In a recent issue of South Florida Sport Fishing Magazine an article by shallow water expert Captain Fred Everson titled Perfecting The Hunt, discussed how similar shallow water sight fishing is to hunting game birds and deer. I couldn't agree more. The anticipation of prowling a grass flat is equally if not more exciting than hunting the edge of a wooded field and regardless whether you're on land or on the water; the key to success is seeing your prey before it sees you.
Snook, sea trout and most shallow water dwelling species have excellent eye sight and you can bet that most of the time if you can see them, they can see you. Most of these species have spooky days and not so spooky days.
When the fish are playing hard to get, there is no better tactic than to level the playing field by staking your boat and getting out and wading. Regardless of what body of water you intend on fishing, to consistently achieve success while wading you need to be as familiar as possible with the area. For starters, check out the flat at low tide. You'll find that some of the bars and high spots are fully exposed during low tidal stages. This is an excellent opportunity to make a mental note of all the distinct cuts and sandy pot-holes. Seeing these troughs will give you a really good idea as to how the water will flow on and off the flat and in which direction the bait fish will funnel towards the spots where the predators will likely lie-in-wait.
This is when and where a pair of top quality polarized sunglasses is an absolute must. Low tide will also reveal where the actual drop-offs are located. This is critical, since stepping from one foot into six feet of water can be an eye opening experience. Take it from somebody who's been there and done that! A number of inshore enthusiasts will say that you can only entice large snook with live bait, and this may be true to some extent.
I personally believe that regardless if you are fishing from a boat, standing on a shoreline, or wading in knee deep water, you are the most successful when you have confidence in what you are throwing, live or not. Though for those new to wade fishing, an extra large live shrimp fished on a circle hook is a deadly combination that is hard to beat. Don't use too large of a hook as it will weigh the shrimp down and make it look unnatural. Too small of a hook and you'll sacrifice hook set efficiency so be careful there as well.
Finger mullet and pinfish are also very popular and effective baits when wading across shallow water flats. Both are also fairly easy to keep alive and will produce a variety of species. There are three different ways I prefer to hook these baitfish. The first is through the top of the lip and into the boney part of the nose. The second is behind the dorsal fin and thirdly, right behind the anal fin. It all depends on how you want your bait to swim. Either way, throwing one of these lively critters up current and letting it drift past an appealing point, cut, or sand hole is an excellent method of approach.
The use of a circle hook is important when fishing for regulated species like snook. Most of the time you're releasing these fish anyway and with a circle hook, 90% of the time you'll get a corner of the mouth hook-up. This is less stressful on the fish and makes for a quick, healthy release. The most common mistake made with circle hooks is setting the hook like you're largemouth bass fishing. An intense heave will only result in pulling the hook right out of the fish's mouth. With a circle hook, a slow retrieve with steady pressure is all that is required for a solid hook set.
After more than twenty years of wading the Indian River and its adjacent waterways, I've grown a fondness for throwing artificial baits. Maybe it's an ego thing, but there's something about fooling a big ol' snook or bull redfish into eating nothing more than a piece of plastic. Plus, artificial baits are convenient. You don't have to spend precious fishing time catching live bait, and you can keep a variety of extra lures in your pockets. And under most circumstances you can cast artificial baits a lot farther. You'll find the extra distance to be extremely beneficial when wade fishing shallow, crystal clear water. A seven and a half to eight foot spinning outfit is an ideal set-up for this type of fishing. Top the reel off with 20 lb. PowerPro and finish things off with a 30 lb. fluorocarbon leader.
When selecting lures, the choices are endless. There are many designed to catch more fishermen than fish, so I like to keep it simple and only throw a handful of lures on a consistent basis, with soft plastics leading the pack. D.O.A.'s TerrorEyez and CAL ShadTails are excellent choices and what snook in the world can resist a D.O.A. shrimp drifting by its hole? When it comes to stick-baits, purchasing only top quality saltwater lures is a must. Their freshwater counterparts will not hold up to the harsh marine environment or to the relentless power of unforgiving saltwater species.
Yo-Zuri, Bomber, and High Roller are just a few of the many quality lures on the market today. I prefer throwing topwater stick-baits in low light conditions. If that doesn't get their attention, I'll try a Zara-Spook with a walk the dog retrieve or with an enticing 1-2-3 pause, 1-2 pause, 1- 2-3 pause. Let's also not forget the proven, long casting, fish finding gold spoon.
Remember that wade fishing isn't only a conventional fishermen's game. Fly fishing enthusiasts will find that walking a flat provides plenty of room for perfecting their presentations. Woolhead mullets, clouser minnows and deceiver in various colors will account for plenty of exciting strikes. These are just a few of the flies that local guides fishing the Indian River Lagoon use with consistent success, regardless of season. For those who live in the area, you can find all of the tackle I've mentioned at many of the local fly or tackle shop in Stuart.