Paddle Fishing Destinations

The Ocklawaha

By Frederick D. Rambo III


One of the great things about living in Central Florida is the seemingly endless stream of adventures that come along even to a native such as me.  There is always a new place to explore that may have even been right under your nose.  And, as the adventure unfolds, you discover something about all these places and eventually you will find you make discoveries about yourself as well.

Recently, Boy Scout Troop 613 found a need for guidance in paddle-sports and fishing.  Being passionate about the outdoors, paddle fishing, teaching and kids, there was no way this offer could be turned down.  Little did I know that adventure and discovery awaited in a place that I had driven by every weekend during my college years and never knew was there.  History, politics, camaraderie and nature converged at a small piece of Central Florida wilderness known as the Ocklawaha River.

The heavily forested, pristine and remote Ocklawaha River begins east of the Green Swamp and runs through a chain of lakes, and travels along the western edge of the Ocala National Forest before flowing into the St Johns River.  Many downed trees and obstacles along portions of the river make it great for navigating by paddle craft and campsites along the shore make it a great destination for overnight trips into this unspoiled piece of history.

The history of the Ocklawaha River is as diverse as the wildlife it contains.  When the Europeans arrived the area was inhabited by the Timucuan Indians.  Later, it became a major tourist destination with steamboats touring the area with such guests as President Ulysses S. Grant and Thomas Edison.  A civil war battle was fought there, federal agents exchanged fire with gangsters in the 1930’s and President Richard Nixon, who considered it a natural treasure, issued stop work orders on the Cross Florida Barge Canal to save it from becoming an environmental disaster.  Currently, the river is considered a state Aquatic Preserve and is a part of the Cross Florida Greenway.

The clear water, swift currents, generous populations of bass and panfish make this a paradise for the paddle angler.  Look for bass waiting in ambush around the many bends in the river or prowling the mazelike structures that continuously wind along the edges filled with fallen trees and branches.  Panfish are abundant in numbers and variety as well but be prepared to bring a lot of tackle to wrangle them out of their hiding spots thick within the sunken branches below.

If you are looking for a little adventure, to see a piece of Florida’s history or simply want to get out doors for some paddling and fishing, the Ocklawaha River offers all of this and more.  Give it a try on your next trip and who knows, you may discover something along the way you never knew was there.