His father still works at the Cape, so we had special access to an area of the NMZ that few get to fish. Arriving at sunrise, we were greeted with foggy conditions but slick calm water.
I have fished this area with Alex once before, but the weather was against us that day. I had high hopes this time, as the NMZ is famed for giant redfish and big schools of black drum that cruise the flats this time of year. Located in the Banana River Lagoon, this area of water falls under the control of the Canaveral National Seashore. The strictly enforced launch restrictions require a Merritt Island Refugee permit, and access is limited to those who work at the Cape. Access by water can be made via KARS Park, but that is one long paddle.
After loading up and launching right next to the dock used for the ships that used to return the solid rocket boosters, we were greeted by enormous schools of finger mullet; every direction we looked, we could see vast schools of bait moving towards us. On my third cast of a Heddon “Super Spook Jr.” I saw a mouth the size of a softball come up behind the lure and try to inhale it. Unfortunately, as is the case many times fishing with a topwater lure, this fish missed it and did not come back for a second chance. At this point I was stoked - my third cast of the morning and I almost connect with what had to be a large redfish. We continued down the shoreline, seeing only small reds and fighting off the hungry no-see-ums.
Alex suggested we move out to a long bar that stretches for several miles and see if the black drum had pushed up onto it. It wasn’t long before we found them; first it was a single cruising in front of my kayak, then three, then seven more showed up. We got a break and the sun came up, so I stood up in my Stealth 14 and it wasn’t long before I saw them, about a hundred fish, all swimming in a tight pack. My first cast was picture perfect, yet no strike. Again, a good cast and nothing. Why weren’t these fish eating? Another cast not 40 feet in front of me, and I saw one of them pick up the Slayer Inc. “SST” in Golden Bream and the fight was on. This fish stuck with the school, which is what they will usually do, but after a while he broke from the pack and I lost sight of the rest. Not my biggest black drum by far, but one of the most rewarding. There is nothing like sight casting to fish and watching them eat it. It doesn’t matter how big or small they are, the rush is the same.
We all picked up some smaller reds during the day - nothing to get really excited about, as I had my sights set on one of the bigger bruisers that call the NMZ home. Alex and his father did get some really nice trout later in the day.
What a great fishery - worth getting up at three o’clock in the morning and making a two-hour drive. Until next time…