Until recently, Gulf water temperatures have been surprisingly warm. It’s always been typical for a cold front to send water temperatures plummeting, after which a warming trend will send them back into as warm as the mid-70s on the flats. For most anglers, the first cold front of the season means getting out of the water and away from some of the hottest action of the year.
If you think of wade fishing as a summertime activity, you’re missing the boat. Winter wading can be extremely productive and will give you a definitive advantage over your boat-bound comrades. When you get out of the boat and in the fish’s domain in the winter, you gain the same advantages you do in the spring, summer or fall and then some. When the water is cold it is often very clear, and the fish can be very wary. Proper winter wading allows you to keep a low profile and make a stealthy approach while staying warm and dry.
When the fish are particularly spooky, I employ another tried and true winter wading technique – standing still! If you find that the fish you’re stalking see you, just before you see them, try this method. Start by locating an area that is holding your quarry. Anchor well away from the action, get out of the boat, and stake out a pothole or sand area. By staying a long cast away, you can easily see the fish when they enter a hole or pass across the white sand bottom. Position yourself off to the side in the grass where you’re less visible, keep a low profile and be still. By just waiting them out, you can target reds, trout and snook as they wander the flat. Don’t make any quick moves, and make your casts low and slow. It takes patience but can be very productive.
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. Start with presentations about 2 feet outside the sandy area. Make sure you target the deep grassy ends of the potholes. These areas can be very productive and always warrant a couple of casts.
After working the ledges of the holes and the seams, begin casting into the sandy areas. When fly fishing, try a clear sink tip line with a relatively (6-8 foot) short leader. The clear tip allows you to fish the far side of a hole without spooking the fish. If you’re fishing live bait plugs or jigs, work up to the leading edge and then cast well past the hole or seam and skip your bait back into the hole or the edge of the seam.
Over the last two winters, we have been having some excellent success with big trout 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. As with other times of the year, stay vigilant for surface action, wakes or feeding birds.
The key to productive and comfortable winter wading is, of course, staying warm. A good pair of waders, wading boots, sweatpants and insulating socks will do the trick. Add a pair of polarized glasses, a hat with a dark under-brim, a wade vest or pack, and you’re in business. Give winter wade fishing a try. It gets you out of the boat, provides some exercise, and some excellent angling opportunities.