“I grew up fishing the St. Johns with my father, the backbone of our family. We call him MacGyver, because he could make anything out of anything. He passed his craftiness down to us,” Austin Nikkola says. Austin and Mike Groeteke are partners in Salty Veins, a company in Jacksonville Beach that hand makes flies and lures. “We used to sail the St. Johns River. He kept the boat at Trout River Marina right behind Jacksonville Zoo, and we could hear the lions roar across the river.”

Above photo: Austin Nikkola and business partner Mike Groeteke owners of Salty Veins, featuring hand-tied jigs and apparel.

Austin remembers fishing with bucktail jigs that would fall apart when reeling them up, sometimes the paint “melting off the lure.” Bucktail jigs use deer hair that’s hand-tied and dyed in hundreds of colors. He knew he could improve on what was available for fishermen.

“I poured my very first jig head years ago in St. Marys, Georgia at my grandfather’s house. I started tying things on later, starting with teddy bear hair and seagull feathers on Jax beach. The ideas are limitless,” Austin says.  “We are just scratching the surface.”

The name Salty Veins came from John F. Kennedy’s dinner speech before the America’s Cup in 1962. “All of us have in our veins the exact same percentage of salt in our blood that exists in the ocean, and, therefore, we have salt in our blood, in our sweat, in our tears. We are tied to the ocean,” Austin says. He knows the passage by heart.

He and Mike are on a mission to design the perfect lure. Different fishermen prefer different shaped heads on their lures, because it influences how they dive, move and swim at different angles.  “Durability, strength, sound, vibration, flash … some we put a rattle inside. Some flutter when they swim to mimic a bait fish. We use different color patterns, and some glow in the dark. Then we fish with them and test our patterns out,” Austin says.

“It’s really a credit to Austin and his research, figuring out what is not only the toughest lure, but the most attractive,” Michael adds. “It can be bullet proof, but if it doesn’t work nobody is going to buy more than one. Austin is a true artist.”

Customers will know what fish is biting down in South Florida, and call the duo to order custom lures in preparation for the fish migration to the First Coast.

“One of our customers just won the Northeast Florida Ultimate Cobia Championship using our lures. They had custom lures made, they sent us an idea, we gave them the idea back,” Austin says. The partners believe every cast is important to the fishermen who may only have that one moment.

In their home office, on the wall is a picture of Austin’s dog named Sugar. The partners say that she’s his inspiration. Sugar was severely injured when she was attacked by another dog. She’s a survivor. “She keeps me going. Her love of the seashore and coastal living. Also in a small business, you have to fight to overcome a lot of things and she inspires us to overcome our own challenges,” Austin says.

For more information visit saltyveinsfl.com

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Austin Nikkola trims a hand-tied salt water fishing jig.

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This is the finished lure.

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Salty Veins lures are innovative in both color and design.