by Ron Presley
When I am revisiting one of my favorite rivers, it is hard to believe it can get any better but it always does. As usual, my visit to West Volusia County, Florida was related to fishing, but my desire to return includes the character of the people and all the things that were left unseen and undone along the St. Johns River.
The St. Johns River visit was a little further north than I usually travel so I got to see a new part of the river. It was in the Astor, FL area. Crappie USA was holding its first tournament of the season on the St. Johns River. I noticed one of the host lodging facilities was Parramore’s Campground. I contacted the owner, Kimsey Slade, and made arrangements to stay in one of their cabins.
Astor is located at the intersection of HWY 40 and the St. Johns River. It is safe to say that it is truly a river community populated by people that love the water. The area is strewn with marinas, bait shops (Astor Bait and Tackle), A family market, and even Ace Hardware. The shoreline along that stretch of the river is characterized by residential and commercial housing.
When I arrived at the camp’s office, I was greeted by a staff member, Debbie, and given a quick tour of the property. I discovered that in addition to the rental cabins there are also year-round properties, a swimming pool, basketball court, tennis court, playground, and more. There are fishing docks, a picnic pavilion, and a laundry room intended to cater to the needs of guests.
Our cabin at Parramore’s featured clean and comfortable rooms and a fully equipped kitchen and dining area. Given the great kitchen facility, we ate most of our meals inhouse. It even had a screened-in porch to enjoy a morning coffee or evening beverage in a relaxing cozy environment. We literally had all the comforts of home at the cabin they call the Squirrel's Nest.
We discovered that the camp was on an oxbow off of the main St. Johns River. Since there is a boat ramp on site it was extremely convenient to launch and run the short distance out to the river. Take a right turn when you reach the river and you are headed for Lake George. It’s a large lake, about 11 miles long and 6 miles across. If instead, you take a left turn at the river you can easily navigate to the smaller lakes of Dexter and Woodruff, also excellent fishing lakes.
At days end we had a covered boat slip to store the boat without having to put it back on the trailer. Electricity was available for charging trolling motor batteries. It is as convenient as any angler could expect!
The river is known for its big black crappie and it did not disappoint. The winning weight at the tournament was 12.14 pounds in 7 fish. That’s an average of about 1.73 pounds. The big fish of the tournament was a 2.53-pound beauty. To know that you can catch crappie like that just minutes from your cabin is a fisherman’s dream come true.
With fish like these coming from the St. Johns it is no wonder that folks like to visit the area. And, the river is conducive to many different methods of crappie fishing. Spider-rigging, long-lining, vertical jigging, minnows, and lures will all catch crappie. This is one of those bucket list destinations that are very likely to provide a personal best crappie on any given day. They are big and they are pretty.
Other than Fishing, What?
Road trips require lodging, food, fuel, and other attractions for the non-anglers in the party. The area provides numerous choices for all those things.
In the first place, the location is perfect for planning day trips from your cabin. As the anglers go fishing the rest of the crew can go out on their own hiking, swimming, theme parking, shopping or a multitude of other things. The camp is conveniently located near the Ocala National Forest, Daytona Beach, Disney World and all the attractions of Orlando—not to mention the many freshwater springs in the area.
There is no lack of places to eat. In our one foray out of the cabin to eat, we chose the Rose Garden Family Restaurant on HWY 40. It had been recommended by several of the locals and it was great. Good food and friendly staff are hard to beat. Remember, they only serve breakfast and lunch, so plan accordingly (7 am to 3 pm). If you want dinner there are plenty of options. Don’t forget, a discussion with the people you meet will help you locate those local, out of the way spots that are often the best places of all. We heard from several people we talked to that the Blackwater Inn was another popular place and it’s right on the water near the bridge.
As usual, there is never enough time to see everything you would like to in a town like Astor but we had a breakdown on the trailer and needed some parts. We had noticed an Ace Hardware sign from the water the day before. It is actually located just a block from the Butler Street Boat Ramp and we saw it as we cruised by on the river. We made our way over there and they fixed us up with what we needed, including some advice about the fishing.
Everyone we met was friendly and helpful. It is evident that they love their river town. The small-town atmosphere is just what I like when I have time to get away from the city. Street names like Coon Road and Bobcat Road give you a feel for the outdoorsy nature of the area. Add in the abundant Florida foliage and wildlife and you have a perfect destination for your next getaway. I recommend you take a look at the area on Google Maps and study the possibilities. A visit to the Paramore’s Camp Facebook page will keep you up to date on day-to-day activities, so be sure to like and follow.
Just like each of my previous trips to the St. Johns River I left with a desire to return. Not just for the fishing which is usually my reason for going, but for the friendly people, the wildlife, and the peacefulness. I definitely plan to return soon.