Surf-Time Awakening

Successful wadefishing is a matter of knowing the right formula

The early morning sun had scarcely peeked over the sparsely clouded horizon, when shrilling cries of sea gulls dive bombing for bait awakened us.

It wasn't but a matter of minutes later that the rather nippy, waist-deep water brought us to an abrupt, breathtaking revitalization, one of which only hard-core wadefishermen can relate to.

With each step we felt the sandy bottom melting away from under our feet, giving evidence to a brisk incoming tide. Glancing at the light-green water, we could easily see the bottom, and out near the first gut schools of bait fish interrupted the shimmering surface.

Solitude quickly abated, as my companion's reel drag let out with an encouraging screech. A smile spread across his face while his arching rod quivered against the backdrop of a dimly lit sky.

After seeing where he made his hookup, I immediately tossed out a cast in the same direction. My heart pounded with expectation, and my hand trembled nervously around the rod grip as I worked the lure in.

With reckless abandonment my line started peeling from my reel. In ecstasy, and aware of our being alone, we both gave way to hooting and hollering. Trout were being hooked and put onto the stringer as fast we could cast our light tackle southward.

In retrospect, that was one of the better wading trips of earlier days. Admittedly, back then it was a hit and miss situation mostly miss, as I recall.

In all fairness, however, it's been an arduous course to success. Learning the art of wadefishing, like any other type of fishing, takes time. And that time process can be reduced if one follows some simple formulas that have been tried and proven.

Any consistently successful wade angler, without a doubt, has caused much of his good fortune himself. He's learned the do's and don'ts from sheer persistence and being alert. Simply put, the wadefishing game to him, for the most part, is no longer a game of chance, but one of astute calculation. The angler who scores in the surf with any consistency is first of all one who has a good sense of the important role that tidal current movement and weather conditions play in the picture of success. Given the fact that the surf is a temperamental environment, it yields its bounty at its convenience. Thus, the angler with a flexible work schedule has more advantage when it comes to capitalizing on favorable conditions.

The wadefisherman is no doubt part prophet, meteorologist, fanatic, and scientist. He ventures not intowade fishingthe surf without first analyzing all conditions: tide, temperature, wind direction and underwater terrain, all of which has been given much forethought and planning.

Above all, he's aware of his limitations, the things he can and cannot control. Like the weather and its winds that can turn water along the surf to a chocolate-colored mess in a matter of hours.

Full of persistence and patience, the genuine wadefisherman is not one who is easily frustrated to the point of choosing boat fishing in clearer, offshore waters if he doesn't have to. He'll search diligently for areas that provide for some sort of lee-side options; knowing conditions can change from one moment to the next.

Any wadefisherman with any amount of salt in his navel can certainly relate to one incident or another where he had to change strategy because of uncertain weather conditions.

One that comes to mind happened several years ago while fishing Breton Island in early spring. A dozen or so boats came scurrying from the Gulf side of the island looking for shelter when a sudden north wind with rain decided to move in on unsuspecting surf anglers. All sat at anchor in the harbor area and waited until the rain subsided, but unfortunately the wind remained relentless.

This caused most of the boats to head back to the launch, with the exception of some who were staying overnight, just as we were. With ominous clouds building, everyone aboard my boat began to discount wadefishing, at least for that day.

But that wasn't my intention, despite the fact that I stood there shivering with a beach towel around me, overlooking the calm, green water surrounding the boat. Tempting me even more was how clearly the anchor and rope could be seen 15 feet away in 3 feet of water.

Serving no notice, I picked up my gear and slid back to snack and put on fresh clothing. There was no way the others were getting back in the water, especially with the temperature falling.

I waded toward the island's docking facility not far from where we had anchored. It was here that I recalled catching specks at night under the lights and had taken particular note then via my graph recorder that the depth was 8 feet. So I knew first hand that the water was deeper than its surroundings, and could be an ideal holding ground for fish even by day.

After stationing myself right outside the dock, several casts were made paralleling the piling legs. Each time my gold spoon was retrieved, I noted a speck in hot pursuit, only turning and running back to the deep hole as soon as the lure was lifted from the water.

It didn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that my retrieve was too slow, so I changed strategy. After ten casts with a faster retrieve, I had ten specks on my side. My buddies looked on until they no longer could stand it and then proceeded to quickly enter the water. After copying my technique, they too had no trouble landing fish.

Now, besides persistence and patience with a little fanaticism thrown in, tide is of equal importance to success -not to mention easier to predict than the weather. Without the tidal current, bait fish, crabs and shrimp will not move far, causing game fish to come inactive and harder to catch.

Undeniably, it is arguable which tidal current is best, flooding or ebbing, but all agree that some current is better than no current. And the longer the current movement, the more bait is moved. This, nevertheless, doesn't mean that the strongest or fastest current is necessarily the best. It all depends on where you're fishing.

When planning a trip, select a day and time from the Daily Fishing Forecast and be there thirty minutes to an hour before the "'start"' time. The avid wade angler gets there early, fishes the current during its movement, and an hour or so after it stops, so that he doesn't miss out on any opportunity.

The saying that "'the early bird catches the worm"' carries much validity when it comes to wadefishing. In warmer months, being there early is the key to success, since warm beachfront waters are apt to cool over night, making for more productive feeding grounds at or near the first gut of the beach. As these waters warm with each passing minute of sunlight, the fish move out deeper.

More often than not, the late comer doesn't catch his fish in the more convenient, shallower waters. Sad to say, numerous wadefishermen overlook the very first gut even when arriving early. All too often, anglers wade their way through productive shallow water, not realizing that the knee deep water behind them is packed with fish.

To the less experienced, the surf appears to be all the same. With time and practice, however, the astute fishermen are able to discern the minute distinctions. This is called "'reading the water"', an essential skill if you're to identify the highway routes fish travel.

Fish relate to irregularities in bottom formation, therefore, it's important to read these signs from above the water's surface. This can be determined by coloration variances produced by depth of water along the beach; dark water, deeper water; lighter water, shallower water. Knowing these clues gives you an edge in locating fish.

The troughs, or guts, along the beach will show up as darker water, while the shallow bars between them will appear lighter in color. This can be easily seen when there is absence of wave action.

When there is wave action you can determine the depth of a trough even before entering the water. This is done by sizing up the height of the breaking wave as it meets the bar. The curl-to-crest measurement of the wave will be slightly deeper than the actual depth of the gut.

After locating these guts, preferably starting with the first from the beach, try fishing them both parallel and perpendicular to the shore. Here is where fish and bait move with the tidal current along the beach, and very often they'll gang up in these troughs. A very good tactic for fishing troughs is to find the ledge, position yourself halfway down the ledge, then fish it parallel to the beach.

Strong moving tides can be a wade anglers worst enemy. One should be cautious when fishing around passes, because currents are multiplied and create dangerous undertows. Do not venture into these areas without a life preserver.

With proper precautions, the passes are sure hot spots, particularly when they connect bays to the Gulf. All sorts of bait and fish travel through these watery freeways with each tide flow.

Along these thoroughfares and elsewhere along the banks, scrutinize the shoreline for various things that will attract fish. Look for scattered shells, grass beds, protruding tree stumps, etc., as they are excellent holding areas for all types of fish.

The wadefishing bonanza begins early April along the Gulf Coast as waters reach 70 degrees. That magic temperature causes all sorts of game species to move into the surf and increase in number as the temperature moves closer to the ideal mark of 76 degrees.

So, here come the fish and their pursuers. You have the formula. The surf's awakening!

By Jerry LaBella

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