Vol 6 No. 50 - September 6, 2006

Giants of the Indian River

Sun Outdoors Editor Rusty Chinnis shows a giant redfish he caught with Captain John Kumiski

By Rusty Chinnis
sun staff writer

As I stood poised on the bow of Captain John Kumiski’s 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 that’s 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 government’s 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 Leon’s sailors claimed the area for Spain, holding it until 1763 when the Britain took control of Florida’s 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. In 1830, Douglas Dummett, an immigrant from Barbados, planted an orange grove that would be the predecessor to the Indian River Citrus industry. Today’s explorers can roam over 45 miles of pristine coastal 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 Florida’s best fishing in the nearby Mosquito Lagoon, Banana River and Indian River. Fattened by a rich harvest of crustaceans and bait fish, double-digit speckled trout and schools of redfish approaching 50 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 200 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 water’s 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 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 redfish.

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 Florida’s 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 spottedtail@spottedtail.com Check out the refuge on line at www.nbbd.com/godo/cns or www.nps.gov/parks’html.


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