When I first moved to Florida 13 years ago, I was surprised at how shallow
the water was, and the relatively slight movement of the tides. I grew up in
New Jersey where the average tidal range was more than six feet, and when you fished
on foot, that meant fishing from shore. On Tampa Bay, the range is less than
half that, and where I live on the Southshore, you need to get a mile offshore
in many places before you get much deeper than three feet.
It occurred to me early on that this could make for some good wading
opportunities, and I started out like everyone else -- hopping off the boat
with a bag of soft plastics, some jig heads, and leader material, clad in
shorts and sneakers.
Fishing in 60-degree water used to be no problem for a guy who lived on the
Canadian Border and thought the cut-off temperature for skiing was 25 below
zero. I can remember wading a flat in February 10 years ago with a fly rod,
clad in shorts and sneakers. I certainly would not try that today. I have since
come to enjoy the dry comfort of breathable stocking foot waders. Now I can
wade the extreme low winter tides snug as a tick on a furry dog.
Use A Wade Belt
A wade belt entered the picture after a trip with redfish tour pro Capt. C.A.
Richardson years ago. He had a belt with a rod holder and a stringer, and being
able to carry two rods seemed to be a real advantage, especially when the rod I
was using threw one of those unsolvable wind knots! I searched online and found
the WADE AID belt. It was even more substantial than my buddy's -- sporting
three rod holders, a stringer, and pockets for extra tackle and leader
I like one rod rigged with a plastic crab or shrimp, and the other with a
baitfish imitation. I like to throw the crabs and shrimp to fish I can see over
bare sand. If they are moving up on the grass with the tide where I can't see
them, I prefer to blind cast with a plastic mullet, jerkbait, or hard plastic
stick bait, imitating mullet, pinfish, and chubs. In the winter months the primary
targets are redfish and trout. Snook enter the picture as soon as the water
temperature hits 70 degrees.
I carry minimal tackle when wading. Usually it's a couple of bags of jerkbaits in white and new penny, some leader material, and a few hooks and jigs.
Depending upon the time of year and water conditions, it might also include
plastic crabs and shrimp, or stick bait. In the winter months when the water is
very clear, I use 20-pound fluorocarbon leader material. When the water
temperature climbs into the 70s and snook become a possibility, I bump up to
30-pound monofilament leaders. As water clarity declines, fluorocarbon becomes
less of an advantage.
Try A Light Action, Long Rod
In shallow-water wade fishing, casting distance is less important than it is
when fishing from a skiff, but the farther you can throw the lure, the more
water you can cover. I build my own rods for flats fishing. They are 8-1/2 feet
long, built with very short butts on fly rod blanks. These rods are whippier
than what you want when fishing around structure, but the softer action yields
longer casts with lures that weigh between 1/16- and 5/8-ounce. Rod length
makes up for the lack of muscle as long as you keep a good bend in the rod when
playing fish. The short handle makes casting effortless, and the rod is simply
a joy to play fish on. I also tied in three wraps measuring 15-, 18-, and 27
inches from the butt so I can measure trout, redfish and snook while wading.
I prefer 3/8-ounce jigs to the lighter ones for the extra distance they
afford. When blind casting, I am less concerned about spooking fish with
impact, than I am with covering the water. You like to cast downwind most
often, but sometimes the fish are upwind, and the heavier jig bucks the wind
better. If there are pompano present, I throw 1/2-ounce pompano jigs --
redfish, jacks, and even snook will eat a pompano jig.
The long rods are not particularly fragile, but they can break. I have never
broken one wading, however. The trick is to never reel the fish closer than a
rods length of line. That way, you can stick the rod tip straight up and grab
In Winter: Use 8- Or 15-Pound-Test
For winter fishing when redfish and jacks are on the flats, I spool 8-pound-test monofilament on my reels. The rest of the year when snook, cobia, and
tarpon are possibilities, I use 15-pound microfilament -- taking great care not
to cast into the wind to reduce tangles. I tie the leader on either line with a
I prefer jig heads with stout hooks all year long. Even fishing with
8-pound-test you can straighten a cheap hook on a good fish. I usually carry
one pack of four jig heads, a spool of leader material, and a couple of bags of
soft plastic baits, and maybe a plug or two -- all stowed in a plastic
compartment in neoprene pockets of the belt.
There is a D ring on the wade belt, and I carry my lip gripper with a scale
here. It's nice to know how much the fish weighs, and makes it easy to hold
fish for photographs.
I also wear a cheap pair of nail clippers on a loop of monofilament around
my neck, storing them in my shirt pocket for easy access. They make re-rigging
a snap, and you can trim you knots much closer with clippers than you can with
The nice thing about wading -- especially in the winter months -- is that
you won't have much company. When the tides are low and the flats are half-dry, the best way to get at the fish
is on foot.
Shop The Sportsman's Guide for a nice selection of Fly Fishing Tackle!
Captain Fred Everson has been a licensed fishing guide on Tampa Bay in Florida for 13 years. He has also written three books, and is a 20-year active member of the Outdoor Writer's Association of America. You can visit his website for more information at http://tampabayfishingguide.com/