Keeping island hideaway a secret



By SUSAN COCKING
KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS
TITUSVILLE, Fla. -- When we last checked in with Central Florida light-tackle fishing guide John Kumiski, he recently had published a book, "How and Where to Catch Redfish in the Indian River Lagoon System." Complete with aerial photographs and directions to specific flats, the book purports to help anyone improve his/her catch of redfish.
But not every single hot spot is included in that book, nor in Kumiski's two other successful fishing tomes, "Fishing Florida's Space Coast" or "Flyrodding Florida Salt." The books skip at least one hideaway chock full of tailing redfish and black drum.
That's because he didn't locate it until a month or so ago.
I recently fished this little-known drum pit with Kumiski using fly rods and kayaks. To paraphrase some really bad writer, "It was the best of fishing and the worst of fishing."
Best for Kumiski, 57, because he caught and released nine black drum and four redfish to about 10 pounds -- all sight-fishing; no blind-casting.
Worst for me because I watched him catch all those fish, and all I got was a juvenile black drum.
But our daylong trip was anything but boring, especially in the late afternoon. Imagine acres of sheep grazing in the grass, then substitute drum tailing in the mud and you'll have a pretty good idea of what the fishing was like.
Unfortunately, I am not at liberty to tell you exactly where we went.
Secret location
Kumiski swore me to secrecy because our fishing grounds were completely deserted -- ignored by hundreds of boaters all around us on a beautiful Saturday. All I can tell you is that we launched his 14-foot aluminum skiff carrying two sea kayaks at the Beacon 42 boat ramp in the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, motored a distance across Mosquito Lagoon, then stopped and lifted the kayaks over a berm into a series of interconnected ponds no more than 3 feet deep.
Leaving the skiff unattended was risky, but Kumiski rationalized that because it is old, weather-beaten and paid-for, perhaps no one would steal it. No one did.
From almost the moment we launched in the first shallow pond, we began seeing black drum and redfish. They tailed and milled around on the bottom, and mudded when we inadvertently ran over them. We heard a sort of burping, bullfroglike noise as they fled our paddlecraft, apparently the drum-alarm they sound when danger lurks.
Casting a No. 4 black Clouser that he ties himself, Kumiski hooked up almost right away with his 5-weight rod. Unlike its huge, bovinelike cousins in the nearby Banana River no-motor zone, this black drum didn't tow the kayak for any distance. But the estimated 10-pounder gave Kumiski a good tussle for five or 10 minutes. I was very jealous when he landed it, since I had just made multiple unsuccessful casts to a red and a black drum that were tailing only a few feet apart.
"You've got to put the fly right in front of his nose," Kumiski called to me. "He won't go more than 2 feet to pick it up."
As light began to fade into dusk, Kumiski said we needed to head for the boat ramp. But as we crossed the final pond on the approach to the beached skiff, black and red drum tails waved all along the shoreline like scores of flags popping up in the meters of a municipal parking lot.
Of course, we stopped to fish.
Miracle catch
Miraculously, this shoreline contained enough hard sand to support my weight without sinking. Kumiski and I both got out of our kayaks, and he fired off a cast to an approaching school of reds. Fish on!
The hooked red splashed, scattering at least a half-dozen fish with violent swirls. Knowing this was my last at-bat in the ninth inning, I made a Hail Mary cast to the center of the commotion and -- wonder of wonders -- hooked up.
The three minutes or so that it took me to land a black drum that weighed maybe 4 pounds were perhaps the most gratifying in recent memory. The experience was right up there with catching a bonefish on fly rod in Biscayne Bay.
Riding back to the boat ramp, I asked Kumiski how long he thinks those particular fishing grounds will stay productive.
He shrugged and said there is no way to tell. If the water got too deep, the fish might be too hard to spot. Any shallower, and they would die.
"But maybe some of the other ponds will get good," he added.
Any better, and the fish would be jumping into the boat.

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