Emerging from wetlands southwest of Melbourne, this section of the St. Johns was once a bass fishing mecca. Drainage canals and farming destroyed much of the natural wetlands. However, river restoration projects have been underway and conditions have improved dramatically. All 4 of the venues along the river here were old Florida fish camps. Today, all 4 are making a comeback with airboat eco-tours, food, drink, and weekend music.
Camp Holly... www.campholly.net 6901 U.S. 192, Melbourne, FL 32904 (2.8 mi. west of I-95)
First built in 1923, this fish camp is undergoing a reincarnation. Currently it's snacks, bait shop, and airboat tours only. A new restaurant, shop, music stage, and alligator pen are in the works. Look for completion in 2019. Tour boats include a few smaller (some say more fun) airboats.
Lone Cabbage... www.twisterairboatrides.com/fishcamp.html 8199 SR 520, Cocoa, FL 32926
West of Cocoa, near Orlando and Disney, airboat tourism is big here. Great water views, weekend music, and a variety of inexpensive food make this a popular getaway with locals. Beer is cold. Wine comes in plastic cups; the two options are red and white. A few "old Florida" buildings remain, providing fond memories. Tip: On opposite side of highway, County Park with sweeping vista (and maybe a gator), with boardwalk/fishing pier next to boat ramp.
Jolly Gator... www.facebook.com/thejollygator 4650 E. State Rd 46, Geneva, FL 32732
This location offers expansive, unobstructed views along the waterway. Here the river becomes slightly larger, as the Econlockhatchee River enters about a mile upstream (south). For eats, definitely try the swamp cabbage. We also enjoyed the gator, blackened not fried. (Note: sometimes the gator can be chewy during gator season, but still tasty.) The jam sessions on the 1st and 3rd Sundays are fun. Independent airboat tours operate from the adjacent County park. (Jolly Gator jam session video , 11/2017, a "cornucopia of musical talent")
Black Hammock... http://www.theblackhammock.com 2356 Black Hammock Fish Camp Rd, Oviedo, FL 32765
Located off the main river channel on Lake Jessup, this former fish camp has reinvented itself as a mini-attraction that kids of any age will enjoy. Feed the parrots. Use a hot dog to "fish" for alligators. Take an airboat ride. Cool off the bar and gift shop. Plus, a restaurant that uses real plates, metal utensils, and wine glasses. Civilization at last!