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5 Haunted Fishing Spots to Visit this Halloween Season

For spooky season, we're digging up discoveries of a darker nature. Here's 5 haunted spots where the fishing is so good, it's scary

5 Haunted Fishing Spots to Visit this Halloween Season

When things go bump at the end of your line and all you hear is your screaming reel, you know you’re fishing in one of Florida’s many haunted fishing holes.

Whispers and rumors. Secret spots and guarded charts. When things go bump at the end of your line and all you hear is your screaming reel, you know you’re fishing in one of Florida’s many haunted fishing holes. When a place is as old as Florida, it’s sure to have a few ghosts, particularly when that history is as, let’s say, “preternatural” as is Florida’s. There is no way to document all of Florida’s paranormal and ghostly places, but in the spirit of the Halloween season, here’s a short list of some of Florida’s most haunted fishing spots.

Amelia Island and Fernandina Beach

amelia island welcome sign
Even the welcome sign has an eerie feeling to it, peeking from behind the bushes.

Spot one of those plump, pumpkin-colored redfish in the marshes at Amelia Island in Northeast Florida, and you may wonder if this isn’t the patch from which Linus’ Great Pumpkin might rise to a bait. The island’s 13 miles of beach are also ripe for surfcasting, and at the southern tip, where the river rushes beneath the George Crady Fishing Pier, the waters teem with spot, flounder, reds and trout. But, don’t let Amelia Island’s jubilant fishing fool you. It’s not just the fish lurking in the shadowy waters of this island; this place is haunted.

The Amelia Island Tourist Development Council’s webpage proclaims “Island Enchantment” hoping to convey charm and magic, but “enchantment” really means witchery and sorcery. Anyone who knows this island knows that ghosts walk here. In historic “Old Town” in Fernandina Beach, settled a thousand years before the European settlers by Timucua Indians, the ghost of a teenager who drowned nearby will appear to those who visit Old Town on the night of their sixteenth birthday.

A hundred and twenty years ago, in the area now known as the 300-acre protected park Egan’s Creek Greenway, a pirate led his crew into the marsh to bury their treasure. Once in the backcountry, the pirate killed his crew in order to retain the treasure for himself. Instead of an X on a map, he marked the location of the treasure by hanging a large chain from a branch of an oak growing above his hidden booty. However, a diamondback strike left the pirate lying forever with his treasure beneath what is now known as “the money tree,” and locals know that if you’re walking in Egan’s Creek Greenway and you see an old rusty chain hanging from a tree, it’s best you walk away.

push poling in the marsh
Marshland is tricky navigation. Pirates knew that, too.

Locals also know that the building that now houses the Amelia Island Museum of History used to be the Nassau County Jail House and that back in 1817 the notorious pirate Luis Aury was remanded to the jailhouse and sentenced to hang for his crimes. Aury was not keen on facing the humiliation of a public hanging, so the night before his execution, he tried to cut his own throat. The local authorities, though, didn’t want to lose the opportunity for the public hanging and the message it would send to other pirates, so they stitched his throat closed and kept Aury alive until he could be hung the next day. Now Aury can be heard in the old jail building moaning in agony and some have even seen a stich-necked ghost looming around the place.

Of course, most Florida anglers would prefer to avoid old jails and “hang” out at old bars instead, which is fine since Amelia Island is also home to Florida’s oldest bar, the Palace Saloon. The Palace boasts that if you’re drinking at their bar, the “ghosts from ten decades past join in drinking to your health.” They’ll also tell you that from 1906 to 1960 the Palace bar was tended by Charlie Beresford who would challenge patrons to flip quarters from the bar into the cleavage of the carved mahogany women that stood sentry behind the bar. Beresford would supplement his income with the quarters he would collect from the bosoms of the figureheads and the floor around them. Since Beresford moved on to that great bar in the sky, Palace bartenders have claimed that if they try to initiate the quarter flipping, they feel a cold hand on their shoulders encouraging them not to take up the game. They also will tell you that the Palace’s old electric player piano will often start playing, even when it’s not plugged in. I wonder if they take requests.

St. Augustine

Photo Alt Text Goes Here
St. Augustine Lighthouse pretty much radiates ghost stories. Also overlooks Salt Run, a superb fishing spot in Northeast Florida.

From the three fishing piers to the inshore, nearshore, and offshore opportunities, St. Augustine is an angler’s paradise. Of course, you know the history, too. The oldest city in the United States. Settled by the Spanish in 1565 under the leadership of Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, who was named Florida’s first Governor that same year (by default that also makes de Avilés the first Governor in what would become the U.S.). For the “New World,” 455 years is damn long, and we can imagine the horrors that unfolded in the shadows and dark corners of that antediluvian town. The tourist brochures call St. Augustine “quirky,” but that’s just a euphemism for spooky. Let’s face it, when a town has not one but at least ten companies offering haunted ghost tours, including one of the world’s most famous ghost train tours, it’s probably time to call Ray, Egon, Peter, and Winston. Or, if you’re like me, it’s time to go fishing. St. Augustine has a lot of haunted places, but from an angler’s perspective, here are a few of the best.

Castillo de san Marcos
It is no secret that the Castillo de san Marcos in St. Augustine is haunted.

After weathering 300 years of battles and storms, it is no secret that the Castillo de san Marcos is haunted. For centuries, the ghost of a Spanish soldier has kept watch, looking out to sea from the fort walls in the early morning and late evenings. Many people have reported feeling the cold, spectral hands of long-dead prisoners in the fort’s dungeons. And, sometimes, in the cloudy nights along the fort’s edge, a phantasmal light can be seen moving about in the watchtowers. But, if you want to know a real secret about the fort, I can tell you that along the eastern wall of the fort, along the bulkhead that protects the fort from the water where Hospital Creek runs into the Matanzas river, in the summer at high tide, you can catch some monstrous jack crevalle—often to the cheers of tourists wearing absolutely terrifying outfits.

If you want a drink in St. Augustine, try the Casablanca Inn overlooking Matanzas Bay. However, be aware that the Casablanca has its own ghosts. Local lore says that during prohibition the owner of the Casablanca was losing money in the business and took to working with bootleggers to improve her income. She served as a lookout and would leave signal lamps in the windows to warn of revenuers and other official types. She would wave the lantern in the window to signal that it was safe for the sea going smugglers to bring their spirits ashore. Since her departure from this earth, many patrons of the Casablanca and others walking near the Inn have reported seeing the ghostly apparition of a woman waving a lantern in the window. Admittedly, this is my kind of haunting: a woman signaling that someone on a boat is bringing booze ashore. What could be more Floridian?

At high tide you can catch monstrous jack crevalle to the cheers of tourists wearing terrifying outfits.

I confess, St. Augustine’s Salt Run is one of my favorite fishing haunts. I fish there fairly often. The redfish, trout, and tarpon fishing can be great, but Salt Run sits in the shadow of one of Florida’s most iconic locations—and one of its most haunted. The St. Augustine Lighthouse was built in 1874 replacing the original lighthouse which had been built in the 1600s and damaged over the years by ocean-side weather. When rebuilt, the U.S. Government purchased land from local owners on which to build the new structure. One of the original landowners, a man known as Dr. Ballard, fell into dispute with his neighbors of the land sale, and since his death, many have said they see him still wandering the lighthouse grounds. Likewise, in 1859, lighthouse keeper Juan Andreau died at the lighthouse, leaving his wife Maria de los Dolores Andreu to become the first Hispanic-American woman to command a federal U.S. Coast Guard shore installation. The ghost of Mr. Andreau, though, is said to still roam the lighthouse and the keeper’s house. The lighthouse is also haunted by a young girl who is assumed to be one of three girls who drowned on July 10, 1873. Two of the girls, daughters of Hezekiah H. Pittee, superintendent of lighthouse construction from 1871 to 1874, were playing in a cart with two of their siblings and a friend when the cart crashed into Salt Run drowning three of the children. One of the last keepers of the light refused to live in the keeper’s house because of the frequency of ghostly visitors.

Daytona Beach

haunted hotel in daytona beach
Popular Daytona resort... haunted by ghosts... and paint selection? Excellent surf fishing right out front, and short walk to Main Street Pier.

As a kid, I used to fish the Main Street Pier. Back then, before Hurricane Floyd smashed it apart in ’99, we just called it the Daytona Pier. I used to love catching sheepshead, flounder, whiting, and the occasional red or trout from the pier. I’d also surf cast from the beach north of the pier, occasionally ducking into the arcades along the boardwalk to grab a slice of pizza. Little did I know that I was fishing in the shadows of the paranormal.

Six blocks north of the pier, the Plaza Resort and Spa looms along the beachfront. This popular hotel/condo has a unique and haunted history. In 1895, the Clarendon Hotel opened its doors on the site where the Plaza Resort now stands. The Clarendon was one of the largest hotels along the shore. It boasted casinos and ten cottages as well as the main hotel.

At 5:30 in the morning on February 14, 1909, a fire started in the hotel’s kitchen. The hotel was filled—215 guests. The night clerk was able to alert the guests, and all were able to evacuate before the flames consumed the hotel and the cottages in less than 45 minutes. Original news reports the following day claimed that all the guests were evacuated. But when the hotel was rebuilt in 1911 and then subsequently rebuilt again as the Plaza, rumors spread of the spirits of a few souls lost in the flames. Hotel workers tell stories of ghosts roaming the hallways, including a little girl who disturbs items in the kitchen and pushes the buttons in the elevator. Some employees think the spirits are those of guests who have returned or some who have never left.

In August 2013 hotel security cameras captured images of a sprit wandering the resort’s Veranda Bar & Grille. Proof, everyone supposed, of the hauntings. WESH in Orlando even covered the story. The videos are available on YouTube if you want to see for yourself.

All I know is that when I’m standing knee deep in the ocean surfcasting, my back to the Plaza Resort, when a chill wind blows across my back or there’s a faint moan in the breeze, I am not turning around.

The “Dead Zone”

Lake Monroe in Sanford has a justifiable reputation for big bass and big black crappie. This 9.4-acre lake sits between Orlando and Daytona beach and is part of the St. Johns River Chain. The boat ramp at Lake Monroe Wayside Park sits just off of state road 17, and only 1,200 feet east of the ramp you can see one of the scariest places in Florida to fish: the I-4 St. Johns River Veterans Memorial Bridge.

According to legend, in 1886 a family of four German immigrants who had died of yellow fever were buried in an unmarked grave that now rests beneath the Interstate 4 approach to the St. Johns River Veterans Memorial Bridge and the family haunts the bridge. There have been rumors and reports of ghostly hitchhikers along the bridge for decades, but the proof of the hauntings come in much more tragic form. The bridge was originally built without shoulders, making it impossible for disabled vehicles to pull off the road, leading to unprecedented numbers of accidents. In a 2007 report, WKMG-Channel 6 reported the Florida Highway Patrol said nearly 440 crashes had been reported there between 1999 and 2006, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

But it’s not just the traffic accidents here that makes this place creepy; it’s the weather, too. In 1960, the track of Hurricane Donna piggy-backed the area, and in 2004, Hurricane Charley passed over the burial site. While visiting Lake Monroe while writing this article, I got pinned down on the boat ramp by one of the most intense lightning storms I’ve ever seen. Named the “I-4 Dead Zone” by Charlie Carlson in his 1997 book Strange Florida, the area around the I-4 St. Johns River Veterans Memorial Bridge on Lake Monroe is undeniably a scary place to fish.

The End?

There are countless other scary, creepy, and haunted places to fish in Florida. All around Tampa Bay, stories of ghosts and pirates abound. Key West has Fort East Martello, The Audubon House, Fort Zachary Taylor (how many thousands died here from diphtheria and yellow fever only to haunt the place for centuries?). Or the Pensacola Lighthouse which is haunted by six ghosts (ok, let’s just be blunt about it: lighthouses are pretty much all haunted. Have you seen the 2019 Robert Eggers film The Lighthouse set in late-19th-century New England or the 2016 Chris Crow film The Lighthouse both of which are based upon Smalls Island Incident of 1801? Terrifying.)

So, this Halloween season, when you get that feeling that you’re not fishing alone, chances are that cold feeling along your spine is a long-dead angler encouraging you to leave its old fishing hole. FS

Florida Sportsman Magazine October 2020


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