In the words of an old Johnny Cash classic, the perilous question is asked, "How High's The Water Mama?"
If you're catching fish, it would be about waist deep.
Wading is not only a low cost approach to fishing saltwater, it is one of the most productive when it comes to trout, flounder, and snook but anything is possible, especially in the passes. You can move into and out of an area with a great deal of stealth by easing through the water quietly. One of my favorite places to wade is along the West Coast of Florida from Sarasota to St. Petersburg. Its barrier islands, passes and shallow estuaries are ideal for this placid pastime, and if the sun gets too hot, simply hold your rod above your head and drop below the surface for a cooling dip.
Tackle for wade fishing can be whatever you have, but lightweight spinning rigs are best for two reasons. First of all you're going to have to hold the rod and reel above the water to avoid excessive saltwater corrosion, but more importantly you want to match your tackle to the bout. The majority of fish that you will encounter while fishing grass flats and mangroves will be in the 1 to 5 pound range, with the occasional larger fish that will have to be managed with a bit more patience.
While you won't have the mobility of a boat to move with a large fish, as long as the fish doesn't head for deeper water, you can wade into the fight. Just be careful not to become so embroiled in the battle that you step off into a deep hole. Swimming, choking, and reeling at the same time is a difficult combination to master. If you are not a strong swimmer, you definitely need to stay in shallow water and avoid areas with heavy tidal currents. Fishing is great fun, but it's definitely not worth drowning. An inflatable vest
provides a lot of peace of mind if you have any concerns about your abilities, and some very handy pockets as well.
One of the most important techniques of wade fishing, especially in unfamiliar waters, is to shuffle your feet along the bottom. This technique serves several purposes, the most important of which is stingrays. Irascible rays don't take kindly to being stepped on. Rays bury themselves in the sand in shallow water and when you step on one, it only takes an instant to have a barb impaled in your foot or leg. When you shuffle your feet, it only takes a slight touch of the toe to send them skittering away. The second most important reason to shuffle your feet is broken glass and sharp objects. For some reason unknown to me, there are goobers out there that think that water is a place to throw your trash and unfortunately, broken bottles and other sharp objects are more common than not. The smart approach is to wear shoes, but I've always been partial to bare feet, and if you wear shoes you don't have the sensitivity to locate the second benefit to wading -clams.
A succulent dinner of trout almondine should always be prefaced with a steaming bowl of New England Clam Chowder. That chowder will always taste better when taken fresh from the water by your own hand, or toe in this case.
While easing along the coastline fishing and enjoying the day, you will occasionally notice a hard lump under the sand. Many times that "lump" is a clam. If you carry a mesh bag tied to your waist it won't take long to have enough for some delicious clam chowder. After a little practice you will be able to pick up the smaller ones with your toes, but the larger quayhogs will have to be ferreted out by reaching down. Where you find one, there will be many. Load your bag, but don't take more than you need for a meal. Remember, like all seafood, they're best fresh. The smaller the clam the more tender their meat, but make sure you check to be sure that the area you are harvesting is a safe zone for filter feeders. With the number of sewage overflows and commercial pollution prevalent today, it is not wise to eat without asking if the area you are in is safe for filter feeders like clams and oysters.
If you fish the incoming tide to its peak and the first hour of the outgoing, you're going to have best results with live shrimp, a light leader and just enough weight to keep your bait on the bottom. A small lead headed jig eliminates the necessity for a weight and is a lot easier to work in grassy areas or rocks. The manufacturers of artificial shrimp have made some impressive strides in recent years, and you'll find them to be pinfish proof as well as effective. If you are not the patient type, throw a light jig with a soft bait and bounce it along the bottom.
Dedicated waders use floating bait buckets, and usually graduate to auxiliary floats such as inner tubes with a basket or bag to hold their catch. It is not a good idea to wade in saltwater with a stringer of fish tied to your waist. As a matter of fact, its actually pretty stupid. Everything in saltwater eats fish and both sharks and barracuda have been known to scarf an easy meal from an unsuspecting fisherman. Believe me, you don't want any part of your body inbetween either of these predators and their intended meal.
If you deep hook a fish and have a bleeder you should take it to shore immediately, or throw it far away from you if you intend to release it. Sharks can detect blood diluted to one part per million. While shark attacks are not a regular occurrence, many happen due to an individual stepping over the line of reasonable risk to the side of wanton disregard for commonsense. In the shallow areas where wading is most effective, there won't be any large sharks, so being eaten is not the problem, its just a question of a vicious bite that is easily avoided with a little forethought.
As my father always told me, "use your head for something besides a hat rack", and you'll find that slipping up on fish and dipping clams make for a wonderful experience. The best part of wade fishing is that when you get home you don't have to clean the boat. Give it a try and I'm sure you'll agree that wading is wonderful. After your first successful trip you'll need these recipies.
Don't forget your sunscreen and a cool hat. You need to protect your hatrack from the heat!
Click this link to see our entire selection of saltwater gear
Frank Ross grew up on a lake in Florida, where fishing and hunting were second nature. He has pursued his passion from the jungles of South America to the northern reaches of the Arctic Circle and most points in between. With a background in newspapers, the wire services and magazines that began in 1970, Frank brings a unique perspective to his work with Cabela's. He is an award-winning photographer with a flair for getting to the bottom line of every story.
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