Barely halfway down the concrete gangway overlaying the crowded jetty, I couldn’t help but watch in awe as smiling angler after smiling angler flipped Spanish mackerel after Spanish mackerel over the rail. Spectators had to stay on their toes or risk getting smacked in the head with a five-pound flying mackerel. It was just after Thanksgiving and the air was cold. It was chilly for thin-blooded South Floridians, but easy to see the mackerel bite was clearly in full swing.
Mixed in with the toothy Spaniards, feisty bluefish and jack crevalle kept rods bent and anglers hustling to and fro. It was clear all one needed to stay connected was a medium-action spinning outfit rigged with a short trace of wire and Gotcha or any sort of shiny spoon in the ½ to 1-½ oz. range. The voracious predators below had helpless schools of pilchard and mullet trapped against the northerly wall, relentlessly snatching up anything shimmering that appeared in their field of vision. This was my first visit to Sebastian Inlet State Park and to say I was surprised at the excitement level would be an understatement. However in just a few minutes, I was to learn that I hadn’t seen nothin’ yet!
Those in-the-know stay right on top of the action by familiarizing themselves with seasonal patterns—baitfish migrations and tidal fluctuations…
As I continued making my way toward the end of the north jetty protruding a fair distance out into the turbulent Atlantic, slot-size snook, chunky pompano, and the occasional black drum kept visiting anglers scrambling. Still, this wasn’t the climax of the late morning bite. You see, as I finally made my way to the tip, what came into view took me by surprise. Three, four, five anglers at a time simultaneously heaving back against redfish. Not ordinary redfish, but monster bull redfish exceeding 20–pounds! Of course, these breeder fish were over slot so each was carefully netted, unhooked, and released.
Nevertheless, the jetty offered shore-bound anglers an opportunity to tangle with trophy-size fish that they wouldn’t ordinarily have a shot at. Hook up after hook up, connected anglers worked together to land giant drum. It was quite the spectacle. And in the midst of all of the fury, anglers baiting with fresh clams, live shrimp and recently caught baitfish scrambled to snatch a spot at the rail along the inside edge where the dirty outgoing tide collided with clean ocean water. Land a bait anywhere near this strike zone, and within minutes you were hooked up to a dazzling drum. Controlled chaos is probably the best way to describe what was unfolding. Looking back now, I would bet when they reopened Sebastian Inlet in 1948 after keeping it closed for safety precautions during WWII, anglers never thought the fishing would intensify to this magnitude.
Now, you may be thinking that this was the fall season when baitfish migrations ignite hot bites up and down the coast and trigger massive feeding frenzies, but ask any local and they’ll tell you Sebastian Inlet State Park is a year-round producer. Joining the already long list of Spanish mackerel, bluefish, jack, black drum, snook and redfish, pompano, flounder, trout, croaker, sheepshead, tripletail, cobia, ladyfish, bonito, king mackerel, snapper, and even the occasional permit, tarpon and grouper reward anglers during various months of the year. Those in-the-know stay on top of the action by familiarizing themselves with seasonal patterns—baitfish migrations and tidal fluctuations—appropriately altering their approach for various species as the seasons come and go. The land-based guys that really have their finger on the pulse consistently put together impressive catches rivaling their boat-owning brethren. They usually roll out with a well-equipped cart carrying an arsenal of tackle and a variety of bait.
Whatever you do, don’t fall into the trap believing that the end of the jetty is the only place to get hooked up. The entire length of this structure offers equally promising opportunities. I have been back to Sebastian Inlet State Park’s north jetty twice since my initial visit and have witnessed slot-size snook and redfish, along with a variety of other prized species, taken off nearly every foot of the walkway.
It is even more important to remember that unlike most other land-based destinations around the state, Sebastian Inlet State Park offers visiting anglers numerous venues to test their skills—all for a mere $4 in admission. There is the north jetty, which attracts the greatest attention and typically yields the greatest catches, and then there is a much smaller jetty on the south side of the inlet that shouldn’t be overlooked as it, too, is a consistent producer. A pair of concrete gangways directly under the bridge traversing the inlet—one on the north side and one on the south side—provide additional opportunities and are easily accessible from adjacent parking lots. If that’s not enough, anglers who prefer more elbow room surf fish from the suds where snook and redfish are common, or test the waters directly off the rocky shoreline inside the pass where they tangle with flounder, trout, ladyfish and reds. With ample parking, a bait & tackle shop, campground, playground, free museum and café on premises, Sebastian Inlet State Park really is a family friendly cornucopia of angling opportunities available to fishermen of all ages and all skill levels.