Lone Cabbage Fish Camp
The black water slapped the hull of the boat as it twisted and turned through narrow channels as birds of every description took flight. Alligators of all sizes hurried to get to the water from their warm muddy sanctuary’s. The boat headed toward a floating mass of grass in the middle of an open body of water. I braced myself for impact as the hull touched the green mass, but as I had learned before, this boat glided right over the top as passengers sighed a breath of relief. This was no ordinary boat, or place. I was on an airboat ride out of Lone Cabbage Fish Camp on the upper St. Johns River.
The rustic Florida style fish camp situated on the St. Johns river just west of Cocoa on Hwy 520 has been there since the early forties. The current owner is Norman Earley who has owned the camp since 1973. The fish camp was once just that, a fish camp which sold bait and tackle to the fisherman who searched the pristine waters for trophy bass, or at least enough fish for dinner. Lone Cabbage no longer offers bait and tackle, but it offers a chance to experience a part of Florida that is becoming harder to find.
Growing up in Brevard County and a certified Florida native, I have experienced Lone Cabbage many times in the past. I sat down and talked to the owner Norman about some of the unusual occurrences he has witnessed over the years. One of his favorite stories happened back in the seventies when Lone Cabbage still sold bait and tackle. Norman recalls the day when four teenage boys pulled up to the bait shop wanting to weigh a Large Mouth Bass. The bass weighed over 22lbs on the fish camps scale. This was going to be a big story of a world record bass being caught, so Norman called the local papers outdoor writer to come see the fish and take pictures. When Norman returned to the bait shop, the boys were gone. Norman eventually discovered that the boys who caught the fish had skipped school that day, and the last thing they wanted was to end up on the front page of the local newspaper. Norman also recalls how golfer Arnold Palmer used to stop in for lunch or dinner. Arnold owned a golf course in Rockledge just south of Cocoa for many years, and would travel Hwy 520 from the golf course to his home in Orlando.
The wife and I decided to make a trip to Lone Cabbage for lunch, and to find that sixth gear in life when you need to relax. Driving on the way to Lone Cabbage had me cursing the love bugs that slammed into my clean windshield. I had just spent every afternoon cleaning the nasty critters from my vehicle after work, and now my Sunday afternoon would entail the same. Motorcycles, trucks, cars, and even a tour bus filled the parking lot. The wife and I decided to go to the open air screened in part of the camp instead of the air conditioned north side. Removing my sunglasses I was greeted with the sight of bikers of every shape and size drinking beer, mixed drinks, and bottled water. One biker lady was trying to get a love bug that had found its way up her nose. Another biker complained of having them in his teeth. The wife and I decided to grab a couple of stools at the bar and people watch while enjoying an ice cold beer. The table next to us was a family with too young boys. The fishing poles leaning against the table were a sure sign that lunch was the last thing these boys were thinking about. Two other tables contained older, well dressed couples who had obviously been at church, and were enjoying the baskets of fried food. A family on vacation from Scotland waited for their chance to enjoy an airboat ride and mingled with no fear in the sea of burly, leather clad bikers. After watching our server carry baskets of fried catfish, gator tail, frog legs, shrimp, and clam strips, we decided to order. The wife ordered the gator tail basket and I got the fried catfish basket. Both come with fries, or you can upgrade to the dinner which comes with fries, hush puppies, slaw or baked beans. My catfish was perfectly cut into bite sized pieces and very lightly breaded so as to still get the taste of the fish. The wife enjoyed the gator tail, and I stole a piece when she was not looking. The lunch was perfect, and at one o’clock, The Saddle Band started playing. Country music seemed to fit the afternoon perfectly and everybody seemed to have a great time, with some even dancing.
The Lone Cabbage Fish Camp is located at 8199 HWY 520, West Cocoa. It offers the chance to wind down after a long week and enjoy some great Florida food, ice cold beer, or a mixed drink. Airboat rides depart from the dock located behind the camp for a moderate price, taking riders gliding over the calm dark waters of the St Johns River, while giving you a chance to view birds, deer, wild hogs, and alligators of every size. After returning from the airboat ride settle back on the deck or inside patio with a cool drink and watch the other wildlife. If you enjoy watching people, eating good food, and touring the St. Johns river on a magic boat ride, then venture to the “Cabbage”.