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Middle River, 520, and Beyond

Cypress North of 520

This is the last of the catch-up posts. On Saturday 01/28/23 I had the pleasure of joining a group to so some fishing upstream of Lake Poinsett. Joe Sherer was nice enough to invite me to join them to fish Middle River, a section of river that I had not previously visited. The group was made up of locals as well as folks from Jacksonville/ St. Augustine and was 5-6 boats in total.

I met Joe at his house at 6:30am on a chilly morning where I was treated to a homemade waffle breakfast! Wow, talk about hospitality! I also had the opportunity to meet his buddy Randy Cleveland from the fly-fishing club (Florida Flyrod Club if memory serves me.) Randy had recently returned from a fly-fishing trip to the Amazon and shared stories as well as pictures of catching some of the biggest peacock bass I have ever seen. Very cool!

After breakfast we loaded up and met the rest of the group at a Dollar Store near Lake Poinsett, and after making introductions with everyone, I joined Mike Danagher for a day of fishing on his Hell’s Bay skiff, and I have to tell you, that is quite the upgrade from the old Sportspal I am used to! LOL!

We dropped the boats in at the ramp at Lake Poinsett Lodge, which costs 5 dollars to launch (after you are done for those that may be interested,) and made the run across the lake to Middle River. While it’s known as Middle River, this section of river is actually well upstream on the St. Johns and sits between Lake Poinsett and Lake Winder. The river is wider here but does have good current. Its banks are lined with high reeds, which can help on high wind days (depending on the wind direction,) and truth be told, it reminded me a lot of parts of river near the Hatbill launch or areas near Mullet Lake.

We quickly found surface activity on a nice bend, and all the boats anchored up and got to work. I started with the switch rod, a T8 tip, and a Crazy Charlie in Tan and Gold, working the bottom section of river. I did get one good strike but missed the hookset. When the wind picked up, the surface activity also picked up with it, and I opted to move over to the one hander, also with a Crazy Charlie tied on, something that has become a regular practice this year. In fact, I have used my switch rod less this year than I have in any year since 2015. The fish seem to want it up top, and long casts paired with long swings, exactly what switch rods do best, seem all but useless this year. We fished the bend for the better part of an hour and did not find shad. I scaled down to a tandem rig, a size #10 Fry Fly plus Gambusia Hairwing and was able to find what all the surface activity was, small panfish and blueback herring.

We talked to another boat with two guys that were members of the FB Group (apologies, but the names have escaped me now two weeks later) that had run all the way up to Lake Winder and experienced similar conditions. Plenty of surface activity but no shad willing to participate. Mike decided he wanted to cross Lake Poinsett and take a look north of SR520. While I have made it to Pipeline Mound coming the other direction, I had not seen the stretch between 520 and Pipeline with my own eyes, so I was game. With multiple weeks of good fishing south of SR50, I figured we had a good shot at finding fish down there too.

Mike and Me

We crossed the lake and checked a couple of spots marked as possible spawning habitat (also accessible by foot) in Luc Desjarlais’ book. With the SR520 gage at 11.2ft, I was surprised to see just how shallow a lot of this area was. I would say the SR50 gage (4.4ft this day) is more realistic for a lot of this area (SR528 to 520) with exceptions made only for the wider bends with big pools. Its skinnier than I would have thought and there were multiple areas that even the Hell’s Bay required some extra effort to traverse. The spots I had marked were not places I would visit again at this water depth (by foot or otherwise.)

We cruised at a pace required to scout for surface activity, as there were not birds giving away locations, and found a nice turn with decent activity. More importantly, it had a slough dumping into the head of the pool and a creek at the tail of the pool which created a nice eddy. We found most of the larger activity to be just on the slough side of the water, similar to what I experienced on TJ’s boat earlier in the week. Mike positioned the boat within casting range and we got about an hour’s worth of solid activity. We hooked panfish and I managed to hook and jump two shad there but did not get any to the boat. There were definitely more shad there but getting them to eat was a different story. It is fun to explore new places and find fish where you have never caught them before. This spot is now forever marked as Mike’s Point on my map!

As it got later in the afternoon, we motored downstream and made it all the way down to Pipeline Mound. With the water levels being low, we hit bottom on some tight turns and decided not to push our luck. While the shad fishing was slow, there were fish there. I think with another 6 inches of water, this whole area could be worth seriously focusing on. At this depth (or below,) I would probably focus downstream in future years.

Thank you again to Joe Sherer for inviting me on this trip, and to Mike Danagher for having me on his boat. I really enjoyed fishing with you and have now connected the section of river from Pipeline Bluff (the furthest I have ventured in my own boat) all the way to Middle River which is pretty darn neat!

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