Hours before sunrise, trucks and trailered boats lined up for nearly a half mile as anglers waited patiently to access Headwaters Lake Boat Ramp for the first time.
As St. Johns River Water Management District staff opened the gates to the parking lot, anglers took turns launching into the 10,000-acre Fellsmere Water Management Area (FWMA) in Indian River County. Aug. 10, 2020, marked another chapter of the district’s expansion of public recreation in the Upper St. Johns River Basin.
“I live in Vero Beach and I’ve been looking forward to the opening of this boat ramp for a long time,” Buddy Tipton said while sitting in his flashy red Chevy Silverado, waiting his turn to launch. “We’re speck (speckled perch) fishermen, but we’re jig fishing so we’ll catch anything we can.”
Every angler knows stories about the mayhem that can erupt at busy boat ramps and truth be told, district staff weren’t sure what to expect on this heavily anticipated opening day. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) officers and Fellsmere police were on hand to keep the peace, but anglers policed themselves. In fact, boaters were so serene that the whole scene seemed somehow choreographed. Nobody even honked a horn in frustration.
“The anglers were very patient and respectful of one another,” said district Land Manager Amy Copeland. “There’s been a lot of anticipation about how opening day would go. There hasn’t been one problem.”
FWMA is located just east of the St. Johns Water Management Area, known locally as the “Stick Marsh” and is the latest addition to the Upper St. Johns River Basin Project. Headwaters Lake boat ramp is located four miles west of Babcock Street on the Fellsmere Grade and includes 36 parking spaces, overflow parking west of and adjacent to the paved lot, and restrooms.
The boat ramp is the key feature of Headwaters Lake, which covers the northern half of FWMA. Boaters can reach Egan Lake to the south via a navigational channel.
FWC has been a vital project partner since the beginning. While FWMA was still under construction, FWC planted 15,000 trees, dug pits, channels and contours on the lake bottom to create fish habitat. In addition, FWC contributed a 50 percent funding match for the construction of the boat ramp ($842,000) through the Florida Boating Improvement Program.
Anglers like George Short have monitored the development of FWMA and construction of the boat ramp with keen interest. Short, a Kenansville-based fishing guide, said he’s been anticipating opening day at the boat ramp for a long time.
“I usually fish Kenansville Lake,” he said as he pulled away from the floating dock at the ramp. “This lake will take a lot of pressure off of Kenansville Lake.”
While the recreational aspect of FWMA is a boon to sport fishing, the district’s multipronged goals for the reservoir include restoring agricultural land to wetlands, augmenting dry season flows to the St. Johns River, reducing the frequencies of freshwater discharges through the C-54 Canal to the Indian River Lagoon and increasing water storage in the Blue Cypress Lake watershed.
But on this day, the focus was on recreation. District staff reported that anglers were having fantastic luck on opening day.
“We talked to some of the fishermen and they said it was off the charts,” said district Land Management Program Manager Pete Henn. “One group said they caught 25 to 30 bass, many in the five to six-pound range. Another group were out for crappie and did very well. Everyone so far seemed appreciative of the boat ramp.”
Want to check it out for yourself? Information regarding FWMA, including rules and regulations, can be accessed through the district’s website.
Also, we’ve develop a list of things you should know before you go to FWMA.
It’s also important to follow freshwater fishing rules and regulations.