The more I explore Florida the more I find to love about it. This week’s adventure begins with a two hour drive from the city of Fort Walton Beach to Merritt Mill Pond near the city of Marianna, Fl, where a gem of a lake lies just waiting to be explored. This is a remarkably clear freshwater lake fed by numerous springs, the largest of which is Jackson Blue Spring at the north end of the pond.
Merritt Mill Pond is about 4 miles in length from the dam to the springs. Fishing is both challenging and rewarding; the fish are large and plentiful (several state record holders have come from these waters,) but the clear water requires stealth in order to catch them. Additionally, there are a large number of submerged logs just beneath the surface of the lake which makes navigating a motor boat challenging. Merritt Mill Pond is best accessed by canoe, kayak, or small boat.
In addition to fishing, the lake offers another two-fold surprise. Not only are there crystal blue springs available to swim and snorkel in, but submerged caverns offer another opportunity for adventure for certified cave divers. Jackson Blue, Shangri-la, Twin Caves, Hole-in-the-Wall, Gator Hole, and Indian Washtub are six known caverns in the pond with the possibility of more just waiting to be discovered. While we were visiting we managed to find four of the six locations just by being observant. No one in our group cave dives so we contented ourselves with snorkeling the beautiful springs instead, and on a hot summer day the chilly water just couldn’t be beat.
The wildlife was out in full force on this trip. We saw many different types of fish from shellcrackers to huge grass carp. Turtles were also abundant and seemed to pose for photographs as we glided past. We saw a variety of birds; everything from hawks to cranes and even a tricolored heron. There was also a large population of apple snails nestled among the vast eel grass beds. I’m sure the shellcrackers enjoy the heck out of those. The only thing I didn’t see on this trip were any snakes.
We got caught in a big rain storm on the way back, but luckily there was no lightning or heavy winds accompanying it or I think we would’ve holed up for a while at one of the springs. As it was it made paddling back to the truck a piece of cake for being the middle of July. We were so impressed with the area that we’re making plans to go again and plan to stay at the campgrounds.
Feel like giving it a try? Paddlers can put in at the south end of the damn at the Arrowhead Campground for a small fee and paddle north to Jackson Blue Springs. Alternate put-in locations are the public boat ramp at Hunter Fish Camp Road or at Jackson Blue Springs park itself (although the park is only open during the summer months.) The easy current isn’t a problem no matter where one launches from.