“You never know what you’ll find on a wreck,” said Capt. Glyn Austin as we began to drift over the wreck some 100 feet beneath us off the central Florida coast. “It’s always a surprise, and you should be prepared to adapt to the conditions. You can target one species, and then be surprised and catch all sorts of other species, and change up your game plan by the minute. It keeps you on your toes.”
A top-down strategy works best when hitting a wreck. “We’ll see sailfish finning on the surface above the structure some days — and they are a bonus — but on an average day, the bulk of fish above a wreck will be cobia that hang 10 to 15 feet down. Kingfish and bonito zip through looking for the bait. The fast-moving fish always patrol above.” Cobia, sailfish and dolphin tend to stay on the up-current side of the wreck, according to Austin, whose strategy is derived from decades of fishing these wrecks in his home waters.
"I’m on!” I shouted out as the rod bent as if I were stuck to the wreck below. “That’s the wreck, man. You’ve gotta be snagged,” said fellow angler Mark MacKenzie, not believing that the seriously loaded angle of the rod could be due to anything but a heavy snag. “Ho, man! I’m on too!” shouted Austin as his rod bent, the reel drag screaming. MacKenzie became a believer. Both Austin and I tap-danced around his 23-foot Shearwater for 15 minutes before a gold tinge surfaced from the depths, complete with ornery face and underslung jaw. “Snook, man! He’s huge!” Mackenzie grabbed the net, slid it under the 30-pound snook, and then turned around to see Austin bend over the gunwale to hoist a 25-pound jack crevalle. Just like that. One drift. Trophy snook and trophy jack. You couldn’t script a better one-two punch on the Canaveral wrecks, except for the fact that we already had eight keeper southern flounder up to 8 pounds in the cooler.
Springtime brings low 70-degree water that starts the cobia run, while the heat of the summer pushes water temperatures into the 80s, with snapper, grouper, kingfish, flounder and other pelagics moving onto the wrecks. “The magic really starts in April, and it lasts through fall and winter,” says Austin. “The only downtime is in July, when the thermocline flips and the water gets dirty and cool, which shuts down the bite, but it’s only for a week. Otherwise, year-round you are going to be into fish.”
Take It to the Top
A drift over the wreck produces best when working the top of the water column, as pelagic schools might not necessarily sit smack on top of the structure, but hang on the perimeter. Sharks can become a nuisance, harassing the live baits, and that is when Austin usually resorts to artificials. “If we’ve got species becoming aggressive, I throw fast-moving topwater poppers to get the attention of big jacks, bonito and king macks, or we can work small rubber lures, swimming plugs and spoons. We can bring the schools in and keep them there.”