Merritt Island in November

Merritt Island in November
Mae & Chris Creed, Peter Moore

Mae & Chris Creed, Peter Moore

By Nathan & Ted Miller

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge is a major migratory destination for wintering ducks along our Atlantic flyway. It consists of 140,000 acres of saltwater estuaries and marshes, and freshwater impoundments, and is roughly a two-hour drive from Jacksonville.
My father introduced my brothers and me to Merritt Island at early ages, and we have really enjoyed the beauty of this part of Florida over the years. And with the inshore fishing opportunities down along the Indian River and Mosquito Lagoon, you can always grab a rod and go inshore fishing in pursuit of trout or redfish if the hunting is slow. The kids have fun either way.
We would typically head down Friday after school (or once kids were finished with after-school sports) and arrive sometime around dinner. There are great places to eat around the Space Coast. Paul’s Smokehouse along South Washington Avenue overlooking the Indian River offers great food with a waterfront setting.
One of our favorite restaurants was Dixie Crossroads located along Garden Street, just off Interstate 95. It offers great seafood and a fun setting. It was — and still is — probably one of the more popular dining spots in the area and attracts many people from around the state. It’s always had a wait.
Many of the hotels in Merritt Island were hunter-friendly and allowed dogs in the rooms — and did not back-charge us for damp gear that may have been thrown on the floors or beds while we rested. But it is important to ask before the reservation is made. And in the unfortunate event that a dog had the urge to swim in their pool, many did not say anything. Just try not to make this a habit.
After dinner, we’d spread refuge maps out on the beds and discuss projected wind direction, shared scouting reports and potential hunting destinations for the following morning.
Wake up calls were set usually for around 3 a.m. with the front desk, and then we’d be off to bed in an attempt to get a decent night’s sleep. Tossing and turning in anticipation of the morning hunt usually consumed much of the late-evening hours, and very little sleep was achieved.
The early morning always started a little hazy as the loud ring from the front desk wake-up call overtook the low humming of the AC compressor. We’d take a quick glance into the parking lot to see how many rigs had already left, and evaluate who was still sleeping. Kids would race around the room gathering gear in anticipation of being the first to our spot while the fathers seemed to take more time. The first detour was always to the all-night convenient store for the cup of coffee and some food for the blind. Then we were off to the refuge.
Once reaching the boat ramp, the kids by shining Q-beams into the darkness for sleepy fathers backing boats into the water. These ramps are not your typical ramps poured in
concrete. They are bald areas free from vegetation in the middle of nowhere where others have backed boats in on previous mornings. The assistance with the q-beams helps ensure boats launch on the first attempt. Once in the water, we load gear into the boat and race to the right spots.
One of my favorite times of the morning is running the channels along the dike systems — and seeing potential ponds to hunt. I remember wondering if there were birds working those areas the evening before and thinking, “Are we passing good spots, or is our intended destination better?”
As dawn approaches and waterfowl begins to move around, the dark silhouettes and the whistling of wings overhead magnified the anticipation and assured us a great morning was in ahead.
But the reality was that the experience of being with friends, family and the dogs up to this point had already made the morning great.
If fishing is more appealing, there are fish camps along the north end of the Mosquito Lagoon offering boat rentals and slips where you and your kids can go stay a night or two. These are fun places for kids and you can be fishing within minutes after rolling out of bed and a eating a quick breakfast.
These weekends are great with kids, and it is fun go with a few other friends and their kids. Kids enjoy the company of their peers, and it is always a smart idea to have other adults around in the event there is a problem.
Due to the increased popularity and pressure of waterfowl hunting over the years, Merritt Island has instituted a quota or lottery system for areas 1 and 4 to ensure a limited number of hunters can hunt in these areas. Areas 2 and 3 do not require a quota permit.
To download the mandatory brochure describing lottery rules for areas 1 and 4, time and days of hunting and other rules and regulations for Merritt Island National Refuge, visit www.fws.gov/merrittisland/2
013Hunting.pdf.

Send your pictures, stories and favorite destinations to The Miller Brothers at [email protected]
FredMillerGroup.com or  [email protected]

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