Deep within that wreck, serious beasties live. One of the best-kept secrets of Canaveral wrecks, and Florida in general, is the southern flounder. Some serious flounder pounding goes down, and a limit of flatfish often comes easily. “Flounder seem to lie on the down-current side of the wreck, sucking down bait. I know commercial guys who spear 400 to 600 pounds a day on the wrecks, so you know the bottom must be littered with them. And they are all big fish: not the bay fish of 1 to 2 pounds, but doormats, 4 to 10 pounds,” says Austin.
The go-to flounder rig is a fish-finder slide setup with a live pogy nose-hooked on a 5/0 circle hook, dragged along the bottom. Gigantic grouper like reds, gags and goliaths also populate nearshore wrecks. “We released a 12-pound jack one time, and as it was fluttering back down in circles, a 400-pound goliath came up and inhaled it 5 feet from the surface,” says Austin. The largest of all Florida red snapper call wrecks home. Both grouper and snapper are suckers for a well-presented metal or bucktail jig. Prospect a wreck by dropping a jig to the ground floor, bounce it hard on the bottom with tapping strokes, and then raise it a foot or two before letting it hit bottom again. The flash and flutter attracts grouper, snapper and sea bass. Snap-twitch that jig a few feet up in the water column, and you’ll get ham-hocked by cobia or kingfish lying in wait to pick off the bait fish. The final approach is to speed-jig. Drop a jig, and yo-yo it back to the surface, and amberjack, false albacore, king mackerel and jacks will pounce on it, ripping off blistering runs. Anchoring with the stern directly over the wreck allows for a more productive, straight up-and-down jig presentation, as opposed to working it at an angle where the jig looks unnatural.
The shifting shoals off Cape Canaveral notoriously claimed many a treasure-laden pirate ship over the centuries. Other ships were World War II casualties of war, while even others simply fell prey to the whims of the Atlantic. Nowadays, the real bounty lies in the diversity that the wrecks from centuries past give up in the form of game fish and good times. Pick up a chart, plug in the numbers of a wreck, and prepare to unearth some serious piscatorial treasures off Florida’s Space Coast.