Around Florida, promising wade fishing opportunities abound. Some are easily accessible by land, while others only by boat. Regardless, few places in the state is this fishery more established than the Indian River Lagoon, and few know these waters better than Mark Nichols—the brainchild behind D.O.A. Lures. After a few snags trying to coordinate a trip with Mark, we were finally able to hook up and spend a day on the water that few people have experienced.
Weather proved to be a factor right from the start, as driving rain kept things interesting on the boat ride to our first grassy flat. As we approached our destination, I noticed Jerry McBride, a representative of D.O.A. who joined us for the day, already fastening his waders. The moment we maneuvered into the shallows Jerry eased himself off the skiff. My comrade for the day, Boone Oughterson, soon joined him and the wading duo was off in search of inshore glory.
Remember to adapt to your surroundings and don’t overlook the fact that a little variety never hurt anyone.
Wade fishing has been a staple shallow water fishing technique for as long as I can remember, but it hasn’t been until the last decade that the phenomenon has really emerged. I remember when I began to seriously delve into the world of wade fishing. My initial interest began out of shear convenience and cost effectiveness, but I later found many other advantages to walking with the fish. At first, the concept of sloshing through shark infested waters may be daunting and still to this day I find myself peering over my shoulder every now and then. However, there’s simply no better way to cover a stretch of water more effectively and methodically. Wade fishing enables anglers to cover promising stretches of shoreline, fertile grass beds and distinct channel edges with minimal disturbance to the surrounding environment. Fish seem to be less spooked by waders than the hull slap or extraneous noises of a flats skiff or bay boat. Many competitive shallow water anglers utilize this facet when applicable in regulated contests due to its proven effectiveness as a tournament winning approach to quality fish.
Experienced wade fishermen slowly shuffle their feet while covering an area to ensure stingrays and other unwelcomed guests remain well clear of the wading path. The lethargic movements also play a major role for inconspicuousness and give the angler a clear advantage over targeted species. I have also been privy to witness the cloud trail left by a wading angler ignite a feeding frenzy with certain species instinctively coming over to investigate the disturbance. Snook, red drum, flounder and seatrout are just a few of the many prized shallow water predators one can encounter while walking across many of the flats and bars that Florida’s prolific inshore waters have to offer.
Winter and wade fishing go hand in hand, as this may be the most ideal season to cash in on this one-on-one approach to shallow water fishing. Cooling water temperatures provide many species with an extremely desirable feeding environment in relatively shallow water, where fooling these fish on foot may just be the ticket to consistent success.
There is no question that tides play a major role across inland waterways, however knowing when to expect high water plays an even greater role when wading from land, as submerged trenches and holes may leave the wader with an uneasy feeling at high tide. Be sure to scout your selected fishing area during low water and get a good feel for the bottom as the submerged topography seems to change as much as the weather. Knowing the “lay of the land” will enable you to concentrate your efforts on key potholes or various drop offs that only scouting will unveil. Like with other venues, reading your surroundings and knowing when and how to adapt will dictate how high an angler’s catch ratio climbs. Water clarity and water temperature are also elements an experienced wade fisherman will have to combat by altering retrieval speeds or lure patterns.
While fishing with Mark, Jerry and Boone, I noticed each angler had a different D.O.A. lure tied on. Retrieval style and speed also varied from one angler to the next. In our case it was a benefit as all anglers were experienced and there were certain techniques and color schemes the fish seemed to favor throughout the day. Patterns emerged and we took advantage of them. Lighter colors worked better with overcast conditions. The opposite held true during the sunny, clear afternoon. Lesson learned is that experimentation from light to dark hues will give the angler the necessary edge to hone in on what the fish are focusing on.
Going a little deeper into lure selection, specific color patterns tend to produce more consistently with certain species. When targeting trout or snook, light colors get the job done more times than not. Darker colors combined with natural hues are often the ticket when targeting flounder. Remember to adapt to your surroundings and don’t overlook the fact that a little variety never hurt anyone.
Lure selection is even more important when wade fishing because you typically don’t want to carry an entire tackle box with you. Every inshore angler has certain go-to baits that he or she tends to favor. Fishing with Mark and Jerry from D.O.A., I was surrounded by soft plastic junkies. It was a bit refreshing, as many anglers I have fished with in the past tend to favor natural baits or hard plastics. I was reassured that when presented properly, soft plastic artificial lures can, at times, out fish live bait. Remember what I had mentioned earlier and be sure to have a few color schemes on hand at all times as conditions change often.
At one point throughout the day, several of us were throwing C.A.L. jigs—essentially soft plastic paddle tails and perhaps one of the most widely used inshore lures around the state. Adjusting the size of the jighead to the conditions, we were able to influence the action of the lure. During a stiff breeze, coupling the soft bait with an 1/8 oz. head probed the grass bottom more effectively and also eliminated wind knots. Calmer conditions demanded a 1/16 oz. head, which facilitated a more natural presentation.
Of course, an artificial shrimp imitation simply can’t be beat. Nearly every inshore predator has shrimp-on-the-brain. During our trip we even had a chance to try our luck with some new D.O.A. pompano jigs. Not much more than a weighted hook, the jigs were painted hot pink, chartreuse or white and dressed with a bit of hair. Casting these lead bodies into deeper holes and jigging them erratically provoked some seriously agitated strikes from pompano, snook and redfish. Before the day was over it was clear that when worked properly, artificial lures provide the wade angler with perhaps the most self-rewarding sensation in knowing you have completely outsmarted the fish.
The tackle an inshore angler uses for wade fishing purposes varies as much as lure selection. There are, however, several accessories needed when accumulating the perfect skinny water arsenal. With soft plastics the name of the game, a 7′ or 7’6″ spinning or casting outfit rated for 8 to 17lb. line will suffice. I recommend a fast tip or taper, meaning the area of the rod near the tip has a quick response time. A fast taper enables the lure to be worked thoroughly, giving any artificial bait a more natural appearance. A 2500 to 4000 size spinning reel will keep the weight of the outfit down and allow anglers of any age the ability to keep casting all day without fatigue. High-quality housings and super smooth drag systems are must-haves for sustainable spinning or casting reels. This outfit will suffice for 95% of all fish encountered on the flats when stalking fish on foot.
I highly recommend braid. The ultra-thin diameter allows for extremely long casts—great for covering water and great for stealth. The micro diameter also allows small reels to hold plenty of line when compared to monofilament. Fishing braid requires a bit of finesse, although the benefits far outweigh any negatives. The use of a leader is also a necessary part of the equation. Twenty-pound monofilament or fluorocarbon will do the job, but big snook and chunky pompano can leave you saying some awful things so be sure to have your bases covered with 30lb. and perhaps 40lb. if conditions permit. As a rule of thumb fish the lightest leader you can get away with, but be well prepared for anything that comes your way.
Stay away from high visibility lines when looking to re-spool your inshore reels. Wade fishing is all about stealth, and the term “high visibility” means just that. If you can see it, there’s a solid chance so can the fish. Last but not least, be sure you have your knot tying skills perfected. This means making sure you can connect braid to mono and that you can tie a loop knot in the dark. This skill is not an option, but rather mandatory.
All in all wade fishing rocks! There are plenty of waterways around the state where you can enjoy this serene pastime, which doesn’t even require a boat ramp. Even if you do have access to a flats skiff try using it as a vehicle to get you to and from productive flats where you can get out and walk with the fish. Wade fishing offers an exciting perspective that’s been right under your nose the entire time.