
it slow in and over the grasses. Trophy bass are caught
here. By late June, disregard this area.
Continuing down the East shore, shallow reed stands are
found in abundance. Fishing is generally poor.
Near the Southeast corner of Poinsett, we find the only
housing along its shoreline. A fish camp and passable boat
ramp are also found at the end of road 520A. The housing is
situated on a series of small, fairly deep canals. These
often produce fish, particularly during the Winter months.
In the immediate Southeast corner of Poinsett is a
normally impassible connection to a minor, weed-choked body
named Lake Florence. Florence can only be entered from the
East off a dirt road and is limited to small, hand-launched
boats and airboats. Disregard it.
On around from the Lake Florence area to the southern
entrance of the St. Johns, Poinsett is basically shallow and
heavily vegetated. Fishing is generally not good.
For a great 'tourist-type' outing, the Lone Cabbage Camp
provides airboat tours of the lakes and the St. Johns marsh.
The scenery is second-to-none and the huge, specially-built
airboats are very comfortable.
Lakes Winder and Poinsett provide excellent fishing opportunities and give the visitor the opportunity to see and
explore some of that unspoiled beauty which is found in the
upper St. Johns River basin.
Recommended sites by The Fishin' Tipster
A common question that we get: "Is there somewhere close to get bait and tackle?" This is where we get our bait.
Pete and Tina Heinz / 9 South Mulberry St. / Fellsmere, FL 32948 / 772-571-9855
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