Banana River Bombing Target
Patrick Air Force Base was formally known as the Banana River Naval Station where squadrons of planes practiced bombing runs on the lagoon.
One of the more prominent features on the Banana River near Cape Canaveral is a WWII relict simply referred to as “The Bombing Target“, which provides structure for fish, and a great visual marker in the lagoon. During the height of World War II, American fighter pilots trained on the Banana River and northward towards the Indian River Lagoon dropping non-live ordinance on these makeshift targets made of massive steel plates or steel girders formed in a circle approximately fifty feet in diameter. These old targets have become well known to boaters and anglers that frequent these fertile waters in pursuit of game fish.
Directly east of the Bombing target in the shallow Banana River, lies a sandbar with a full grass flat beyond and stretching to the shoreline. There’s plenty of seasonal fishing for the angler for both redfish and spotted sea trout, but for the crafty anglers, there’s also snook and tarpon. Vast manatee zones protect some of the best angling opportunities in this area and keep boaters from speeding over and around many of the area’s best fishing grounds.
Fishing on the Banana River lagoon
Visual Aides on the water have traditionally been a fisherman’s friend, but since the advent of the GPS or Loran-C, many anglers have become dependent on their electronics. The “bombing target” in the Banana River has always been a great aid in navigating the shallow water lagoon and is a great reference point for boaters to beware of the shallow water. It poses no real navigation threat as the area is strictly enforced and well marked as a “no wake” zone and boaters. Fishing the bombing target area involves little more than a shallow water boat and some patience for the dedicated angler. “You can’t learn any body of water in one day,” explains Captain Richard, “It takes a few years to learn the territory and productive seasons for each species. As one of the Orlando fishing guides, I began learning the lagoon as a young adolescent. The Banana River has more volume than the Mosquito Lagoon to the north as it’s 24 miles of from north to south and over three miles in width in many areas. The restricted areas in the Northern end of the Banana River include the famous No Motor Zone and the more restricted waters north of the NASA Causeway that has not been fished in almost 60 years as it’s earnestly patrolled and monitored by Canaveral Airforce Station and NASA security forces.
Several beach communities border the Central part of the Banana River between SR 528 and SR 520 and southward towards the Pineda Causeway. There are three main boat ramps on the Banana River with Kelly Park being to the north, Bicentennial Park in the Center and Ramp Road in the Thousand Island Area. There is a local ramp at Kiwanis Island in the Sykes Creek or Newfound Harbor area of the Banana River too that provides a more public entrance to the lagoon as it’s snuggled near many of Merritt Island‘s more populated areas and near Wal-Mart and Merritt Square Mall. Punctuating the south end of the Banana River Lagoon at the Mather’s Bridge and with Dragon Point.
Naval Air Station Banana River
According to our research, the Naval Air Station Banana River was deactivated as a naval installation in 1947 and placed in a caretaker status before being transferred to the United States Air Force on September 1, 1948, and renamed the Joint Long Range Proving Ground on June 10, 1949. The installation was renamed Patrick Air Force Base in August 1950 and is currently an active Air Force installation.
The official opening of the Banana River Naval Air Station and it’s commencement was in October of 1941, and it was during the next few years of WWII that the Banana River Bombing targets would be built and utilized for training Navy Pilots that patrolled the coastline of Florida. One of the Navy Sea Planes would perish looking for the famous Flight 19 out of Ft. Lauderdale in the coming decade, thus starting the rumors of the dreaded “Devil’s or Bermuda Triangle.”
According to historians, the pace of growth from 1941 at NAS Banana River increased with the addition of pilot training programs. Practice bombing ranges were set up north of the base on Cape Canaveral, and bombing runs began in October. Concerned that an interested public would attempt to watch the training, the station issued public statements warning the people of Brevard to stay away from the area. The exercise kept many of the men busy and provided for some excitement and entertainment. It was during these beginning years in Brevard County that the Banana River Bombing targets were built and used for training WWII pilots and presently we merely motor or drift by them on our way to rich fishing grounds while many ask… “What are those circular shaped structures for?” Well now you know and are well informed about those years of growth in Cocoa Beach, the Banana River, and it’s surrounding waterways that helped establish it as the “Sea Trout Capital of the World,” and the rest is history. From our humble beginnings till our modern Patrick Air Force Base, Canaveral Air Force Station and Kennedy Space Center, Brevard County has been the launching location for seaplanes, Apollo Rockets sending men to the moon and flats boats sending anglers to the Banana River.
The angler on the left caught this remarkable Banana River redfish near an old Bombing target on a calm winter day with Captain Richard Bradley while on a fishing charter. Redfish are often abundant between the cold fronts during our mild Florida winters, and you can bet that you’ll catch some nice ones if conditions cooperate.
Captain Richard Bradley
Charter Fishing Captain/Guide
First of all, I'm the husband and father of three incredible women who have made my life a living joy. I'm also a lifelong resident and third generation Floridian that enjoys the outdoors in recreation and job. It has been my pleasure to take my family, friends, and customers on fishing excursions on Florida's east coast where I grew up for over five decades.
I love writing about my experiences and knowledge about where I live and often mix in my opinions and journeys. Please feel free to comment on my writings and express your views and experiences too.