Serious beach fishing.
Usually by the third week in September, serious East Central surfcasters are watching for silver mullet within casting range between Melbourne Beach and Wabasso. When the silver mullet arrive, tarpon soon follow.
The 20-mile zone of deep surf in Brevard and Indian River counties includes Sebastian Inlet. These dedicated casters hit the beach at first light three or four mornings a week, usually in areas where they spotted mullet the day before, or maybe where they jumped a tarpon.
Using 9- and 10-foot rods and matching reels holding 300yards of 20- or 30-pound braid, they throw an assortment of big hard-body plugs, most of them super-strength designs originally intended for stripers. Some are poppers, others are swimmers and still others are lipped divers that run five to six feet deep. Leaders are 80- to 100-pound mono or fluorocarbon and knots are tied with perfection. This beach-bound corps jumps a surprising number of tarpon, some over I00 pounds, but few of the gamesters are landed.
"You're lucky if you land one or two fish a season," said Terry Parsons, recognized as the leader of the pack. "It's the challenge that you learn to love despite the disappointments."
If you want to know more, you can reach Parsons or his brother Steve at Wabasso Bait and Tackle in Wabasso at (772) 589-8518.
While a few of these tarpon are hooked by surfcasters throwing large plugs, those in boats have more flexibility in hunting down tarpon that shadow pods of mullet and pogies. Rolling fish can be seen more easily in calm conditions. This makes it a lot easier to quietly position the boat ahead of the tarpon, and cast baits or streamers to the lead fish. Some of the better tarpon areas are north and south of Sebastian Inlet, and farther south toward Wabasso and Vero Beach. The Canaveral Bight area between the mouth of Port Canaveral and the tip of the Cape historically holds tarpon as well.
Assuming late-season hurricanes don't rough up the Atlantic and the southbound bait migration arrives on time, our list of inshore fishing possibilities should include king mackerel, cobia, tarpon and Spanish mackerel, plus packs of bonito and jacks.
Kingfish numbers correlate to the size of arriving baitfish schools--the more bait, the more mackerel. Mackerel to 35 and 40 pounds are not out of the question for those slow-trolling live or rigged baits. A fall season seldom passes that we don't hear reports of giants in the S0-pound range.
A good bite of inshore kingfish often goes off in the early morning when baitfish are up near the surface. By about 9 a.m., the sun pushes the bait deeper and the kings get tougher to find.
Fishermen running out of Canaveral and Ponce should look for big kings north of the tip of Cape Canaveral, offshore Playalinda Beach and the Canaveral National Seashore, and the area south of the Port Canaveral buoy line toward Patrick Air Force Base. Any small ledges or other bottom structure out to five or six miles are potential hotspots--if they hold bait.
Those using Sebastian Inlet usually concentrate their kingfish efforts along the ledges offshore the so-called Pines, or else they run to the Cove south of Vero Beach and fish just off the beach around the 25-to 30-loor drops along the reefs. This area can also hold late-season cobia, some of which scale 50 to 60 pounds.
Surfcasters get a crack at Spanish mackerel if glass minnows move toward the beachfront. If they're feeding on 2-inch glass minnows, the surf mackerel are smaller 1 1/2- to 3-pounders.
Mackerel are a blast on light spinning or fly gear. Fly fishermen do best when the surf is calmed by a west wind. That's when the mackerel will pin the glass minnows tight to the sand, and they become easy hookups even for the most novice of casters. Little more than 50-foot casts are necessary when the mackerel are that close. Small, simple streamers will bring strikes. Don't throw a fly you value because the toothy mackerel make shreds of good bucktail and feathers. Bring a stripping basket to prevent the fly line from tangling your feet in the wash.
On occasion, larger mackerel to 4 and 5 pounds move to the beach to feed on migrating mullet. But for the most part, these bigger fish stay far enough offshore that only boaters encounter them. Spanish mackerel are also popular with pier fishermen. Some of the best numbers each fall come from the Daytona Beach piers.
We're coming off a good summer with flounder inside the deep channel and turning basins at Port Canaveral, and that just might continue through the fall months. Most of the flatfish came from the Middle Basin, caught by those dropping small tandem jigs along the edges of dropoffs.
Snook will be on the minds of most Sebastian Inlet anglers with the start of the season Sept. 1. They should be a reliable catch until water temperatures begin to chill. Snook go wild at Sebastian when mullet are thick in the inlet, which should be the case in the coming weeks. Night fishermen in boats power-drifting during outgoing tides with live baits, or casting bucktails and deep-running hard baits from the rocks and jetties, take the majority of the fish.
We had a lousy year with pompano in the surf last winter. It would make for a nice surprise if we got an early run by the end of fall.
Best Bet: EAST CENTRAL
If cobia school up along the beaches of central Brevard County around Patrick AFB, Cocoa Beach and Port Canaveral, they will draw the focus of many East Central boaters. Anglers running out of Ponce Inlet sometimes get the first crack at fall cobia.
Cobia numbers increase dramatically if big manta rays also move inshore, making the midday sight-fishing scenario that much better. Calm seas and bright skies are necessary ingredients for spotting cobia and rays along the surface, so you don't need to be at the ramp at the crack of dawn. The fishing window is best from about 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.