Di­verse Fish­ing Tar­gets and Tac­tics Make Flor­ida’s Se­bas­tian In­let Area a Top In­shore Hot Spot

Sport Fishing - - CONTENTS - By Sam Hud­son


“Leave your bail open; just let it drift freely,” said Austin. “If the reds are around and hun­gry, they’ll hit that life­less plug.”

I planned on try­ing out new topwater plugs such as the Ra­pala Skit­ter V and LiveTarget Mul­let, ready to com­pare their ac­tions, but in­stead should have brought a crab im­i­ta­tor. We were hun­kered down in Se­bas­tian In­let, in about 15 feet of wa­ter, lo­cated along Flor­ida’s cen­tral east coast.

Austin wanted my topwater to im­i­tate a crab float­ing out to the ocean.

“Bull reds face into the cur­rent and look to­ward the sur­face for crabs,” says Austin. “I don’t know of many other places where reds reg­u­larly come to the sur­face to feed in wa­ter this deep. They’ll even cruise at the sur­face, and some­times you can sight-fish them.”

Just then, Austin pointed from his tower to a gi­ant red sphere swim­ming against the cur­rent near Austin’s Shoal­wa­ter 23 Cat Tun­nel boat. It was gone be­fore I got a chance to cast, but I knew ex­actly what it was.

Topwater Deep­wa­ter Red­fish

We cen­tered our casts along a spe­cific lane off the main chan­nel where drum oc­ca­sion­ally blasted crabs at the sur­face. Austin says reds feed in dif­fer­ent sec­tions of the in­let, so he moves around if no fish are show­ing ini­tially.

“On se­lect days, reds are ag­gres­sive and hookups are easy,” says Austin of the in­let. “On other days, you’ll get plenty of strikes but no con­nec­tions. And on some days, the reds just aren’t around.”

More than once, 30-plus-inch red drum at­tacked my lure with­out stay­ing at­tached to the pair of tre­bles, seem­ingly the only down­side to sur­face fish­ing. One fish in par­tic­u­lar hit twice in quick suc­ces­sion, and some­how I still couldn’t pull tight. Be­fore long, the tide slowed and the bite stopped, sig­nal­ing the end to our unique deep­wa­ter topwater bite.

I joined both Glyn and Jesse Austin for a day of fish­ing in early June. The trip was part of a larger group of Sport Fish­ing ed­i­tors and staff mem­bers fish­ing to­gether, with home base nearby at Cap­tain Hi­ram’s Re­sort. A slew of co-work­ers of dif­fer­ent fish­ing lev­els and abil­i­ties ex­pe­ri­enced what Se­bas­tian, Flor­ida, had to of­fer over a cou­ple of days of fish­ing. To­gether, we hoped to ac­com­plish the un­of­fi­cial Se­bas­tian slam, con­sist­ing of snook, red­fish, seatrout, tar­pon and false albacore catches.

Red­fish and Snook Candy

On an­other day, Sport Fish­ing’s Mark MacKen­zie and Drew Townes joined Austin to tar­get Se­bas­tian In­let’s bull reds, but they uti­lized com­pletely dif­fer­ent tac­tics to score on their trip. In­stead of cast­ing lures on top, the trio spent time catch­ing bait­fish be­fore head­ing out to the end of the north jetty.

“Croak­ers are like candy for big red­fish and snook,” says MacKen­zie. “If they’re around, it pays to spend time catch­ing a bunch of them. We used two-hook rigs baited with chunks of Fish­bites to catch as many as we could.”

With a livewell full of frag­ile croak­ers, Austin, MacKen­zie and Townes headed to the ocean side of the jetty rocks. Tar­get­ing an out­go­ing-tide rip, the an­glers used a sim­ple bot­tom rig with an egg

sinker and a cou­ple feet of leader to present the live croaker on a 5/0 cir­cle hook. Rods mea­sured 7 to 8 feet in length, paired with 3,000- to 4,000size Shi­mano spin­ners.

“Croak­ers are in­cred­i­bly lively and loud, at­tract­ing snook and red­fish bet­ter than bait­fish like mul­let,” says MacKen­zie.

Austin uti­lized two other tech­niques when the tide turned.

On the in­com­ing tide, MacKen­zie and Townes cast croak­ers to­ward the in­let side of the jetty. Austin’s boat drifted with the cur­rent in­side the in­let, al­low­ing both an­glers to spot-cast in and around the boul­ders. Austin had to make sure his cata­ma­ran didn’t drift over lines com­ing from an­glers fish­ing from the jetty.

Se­bas­tian In­let’s north jetty is no­to­ri­ous as a fish at­trac­tor and pro­ducer; most sea­sons, boat and jetty an­glers have the op­por­tu­nity to catch slot-size and over-slot snook and red­fish, along with species such as Span­ish mack­erel, floun­der, blue­fish and oth­ers.

MacKen­zie’s big­gest snook of the morn­ing was a bruiser, mea­sur­ing 37 inches. In to­tal, the trio caught a half dozen 20-plus-pound red­fish, with the largest drum close to 40 inches. Many of those reds bit us­ing a third tech­nique that only boat an­glers can ex­ploit.

Away from the jetty, ledges in the chan­nel stack fish up on the deeper down-cur­rent sides.

“We got rid of the weights and free-lined our tail-hooked baits down to the ledges,” said MacKen­zie. “The croak­ers nat­u­rally swim to­ward the bot­tom for safety, and we’d let our baits plunge just deep enough for reds to find them.”

Most of the reds were landed and re­leased, but a cou­ple of drum had their own in­ten­tions. Austin al­lowed the boat to drift un­der­neath the High­way A1A bridge dur­ing the fish fight.

“One fish that Glyn hooked had to be over 40 inches,” said MacKen­zie. “He fought it off the bot­tom, but sud­denly the main line snapped and the braid slith­ered down into the depths.”

Nearshore Beach Bash

Head­ing out of the in­let to nearshore wa­ters of­fers an­glers op­por­tu­ni­ties at mack­erel, co­bia and bot­tom­fish such as snap­per and grouper. But much closer to shore, sil­ver gi­ants hang around in spring and sum­mer.

In the morn­ing calm, Austin found a piece of reef in 20-foot depths that served as our start­ing point. He pulled out a cou­ple of heavy spin­ner set­ups, bol­stered with Shi­mano Saragosas.

Austin pitched lip-hooked mul­let be­hind the boat, stag­ger­ing their dis­tances from the stern. An­gler Shawn Bean, Sport Fish­ing’s ed­i­to­rial di­rec­tor, grabbed one of the rods as Austin put the boat into gear to slow-troll. I added a bait into the mix as we passed a cou­ple of schools of ob­nox­ious At­lantic bumper.

Tar­pon don’t al­ways play nice at the sur­face, but even­tu­ally, at least one fish from the school will gulp air. We spot­ted a school of tar­pon far­ther north along the beach and quickly picked up lines to get there.

My first hookup was pro­to­typ­i­cal. The mul­let started freak­ing out as my braid danced in front of me. Then, a sharp pull brought my rod tip down. I reeled hard to let the cir­cle hook set. My first fish jumped twice be­fore spit­ting the hook like an old piece of gum.

My se­cond bite of the morn­ing was sub­tler. When slow-trolling, it’s vi­tal to keep the line tight so you can feel what’s hap­pen­ing with your bait. I let line out pe­ri­od­i­cally in hopes my bait would move far­ther away from the boat, but the strong­est mul­let can swim faster than your trolling speed. In short, I lost touch with my bait.

When I checked it, I re­al­ized my line was out in front of the boat. Im­me­di­ately, I reeled tight and gath­ered that a tar­pon had slurped my bait and was con­tent swim­ming ahead of us.

Once the hook struck, the tar­pon thrashed hard and jumped to­ward the heav­ens. Since the

hook was set deep in­side the tar­pon’s mouth, my fish lasted just one jump be­fore break­ing off. Don’t make the same mis­take I did. When slowtrolling, al­ways keep your line tight and know ex­actly where your bait’s swim­ming.

A dwin­dling tar­pon bite turned into a crank fest for the most un­der­ap­pre­ci­ated game fish off the Flor­ida coast. Lit­tle tunny, of­ten re­ferred to as false albacore, sprayed minia­ture bait­fish like sprin­kler heads 100 yards out­side the in­let.

We had luck with Mir­rOlure Lil Johns and Ra­pala Slab Raps that re­sem­bled the size of the bait­fish. Catch­ing the poor man’s tuna was an ab­so­lute blast on seatrout tackle; the blis­ter­ing runs of the salt­wa­ter foot­balls made ev­ery­one on the boat smile.

Flats, Bridges and the River

For shal­low-wa­ter stalk­ers, Se­bas­tian of­fers scat­tered In­dian River La­goon flats and the St. Se­bas­tian River sys­tem to ex­plore. Sea-grass beds here aren’t nearly as preva­lent as years ago, so Austin re­lies on struc­ture such as docks, spoil is­lands and clam leases.

Large seatrout and black drum con­gre­gate at the mouth of the Se­bas­tian River dur­ing sum­mer months, chomp­ing baits such as Berkley Gulp!s and Z-Mans. We landed a cou­ple of smaller speck­led trout the day we fished the flats, catch­ing them on soft plas­tics with jig heads.

“When fish­ing around the spoil is­lands, look for the deeper wa­ter,” says Austin. “Big snook sit in those sandy holes, mo­tion­less, dur­ing the day. If you can cast to them be­fore the boat spooks them, you have a chance to hook one.”

We spot­ted sev­eral mas­sive linesiders that looked like black logs in the wa­ter, only to have them swim away slowly as the boat neared. De­ter­mined to catch a hefty snook, Austin took us to a se­cret bridge that was sur­rounded by murky brack­ish wa­ter.

At the bridge, Jesse baited a weight­less cir­cle hook with a live mo­jarra and cast be­tween three pyra­mid-shaped py­lons. Depths were at least 12 to 15 feet, but Jesse men­tioned it was more im­por­tant to keep the bait near the struc­ture rather than get the bait to the bot­tom.

As he reeled his bait back to the boat af­ter his first cast, a gi­ant snook pulled away from the struc­ture and at­tacked his of­fer­ing. Each one of us was shocked, watch­ing the en­tire thing hap­pen live. Then it was a scram­ble. A mix of nifty moves and luck al­lowed Jesse to pull the snook from the struc­ture.

Bridge fish­ing is sim­i­lar to jetty fish­ing for two rea­sons: One, red­fish, snook and grouper hang in the deep wa­ter near struc­ture. Two, the bite only hap­pens dur­ing mov­ing wa­ter.

“Yes­ter­day, we caught a bunch of go­liath grouper up to 30 pounds,” said Austin. “Some­times it might be black grouper, snook or red­fish — you’re never quite sure what you’ll catch at the bridges.”

Austin uses his trolling mo­tor to cir­cle around dif­fer­ent py­lons and bridge feet to cast to his fa­vorite spots. An­glers flip baits such as pin­fish or mo­jarra to­ward the dif­fer­ent struc­tures sim­i­lar to pitch­ing for large­mouth bass. But in­stead of bait­cast­ers, Austin uses his tar­pon spin­ning gear with 40- to 80-pound leader.

Af­ter the tide slowed, so did the bite. Austin is mas­ter­ful at hit­ting dif­fer­ent parts of the in­let, river and la­goon to co­in­cide with mov­ing tides.

There are other species avail­able in the Se­bas­tian area, such as floun­der, black drum and pom­pano, that we missed, but our days were al­ready packed with ac­tion. Al­though we didn’t com­plete the Se­bas­tian slam, we cer­tainly had the chance. If you’re con­sid­er­ing a trip to Flor­ida, think about head­ing over to the Se­bas­tian In­let area in In­dian River County. The fish­ing ac­tion can be fast and fu­ri­ous all day long, and you might be able to pull off a slam of your own.

Croak­ers at­tract reds and snook with their name­sake drum­ming sound. A topwater plug floated with the cur­rent (op­po­site) draws strikes from ma­raud­ing red drum (right).

Capt. Glyn Austin uses his trolling mo­tor to fish dif­fer­ent bridge feet by cast­ing live baits to honey holes for over­size snook.

No hy­per­bole, some of the largest seatrout in the coun­try in­habit Se­bas­tian’s In­dian River La­goon wa­ters. An­gler Regina Gal­lant’s seatrout (top) mea­sured longer than 30 inches. Above: Lit­tle tunny (aka bonito or false albacore) are avail­able near bait schools out­side Se­bas­tian In­let in spring and sum­mer months.

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