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.
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
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.