January is a great month to fish out of Sebastian. The water has chilled down and that fires up the nice snapper and grouper along all of Sebastian’s natural reefs. The major reefs out of Sebastian include depths of: 20-to-40, 50-to-60, 80-to-100, 120 and 160-feet. Those 20-to-40 feet reefs along the beach and within a few miles of shore are good alternatives when the wind is westerly and the waters well offshore are sporty. Big gag grouper will move into these shallower areas so use the 50-pound gear and a big live bait on the bottom. Also, big sheepshead and triggerfish will be in there, so mix it up with some lighter tackle and a #2 hook. In January, the reefs in 80 to 100 feet are excellent fishing. In addition to snapper and grouper we always seem to pick up some nice “resident” cobia off the bottom. Remember, when you are grouper fishing and you realize you’ve hooked a cobia, loosen the drag immediately. The hammered down drag of grouper fishing may result in a lost cobia. The big cobia will need to run a bit to prevent broken lines and pulled hooks as you fight him near the boat.
In the winter months, always be ready for triple tail. I’ll rig a light spinner with a big weighted floater and 30-pound leader with a 1/0 hook. Examine weed patches and any floating debris in that 40-to-70 feet range for trips. If conditions are good, cruise along the weed lines for a bit and look hard for the camouflaged rascals. When you see one, cast over him and wind in until the bait is dangling in his face. Live shrimp is a sure thing, but fresh cut bait, squid or frozen ship will usually get it done. Keep your distance from a suspected tripletail spot and make a good downwind cast. They can get lockjaw if you get too close.
Be ready with a couple sabiki rigs when you clear the inlet. Look for birds and baits flipping on the surface. Chances are there will be big schools of threadfin herring (aka greenies) available somewhere on your way out. Spending an hour loading up on live bait is time well spent and will greatly increase your odds of catching some quality fish.
Kingfish fishing should be great this month. Keep a live bait or a frozen sardine freelined while bottom fishing. The kings will need a small wire leader although a 50-pound mono leader and 4/0 circle hook will hold them if you’re lucky. Target them by slow trolling and drifting over the reefs. Keep a couple baits near the surface and a couple baits at mid-depth. A simple rig is a 2-to-4-ounce jig head with a live bait or frozen sardine hooked through the lips. Prepackaged “kingfish rigs” are always a good way to go. Put an egg sinker above the swivel to get your bait to the proper depth. A sure thing is to find the “kingfish fleet”, which often fishes the Pelican flats area. Sometimes dozens of commercial guys will bunch up and have their way with the kings. Remember to respect these guys fishing area. There will be plenty of fish around the periphery.
Sailfish can be hot this month during balmy periods causing the fish to move to the north. Look for the sails in the 130 to 180 feet range off of Bethel Shoal and don’t be surprised if you have a decent mahi day also. Trolling smaller blue/white Islanders with ballyhoo seems to work well for the sails. Keep a naked ballyhoo in the spread too. If you locate the fish, switch to drifting live baits and circle hooks on eight feet of 60-pound flour leader. Remember that regulations require keeping released sailfish in the water while dehooking and getting pictures. Please handle these great fish gently and revive them well boat side before releasing.
Best of luck out there everyone and have a great fishing year!