When 11-year-old Wayne Landry discovered Sebastian Inlet, Lyndon Baines Johnson was president, the first moon landing was still a year away and Sebastian Inlet State Park didn’t yet exist.
More than 50 years later, the man who would come to be known as “Snookman” is still casting lines at the inlet and sharing his vast knowledge with other anglers as both a park volunteer and as the chief contributor to our weekly fishing report.
In his report, Wayne highlights the fishing action at all the hot spots: the north and south jetties, the surf, the T dock on the south side of the inlet, the catwalks beneath the Sebastian Bridge and the offshore fishing scene. Through his own keen observations and by chatting with his fishing connections, he offers insights into seasonal fishing, lures and baits, Florida’s fickle weather conditions and ever-changing fishing regulations. He’ll also tell you when the bite isn’t on.
It is doubtful that anyone has regularly fished Sebastian Inlet longer than Wayne. He is unmatched in his understanding of the tidal and seasonal patterns of the inlet or the migratory movement of marine life within this liquid highway linking the Atlantic Ocean and the Indian River Lagoon.
Wayne is a fixture at Sebastian Inlet, especially since he began volunteering as a safety officer at Sebastian Inlet State Park. It’s the perfect job for a retiree who spends most of his free time there anyway.
Snookman can trace his fishing obsession to a waterfront motel in Titusville circa 1968.
“When my dad retired from the Army, we moved to Brevard County,” he recalls. “We were staying at a Holiday Inn in Titusville, where there was a dock and a seawall. I was mesmerized, watching the mullet jumping and the horseshoe crabs. I saw a guy on the dock catch a spotted trout and I wanted to do that.”
Wayne’s father gave him some fishing equipment. He still remembers that it was a “six-foot Abu-Garcia two-piece rod with a Garcia Mitchell 300 reel”.
He began fishing Turkey Creek in Palm Bay and its freshwater canals, hooking bigger and bigger fish. By the time he caught a 16-pound freshwater bass on a purple jelly worm, he realized he’d need to explore saltwater fishing for a bigger challenge.
“When I was 13 or 14 years old, a friend brought me to the inlet at night during an outgoing tide,” he says. “Once I experienced Sebastian Inlet, I never fished freshwater again.”
Although Wayne’s career included 25 years with aerospace giant Rockwell Collins, nearly a decade of retail work and five years as a pinsetter mechanic (yes, as in bowling), catching fish for work and pleasure was always in the background, he says.
“I’ve owned three different boats, 13 to 14-footers with a 20-horsepower Mercury outboard and fished the Intracoastal Waterway from Sebastian to the Banana river. I was a commercial ‘splatter pole’ trout fisherman for a while. Caught anywhere from 100 to 200 pounds a day of trout. We used a Calcutta pole and live pigfish for this fishing. I also worked with a commercial crab trapper for a year or so, running 350 traps every other day and worked on a commercial offshore kingfish boat for about eight months. That was a hard job!”
When he wasn’t fishing offshore with his Palm Bay Marina friends for fun, he was hanging out at the marina, helping clean and paint boat hulls, doing canvas work, repairing fiberglass, and washing and waxing.
“I also worked at their bait and tackle store, and worked at Whitey’s Bait and Tackle back in the early 2000's.”
But his heart lies with Sebastian Inlet.
“The diversity of the fish caught here is second to none,” he says. “The bounty of the ocean and the inlet itself is just mesmerizing.”
Some people show you photos of their pets or children. Wayne holds his phone up to display “the biggest snook I ever caught in my life: 48 pounds, 51 inches, on a 12-pound test line using live shrimp in July 2017.” How’s that for recall?
Wayne is called Snookman for a reason. For him, there’s nothing that matches the thump of a snook eating his bait: “The first time, you’ll never forget it. It’s like someone hit you upside the head with a baseball bat.”
Over the years, Wayne provided Bill Sargent, Florida Today’s outdoor sports writer, with the “action spotter” report for the “east-central” area in Florida Sportsman magazine, as well as the newspaper every week. Sargent penned an article about Wayne, lauding him for his snook fishing prowess.
“I taught two snook fishing seminars for the Vero Beach Anglers Club back when I was supplying info to Bill Sargent,” he says. “I also led a snook fishing seminar at a fishing expo at Florida Tech’s Gleason Performing Arts Center.”
Maybe a third of Snookman’s fishing knowledge comes from asking questions, talking to other seasoned anglers; the rest is his local knowledge, his decades of studying the water, winds and movement of fish from season to season.
“You don’t know your quarry unless you put in the time,” he says. “You have to know the habits of each species of fish. People see me catch snook and want to snook fish but a lot of the time they have no idea what they’re doing.”
Wayne is happy to share his knowledge with those who ask. The secret, he says, is to fish with live shrimp: “Everything eats a shrimp if it is presented properly. When I fish for snook, I get the bait out in front of the fish and let the bait drift naturally. Be light and free and they’ll eat it every time. It’s like presenting a fly to a freshwater trout in a stream."
Upon retiring, Wayne knew he didn’t want to work a real job, but he didn’t want to spend all his time at his Palm Bay home, either.
“That park has given me 50 years of fun and pleasure and I wanted to give back to the park,” he said. “I filled out an application for a safety officer position at the state park and the rest is history.”
Sebastian Inlet State Park Manager Ken Torres said he is grateful for the time Snookman donates to the park.
“He helps enforce the rules and educates people about fishing rules and regulations,” Torres says. “He also looks for safety issues in the park so that we can address them as quickly as possible. He’s a good man.”
These days, Wayne spends 16 to 20 hours a week at the park ensuring visitors are abiding by the rules and offering advice to those less skilled with a rod and reel. He’s also the guy who cleans the District’s webcam with a special squeegee on a pole when the lenses are fogged with sea salt. His only beef? People who blatantly ignore rules, especially when the rules are posted a few feet away. But most folks make his daily visits to the inlet worthwhile.
“The best part of the job is meeting so many courteous and kind people,” he says. “It makes me feel blessed. If I can make everyone’s day more enjoyable, that’s what it is all about. If I can make someone’s day, I’ve done my job.”
Take a good look at these photos. When you see Wayne at the inlet, shake his hand and say, "Hello."
Read Snookman’s weekly fishing report at www.sitd.us/the-fishing-report