It was a long, miserable gator season on the upper SJR if you weren’t floating bait. Now Hurricane Sandy has pretty much “blown out” the last weekend to fill remaining tags.
And why it was so miserable???
This spring the Upper SJM went dry, dry, dry & many if not most of the open pot holes filled in with pyre (?) grass & smartweed.
As of 10/22/2012, the water flowing over the weir was just below the bottom rail & slowly dropping. Several weeks prior the top rail was underwater & there was (5) five feet of water over most of the upper basin. The water has since dropped (2) two feet & the acres of smartweed are beginning to rot back a bit, hopefully opening back up many of the huntable potholes along the river run.
With the high water, SJRWMD has been able to get out & spray the hyacinth & lettuce @ record pace, also helping out the situation.
In speaking with Doug V, he “did not” get to burn all the areas he wanted this spring due to the severe drought. Once conditions became favorable for burning & DOF easing up on issuing burn permits, the rains started & never let up. Doug hopes to make up for it in the spring of 2013!!!
Here we go!!!
Puzzle Lake - Early teal hunters reported fair to good shooting off the main river run. Most I spoke with stated the potholes & riverettes are open & were holding teal.
Lake Poinsett/Florence - The lake edges should again provide phenomenal hunting opportunities again this season. Lots of hydrilla was showing throughout the lake edges prior to the summer rains.
Lake Winder - Same report as above. Watch how far back into the marsh you push. To the west in Morman's & to the east is a walk-in/passive use area.
Moccasin Island – SJRWMD “nuked” all the interior canals not once, but twice. The first round did not take so to keep the area accessible; they hit it again for us. The water was so high several weeks back that only the signs along the western levee were underwater. It has since come down & the top of this levee is now showing. DV advised he took a boat ride in there last week & stated some of the interior areas have since plugged back up with bull hyacinth & lettuce. As always looks great for this season!!!
SJR Run Winder/Washington - The potholes that were wide open last season are grown up with smartweed. For those hunters willing to “spin out” or pull open a pothole, the natural food should provide for some great bird hunting!!!
Lake Washington – Zero, nada, nothing, just a big open body of water.
Big/Little Lake Sawgrass – Pretty much same report for Big Sawgrass. Little Sawgrass was showing large patches of hydrilla this spring & as the water drops, hopefully the hydrilla will top back out.
Sawgrass Lakes WMA - Still reminds me of TMG when it first opened. Good reports from early teal hunters using the area. Lots of grasses, little to no woody vegetation. To access this area will require an airboat or light rig due to having to pull over (2) two levees. Once over those, the area is "walk-in only" & will require a canoe or bicycle to get over to the east side. There is an airboat jump off of Middle Field but this area usually is the first to go dry in the marsh. Once the “Great Wall of SJ’s” is complete, hunters will be able to park & walk in along the eastern levee. Just not this season!!!
SJR Run/South - Same as the north river run.
Lake Helen Blazes - South end is always good for a few birds. West side of lake to Spade Island choked back up.
3 Forks River Run – Lotsa smartweed, no open holes.
C30/6 Mile Creek – Went completely dry last spring!!! It did have a (200) two hundred acre burn just prior to turkey season. Right now it’s still underwater though it’s always the first area to go dry.
Keanasville Lake – The place is “sick” with hydrilla!!! WMD has been “nuking” the hyacinth & lettuce but had no funding to free up the canals of hydrilla. (2) two weeks ago there was very little hydrilla showing @ the surface. As the water drops it will again top out for another banner ringer shoot!!!
Sartori's – Again, the place is topped out with hydrilla. Airboat access only unless to make the hour run north from 192, then pullover. Another banner ringer shoot.
Mary A – Area went bone dry during drought & a “switch type” grass grew up thick in many areas. We again asked for a controlled burn but the district was still afraid of a muck fire. The WMD did helicopter spray the (2) two main east/west canals which opened them up pretty nice. We asked for them to go back in & nuke the potholes off the canals with the airboats in an attempt to knock back what is left of the hyacinth. Still awaiting an answer but not hopeful due to limited funding. Airboat access only as it nickname implies. "The Rough Blocks" due to the large & thick willow stumps throughout the entire impoundment.
Lawton Lakes WMA - Paddle in area only!!!The wild fire last season opened up a lot of the area has since grown up with large lily pads & made many areas almost impassable. Should be good hunting for those willing to open up their own holes by hand.
TMG/Broadmoor – What’s to say!!! There are already birds utilizing the area. We hunted TMG opening day of early teal. It was “hit or miss” for many hunters but birds were taken. For those hunting the TMG reservoir please be extra careful during wind shifts. There are many floating tusset islands that will block your way in & out. Several boats including us became blocked in & stuck on floating islands during early teal. Have an “alternate way out on windy days. Great job on the habitat, Eddie!!!
Stick Marsh/Farm 13 - Big dead impoundment!!!
Fellsmere Farms - Lots of water, but the pyra grass is thick making much of the area hard to access. Per DV, the district “topped burned” most of the area last spring with marginal results. Again, the water in some places is (5) five feet deep. There will probably be no walking in till later in the season, so bring a boat.
Garcia/East Marsh – Cannot give a habitat report for this area. What I can tell you that I attended a mtg last month & was advised that (3) three eco-tour companies from the Vero-FortPierce area are utilizing the impoundments for tours. The tours last approximately (45) forty five minutes & fishermen have already begun to complain to the district.
I suggested in approaching the companies & ask them not to start their tours till after 10:00 am during duck season. I predict this will become a “hot topic” @ February’s WRAC meeting as waterfowl hunters start to complain as the fishermen have.
Blue Cypress - Lots of woody growth & lily pads.
Indian River Lagoon – As any fishermen can tell you, the flats are a barren moonscape with little or no grass on the flats.
The “Brown Tide” has destroyed the area from New Smyrna Beach to Jupiter Inlet with no end in sight. I can’t tell you where the bluebills are going to winter but if last year is any indicator, it won’t be the Indian River Lagoon. Hopefully the birds will move inland to the topped out hydrilla.
Again, I have personally spoken several cowboys on the private ranches who said that their pastures are flooded & already holding birds. Until the ranches go dry & push these birds back into the marsh, the first phase may be a little iffy!!!
For those paying attention to the breeding reports, numbers on the potholes have reach or exceeded numbers from the banner years of the 50’s.
Take into consideration the drought throughout the Mississippi & Atlantic Flyways, Florida may experience a banner year due to the amount of water on the peninsula.
Finally, as many of you know, the proposal to limit access to Moccasin Island failed @ the last WRAC. Robert Christianson stated that limited access within individual WMA’s is not something they wish to do.
However, the district tasked the commission to look @ possibly limiting access to areas used by waterfowl hunters throughout the “entire” basin & new areas that may come on line.
Yes, Pandora’s Box has been opened!!!
Whether for or against, waterfowl hunters are asked to e-mail Joe Benedict with your suggestions on the matter.
Below is the post that Joe has put up on several public forums:
"Here's a brief overview of where FWC and SJRWMD are regarding duck hunting opportunities on the Upper St. Johns River Marsh (USJRM) WMA.
At the June Recreation Public Meeting (RPM), after discussing a proposal received from members of the public in which changes to hunting regulations at Moccasin Island were requested, the District decided to make no changes to current waterfowl regulations on the WMA. At that same meeting the District indicated they would be agreeable to look at the USJRM WMA in a broader context with consideration for properties that will be added in the future. In other words, because there was so much division among stakeholders over making changes for Moccasin Island, we thought it best to look at the basin as a whole.
Last night’s meeting was to provide an update on our collective thinking and approach moving forward with stakeholder input. We know that there is a broad continuum of waterfowl hunter preference, from open access (statewide regulations) all the way to limited entry (quota) hunts. Both FWC and SJRWMD are open to providing a diversity of opportunities and experiences for hunters. There are two questions that we’d like to address, beginning with the next RPM (Feb 2013). First, we’d like to discuss with hunters if they think it’s a good idea to look into providing different hunting opportunities/experience within the Upper SJR Marsh WMA using location and/or time as the means of separation. If folks thinks this is a good idea, we’d then begin the process of detailing current and historic hunting opportunities on the WMA, identifying properties the District has coming on line in the near future, and detailing hunter opportunities/ experience preferences (the what, when, where type information).
No decisions were made at the meeting last night, except to have the above-mentioned discussions. Over the next month or so, FWC and SJRWMD will be discussing how best to gather this input (including how to gather input from folks who may not be able to attend a public meeting). We will share our approach on this Forum as soon as things are developed.
Thanks for your interest in and support of Florida’s waterfowl and waterfowl hunting!"
When the date for this very important meeting is announced, we will let you all know!!!
Capt Jeff Kraynik
The Coastal Sportsmen