By Terry Tomalin
Some people think you need a boat to catch fish. Bet they’ve never waded along our shoreline, towing a bucket of shrimp through the shallow grass beds.
Walking through knee-deep water, casting as you go, is an easy and effective way to catch everything from flounder to snook. Wade fishing, as it’s sometimes called, is ideal for beginners and veterans alike, especially in an area such as St. Petersburg/Clearwater.
This peninsular paradise has dozens of great fishing spots that are ideal for the shore-bound angler. It doesn’t take much to get started. All you need to join in the fun is a tide chart, a pair of old tennis shoes and an inexpensive spinning rod.
The Big Three: Trout, Redfish and Snook
Most marine species, from stone crabs to bonnethead sharks, spend some portion of their life cycle in the vast meadows of sea grass that you’ll find in the sheltered waters of the bay, Intracoastal Waterway and the back side of our barrier islands.
Spotted sea trout, the lions of the grass beds, are voracious feeders that will strike live bait and artificial lures. While trout will eat just about anything, they have a soft spot for live shrimp, standard fare at local bait shops.
Trout share the sea grass with red drum, a.k.a. redfish, a hardy predator prized for both its fighting ability and white, flaky flesh, which is superb when baked, grilled or blackened.
But the true champion of the inshore fishery is the common snook, the legendary “linesider,” a game fish valued so highly, it has been off limits to commercial fishermen for more than 50 years.
Armed with the right tackle and tactics, the well-versed wade fishermen can catch anyone of these sportfish. With a little luck, you might catch all three in the same day and qualify for the inshore “grand slam.”
Wade Fishing Hot Spots
No other coastal area in Florida has as many great wade fishing spots as St. Pete/Clearwater. If you start at the northern end, near Tarpon Springs, the waters around Fred Howard Park have produced their share of big fish, including tarpon, the silver king of gamefish.
Travel south to Dunedin, and you’ll find some of the best trout fishing in the state along the causeway that leads to Honeymoon Island State Park. The park itself is known for its first-class snook fishing, especially in the late spring.
Down at the southern tip, Fort De Soto Park (the crown jewel of the county park system) is well known for its fat redfish and the Spanish mackerel that congregate near the park’s twin piers.
Continue on up through the bay and you’ll find Weedon Island Preserve, with its maze of mangrove-lined waterways. The water here is shallow and riddled with oyster bars, prime habitat for inshore species.
Tackle and Tactics
Wade fishing doesn’t require any specialized equipment. All you need is a spinning rod rigged with 12-pound test line. Buy some basic artificial lures – top-water plug, gold spoon and some assorted jigs – as well as hooks, split shot and floats if you plan to use live shrimp.
For best results, fish first thing in the morning or at dusk. If possible, pick a day with a strong incoming or outgoing tide. Trout, redfish and snook are ambush predators, so fish near structures such as oyster bars, drop-offs near channels and potholes in the sea grass beds.
Following the Rules
Florida law now requires that residents and visitors alike must obtain a saltwater fishing license even when fishing from land. A special stamp is also required if you plan to catch and keep a snook. Local bait and tackle shops can provide all the assistance you need, and you can purchase licenses and stamps at most, or go to www.myfwc.com.