Think Outside The Boat

With its unique location linking the subtropical climate of steamy South Florida and the temperate-zone of North Florida, the Indian River Lagoon is arguably the most biologically diverse estuary in the entire state. Harboring more than 4,000 species of flora and fauna, this critical stretch of habitat was designated an estuary of national significance by the Environmental Protection Agency. Stretching approximately 150-miles along Florida’s east central coast, an influx of clean ocean water flowing from the Ponce, Sebastian, Fort Pierce, St. Lucie and Jupiter Inlets highly affects the dynamics of this fragile coastal community. With fluctuating water temperatures and salinity changes, as well as potential damage from municipal, industrial and agricultural runoff, it’s critical this essential habitat is protected and conserved for future generations.


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Photo: Steve Dougherty

Although this rich ecosystem does indeed offer incredible opportunities for anglers equipped with shallow drafting skiffs, those who choose to scout the shallows on foot are afforded equally great opportunities. While the action with redfish, trout, tarpon and snook is unrivaled, benefiting from the link to the five aforementioned inlets the Indian River Lagoon is also home to a fair number of species that are associated with the Atlantic Ocean. Spanish mackerel, bluefish, sheepshead, pompano, barracuda, grouper and even the occasional bonefish will surely delight visiting anglers. Heck, the Indian River even harbors sharks, sea turtles, porpoises and whales.

For anglers just getting into the sport, wade fishing may seem pretty simple and straightforward, but picking up on the subtle cues as to when and where to fish only comes with seasons of experience.

It’s no secret that the popularity of wade fishing is on the rise and whether it’s the economic or stealthy attributes yielded by getting your feet wet, wading offers the ultimate contact with the IRL’s highly desirable inhabitants. Even the shallowest drafting technical poling skiffs cannot match the unobtrusive and silent benefits of wade fishing. This bare bones and highly productive approach is a perfect fit for the region’s numerous public access parks. Combine an abundance of sea grass and oyster flats with mile after mile of promising shoreline, a large population of cooperative game fish, pleasant weather that enables productive fishing nearly 365 days a year, and you have what are arguably some of the best inshore opportunities in the entire state.

Perhaps the biggest advantage a wade-angler has over their gas-guzzling brethren is, in fact, stealth. Wading enables a low profile and greatly reduces an angler’s disturbance on the water. This is especially important for those targeting the coveted “gator” trout. Seatrout, especially mature individuals, have extremely receptive senses and as a result are often aware of nearby boaters. Wade fishing allows anglers to get within feet of these inquisitive predators without giving them a clue to our presence.

While wading is highly effective, this activity does have its limitations. In areas with soft, muddy substrate wading may be problematic. Fortunately, the shallows of the Indian River Lagoon are easily accessible and offer plentiful venues with firm sand and lush grass beds—a wade fisherman’s dream come true. While stealth is a huge factor, anglers with tricked-out skiffs will argue that they can fish spots that you won’t be able reach while wading, but make no mistake; there are also many spots that waders can target that aren’t accessible to the average boater.

For anglers just getting into the sport, wade fishing may seem pretty simple and straightforward, but picking up on the subtle cues as to when and where to fish only comes with seasons of experience. Wade fishing isn’t all peaches and cream. It’s hard work and you will likely go through a serious learning curve with numerous frustrating days before you reach a level of consistency. However, the reward of catching quality fish on foot far outweighs the negatives. Before you decide to become part of the food chain there are a few things you need to take into consideration. First off, if you plan on wade fishing during the cooler months of the year, you will certainly need a quality pair of waders. While there are many brands and styles available, the most important factor is comfort. Neoprene waders with a large front pocket are the most popular option due to the fact that they offer comforting warmth during cold conditions. In the spring and summer waders aren’t really a necessity, but if you enjoy the protection and storage afforded by a pair of waders be sure to select a lightweight breathable material to keep you cool. If you choose not to wear waders a pair of wading booties is absolutely critical, although a pair of old high-top sneakers will suffice. While the shallows of the Indian River Lagoon feature mostly hard bottom that’s perfect for wading, you will likely encounter mud and shell bottom, too. Crabs, oysters bars, stingrays, broken bottles and other hazards make barefoot wading an act you’ll only commit once.

Protection from the elements and sharp objects are not the only considerations you must take note of. Similar to lounging on a pool float, it’s easy to get seriously sunburn while wading, so its best to outfit yourself with quality sun protection apparel including a Buff, longsleeve shirt, hat and polarized sunglasses.

You’re almost ready to take the plunge, but you need a way to carry additional gear. Similar to waders, there are numerous wading belts available. Some feature waterproof pouches, while others offer innovative rod storage and back support. Whatever features you desire, be sure to select a storage device that will be comfortable to wear for hours on end. You’ll want to carry an arsenal of offerings, but it’s important not to overdo it. Part of the enjoyment of wade fishing is its inherent simplicity. Because of this factor it makes perfect sense that artificial offerings are the go-to baits for die-hard wade fishermen.

Sure, there are some that will choose to tote around a Frabill Flow Troll full of frisky shrimp or pinfish, but this is absolutely unnecessary with the selection of a variety of proven plastics, spoons and topwater offerings. Plus, there’s just something special about fooling an intelligent predator into wildly striking an injection-molded piece of polyurethane. Additional benefits of selecting artificial offerings include convenience and castability. You’ll soon realize the extra distance provided by a weighted jighead to be extremely beneficial. The selection of artificial offerings available is endless with four basic types of faux forage benefiting the Indian River Lagoon wade angler; soft-plastics, spoons, suspending twitch baits and topwater plugs. Soft plastics are relatively inexpensive and come in a variety of shapes and sizes. The favorites for redfish and trout imitate shrimp, minnows or mullet. D.O.A. TerrorEyz and C.A.L. Shad Tails are excellent choices, as are D.O.A. and TriggerX shrimp and Bass Assassin Blurp and Slurp baits. Glow, root beer, and anything red, black or brown with gold flakes will certainly keep you connected. When it comes to topwater and subsurface baits, Rapala’s X-Rap Subwalk, MirrOlure’s Top Dog Jr. and Heddon’s Zara Spook are quality choices. And you certainly can’t forget about the tried and true gold spoon.

When it comes to rod and reel selection it should come as no surprise that you will be limited to the amount of outfits you can carry. Wading belts that are equipped with rod holders enable anglers to carry multiple weapons, instead of being limited to a single rod and reel. If you’re serious about wade fishing it will serve you well to invest in the best equipment you can afford. With such a close relationship to the harsh saltwater environment, wade fishing can be extremely unforgiving to your tackle. Even the best equipment will be rendered useless if you don’t properly care for it after each and every use. Since you will be limited to targeting one particular stretch, successful efforts will likely require quite a bit of walking and countless hours of fan casting. Because of this fact you should select an outfit that is lightweight and balanced. You should also consider the design of your rod, as rods equipped with long butt sections are easy to tuck under your armpit while changing lures or landing fish. Considering this, a 7’6″ or 8′ spinning outfit is ideal for your wading endeavors. Spool with 10lb. braided line, 30-inches of 20lb. fluorocarbon leader, and you’re ready to go.

While the Indian River Lagoon offers plentiful access for the wade crew, those with access to a shallow drafting skiff can combine the benefits of both worlds. With the ability to access difficult to reach barrier islands, current swept points, and extensive stretches of fertile seagrass beds you can’t go wrong. Before you venture on a wade fishing expedition of epic proportions it’s best to have a solid game plan. Google Earth and local fishing charts can assist in locating promising territory with public access, and speaking with professionals at local tackle shops is also a great way to obtain critical information.

Trophy Trout Tango

It’s highly arguable that more trout over 10-pounds are coerced from the shallow grass beds of the Indian River Lagoon than any location in the state. Monster yellowmouths are kings of lush grass flats, however, they are extremely spooky and well aware of nearby boat traffic. Excluding deeper man-made canals and cuts, the average depth of the Indian River Lagoon is only a few feet, offering an endless array of worthy haunts up and down both shorelines. You’ll find the largest trout reside in the shallowest portions of the lagoon, with schools of panicky baitfish often revealing their presence. Because nearly every shoreline looks promising it can be difficult to know when and where to target your efforts. As a clue, keep an eye out for large mullet stirring up the bottom. Even though a famished gator trout could suck down a 12-inch bait, they will more readily devour the variety of juvenile finfish and crustaceans stirred up by the mudding mullet.