Vol 5 No. 48 - August 17, 2005
Giants of the Indian River
By Rusty Chinnis
sun staff writer
As I stood poised on the bow of Captain John Kumiskis
17-foot flats boat, the early morning sun made its way
into the eastern sky casting a golden glow on the distant
shoreline of the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.
Encompassing a vast chunk of coastal Florida, the refuge
and the adjacent Canaveral National Seashore protect
a natural wilderness thats becoming scarce in
this burgeoning coastal state. The wildlife and fish
that inhabit these shallow lagoons and coastal hammocks
owe their relative solitude to the governments
space program, NASA, which set it aside in the late
50s as a buffer zone for Cape Canaveral.
Indians were the first inhabitants to mine the rich
resources of oysters, fish and wildlife, and shell mounds
still mark their passing. In April 1513, Ponce de Leons
sailors claimed the area for Spain, holding it until
1763 when the Britain took control of Floridas
east coast. Development of the area was hampered by
the vast wetlands, a constant veil of salt marsh mosquitoes
and skirmishes with the Seminole Indians.
SUN PHOTO/RUSTY CHINNIS
Sun Outdoors Editor Rusty Chinnis displays the 30-pound
redfish he caught on a fly rod. The fish was measured,
weighed and released.
In 1830, Douglas Dummett,
an immigrant from Barbados, planted an orange grove that
would be the predecessor to the Indian River citrus industry.
Todays explorers can roam over 45 miles of pristine
shoreline, walk a number of hiking trails and enjoy the
wildlife from the six-mile Black Point Wildlife Drive.
The vast wetlands and extensive grass flats also harbor
some of Floridas best fishing in the nearby Mosquito
Lagoon, Banana River and the Indian River. Fattened by a
rich harvest of crustaceans and bait fish, double digit
speckled trout and schools of redfish approaching fifty
pounds roam this brackish nursery. It was the promise of
these huge redfish that brought me to nearby Titusville
to fish with Kumiski, my friend and fellow outdoor writer.
Kumiski had found a school of the giant reds on a shallow
flat in the Indian River some days before and was poling
me along a shoreline in hopes that they had remained in
the area. As we coasted along in two feet of water, he suddenly
pointed to a hump in the water some two hundred yards away.
My body tensed as I mentally told myself to remain calm
and poised. These fish would be extremely spooky in such
shallow water, and a misplaced cast or any sound would cause
them to bolt for deeper water. As we closed in on the school,
Kumiski coached me on my presentation, my self imposed calm
belied by a quickening heart rate and slightly quaking knees.
Although the sun was still low and casting a glare on the
waters surface, I could see the school of giant reds
against the lush green grass flat. I checked the coils of
fly line at my feet and raised my nine weight fly rod in
anticipation of a cast. As we closed within seventy feet
of the school, Kumiski gave me the nod to cast. Making a
roll cast and a quick double haul, I sent the fly in the
direction of the school, but the cast fell short. Regrouping,
I quickly stripped the line in, made another false cast
and dropped the fly ten feet in front of the slowly moving
school. This time the position was perfect and I waited
until the fish had moved over the fly before beginning a
slow strip. On the third strip the line came tight as a
red engulfed the fly. I quickly set the hook with a strip
strike and gave a couple of short jabs to make sure the
hook was firmly set.
The redfish and the school bolted away from the boat and
I put my attention on the fly line as it flew from the deck
and into the guides. As soon as the fish was on the reel,
I gave three more jabs to assure the hook set, and held
on as the red pealed the line and fifty yards of backing
from the reel. The fish was extremely powerful and managed
to stay with the school for another five minutes. Finally
we separated them and I fought the giant red another twenty
minutes before bringing it to the boat. After weighing and
measuring the redfish, we took pictures before reviving
it and releasing it to join the school. It taped out at
40" and weighed in close to 30 pounds, by far my biggest
The balance of the day we spent wade fishing in the Mosquito
Lagoon. In clear water just inches deep, we were able to
see, cast to, and catch twenty reds from 24-32 inches and
three large trout. My experience on the Indian River and
Mosquito Lagoon was my first, but will definitely not be
my last. For an adventure in one of Floridas last
wild places, this area must be seen (and fished) to be appreciated.
Captain John Kumiski can be contacted at 407-977-5207 or
by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org Check out the refuge
on line at www.nbbd.com/godo/cns or www.nps.gov/parks.html.
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