Saturday, April 25, 2015

St. John's River

April 14-22

Days 154-162

Our third side trip has certainly had its high and low points. Beginning our trip into the river at Jacksonville, meant that we had at least two days of travel before getting into the smaller waters that we were looking forward to. Jess and I were both hoping to catch a few fish, as well as see some wildlife.  Our patience paid off as we continued south. An excursion up Black Creek provided everything we could ask for. There were alligators basking in the sunshine, birds, turtles, and yes even a few of the blackest bass we had ever caught. Life is good!  Our trip then took us past some quiet riverside communities as we headed towards Lake George. The lake is famous for its bass fishing, but with just our dinghy to fish out off it proved to be way too much water for us. We did enjoy the crystal clear waters provided by one of the several natural springs that feed into the St. John's. Continuing our journey southward we finally reached our goal of Blue Springs State Park. This spring is the winter home of hundreds of manatees, which, unfortunately, we were too late to see. We were able to see huge gar that are evidently not in as much of a hurry to leave these beautiful warm waters as the manatee were. Our trip down the St. John's was certainly worth the time spent. The sights and sounds along the way have given us many lasting memories; osprey and eagles catching fish for their numerous fledglings, large black turtles, so many alligators we lost count, fish jumping everywhere, the chorus of frogs, bugs, and birds to go to sleep with and wake up with everyday, sunsets and sunrises painting stunning pictures across the water, and absolutely no snakes (at least that we saw).

Our first stop was in Julington Creek so that we could take a dinghy ride to Clark's Fish Camp. This is certainly a very unique restaurant in what appears to be the middle of nowhere (at least by boat). The food was excellent, but what makes the place stand out is its decor. I don't know where they all came from, but there are stuffed animals from all over the world hanging from the ceiling and in every corner. It actually was kind of creepy. Sort of like being in a zoo of dead animals.

The ride up Black Creek gave us a taste of what we had hoped to find as we traveled down the St. John's.  We spent two days here enjoying the scenery, wildlife and fishing. After spending two months in the Bahamas catching unfamiliar fish, it sure was nice to hook into a bass again.

Jess was thrilled to pull this beauty in.  We had had several hits, but were not managing to set our hooks.  Guess we were a little out of practice.

Not a stunning sunset, but Bama Dream sure looks peaceful here on this quiet stretch of Black Creek.  Just a short time later it wasn't so quiet when all of the night creatures started making themselves known.

Great way to celebrate my birthday. It was such a beautiful morning we went fishing early and then Jess cooked our breakfast. 

We dropped anchor at Green Cove Springs to spend a few hours tending to the necessities. Ate breakfast at Hardee's, picked up a few things at Dollar General and Advance Auto Parts.  Realized it may be our last chance to get propane for awhile, so Jess went back to the boat for our tanks and the trusty wagon. Then it was a 2 mile walk to Walgreen's to swap tanks, and a 2 mile walk back.

Just about every day marker is topped with an osprey nest. These two were just as interested in us, as I was in them. Unfortunately, I couldn't believe how close they let us get, so I forgot to keep taking pictures. Could have gotten a really good shot. These waters must be full of fish to support the number of osprey and eagles that call the St. John's home.

A breathtaking sunrise over Lake George.  Fish were jumping all around us until the sun rose above the horizon.  That must have been their signal to calm down for the day.

If you look very closely you will see the only alligator I managed to catch in a picture.  By the time I spotted them and grabbed my phone they would go under.  The dark area just right of middle is his wake, and the white speck just below the tree line is his head.  Good luck with that!

Due to the sparkling clear water of Blue Springs the large gar are easy to see. This is a beautiful park, providing a nice setting for kayakers and canoers. During the winter months many manatee come here to enjoy the warm water. They had already departed for their summer homes, so we will have to make a point of returning here another time.

The dark line in the center of the picture is the entrance to the spring.  Blue Springs produces over 100 million gallons of clear, fresh, 72 degree water each day.  Certified cave divers are allowed to enter the caverns, and swimmers can enjoy the pool when the manatees are no longer in residence.

Those of you who have been following our travels since the beginning, know that we were caught in a fierce storm when we went through Decatur in October.  Well, it happened again!  Just as we were entering Lake George headed north, the bottom fell out, the wind blew, and the waves slapped against our bow.  Seasoned boaters that we have become, we stayed our coarse and finally made it across the lake no worse for wear.  We were very happy to tuck in behind Hog Island for a quiet night on anchor.

After surviving the storm, we felt blessed to enjoy this lovely sunrise. Finding perfect anchorages is definitely not a problem on the St. John's.

There are several railroad bridges along the river that stay open for boat traffic, unless there is a train coming.  We did have a few bridges that we had to have opened, but the guys controlling them were always very nice and quick to accommodate us.

Not sure that I would want to have a nuclear power plant in my back yard, but there are several of them located in this area of Florida. Guess it is kind of like the trash dump. We all need them, but nobody wants them in their neighborhood.

Finally got close enough to a manatee to get a picture.  These two big guys were foraging around the dock at Outback Crab Shack.  They didn't hang around long, so this was my best shot.

Our final night on the St. John's found us anchored in Six Mile Creek so that we could make the trip up to the Outback Crab Shack.  We shared a bar-b-que platter that had so much on it that we took half of it back to the boat.  Another interesting, out of the way experience.

Had to take the opportunity for one more morning of fishing before heading for Jacksonville. Jess was showing off here. He threw his line into a tree and as it is dangling over the water he says to me, "Watch this". Sure enough this gar grabbed his lure and into the trees we went.  Luckily for Jess, the gar fell off just as he was trying to figure out how he was going to get him unhooked (they have teeth).

The wind picked up, which makes fishing out of the dinghy rather difficult, so we decided to take nice ride up Trout Creek before weighing anchor.  

The sun was shining brightly, encouraging the turtles to find their favorite logs. We hated to say good-bye to the St. John's, but it is well past time to start making tracks north.

Jess did a fantastic job fighting a very strong current as we pulled up to the dock at Jacksonville Landing. We are tied up just past the bridge. It seemed to be a great spot, little did we know that the city had determined that the bridge needed some work. Of course that means they closed it in the evening, and worked on it right outside our bedroom window all night long. 

The riverfront in Jacksonville is certainly colorful after dark.  We went for a nice walk, then checked out the wide variety of restaurants available before settling on Chicago Pizza. The pizza was very good, but the main reason we stopped there was that the Braves were on TV. That was the first time we had been able to watch part of a game.

The dolphins came out to meet us as we prepared to return to the ICW. I don't think we will ever get to the point that we are not thrilled when they decide to ride our wake.

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