No Motor Zone – Florida’s Little Secret
The Florida that was once quiet and vacant has become busy and semi-cluttered. Traffic and highways, buildings and pavement occupy more and more space each day. It’s now difficult to remember those days when we could walk across what are now busy roads by just listening and not raising our eyes to look for a break in traffic.
Quietness and solitude have become valuable commodities in this changing landscape.
But it’s easy to understand why so many people have migrated to our wonderful state. Besides being nearly surrounded by the waters of the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico, Florida is also a land of lakes, bays, rivers, creeks, springs and lagoons. Nowhere in the world can you find such bio-diversity intermingled with today’s technologies and urban growth.
Situated at the north end of the Banana River Lagoon and nestled against the edge of rural peacefulness and urban sprawl, rests the infamous Manatee Refuge / No Motor Zone (NMZ). An altogether unique refuge located within a refuge, the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, the NMZ is nearly 140,000 acres of sanctuary.
Within sight of one of the world’s busiest cruise ship destinations, Port Canaveral, nestled near Kennedy Space Center and only a 45 minute drive east of Disney World, this manatee sanctuary has become not only a refuge for these lovable and endangered marine mammals, but also for those hardcore anglers willing to paddle a few extra miles in open water to avoid motor boats. In addition, locals and tourists get the chance to experience a world class shallow water fishery located on one of the world’s most diversified estuaries.
To experience this combination of peacefulness and incomparable fishing, you need to only prepare yourself properly or hire a guide. Captain John Kumiski has been fishing this area since before it was designated a Manatee Refuge / No Motor Zone, so I asked John to share a bit of his personal experience with us.
Q. How long have you fished the NMZ?
A. Close to twenty years. It opened in 1991.
Q. How do you choose the right day for paddling into the NMZ for fishing?
A. Anytime there’s a forecast for a south wind you shouldn’t go. Since most folks only fish on the west side of the Banana River Lagoon here, east winds aren’t very good either, unless they are very light winds. I prefer winds to be light and variable west or northwest at 0-10 mph. Sunny skies are also important for sight fishing the NMZ.
Q. What was your best day fishing the NMZ?
A. Best? I would prefer memorable. There have been so many memorable days in there! John Pusateri and I were in there one time. He forgot to bring an anchor. I was using a swimming pool cleaning pole to canoe and tried to stake out the canoe with it so we could wade after tailing black drum. I got my first one on fly that day, but in the meantime the canoe floated away. I had to run about three-quarters of a mile, in waders, to catch up to it. While doing so I discovered that there were reds all along the shoreline, and we spent the rest of the afternoon catching them.
Another time Joe Mulson and I were up there and found a giant wad of tailing black drum. I had an Orvis Rocky Mountain seven-weight rod I hated and decided to see how much it could take. I hooked four drum and locked up the reel on all of them. The pressure they put on that rod was tremendous. Fearing I’d get a face full of graphite slivers, I chickened out all four times. When I let go of the reel, the handle busted my knuckles up bad. They were all bruised and bloody. I got three of those fish within ten minutes, though, and broke off the fourth.
Q. What makes this place special?
A. No internal combustion. It’s a beautiful thing.
Q. Any tips you can share concerning access, security, guides, gear, tackle and rigging?
A. Access – Access is at the north end of Banana River Drive in a seedy-looking area. I’ve never had a problem with vehicle security there, though.
Guides – I guide in there; however, I don’t get a lot of calls to go there.
Gear – Bring an extra rod! Warren Hinrichs and I were in there one summer day. The place looked like Sea World. Warren broke his rod on a 36-inch red. A short time after, we found a lot of tarpon laying up over white holes. I broke my rod when the Clouser Minnow I was casting hit it. I learned two lessons that day. Also bring an extra paddle and plenty of snacks and water, and a waterproof bag for your camera!
- Don’t throw Clouser Minnows at tarpon.
- Always bring an extra rod into the No Motor Zone.
Tackle – I would like to see the NMZ be a fly fishing only, catch and release area. Doubt if I ever will, though.
Learn more about the guiding adventures of Capt. John Kumiski.
Best Days to Fish
April 3-9, 12-19, 26-27, 30 ; May 1- 17
Worse Days to Fish
April 10-13, 20-25