Under the shadow of the Christa McAuliffe Bridge on the Barge Canal cutting thru Merritt Island is the ruins of the once active Tingley's Fish Camp. Once a busy fishing camp for wandering anglers, this waterfront camp was rented to the Tingley family (Dave and Ann Tingley) from the Canaveral Port Commission in the 1958. The fish camp was simply known as the Barge Canal Fish Camp prior to that.
Growing up on Merritt Island Captain Richard Bradley knew the Tingley's and attended church with their family into the 1990's. Ann Tingley was a devote Christian and member of the First Baptist Church of Merritt Island. Dave Tingley (her husband) was an avid fisherman and personally ran the fish camp and was seldom seen at church services as he'd be tending the store and counting shrimp as bait to the many anglers that would either boat or drive in.
Dave Tingley died in 1978 and it seemed the heart & soul of Tingley's Fish Camp died with him as it never regained it's prior stature afterward. Dave's wife Ann attempted to manage the place for twenty more years, but the challenges of business and the dwindling boat traffic on the barge canal drained most of the revenue from the old Florida style business where weekly fish fries and a waterfront restaurant kept things busy. Manatee zones slowed boating traffic and large modern marinas and restaurants took business away from the small small business and it's quaint location.
Modern Marinas like the Harbortown Marina with millions of dollars of investment capital and facilities slowly eroded on the Tingley's and with the hour long commute across Merritt Island, many boaters preferred to launch closer to their fishing and recreational boating areas on the Banana River or Indian River Lagoon. As time lingered less and less traffic forced the closure of Tingley's Fish Camp and it was sold a few years ago prior to the recession and never developed as a condominium community. The remains look like a ghost town and is over run by rodents and stray cats with docks and wharfs in disrepair and memories that are fading to a generation of Islanders that are almost as rare to find.
Traveling from east to west along the the barge canal you will immediately notice various boat yards and junky looking marine scrap yards on the south side. Further into the waterway you'll discover Harbortown Marina also on the south side. Traveling farther west is the Sea Ray boat factory immediately east of the State Road 3 draw bridge. Dining and docking is provided by Harbortown Marina and the food is well liked by many locals.
Passing under the SR3 bridge you see the ruins of the once popular Tingley's Fish Camp where weekly mullet fries and dining where common place into the 1960's. Once a popular fishing destination, this has become a ghost town as the Manatee Zone speed restrictions prohibited the business from flourishing.
Growing up in Merritt Island I had the privilege and pleasure of knowing the Tingley family as members of our church (First Baptist Church of Merritt Island). During the 60's the sparsely populated north part of the Island was only serviced by Dave Tingley and his wife Ann that passed away in 2006. There were no restaurants and no service stations north of the Barge Canal and only a few orange grove owners and homes in that part of Merritt Island which remains more rural to this day.
Before I wrote this page, I took a few moments to call their daughter Diane Tingley that lives in Cocoa and asked her a few questions about her dad and growing up at Tingley's fish camp.
"Dad came from Iowa in 1952 because his back was bad and he could no longer stand to wear heavy coats and sweaters. The Florida climate was attractive to daddy and he absolutely loved to fish so purchasing the fish camp was his destiny," explained Diane. "Aside from growing up at a fish camp and going to high school in Merritt Island, I remember watching excited boaters launch vessel, trailer and vehicles into the Barge Canal several times. It seemed like every month or so, the tow truck was pulling another truck and trailer from the canal. My father would have a fish fry and triple dip his shrimp and fish in his special seasoning and batter mix. Dad did it all himself and loved the community he'd built around his fish camp."
During the late 1970's when I was in high school the Tingley's asked me to paint some of their rental boats with "Tingley's Fish Camp" on the side. I think I made $20 per boat and drank most of my profits in Coca-Cola and moon pies. Prior to Ann Tingley passing away in 2006, she confronted me about a soft drink that I had not paid for over 20 years prior. Geeze... I promptly gave her a quarter and she seemed satisfied and pleased that I had finally settled with her.
Times have changed and so has the old fish camp on the Barge Canal. I went down to Tingley's yesterday and took a few photos of the old place and reflected about how great of a place that used to be. It was normal to water ski right off the front deck of the restaurant (although they frowned at that). We'd ski and fish till the sun went down and come back to the Tingley's for some good fixin's before heading home.
Florida Fishing Guide / Lagooner Fishing Guide Service
May is one of the last month's of good fishing in the Banana River Lagoon until the summer months are over and the temperatures start to fall again in late September and October. May is awesome backwater snook time for Banana River anglers. Look for the early morning bite to produce great numbers of these hard hitting game fish. Fly fisherman only need to bring white mangrove flies in an assortment of sizes, but most snook will be in the single digit size so don't go past a 10 weight. Redfish will be plentiful and healthy sized in many areas of the Banana River and the sea trout will be staging around bait along sandbars and islands. Look for sea trout to slow down late in the month and as the summer temps rise the sea trout fishing will all but disappear excepting the smaller ones in the deeper water. Sebastian and the Mosquito Lagoon will be better sea trout areas in late May and into the summer.
To find out more information about taking a fishing guide service on the Banana River Lagoon, please at (321) 868-4953 or fill out the request form above and Lagooner Fishing Guides will be prompt to respond.
The Banana River Lagoon is a shallow saltwater lagoon adjacent to and between Cocoa Beach and Merritt Island, Florida. The barrier and spoil island on the Banana River Lagoon make an awesome fishery and angling opportunities for anglers to catch redfish, spotted sea trout, snook and tarpon. Call Captain Gina today and ask her about information and a fishing trip on the beautiful Banana River Lagoon.
The easiest access for launching boats and demarcation on the Banana River Lagoon is at Brevard County's Kelly Park located directly off of SR 528 approximately 35 minutes from the Orlando International Airport (MCO). Go to our maps page and get detailed directions to the nearest boat launches on the Banana River Lagoon.
Banana River Boat Ramp
2550 North Banana River Drive
Merritt Island, FL 32952