Florida Waterways: “St. Marys River”

Florida Waterways 

“St. Marys River” 

By Kevin McCarthy 

The river that forms the border between Florida and Georgia is the St. Marys. Officially, like most place names in America, it does not have an apostrophe, although many people put one in the second word. The 126-mile-long waterway takes its name from a Spanish mission, Santa Maria, which stood on Amelia Island near the ocean.

The river takes water from the Pinhook Swamp in Florida and the Okefenokee Swamp in Georgia, and flows south, then east, then north, and finally southeast, just south of the town of St. Marys in Georgia and to the north of Amelia Island in Florida, to the Atlantic Ocean. The powerful ocean causes tidal fluctuations fifty miles up the quiet river.

Because of the strategic location of the river, the British established forts there in the 18th century, and federal troops fighting the Seminole Indians in the 19th century did the same. Confederate troops also set up camps near the river during the Civil War.

Commercial loggers used the shallow river in the 1800s and early 1900s, and farmers raised cotton, indigo, and rice in the river basin until other areas of Florida drew the farmers away, to places near deeper rivers. What may surprise boaters today is the presence of nuclear submarines, near the mouth of the river. The subs are based at King’s Bay near the river and can easily get out into the Atlantic, but are protected from storms by the inland docking facilities.

The river was in the news in 2007 because of a huge wildfire, the Bugaboo Scrub Fire, which burned up much timber near the St. Marys. The fire actually jumped the river and burned much of the forest in Florida’s Baker and Columbia counties, in what officials called the largest forest fire in the history of the state.

Fishing can be very good in the St. Marys, especially because the river has so little pollution. One can find flounder, redfish, sheepshead, speckled sea trout, and other ocean fish in the tidal parts of the river near the ocean, and also bluegill, red-breasted sunfish, and striped bass in the freshwaters away from the ocean. In fact, some sixty species of freshwater fish can be found in the river.

If fishermen want a relatively undisturbed Florida river in which they can drop their lines with good assurance of a nice catch, the St. Marys is a great choice. However, be aware which side you’re fishing on, even in the middle of the river, since Georgia and Florida have different fishing regulations, depending on exactly where you are fishing.


Kevin McCarthy, the author of The Galata Bridge in Istanbul 2016 (available at amazon.com), can be reached at ceyhankevin@gmail.com.