While there is still some use of the St. Johns River for commercial purposes, its most popular use now is for fishing and recreational boating.
That’s why St. Johns County puts an emphasis on providing public access to the river.
Wil Smith, director of recreation and parks for St. Johns County, pointed out that there are three county parks with boat ramps that access the river: Palmo Fish Camp, Riverdale Park and Trout Creek.
“We provide those opportunities for our residents and visitors to have those amenities,” Smith said. “We do have a great fishery here. It does bring people here to the county to fish.”
Smith said the county is fortunate to be surrounded by different types water on all sides, each providing its own benefits to lovers of the outdoors. To the east, is the ocean and the Intracoastal Waterway. To the west, is the St. Johns River, which provides different fishing and recreational opportunities.
“In St. Johns County, we are resource rich,” Smith said.
Derek Busby, initiative leader for Middle and Lower St. Johns River (with the St. Johns River Management District), said all the different water sources allow for many different types of fishing and boating.
“You have two ideal water sources,” Busby said of having saltwater and freshwater sources in the same area. “Usually you don’t get to have both. That’s one reason I like living in St. Johns County.”
According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the lower St. Johns, which includes St. Johns County, is a 140-mile stretch that flows north through, or is connected to, more than a half dozen natural lakes ranging from 380 acres to 40,000 acres in size.
The FWC notes that largemouth bass and black crappie fishing can be good in the St. Johns County portion of the river. Its fishing guide also notes that “there is an excellent bluegill and redear sunfish fishery in the springtime. This section of the river has several areas near seawalls that produce excellent striped mullet action.” Other saltwater fishes that can be found include redfish, sea trout and sheepshead.
For those not fishing, the river is still a destination for recreation. Smith said the river is more than two miles wide in some places, which makes it well-suited for water skiing and related activities.
“It’s very conducive to that,” he said. “There’s just a ton of space on the river.”
In St. Johns County’s history, the river has been important for more than just tourism and leisure.
It was vital to Native Americans. Before European involvement in North America, the Timucuan Indians called the St. Johns River, Welaka, or “River of Lakes.”
It was later known by other monikers, including Rio de Corrientes (River of Currents), Riviere de Mai (River of May) and San Mateo.
According to the St. Johns River Alliance, the river was renamed Rio de San Juan after a mission near its mouth named San Juan del Puerto. The English translation of the name Rio de San Juan, St. Johns River, lasted through English, Confederate and American possession of the river — and still remains today.
“We all look at the St. Johns River as a jewel that brings people to this area,” said Teresa H. Monson, public communications coordinator for the St. Johns River Water Management District.