The snook ran for cover as the boat skirted the edge of the grass beds. "Here they are," the captain said, pointing to the shadows moving below the boat. The fish, frightened by the noise of the outboard motor, ducked into the thick seagrass.
Like a cowboy herding cattle, he brought the boat around and ran the fish toward the mangrove-lined shore. Then he cut the motor and let the boat drift with the incoming tide.
The captain dropped anchor about 50 yards from the mangroves. He checked his gear and sharpened his hooks. "Now, let's get into their environment," he said and slipped over the side of the boat into the thigh-deep water.
Despite the hot morning sun, the water was cool as it splashed against his legs. Below the surface, in an area smaller than a baseball diamond, sea life thrived. The food chain, from plankton to predator, depended on the lush bed of green turtle grass.
Minnows darted in and out of the submerged forest, feeding off the algae that colonize on the broad, flat leaves. A horseshoe crab scurried for cover as a redfish roved for snails and blue crabs. Bay shrimp floated by and a young spotted sea trout foraged for crustaceans and small fish.
The captain waded slowly and watched for movement. Soon a flash streaked across a patch of white sand. The angler cast the plug out across the flats. Several times he threw the lure at the moving shadows, and several times he reeled in with no luck. But his persistence paid off.
Redfish and snook will run and hide at the first sound of a motor, but head out on foot, and an angler has a fighting chance. Fishermen will find that wading along the grass flats has its advantages. It is easier to sneak up on fish if there is no engine to sound the alarm.
Wade fishing, as it is called, is popular from Pensacola to Key West. Virtually any shallow area, be it along a causeway or the shore of a sheltered bay, can be fished on foot.
During the winter months, you will need a pair of rubber wading boots. Sneakers or boat shoes will do just as well during the spring or summer. Bring a hat and a pair of polarized sunglasses. They'll make it easier to see the fish in the water.
A standard 7-foot medium action or medium/heavy action fishing pole with a spinning or bait-casting reel is ideal for wade fishing. Rig it with 8-pound to 12-pound test line. Tie a 24-inch leader to the line and attach that to a 12-inch-long "shock" leader that will keep the fish from cutting your line.
Live bait, such as shrimp or minnows, will work. Just trail the bait bucket behind you in the water. Artificial lures, including jigs, top water plugs and the ever-reliable gold spoon will work in a variety of situations.
But for best results, check in with a local bait shop and see what's working in the area. Conditions may vary up and down the coast.