FLORIDA Wading for fish takes the chill out of winter
The same rods used for walleyes and bass work well for salt-water fishing.
KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- OK, so the family has had it with three months of cold and snow, and you're all headed for the Florida sun.
The others want to hang out at the beach, visit a theme park or two, maybe go see an alligator somewhere. You're dying for a fishing fix, but you have only a day or so to do it, and you can't afford $500 to charter a boat to go offshore.
Not to worry. If you had the presence of mind to throw a rod and reel into the trunk or your luggage, and if your feet still work, you can go wade fishing all along the Florida coastline and have the time of your life. Anglers can catch all sorts of strange and wonderful fish with $20 worth of saltwater tackle.
It didn't cost Jim Desmond even that much. The Redford Township, Mich., resident was wading a flat off Ft. De Soto Park at the mouth of Tampa Bay, casting the same eight-weight fly rod he uses for steelhead in Michigan.
"I went to Bass Pro Shops in November and bought some stainless 1/0 hooks," Desmond said. "Then I tied a bunch of saltwater patterns I found on the Internet. I tied some Clouser minnows in chartreuse-and-white and black-and-white, some crab and shrimp patterns and some glass minnows.
"So far, I've caught more on the glass minnows than anything, but I got redfish, ladyfish and some jack crevalle, including an eight-pounder that just about spooled me."
Desmond has been wade fishing in Florida for about 15 years, and he said he had learned that "the tide is the key factor. I prefer to fish the incoming, but I like the first couple of hours of outgoing water, too.
"About the only really bad time is dead low water. I don't even start fishing until the tide has been coming in for about an hour."
The same rods anglers use for walleyes and bass work well for light-tackle fishing in salt water. A 61/2- to 7-foot spinning rod and a line spooled with at least 200 yards of 10-pound line will work well for fish like sea trout, redfish and jacks in open water, although it's a little light for trying to stop a big snook from heading for the mangrove roots.
Saltwater fish usually aren't line-shy, so a 15- to 20-pound fluorocarbon leader will reduce cutoffs on barnacles and oysters.
Most modern reels stand up well to salt water, but it's a good idea to wash the reels and rod reel seats gently with fresh water. Don't hit the reels with a hard blast from a hose. That will drive salt crystals into the interior works.
Freshwater lures like Rapalas and Bombers will take saltwater fish, but the simplest way to get outfitted is to visit a bait shop for information on what is working well locally. The all-around artificial lure for flats fishing is usually a jig tipped with a rubber tail that mimics a shrimp. The ultimate bait for everything is live shrimp, which sells for $1.60 to $3 a dozen, depending on size.
Orville Tomlinson of Shaker Heights, Ohio, was casting a bottom rig into the pass at the north end of Anna Maria Island, baiting it with live shrimp.
"I'm just kind of messing around now because my wife and kids are spending the afternoon on the beach," he said. "But I'll be back down here about 10 [p.m.] because that's when I've caught some big snook. For the snook, I catch a pinfish, hook it behind the dorsal fin and cast it out under a big bobber."
After casting the lure, Tomlinson said, "I just let the tide sweep it on or out through the pass, whichever way the water is moving. Usually, you don't see the take in the dark because the bobber is out of sight. But all of a sudden you feel the rod tip pull down hard, and whatever you've got, you know it's going to be pretty big."
Wade fishing is possible just about anywhere an angler can get into the water along the Florida coastline. On sandy beach fronts, the target species are pompano, jacks and whiting.
But the most productive areas are backwater lagoons and bays where grass flats are adjacent to sand flats in shallow water. These are the areas where spotted sea trout, redfish, snook, flounder, jacks and other game species move in and out with the tides, and anglers can hunt them with everything from live bait to flies.
Most Florida anglers don't wear waders, although the water temperature in most places north of Palm Beach can drop into the lower 60s. Sneakers or wading shoes are essential because salt water is home to a host of potential hazards ranging from razor-sharp oyster shells to stingrays.
Florida now requires licenses for saltwater angling. For nonresidents, licenses cost $6.50 for three days, $16.50 for seven days and $31.50 for the year. A snook permit is an additional $2.