Ocala National Forest Hunting Season Guide

North Central Florida hunting season is in full swing! The wildlife is abundant in the Ocala National Forest, where you will find plenty of turkeys, deer, ducks and more to hunt during the appropriate hunting season. We have the information you need to plan the perfect hunting trip in our Ocala National Forest Hunting Season Guide.

Ocala National Forest Hunting Season Guide deer photo
Follow our Ocala National Forest Hunting Season Guide to hunt white-tailed deer.

Hunting White-Tailed Deer

Florida White-tailed deer are located from the Panhandle all the way to the Florida Keys. They are the most popular game species in Florida. Here are the Florida deer hunting season requirements and dates.

Hunting Wild Pigs

Wild pigs, also called wild hogs or wild boar, are the second-most popular large animal hunted in Florida. They live in all of Florida’s 67 counties. Peruse pig hunting season dates before you start hunting wild pigs.

Duck/Waterfowl Hunting

Wetland habitats in Florida offer a variety of places for hunters to find duck and other waterfowl available for hunting.

Canada geese season in Florida is through Jan. 30. Duck and light geese hunting season begins Dec. 10 and runs through Jan. 29.

Hunting Florida Black Bears is Off Limits Right Now

The state’s largest land mammal is the Florida Black Bear. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) voted to postpone bear hunting in Florida in 2016 and might consider future bear hunting in 2017. The last limited Florida bear hunt was in October 2015.

There are more than 4,000 bears in Florida and many of them can be spotted in the Ocala National Forest for sightseeing only at a safe distance away.

Osceola turkey
One of the most sought-after species to hunt in Florida is the Osceola turkey

Hunting Osceola Turkeys

One of the most in-demand species to hunt in Florida is the Osceola (Florida) turkey. These turkeys do not live anywhere else in the world. Follow these Osceola turkey hunting requirements and seasonal hunting dates so you have the best chance of bringing home the bacon (or turkey)!

Hunting Small Game

You don’t always need to go big or go home. Florida has a variety of small-game hunting opportunities. Some of the most popular small game species in Florida include gray squirrels and rabbits.

Ocala National Forest Hunting Season Tips

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) manages the Ocala National Forest. Hunters must obtain a special permit to use hunt camps during deer hunting season in the Ocala National Forest. These permits can be picked up at the Lake George Ranger District Station or the Seminole Ranger District Station.

There is a $5 per day use fee to access the hunt camp and a $5 launch fee to use the boat ramp at Farles Lake Hunt Camp.

woman hunting
Find all the wildlife you need to hunt in the Ocala National Forest.

Florida Hunting Licenses

A valid Florida hunting license is needed to hunt in the Ocala National Forest. Hunters must adhere to all FWC hunting regulations. The FWC oversees the distribution of all recreational hunting licenses. Licenses for residents and non-residents are available with the FWC and can be purchased online.

Hunting licenses vary in price and are more expensive for non-residents, but you don’t always need a hunting license in Florida. If you are a child less than 16 years of age or hunting wild hogs on private land, a license isn’t needed.

Plan a Hunting Trip Along the St. Johns River

After an amazing day of hunting and watching wildlife in the Ocala National Forest, you will need a calm and relaxing place to stay. Make sure to spend some time enjoying the beautiful St. Johns River when you visit North Central Florida. Castaways on the River offers comfortable cottages and motel rooms just steps away from a marina full of rental boats for your use. Call Castaways on the River at (352) 759-3442 to book your next hunting trip adventure today!

Plan A Perfect Summer Barbecue

Enjoying lazy days in the sun and on the water is a great time to plan a perfect summer barbecue party. Family and friends will want to be included in all the fun, and of course the main attraction will be the food.

As for what is on the menu, it will depend on a variety of factors like who is doing the cooking, how many people are attending, and what time the food will be served? Will it be an all-day affair or have a designated timeline? Will food be served in shifts? Served at a specific time? These are questions you’ll need to answer up front so your guests know what to expect.

It’s best to have an idea early on of how large the gathering will be to determine how much food will be needed. This will help with the overall food shopping and delegating who can supply what item.

Before we get too far along, let’s clear up a question that may be a matter of preference. Is it a barbecue or cookout? Technically the two can be considered the same in terms of events. There is no right or wrong menu item when it comes to chowing down. A barbecue just means cooking outside on the grill.


How to Plan A Perfect Summer Barbecue Party

So now that we’ve settled that, let’s move on to figuring out the menu. The typical summer barbecue party menu includes burgers and hotdogs. Some gatherings may include more elaborate fare to enjoy such as the days’ fresh catch from the St. Johns River.

The seasonal fishing calendar forecasts it’s a good time to catch Bass, Bluegill, Redear, Specks, Stripers and Catfish. So anglers let’s see what you add to the barbecue. When you return to the boat dock here at Castaways, use the convenient fish cleaning station to get everything ready for the grill just a few steps away.

And don’t forget about all the great side dishes to go along with the main entrees from salads, beans, and other tasty treats and appetizers. Invite everyone to provide their favorite dish to help feed the masses. Get ready for recipe sharing or be prepared to protect the secret ingredient.

And since we are talking about summer time, get the ice cream churn out and put the popsicles on ice so everyone young and old can enjoy a variety of cool goodies.

A good grill master must be included to plan a perfect summer barbecue .

Barbecue Grill Duty

Before everyone digs in to enjoy the spread of food, make sure to thank the person who handled the grill duties. This is often a hard, hot and thankless job. Remember without someone on the grill, it’s just eating out. Tips to show your thanks is to make sure the grill master has a cold, refreshing beverage close by to enjoy. It’s likely to already be hot, then add to that the heat and smoke from the grill. Keep the cook cool and comfortable.

It’s also a good idea to designate helpers for the grill master so they can play close attention to the food and not have to worry about carrying it to the serving area. They may need other tools and supplies so extra pairs of hands are often appreciated.

Plan Ahead

Consider creating a list of all the items needed to pull off the perfect summer barbecue party. It’s always the little things like forgetting a special condiment that can derail a good plan. If you are heading to a remote area, it may be difficult to run to the nearest supermarket or big box retailer to pick up a few items. So pack what you’ll need ahead of time to ensure everything arrives at the barbecue.

Also who is bringing the plates, cutlery, napkins, drinks, ice etc.? Yes those are all the things that round out your barbecue that need to go on the plan ahead list.

It may also be wise to have a backup plan in case of rain on the day of the barbecue. A quick rain shower or rolling thunderstorms is a daily occurrence in Florida during the summer months. Check the local weather report to see when rain is forecast. The information can help if you need to change the start or end time of the barbecue. You’ll also want to keep a close eye on the clouds if those attending the barbecue go out on a boat.

Barbecue Party Accessories

Bring a few board games for all to enjoy or a deck of cards to see who has the best hand. This is where the fun begins with plenty of laughter and great memories are made. Pose for a selfie or two to capture the moment.

Board games also come in handy while waiting for the weather to clear up outdoors.

And what’s a party without some good tunes on the speaker? Designate a DJ to make sure the music is playing and everyone gets to hear a favorite song. Create a play list to get the party started. Dancing is a good way to work off a few of those calories you enjoyed from the grill.

Don’t forget to plan for everyone to enjoy time in the sun or get out on the water. All that fun is sure to work up hearty appetites which will be ready to feast on a barbecue spread.

Let us know how we can help you plan a perfect summer barbecue party here at Castaways.


Plan Your Party Along the St. Johns River

Castaways On The River in Astor, Florida has space, outfitted with grills, to plan the perfect summer barbecue party. The resort has rental cottages and motel rooms to accommodate guests. Also inquire about our fleet of rental boats to get out on the St. Johns River to fish and to enjoy nature at area attractions like nearby freshwater springs. Castaways is nestled on the eastern edge of the Ocala National Forest, located between Ocala and Ormond Beach along State Road 40. Call Castaways On The River at (352) 759-3442 to book a rental boat, reserve rooms and to arrange additional plans.



How to Plan the Perfect Romantic Fishing Trip

The weather is warming up in North Central Florida and the fish are biting amidst a beautiful backdrop on the St. Johns River. Plan the perfect romantic fishing trip with your loved one this Valentine’s Day by following our lead.

romantic fishing trip
Plan the perfect romantic fishing trip on the St. Johns River.

Set the Right Mood

Whether you want to take a partner who is not an avid angler or is your fishing equal, you want to set the mood right with the invitation. Instead of talking about a trip that involves live bait and early trips to the river, paint the right picture by explaining your desire to spend the entire day in nature with the one you love amidst the peaceful and serene St. Johns River.

Pack Some Thoughtful Food

This is not your average fishing trip where you bring the standard six-pack and a bag of pretzels and beef jerky. Pack some fresh fruit, finger foods and pastries in a nice picnic basket that can be stored in a large cooler. Surprise your Valentine with the basket and a nice bottle of wine or champagne. Impress by remembering napkins and a corkscrew.

romantic fishing trip
Look for a romantic fishing spot that has peace and quiet, solitude and a great backdrop.

Pick the Perfect Romantic Fishing Spot

You are looking for the perfect romantic fishing spot that has peace and quiet, solitude and a great backdrop. Fortunately for you, it is hard not to find a beautiful fishing spot on the St. Johns River. Ask our charter fishing captains for advice for a romantic fishing spot where you can catch some fish and earn some bonus points from your valentine for your thoughtful spot.

Follow these tips too to help find the perfect fishing spot.

Do Not Push Fishing

At the end of the day, this is a Valentine’s Day romantic fishing trip to show your affection for the one you love. Don’t make it all about you by never putting down your fishing rod. Spend some time together in the boat at lunch and don’t push your partner to fish if he or she doesn’t feel like it. Bring along some reading material and some music and let the day unfold on your valentine’s terms.

Tell a Romantic Story

Swap the regular fishing stories with a story about how the two of you met while you are casting your line in a romantic fishing spot. Make your partner smile and feel more connected with you so he or she realizes how important it was that they agreed to come on this fishing trip with you.

romantic fishing trip couple
Make your partner realize how important this fishing trip is to you.

Be Spontaneous

We realize that anglers are usually set in their ways and go through their ritualistic motions on fishing trips because they know what works. Switch it up on this romantic fishing trip. Be spontaneous and surprise your loved one by pulling out a playlist of their favorite tunes, pull out a wild flower bouquet for her from underneath your seat or upload a photo of the two of you on your fishing trip to your partner’s Instagram account with a nice tribute to your loved one.

If you are looking for some more tips, check out these five tips for a romantic St. Johns River trip.

Rent a Romantic Cottage

Stay awhile and enjoy a romantic Valentine’s Day romantic fishing trip on the St. Johns River. Castaways on the River has quaint cottages and motel rooms just steps from the marina that allow couples to relax for the weekend and truly enjoy their romantic fishing trip in a peaceful setting.

Rent a Boat

Make sure you rent a boat to enjoy the St. Johns River. Call Castaways on the River today at (352) 759-3442 to book your boat rental and romantic fishing trip getaway accommodations today.


5 Must Stop Dining Spots Along the St. Johns River

The St. Johns River in North Central Florida is a beautiful place to enjoy nature and a nice meal along the river. The fall season and cooler temperatures make November a great time of year to experience the area. We have the five must-stop dining spots along the St. Johns River in Astor, Florida that should be on your list.

dining along st. johns river feature image
We have the five must-stop dining spots along the St. Johns River in Astor, Florida that should be on your list.

Castaways Restaurant

Known as a quaint restaurant near the St. Johns River, Castaways Restaurant offers a great seafood menu selection. Castaways is known for its menu variety. The restaurant also offers a great salad bar, fresh seafood sandwiches, and drinks at the upstairs bar that longtime patrons say are “generous.” Make sure you head to the restaurant on Friday for live entertainment.

Menu selection tip: Try the bacon-wrapped shrimp and the lobster bisque.

Blackwater Inn Restaurant & Lounge

Another restaurant that sits directly on the banks of the St. Johns River, the Blackwater Inn Restaurant and Lounge has quaint outdoor seating areas that are built within the shade of big trees and offer spectacular views of the river. A haven for fresh seafood the Blackwater Inn offers everything from fresh seafood platters and catfish fillets to sirloin steaks on its menu. Longtime patrons rave about the Blackwater Inn’s hush puppies recipe too. Arrive by boat and take a seat at the bar or the restaurant. Looking for something different and unique to the North Central Florida area? Try the frog legs for an appetizer and the grilled quail or gator tail for an entree. Don’t leave the table without trying a piece of the Chocolate Drizzled Key Lime Pie for dessert. You won’t be disappointed.

dining along st. johns river image
November is a great time of year to enjoy fresh seafood dining along the St. Johns River.

Old Sugar Mill & Griddle House

You’ve hit the breakfast jackpot when you visit Old Sugar Mill Restaurant & Bakery. Known as the Old Spanish Sugar Mill to locals, it’s a unique restaurant inside De Leon Springs State Park that has working griddles at each table to make your fresh pancakes. Servers bring you pitchers of homemade Early American pancake batters made from five fresh stone ground flour to pour on your hot griddle and flip right at your table. You can order an assortment of blueberries, bananas, chocolate chips, apples, and more to add to your special pancakes. The restaurant also serves up some tasty sausage, bacon, ham, and eggs. Don’t forget to take home some homemade bread and dessert treats at the homemade bakery before you leave.

The Old Sugar Mill also offers an assortment of salads and fresh sandwiches and burgers for lunch.

Arrival Tip: Unless you’re arriving by boat, entry to the Old Sugar Mill Restaurant & Bakery requires you to pay $14 per person for entry to De Leon State Park. Children under four are free. Before or after your meal, immerse yourself in the history of De Leon Springs State Park, which is thought to be the site where Ponce De Leon discovered his famous Fountain of Youth.

Sparky’s Place Restaurant

Sparky’s Place Restaurant on Highway 40 near the St. Johns River is known for serving the best pizza along the river. Sparky’s makes homemade sauces and fresh dough to serve up pizza that longtime patrons can’t live without. It’s a great place to visit and refuel after a day of swimming and exploring at Juniper Springs. If you’re a burger aficionado, you must order the Swamp Burge on the menu, which comes topped with fries topped with cheese, bacon, and special sauce.

Sparky’s is also known for its breakfast offerings. Celebrate the Florida Black Bears of the nearby Ocala National Forest by ordering some bear cakes (pancakes with berries and nuts) and red neck biscuits, which are served with sausage, fried eggs, and sausage gravy.

dining along st. johns river fish sandwich
The St. Johns River area near Astor, FL is known for its fresh seafood offerings.

Essex Seafood House

Essex House Seafood House is known for its fresh seafood menu offerings. Their most popular offering is their whole belly fried clams appetizer, which can also act as a meal. Many call their New England-style seafood the best you can find outside of New England.

Don’t forget to bring cash. Bikers are welcome here too.

Book Your St. Johns River Visit

Is your mouth watering now from all the fresh seafood and other menu offerings available to you along the St. Johns River? It’s time to book a stay at Castaways on the River to do some fishing and rent a boat. We offer comfortable cottages and motel rooms so you can enjoy the area and spend time on the river and at the local restaurants. Call Castaways on the River at (352) 759-3442 to book your boat rental and fishing adventure today.


A Relaxing Getaway Close to Major Attractions in the Region

Telling visitors how to get to Castaways on the River in Astor, FL typically means using the cities of Ocala and Daytona Beach as landmarks. Most tourists have heard of these locales since both regions host several events gaining national attention year round.

Our guests come in March for Bike Week & October for Biketoberfest.

Of course, the world famous Daytona Beach is home to NASCAR’s Daytona 500 in February, Bike Week in March, CokeZero 400 in July, Biketoberfest in October and other racing events. The beach along the Atlantic Ocean is known as a Spring Break hotspot for college students.

The area is less than an hour drive from world class golf courses including Golden Ocala Golf & Equestrian Club, home to the LPGA Coates Golf Championship in January. The tournament is the newest stop added to the LPGA tour. Ocala’s equestrian ties also attract large events including the Ocala Breeders Sales, HITS Ocala Winter Circuit and the Live Oak International to name a few.

Nestled on the eastern rim of the Ocala National Forest off U.S. 40 on the St. Johns River, Castaways on the River is a relaxing getaway but within proximity to enjoy great tourist destinations.

Blue Crabs are popular in the St. Johns River

Eco-tourism plays a big role in this region thanks to the St. Johns River and the Ocala National Forest. The river is a fisherman’s paradise, home to several species of fish like Black Crappie or Speckled Perch to Largemouth Bass and Stripped Bass. The river, which flows south to north, is also known for White Shrimp and Blue Crab. Yes, that means you can catch lunch or dinner in just a few hours and prepare it on one of our outdoor grills on in the kitchen of your cottage.

The Castaways on the River can accommodate small or large groups.

Our guests can enjoy lodging in one of our quaint cottages or one of our luxury motel rooms. Whether you choose to spend the day boating or fishing on the St. Johns River or take a daytrip to a nearby tourist attraction, Castaways on the River is your headquarters to do it all!

The Black Crappie Is a Fish Known By Many Names

Fishing for Black Crappie is popular in Florida all year, but now during the winter months is when this freshwater fish is likely to be most active in parts of North Central Florida. Area lakes and slow moving rivers provide a preferable habitat to feed in schools and of course spawn.

There are two categories of crappie. The White Crappie is not found in Florida. Black Crappie is abundant statewide, except in the Florida Keys.

And while locals and snowbirds are on the water hunting for the same fish, they likely know the species by different names. The most common name Florida folks know this fish by is “Speck” or Speckled Perch. The moniker Black Crappie is used primarily by non-Floridians and others refer to it as Calico Bass.

By either name, Black Crappie or Speckled Perch is highly sought after by fisherman making it one of the state’s top fish. The Black Crappie thrives in this region during the winter in water temperatures between 58-64 degrees.

Prime fishing time for seasoned anglers is near a full moon typically within the first week of a month, or a new moon, usually by mid-month.

Our backyard along the St. John’s River in Astor, FL is a gateway to many nooks and crannies in the region to find this prized catch. The river’s slow moving flow, sprinkled with semi-submerged trees along the shoreline and lush vegetation provide optimal feeding spots for Black Crappie.

Castaways on the River serves as the winter home to guests from around the country, many looking to snag stringers of this great tasting pan fish. Bag limits vary throughout the state so fishing enthusiasts need to check for most current guidelines provide by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Plan to push off from our dock in the shadow of the Astor Bridge for a few hours in one of our rental boats or bring your own. And consider one of our spacious cottages or hotel rooms for a longer stay to maximize your fishing time.

Share a photo of your catch with us on Twitter and Facebook and we will help brag about you snagging the “Big One!”

A Glimpse of the Natural Side: Florida’s Black Bear Scenic Byway

The Florida Black Bear Scenic Byway is a nationally designated byway. This 60 mile byway winds through parts of Marion, Lake, Putnam and Volusia counties in what’s known as the Big Scrub.

As the name suggests, Florida’s Black Bear population is the most concentrated in this region of the state. Yes, it’s common to see a black bear or two along the way, especially in the spring, summer and fall, so keep your cameras ready but keep your distance.

The east-west segment of the byway takes visitors along State Road 40 from Ormand Beach west to Ocala. The north-south sector stretches US 19 from Palatka down to Umatilla. The byway includes a network of scenic roads and interpretive trails.

The Florida Black Bear Scenic byway takes the traveler through several forests including the Ocala National Forest and the Lake George State Forest.

There’s an App & More

Visitors can download a phone app for the travel guide covering the area by the Florida Black Bear Scenic Byway.

The app also has a wealth of maps, videos and other resources to help plan a trip to explore the byway.

A Popular Trek

The Florida Black Bear Scenic Byway is popular for birdwatchers, as well as those wanting to explore the various hiking trails.

The byway also draws many a motorcyclist to the open and winding roads. A loop along the byway is often an excursion for the annual biking events in Daytona like Bike Week in March and Biketoberfest in October.

By The Water

Here at Castaways On The River in Astor, along the St. John’s River, we are sort of at the crossroads of SR 40 and US 19, right in the middle of the Florida Black Bear Scenic Byway no matter or which direction you are traveling.

We have great accommodations to fit your needs regardless of how you are planning to visit the byway. Our boaters will find a wealth of resources about how to access the area springs included on the byway.

Let us help make your visit a fun and comfortable one! Follow us on Facebook and Twitter to learn more about us and to keep up with the latest happenings at Castaways!

Summer Fun on the St. Johns River

School’s out and that means summer fun abounds! It’s time to soak up some sun, get out on the water, and relax! So head on over to the beautiful St. Johns River and see what’s in store at Castaways on the River during the lazy days of summer fun.

Whether it’s just for a few hours, an overnight stay, or a week or two, we’ve got accommodations to meet your needs. We’ve tried to think of everything. Each of our stylish furnished cottages of one, two, or three bedrooms includes a fully-appointed kitchen. The space will help make your stay more comfortable whether it’s for just a few friends or the whole family.

In addition, our recently renovated hotel offers a riverfront view for guests to enjoy. And if you want to bring your own accommodations, we rent RV sites too.

Don’t Forget Summer Fun on the Water!

We have a variety of boats, available for rent. A number of our boats can seat up to 10 people. You can go out for a few hours, a full day, or just a half-day. It’s up to you to map out your summer fun!

Freshwater fishing is a favorite summer fun pastime of many of our guests since the St. Johns River is known for its many varieties of Bass fish like the Black Crappie, also known as the Speckled Perch. Many of the regular fisherman in the area will be happy to share a tip or two before you cast your line.
summer fun image

Thinking of grilling out for dinner? Or perhaps you just want to take in the scenery? Guests at Castaways On The River have access to the propane grills set up around the resort. You supply the meal since we’ve taken care of the ambiance with the up-close view and access to the St. Johns River. Wave at a passerby in a boat or be entertained by the surrounding nature.

summer fun Pinterest pin
There is plenty to do at Castaways on the River to enjoy the St. Johns River.

We’re Convenient to Just About Anywhere

We may be tucked away in Astor, FL but we are on the way to just about everywhere from Daytona to Ocala along U.S. 40. We are located in the eastern portion of the Ocala National Forest and just a few minutes north of De Leon Springs State Park, both offering a host of fun activities to explore.

There is plenty to do here at Castaways on the River to enjoy the sun and water. Take a look at our cottages, hotel accommodations, and boats, and make plans to visit soon. In addition, join us on Twitter and Facebook to see what’s going on!


Family Trip Ideas

Boat Ride – St. Johns River

Greenery on St. Johns River

St. Johns River is Florida’s longest river; forming a beautiful path that flows from Indian River County to northeast Florida and into the Atlantic Ocean. A boat cruise of the river offers many opportunities for an affordable family trip, as the river is known for its diverse wildlife and freshwater fishing, especially largemouth basses. The river is a haven for manatees and a variety of birds. Pass through Heritage Corridor, which offers views of Volusia County’s rich cultural heritage and national treasures.

Recreation –  Silver Glen Springs

If you are boating on the St. Johns River, plan to visit Silver Glen Springs, located just a few minutes up the river from Astor, FL. Silver Glen Springs is in the Recreational Area of the Ocala National Forest. The spring has a large semicircular pool that measures 200 feet from north to south, and 175 feet east to west. With such magnitude, the crystal-clear spring basin is popular for snorkeling, canoeing, kayaking, fishing, and swimming. Everyone will have plenty of room to splash and play!

Silver Glen Springs - Family Fun

Silver Glen Springs is an important archaeological site with hiking trails where you can explore and learn more about the history and ecology of the area.  The natural setting is surrounded by forests of oak, cedar and pines, providing the perfect scenery for photography and birding. If you happen to visit the Spring in the winter, you may see manatees visiting from the cooler waters of the St. Johns River.

Castaways on the River offers many boats for rent for your next cruise. Consider staying with us as well and wake up to beautiful sunshine in our many cottages and motel rooms that will accommodate almost any party size. We would love for you to come visit and experience the beautiful oasis Astor has to offer.

-Castaways on the River