Merritt Island’s Mid-Century Fish Camp on the Barge Canal
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 1958. The fish camp was known merely as the Barge Canal Fish Camp before 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 passed with him as it never regained it’s former 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 business, and its quaint location.
Waterfront Restaurant & Bar
Modern Marinas like the Harbortown Marina with millions of dollars of investment capital and facilities slowly eroded on the Tingley’s. With the hour-long commute across Merritt Island, many boaters preferred to launch closer to their favorite area so they could reach their Banana River or Indian River lagoon fishing spot a bit quicker. As time lingered less and less traffic forced the closure of Tingley’s Fish Camp and it was sold a few years ago before the recession and never developed as a condominium community. The remains look like a ghost town overrun by rodents and stray cats with docks and wharves in disrepair and memories that are fading to a generation of Islanders that are almost as rare to find.
Points of Interest on the Barge Canal
If you are traveling east to west along the barge canal, you will immediately notice various boatyards 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 drawbridge. Harbortown Marina provides dockage and food that’s 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 commonplace 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.
Captain Richard Bradley
Charter Fishing Captain/Guide
Being a husband and father to three incredible women my life overflows with joy. As a lifelong resident and third generation Floridian, my passion is not only my family but the outdoors. It has been a great 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 sharing my experiences and writing about my knowledge of 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 as well.