Space Coast Florida Attractions and Features for Fishing Families
Jan Stephen Maizler
Up until the present, my contact with Florida’s Space Coast was basic. Yet in the overall planning I did for an upcoming story on Space Coast redfishing with Captain Brian Pahmeier (www.get1charters.com/), I learned a great deal more. The cities of Palm Bay, Melbourne, Cocoa Beach, and Titusville comprise the major cities of the Space Coast. While four cities may seem a modest constituency, you’ll quickly learn - as did I - that this covers a huge amount of pristine lagoon, river, marsh, and “beach and bluff” habitat. If you’re arriving from an urban area, you’ll quickly realize that the local populace has succeeded in preserving not just the land, but the sky as well: there are blessedly few high-rise buildings. In Miami, these structures are a blight to sighting the Heavens - not so, on the Space Coast!
It would take many days to deeply experience all the wonderful features and attractions that would delight the traveling angler and their family. What really ramped up my familiarity (and subsequent love of this area) was my involvement in the Florida’s Space Coast “Blast-Off” Media Tour. What follows is a gosh-honest chronicle of what I experienced there and my appraisals for outdoors readers who are devoted to exploration and adventure as well as fishing.
We arrived at the Crowne Plaza Melbourne Oceanfront (1-321-777-4100) at 2605 North A1A Highway in Melbourne. This was to be the place we would be lodged and our base of operations. I do not recall seeing a single boat in the ocean behind this hotel resort for three days! Surf conditions were likewise calm and pristine. Pelicans would gather every morning and evening to dive on the copious bait schools: in observing this, I was glad I’d brought some light tackle up from Miami. I fished to the bait schools during low light times with white Spro bucktails and DOA small TerrorEyz with good effect, catching jacks, mackerel, and even a small bonito. I found I had to wade out to waist deep water to get off a far-enough cast.
As to the rooms and amenities at the Crowne Plaza, I was thoroughly satisfied. The bedrooms were extremely sumptuous and well appointed with a full complement of snacks and electronic features, which included wireless Internet capabilities. The staff was friendly. Before leaving, we enjoyed the breakfast buffet, which featured the full array of fresh and chef-prepared foods as well as fresh raspberries, huckleberries, smoked salmon, and croissants as pleasant additions. The view from our room on the sixth floor featured an ocean expanse of an uncluttered sea and sky. Indeed, the conditions were so calm that the sky and ocean blended into a huge blue-green medium unfettered by a horizon line. Of note is that the hotel sits near the south end of the Space Coast, which would mean planning on drives of about an hour to get around the region.
Our first stop featured a drive along the Indian River up to Historic Cocoa Village for dinner at the Cara Mia Riverside Grill (1-321-639-3388). While the group bonded, Captain Rodney Smith joined us and talked about the specifics of the Space Coast sport fishery. The food was entirely pleasing and featured Italian dishes cooked with subtle skills. The main courses were supplemented with appetizers like fresh bruschetta and tasty mussels in tomato garlic broth. The wines were quite good as well. My impression of this friendly, well-situated establishment included visualizing Cara Mia as an ideal setting for recounting and celebrating a day of fishing the Cocoa Area.
Our drive from the restaurant to our next stop was but a few minutes. We arrived at a pier where Island Boat Lines (www.islandboatlines.com/) ( 1-321-302-0544) had a large old-style paddleboat awaiting us for a sunset cruise. Our group boarded the vessel and in no time at all, we eased off into the calm river waters under the setting sun. We declined some sumptuous dishes, but gladly grabbed some ice cold Heinekens and headed for the top deck to get the best view. It again became instantly apparent that Big Development had not been allowed or encouraged to sink its teeth into this delightful region. As we eased along and dusk blended into night, we saw jumping mullet and rolling porpoises galore. It occurred to me that the best way to end a day on the water is to spend the evening on it as well!
The next day dawned with a full morning to night schedule, and thus demanded a hearty breakfast to provide nutrient and caloric fuel. Our two-car SUV caravan headed to Cape Canaveral Inlet, where a large table at Grills Tiki Bar and Restaurant (1-321-868-2226) awaited us. This was clearly a full-blown seaside Florida eatery with excellent around the clock food. It was decorated in a fun maritime fashion and offered adjacent views of the cruise ships. Grills Tiki Bar and Restaurant is located at the epicenter of Cape Canaveral “action” and enjoys a broad-based customer following.
Our next destination on the tour was Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex (www.kennedyspacecenter.com/), an absolutely essential place to not only visit, observe, and learn- but more importantly, to experience. As members of a press tour, we also got an incredibly in-depth look at the actual workings of N.A.S.A. (www.nasa.gov/). Firstly, anglers and their families will be astonished by the experience, strength, and hope that have been the foundation of the N.A.S.A. program. Secondly, fishing folks- who are aquanauts- should easily identify with the exploratory passion, technical expertise, and cosmic reverence of the wonderful astronauts of the program from inception to present. When you watch men walking on the moon with Planet Earth hanging high in the sky above them, you’ll feel a keen sense of respect and perspective that will quicken the philosophical foundations of why and how you should fish.
There are many images and experiences that whirl around in my mind from Kennedy Space Center, yet there are two that stand out with the strongest color and clarity. The first was a delightful question and answer session over lunch with astronaut Storey Musgrave, whose vision for mankind’s relationship to science, space travel, and the human race itself was deeply enriching. The second was the obvious and demonstrable excellent stewardship for the marine, marsh, and beach environment that this program has been able to achieve and maintain. Wildlife abounds on N.A.S.A. grounds! As our tour bus took us deep into in the program’s property, I saw resplendent bird life aloft and wading as well as lots of redfish tailing over pristine flats and creeks. Visiting and experiencing Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex is sure to give you and your family a day to remember. Their contact number is 1-321-449-4444.
Like all good experiences, the day passed quickly and all of a sudden it was six o’ clock and time to leave for dinner. Our little caravan quickly reassembled itself and headed for the famous Dixie Crossroads restaurant (www.dixiecrossroads.com/) in nearby Titusville. This landmark eatery is more than a visit- it’s an event! The owner, Laurilee Thompson, has seen to it that a staggering array of fresh ocean-caught seafood is available in various preparations that are sure to please any palette. Added to this incredible base are steaks, ribs, soups, salads, and Old Florida desserts that guarantee a home run dining triumph for all visitors. Their phone number is 1-321-268-5000. As I lingered over some key lime pie and iced coffee, Laurilee informed our group that she’d be joining us on that evening’s kayak trip.
As nightfall settled over the Space Coast, Laurilee lead our caravan deep into the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. We made a brief stop to watch some manatees feeding alongside Haulover Canal Bridge. In five more minutes, we arrived at our kayak launching area. This part of the tour was to be headed up by A Day Away Kayak Tours (1-321-268-2655) – (www.adayawaykayaktours.com/). Owner Mike Mahn greeted our group and gave us a kayak safety and operation talk as well as discussing our paddling itinerary. Our nighttime water safari would take us from the northern reaches of the Indian River through Haulover Canal into the Mosquito Lagoon. This particular kayak tour featured Biolumenescent Amazement, which is caused by glowing organisms in the water that give off a “cold light” as your paddle goes through them in the water. Although the ambient light of the half moon cut down on optimal darkness for viewing this phenomenon, it was easy to see the fiery trails of these organisms if you kayaked in the shadows of the tree lines. Other highlights included up-close and personal contact with porpoises swimming alongside us as well as the cascades of mullet that showered over our kayaks as we paddled through them. I did see some tarpon strike the mullet, but my not bringing a rod was dictated by the parameters of this itinerary; and besides, the nighttime magic of glowing fish trails under a serene summer nighttime sky was completely sufficient! The trip took two hours and was a delightful adventure. This day and the entire Tour was something that will find itself in my Hallway of Cherished Memories.
Some of the best news I have to report is that my monster redfish trip with Captain Brian Pahmeier remains in the near future and not in the past. This means I’ll be journeying to the Space Coast very soon, a trip I’m sure I’ll be taking again and again.