Believe it or not, winter is here. While air temperatures would have us think otherwise, bay and Gulf waters have chilled, if only a little, putting fish into an atypical winter-time pattern. Anglers considering their options on a sunny day should think about getting out of the boat and taking a walk. Although the water isn’t as cold as normal this time of year, the shorter days can produce some great results for anglers willing to “step outside the boat.”
Like any time of the year, wading provides some distinct advantages over fishing from a boat. Wading puts you in the fish’s realm, giving you the advantage of a low profile and a silent approach. This can be particularly important during the winter months when the water can be gin clear, making gamefish extremely wary.
The key to comfortable winter wading is being prepared. A good pair of waders, wading boots, long pants and comfortable socks will do the trick on the coldest day. On warm days, wet wading is still an option. Add a pair of polarized glasses, a hat with a dark un- der-brim, a wade vest or pack and you’re in business. You won’t need heavy tackle unless you’re fishing docks or other structures. Under most conditions, an 8-pound test tackle will be sufficient. You can go even lighter if conditions permit. Fly anglers generally opt for 7- or 8-weight outfits unless wind or other conditions warrant otherwise. Thirty-pound bite tippets should be constructed of fluorocarbon and be approximately 18 inches long.
If the visibility isn’t great, or you’re fishing early or late, target the edges where grass and sand meet. These sandy areas (the seams) and potholes are perfect ambush spots for the predators you’re targeting. Start with presentations about 2 feet outside the area working towards, in and past your target. Make sure you include any deep grass at the ends of the potholes. These areas can be very productive and always warrant a couple of extra casts.
After working the edges of the holes and the seams, begin casting into the sandy areas. Work the nearside of the hole and cast progressively longer until you reach the other side. When fly fishing, try a clear sink tip line with a relatively (8- to 10-foot) short leader over deep grass.
During the winters, anglers who wade fish find big trout on the flats on cold, low-tide mornings. The fish will come into some extremely shallow water to feed, so start shallow and work your way towards the deeper edges, always staying vigilant for surface action, wakes or feeding birds.
If fish are particularly spooky or hard to see, try standing still and waiting for them to come to you. Try this approach if fish see you just before you see them. An- chor well away from the area you intend to fish, get out of the boat and stake out a pothole or sandy area where you have visibility. By staying a long cast away, you can easily see the fish when they enter a hole or pass across a patch of sand. Position yourself off to the side in the grass where you’re less visible, keep a low profile and be still. Just waiting them out gives you a big advantage when targeting reds, trout, snook and other game fish as they wander the flat. When you make a presentation, don’t make any quick moves and make your casts low and slow. It takes patience but can be productive when all else fails. When you “get in” you’ll discover some excellent angling opportunities and, as a bonus, get some exercise.