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Wekiva River

The obligatory gator shot

    The Wekiva River (pronounced we-kive-a) is a relatively short (16 miles) spring-fed stream located just north of Orlando and northeast of Apopka. The Wekiva ranges anywhere from fifty feet wide to as much as three hundred feet wide in other places. Crystal clear in it's upper reaches, the Wekiva remains clear but takes on a brownish tannin stain as it meanders northward on it's way to the confluence with the St. John's River. The Wekiva does have some bankside development in parts, but the majority of it's length is unspoiled wilderness, a minor miracle considering it's proximity to the Orlando metro area.

    The fishing can be excellent throughout it's length for largemouth bass, all of the panfish species, catfish, and even striped bass near the mouth of the St. John's. I remain amazed that a river this close to a major metropolitan area can retain the beauty and the healthy fish populations that the Wekiva boasts. Perfectly sized for canoes or kayaks, the Wekiva does get a pretty good bit of paddle traffic, but most of the Wekiva's visitors are there to paddle and see the wildlife and don't appear to be seriously fishing. If you happen to get there on a crowded spring weekend, don't let all the boat traffic bother you. The fish are used to it and they eat as often as the fish in any other river.

    The Wekiva is fed by Wekiwa Springs (and over 200 smaller springs along it's course) and Rock Springs Run and is crystal clear at it's headwaters. This upper section is best suited to canoes and kayaks, and I am unaware of any places in the upper river to launch a motorboat. The river alternately narrows and widens along it's course and the water gets a little dingier (but remains pretty clear) as it heads downstream. Anglers throwing artificial lures may want to consider using fairly light line in the upper reaches due to the clear water and the fact that they may be ever-so-slightly more educated than fish in less popular rivers. Once the Little Wekiva has entered (about 5 miles downstream on river right), the water is somewhat less clear and line visibility becomes less of an issue.

The view from Wekiva Marina

   Catfish and panfish (bluegill, redbreast, and stumpknockers) abound in the Wekiva, and can be caught using the same methods you would use to catch them anyplace else. Panfish can be caught on small spinners, jigs, popping bugs, red wigglers, or crickets. For catfish, find the deeper holes and throw a gob of worms on the bottom near some cover.

   The bass run a little small on the Wekiva, but like most rivers in Florida, the Wekiva holds it's share of trophies. Soft plastic lures in natural colors are deadly, whether fished on the bottom, on the surface, or anywhere in between. Minnow plugs fished near the surface also work well. The key is locating some water that is at least 3-4 feet deep. The bass usually won't be far from this relatively deeper water, which can be tough to find in places, especially in areas where the river widens out. The excellent water clarity makes the water depth pretty easy to judge. Bass fishermen on the Wekiva are almost certain to encounter a bowfin or two, and these prehistoric critters are a blast to catch as long as you don't attempt to bring them in the boat with you. Bowfin are extremely toothy and thrash about like they are on PCP once in the boat.

An itty-bitty Wekiva largemouth. They get bigger than this I promise!

    Access to the Wekiva is excellent and there are no major obstacles along it's course other than the occasional hyacinth jam. The last five miles are in the Wekiva Preserve, which is completely unspoiled wilderness. You might encounter a bit of powerboat traffic on this lower stretch of the Wekiva, as Wekiva River Haven rents small motorized boats from their location just downstream of the canoe launch just east of the canoe launch off Highway 46. Most sections of the Wekiva are nice and slow, and even the faster sections aren't all that fast, making the Wekiva a great destination for solo paddle up- float down kayak trips. You can also access the Wekiva from the St. John's using a kayak or motorboat or you might consider renting a boat from Wekiva River Haven if you don't have your own.

    Continuing downstream into the preserve, Blackwater Creek enters on river left shortly before the Wekiva joins the St. John's. Both Blackwater Creek and the Little Wekiva River further upstream are very fishy-looking and definitely worth side trips if you have the time and inclination. The final takeout for the lower Wekiva float is at the High Banks boat landing on the St. John's. Upon leaving the Wekiva, hug the river left (west) bank until you see the boat ramp (less than a mile downstream) on river right. Be careful crossing the St. John's and expect some motorboat traffic in this area, especially on the weekends.

    The Wekiva is a really neat place, and the fact that it is convenient to so many makes it even neater. The river now has special protection from the state, meaning that it's wildness will be preserved. I know that canoes can be rented at Wekiwa Springs State Park and there are probably other canoe outfitters in the area as well. If you find yourself in the Orlando area, the Wekiva is definitely worth getting to know. You'll soon forget that there are a million people only a few miles away.

 

 
 

Wekiva Links:

Current River Level

Wekiva Map

Paddling.net Wekiva trip report

Sweating and Shivering on the Wekiva (FRF)

Wekiwa State Park Canoe Adventures