Boating on the St. Johns River, Taking a Break From Saltwater

A boat ride along the St. John’s River in Deland and Orange City.

A few days ago we decided to go boating on the St. John’s River. We always put in near our house and travel the ICW and backwater area to do some fishing. Saltwater is more fun, in my opinion, but fresh water boating gave us a nice break.
We put the boat in at the Ed Stone Park and Boat Ramp in Deland, and it was a really nice ramp. I didn’t take any photos of it – wish I had, but I was busy holding the boat.
There are five or six ramps with nice docks and plenty of parking for the trailers. This makes getting in and out of the water easy enough, and it’s free!
We went out on a Friday, and the weekends are no doubt much busier.
We headed south with no particular destination in mind.
boating on the St. John's River
We’d been boating on the river many years ago when we owned a pontoon boat. I’d caught a big black crappie back then which everyone told me (from looking at the picture) that it was record size. I knew nothing about fish or fishing at the time.

We noticed right away the high water line on the trees along the river. After Hurricane Irma (September 2017) we had heard stories about flooding along the St. John’s River. This river runs North, and that means when there is an abundance of rain in the south, it fills the river and brings all that water to the north.  So besides all the rain we got from the hurricane here, this part of the state also got runoff from the water dumped on south Florida.

The river had been closed to boaters for a long time because water was up in yards and flooding houses and businesses. We could see the water line among the trees and it was high! I would say 3 to 4 feet higher than what we were on. It was obvious to us that lots of places were not situated high enough above that line.

brown water
Brown water of the river

The river is not the place to swim as it is loaded with alligators. People do go in the water anyway and we saw a family fishing from the shore while their little girl splashed around in the water. Yikes.
The water is brown. It’s not dirty, but turns brown from something in the cypress trees that line the water. However this means you can’t see a thing beneath the surface. And there is creepy stuff in this water.

We saw quite a few alligators like the one slowly swimming in front of our boat while we were fishing.

Alligator swimming along the river

We traveled, very slowly due to all the “slow speed” signs, down toward Hontoon Island. The pontoon shuttle was going back and forth from the mainland to the island, which isn’t far at all.

pontoon boat at Hontoon Island
Hontoon Island (on the left) and the pontoon shuttle which goes back and forth to the mainland.

Further down the river we began to see lots of kayaks and activity. We were at Blue Springs state park. Boaters can pick a spot (if there is one) and tie up their boats to trees. It’s free to enter the park from a personal boat, but cars have to pay a fee.

They’ve made some nice upgrades to the Spring over the years, like this wooden boardwalk. I can’t remember exactly how it looked back in the 1980’s but I know it wasn’t this fancy.

Boardwalk at Blue Springs
Boardwalk at Blue Springs

We did some fishing and caught nothing, but we are not experts at fresh water fishing. Actually, we are not experts at all. Our trip was mainly for sight-seeing.  The trees along the banks looked ragged and many were torn up by the roots.

rivers edge
Shaggy trees at the edge of the river

Fish were jumping and birds lined the banks and sat in trees. Tour boats came by every now and then and loads of rented pontoon boats were out on the water. It’s easy to spot a rented boat when it says in big letters “Rent Me” on the side!

We saw a couple other fishing boats, but pontoons are the choice of travel here it seems. And it’s no wonder. Most of the river was marked with “Slow Speed” signs which meant it took us hours to travel down and back the short distance we went. This is because of the local manatee population.

If we go back to this boat ramp we will try going north instead of south. There were no slow speed signs up that way that we could see.

%d bloggers like this: