Lake Poinsett and Winder Information Guide - Florida bass fishing guide to Lake Poinsett and Winder, Florida lakes known for bass fishing.
Lake Poinsett Jim Porter
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Jim Porter

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 note.

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 on Winder.

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 baitfish 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 peppergrass, 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 technique.

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 time.

The St. Johns exits at the northeast corner of Lake Winder and plods northwards to larger Lake Poinsett. Along these 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. (Please refer to the accompanying illustration.)

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 location.

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 fly rod 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 air boaters 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 choices.

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 barreling 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 of 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 world'.

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 present.

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 peppergrass 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 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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