Getting Your Feet Wet – The Solitude of Fishing the Coastal Bays

Having a trout crash a topwater lure like this one caught by Steve Gassoway can be the ultimate in wade fishing.

The water was right, and it was a chance to get my feet wet…

The bow of the little center console boat crunched into the barely exposed shell reef in the middle of the bay. The boat’s small wake formed a long line of jagged whitecaps as the waves rolled across the top of the shell bar.

Gathering a minimum amount of gear – rod and reel, net, stringer, and a wading belt stuffed with a few lures – I was ready for a long wade across the bay flats. I eased over the gunnel of the boat onto a firm bottom in shin-deep water. I was in no hurry. Leaning against the boat, I paused long enough to tie on a topwater lure and soak up the beauty.
I squinted through my Polaroid glasses into a setting western sun, which formed a shimmering and dancing path of starbursts across the green bay waters. Streaks of brilliant pink and orange trailed across a blue afternoon sky. Looking at this masterpiece, I was sure if I squinted hard enough, I would see wildlife artist John Cowan’s signature scrawled in the lower right-hand corner of the scene.

Shuffling my feet along the hard sand bottom, I slowly eased down the edge of the long, narrow reef, casting my topwater lure as I went. Watching the lure’s zigzagging pattern and its gurgling across the surface of the bay had a hypnotic effect. Blue crabs scampered out of my path with their sideways gait, leaving small trails of silt in their wake.

As I approached an abandoned duck hunting blind perched on the end of a small, overgrown saltgrass island, gulls and shorebirds circled and squawked overhead, screeching about my temporary invasion of their pristine paradise. The old duck blind leaned precariously on two of its legs. From its past days of glory as a duck hunting hotspot, the weathered boards had been reduced to a perch for pelicans and sea gulls.

It took little imagination to visualize the faint figures of two old bearded duck hunters from the past, huddled in the blind with their alert Lab retriever. Scanning the skies and cradling their old model 12 pump guns, they would be watching and waiting for the first flights of sprigs and bluewing teal of the fall hovering on cupped wings into their set of weather-beaten wooden decoys.

Two bronze flashes racing through the clear waters across my path jarred me back to reality just before the loud, explosive splash surrounded my lure. My light rod went into an immediate arch and my level-wind reel squealed in protest. A big redfish realized his mistake and plowed through the shallow waters in a wide circle, taking line off my reel as he went. After numerous valiant runs across the saltwater sand flat, I slid the tiring fish along side and slipped my hand into his gaping gills. I lifted the fish and held him briefly to admire the sleek beauty and the reflection of the sun on metallic bronze scales before slipping the trophy on to my stringer.

One of the great advantages to wade fishing is a
chance to silently explore new waters. Getting away from the crowd and chunking lures over new and promising corners of the bay can tweak the explorer in all of us.

Quiet solitude, after all, is one of wade fishing’s greatest appeals.

Wade fishing, in itself, is a refined art. There is much to be learned from veteran waders who have spent countless hours plugging bay waters. There is a vast difference between looking out across the bay and actually “reading the water” of a fishing area. The trained eye of a seasoned old salt can spot water color changes, slicks, working flocks of birds, and a green streak in a moving tide more easily than the rookie angler. When leathery-faced old pluggers are talking about fishing, I make a point of listening and making mental notes.

There are certain truths in wade fishing: outfit yourself with a top-notch level-wind reel and fast action, two-fisted trout rod; shuffle your feet to steer clear of stingrays; and wear a rigged-out wade fishing belt. These simple basics are critical and can mean the difference in a successful trip and drawing a blank.

Another piece of equipment to keep on your boat is a “Cajun depth finder.” This low-tech accessory can be a 10’ length of PVC pipe. It is invaluable for detecting mud or shell bottoms and depth in unfamiliar waters.

Solitude, serenity, and the natural beauty of the sights, smells, and sounds of the bay are as much a part of wade fishing as the thrill of catching fish. Being alone in the water creates a one-on-one element between fish and wade fisherman in the fish’s natural environment.

For most dedicated wade fishermen, limits of fish and heavy stringers are secondary to the vivid experiences soaked up while wading the bays. A couple of hard fought struggles with a strong redfish or the unforgettable sight of a purple-hued and silver speckled trout wallowing on the surface with flaring gills is a just reward for a wet wade across the bay.

Getting your feet wet amid the solitude and the scenic beauty of our coastal bays can be among the most memorable of fishing experiences.