Many of the guides who work Tampa Bay’s Southshore tell me they hate fishing low tides. The reason being it’s hard to get at fish in a bay boat with four clients aboard. That’s true enough, but in the winter months, that’s where you find redfish.
To stalk fish in less than 2 feet of water there are really only two ways to go about it — get off the boat and wade, or fish from a canoe or kayak. I have a canoe, and it’s a great way to get where even a carbon kevlar skiff can’t go, but I prefer to fish standing up. That means getting out of the boat and wading.
Mike Strickland hooks up on a wade fishing trip with Capt. Fred Everson.
The advantages of wading are great. It’s the stealthiest way to sneak up on spooky fish in clear, shallow water. And while you can’t see as far as you can from a poling platform or a tower, you can generally get within casting distance of the fish. This is particularly true of snook, which are very difficult to catch from a boat. If you can see them, they can usually see you. Most of the big snook I’ve ever caught on the flats I have caught while wading.
Southshore Tampa Bay offers some of the best wade fishing in Florida because the bottom is firm and the flats are shallow. In a lot of places between the mouth of the Alafia River and the Sunshine Skyway Bridge you have to get close to a mile off the mangrove shoreline to find 6 feet of water. Furthermore, most of the water inside that 6-foot line is idle speed only. And on the extreme low tides of the winter months it gets so shallow that you can’t even pole a shallow draft skiff there. Places where I have caught trophy snook in the summer months are often high and dry on extreme low tides November through March. The other thing that makes fishing more difficult in the winter months is that the water gets so clear. The fish are easier to see, but they can see you, too.
When I’m planning a wade-fishing trip, I look for the extreme low tides that occur every other week around the full moon and the new moon. A comprehensive tide chart is indispensable here. You need to know tide heights and peak current flow to plan a successful trip. In summer time when low tides coincide with sunset is when I want to wade. But in the winter months, extreme low spring tides often occur late in the morning. The advantage here is that the sun is higher and the water clear and free of weeds. This means I can fish jigs, which cast well and that have been very productive.
Until the water temperature dips below 70 degrees, snook are a possibility. When it gets colder than that, the fish you find on the flats are more likely to be redfish, trout, sheepshead, and flounder — all of which are more tolerant of winter water temperatures than snook. Since I like to fish artificials when wading, my focus turns to redfish. I have only caught one sheepshead ever on a lure, but flounder are more receptive. I prefer artificials because they cast farther — and long, accurate casts are what are wanted in clear water.
Big flounder are a welcome addition to the low tide winter bag.
To wade comfortably in 70-degree water and colder, I require waders. When I moved to Florida from Vermont 15 years ago I could do it in shorts and sneakers year-round, but those days are long gone. That thing about losing your tolerance for cold is no joke. I prefer the waist high-type waders because I never wade in waist deep water, and the belt high waders are simply less confining. I generally buy the stocking foot variety and use a pair of cheap sneakers with Velcro fasteners for wading shoes. I find them more comfortable than regular wading boots, and easier to get on and off.
The absolute best time to look for tailing redfish is on a low tide around sunrise before the wind gets up. Redfish will not tail in a chop. Nor do they generally tail over bare sand. This means dragging your lure or bait through some grass, so here I opt for a new penny-colored jerkbait on a weighted worm hook. Less than 1/4-ounce is better because it makes less of an impact, and casting distance is apt to be close. You can’t pitch the bait too close to the fish, because they are nervous in the clear, shallow water.
If the tide is lower than normal and the fish get pushed out over bare sand, I like a plastic crab on a 3/8-ounce jig head. I like RipTide’s 2-inch crab because it looks exactly like a blue crab. I modify the lure by extending the crab’s left claw and holding it there by inserting a piece of leader wire. If you have ever seen a crab scooting away from a predator, they do it with the trailing claw fully extended. I assume this is to give it more speed. Whatever, I like to fish my plastic crabs with one claw extended, and I’ve caught a lot of redfish in the winter months with this modification.
Another lure I like to throw in clear shallow water is a chrome pompano jig. This is a great lure to downsize with. Fish in cold water have a slower metabolism than they do when the water is warmer. They don’t require as much food, so they are more apt to be feeding on smaller stuff — crabs, shrimp, and sandfleas. The size of the pompano jig is, I think, the main attraction. I like the 1/2-ounce chrome-plated bullet shaped jigs because they cast so well. I like a chartreuse colored skirt and usually fish this lure in bright light over a weed free bottom.
Use these tips to find success on the water!
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Captain Fred Everson has been a licensed fishing guide on Tampa Bay in Florida for 13 years. He has also written three books, and is a 20-year active member of the Outdoor Writer’s Association of America. You can visit his website for more information at http://tampabayfishingguide.com/