Fishing from the boat is a good way to fish, sometimes. However, in May, parking the boat and getting in the water can be a great way to catch some big inshore fish.
The phone call came from a potential charter and the conversation went something like this:
“Captain Bobby, we’re going to be in the Dauphin Island area in May and would like to do some fishing. We’re from Texas and really enjoy wade fishing. Is May a good month to wade in your area?”
There are a number of rhetorical questions in which “Yes” is the obvious answer, such as “Is the Pope Catholic?” or “Does a bear?…” Well, you know the questions. My charter’s query could probably be added to the list of these questions. With water temperature ranges in the upper 60 to lower 70 degree range during the month of May, inshore species of game fish such as speckled trout and redfish stay very active in shallow water. Wade fishing is a dynamite technique to target these species for a number of reasons. Being stealthy increases the odds of not spooking fish, and when they aren’t spooked, they are much more willing to eat. The Alabama Gulf Coast offers many wade fishing opportunities where water access is available. Another neat aspect of wade fishing is that you don’t even need a boat to capitalize on these opportunities. Here are some techniques to use that may help you enjoy this very exciting method of fishing.
Select the Best Location Based on the Current Conditions.
It’s very important to remember that you will be in shallow water while wade fishing. Of course, wave action muddies shallow water quicker than deep water. Also, again because you will be in shallow water, you will need to make long casts. A 15 knot breeze blowing right into the bank that you are wading not only will muddy the water, but it will wreak havoc on any attempt to make a decent cast. Check wind directions before you head out. Also, select an area that has a leeward bank. It may not be your first choice of wades, but you aren’t going to be successful if you’re not making good bait presentation anyway – and that’s next to impossible when trying to fish into the wind.
“Bait is a real key to locating trout and redfish during the spring”
Spend some time doing a little recon. Bait is a real key to locating trout and redfish during the spring, and it’s very easy to locate by simply looking at the area. The type of bait that I like to look for spends much of their time on the surface and in the air. Mullet are far and away the species of baitfish that I key on because, for some reason, speckled trout and redfish really stay around even when the mullet are too big for them to eat. I have heard some people say that it’s even a security thing, but whatever the reason, locating mullet is one of the first things that I do when planning a wade trip. A short boat ride or drive by the area that you are looking at will tell you if the bait is present. It’s time well spent.
Typically, during the spring, speckled trout will tend to stay put as long as the conditions don’t change dramatically. If you find a good school of fish, most of the time you can go back to them for weeks at a stretch. What really seems to move them is rising water temperatures. During a normal year, the water temperatures don’t reach the mid 70 degree range until late May or even early June. At that point, you’ll probably find that you will only be successful early in the morning or late in the afternoon when the water cools.
Getting Geared Up to Get Wet
During May, the fish are in a major spawning period. Therefore, they are very aggressive. And because most of the areas that I like to wade don’t have a lot of features to hold fish in one spot, I have to look for them. This is a perfect recipe for artificial bait-fishing. Almost exclusively, my success in wade fishing has been by using artificial bait. I really prefer to use mullet imitations of some form. Top-water plugs offer a number of advantages to wade fishermen. First, they are heavy and loud. This allows long casts to cover ground, and the noise helps trigger reaction bites even when the fish aren’t eating on the surface. Remember, it’s important to find the fish – you can make adjustments to fine-tune your presentation once you have found some fish. If I see a trout slap at or just roll on my top-water plug a few times, I usually switch to something sub-surface because the fish are striking on reaction rather than truly eating on the surface. However, if they crash the lure two or three times before getting hooked, I stay upstairs simply because I love the visual aspect of a top-water strike. All of my mullet imitations have silver sides and some sort of noise chamber. I am a hopeless hook-changer. If you really want to increase your strike-to-hook-up ratio, be sure to at least sharpen your hooks. I prefer to spend time changing to a chemically-sharpened hook. It’s well worth the small added investment of time and money when you start reeling in fish rather than losing them.
My wade-fishing rig is a 7’ medium action Fenwick HMX rod with an Abu Garcia REVO STX high speed reel. I use 12 # line, and this setup allows me to make insanely long casts, which are crucial to wade fishing success. I use a wade- fishing belt that has a small tackle box, some floating pliers attached by a lanyard, and a loop for a stringer. I carry a stringer even if I am not planning to keep fish because, from time to time, the fish get hooked badly enough that they can’t be revived. This lets me bring them back to the boat rather than being thrown back to become shark food.
Early in the month, the water is a little too cool for me to go in au naturale. I use some thermal waders until it warms up to at least the low 70s. At that point, I wear some fast-drying exercise shorts and a pair of wading boots. An old pair of tennis shoes is all that you need for your feet, but I’d recommend wading boots. I’ve invested in a very good pair of boots that protect my feet when wading on oyster shells or through soft bottom.
Productive Wade Fishing Versus Just Walking in the Water
As mentioned, the main advantages of wade fishing are that you can be very quiet and cover ground to locate fish. Both of these advantages are lost if you don’t move. I get a kick out of seeing people drive a big bay boat to their wade fishing spot, then jump out and fish right next to the boat. It seems kind of silly to forego the comfort of the boat unless you just like getting wet. The moral of the story is that you’ll really need to start wading to be effective. When you decide on the area that you plan to fish, anchor the boat a good ways from it to prevent the slapping of the hull from spooking your fish. I try to set up the wade so that the wind is helping me – i.e., coming over my shoulder from my back. This helps keep me quieter, too, and aids in casting distance. On the subject of being quiet, be sure to glide through the water rather than slosh through it. Sound and vibration carry a long way and the fish – being in shallow water – will spook very easily if they sense something unnatural.
“Keep moving until you find fish and then stop and make fan casts.”
Keep moving until you find fish and then stop and make fan casts. Even one bite will indicate that you’ve found some fish, so work it thoroughly. If you are around sand bars, work the edges and tips before wading on. I tend to fish fast – often too fast – and probably wade right past fish by not doing this often enough. If you’ve made a wade and either caught fish or not, get out of the water and high-step it back to the boat or truck. Wading back over fished water is usually not very productive, so it’s better to go somewhere else or take a break and set up another wade.
Although still growing in popularity, wade fishing has become a great way here on the Alabama Gulf Coast to find and catch some fine saltwater fish. Wading is a simple and economical way to enjoy spring fishing. Anglers seem to have realized that it’s not only an awesome way to catch inshore fish, but that the silent wading technique allows better viewing of wildlife and scenery. Hop on in – the water’s fine.