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FRANK SARGEANT

Published: Jun 15, 2003

No boat? Hate piers? Don’t mind wet shorts and a little sand in your shoes? If the answer to all of the above is “yes,” you just might be a wade fisher. And fortunately, wading is one of the most productive ways to fish saltwater around Tampa Bay. Basically, anywhere you can find clear water, firm bottom, and grass, mangroves or oyster bars as habitat, you’re likely to experience good wading for snook, reds or trout. An easy place to start is Gandy Causeway – plenty of free parking and public access on both sides. The hard bottom around Rocky Point, on the south shore, is a noted redfish area, and the tide gates through the causeway attract snook on strong flows. Along the east shore, the mouth of Fish Creek is a noted snook and redfish area. Big Island Gap, at the west end of Howard Frankland Bridge, offers lots of good wading, and the hole there can be a great winter trout spot. Picnic Island Park, off the south end of West Shore Drive, is another good wading area. If you’re energetic, wade all the way across from the park to Picnic Island Creek and you’ll usually find snook in the potholes, particularly on low tides. The shoreline down to the no- entry markers at MacDill is all good for snook and reds. Simmons Park, on the east shore near Ruskin, provides access to good wading all the way to Wolf Branch Creek, once you cross the rather deep dredged canal. (You’ll have to swim at high tide, or take an inner tube float to get across.) Cockroach Bay Boat Ramp, south of Ruskin, offers access on the south side to pretty good high-tide wading in the creeks and islands off the main channel, though the channel area itself is too deep to wade. Again, use a tube float to cross the channel and you’ll find the entire “no-motor zone” offers good wading. The Piney Point Flats, just north of Port Manatee, are great wading, should the port ever see fit to re-open public access there, as promised years ago. The south end of the Sunshine Skyway offers good wading on both sides; you can ease into Joe Bay on the north, Miguel Bay on the south. The north end of the Skyway also offers lots of opportunity; the little spoil bars on the west side sometimes hold big trout, while the Clam Bar, which extends east from the Misener Bridge in a long arc, offers a mile of shallow wading. A deep channel runs along the west side of the Pinellas Bayway about 200 feet offshore, and it often holds trout, as well as the occasional big snook. The grassy waters around Fort DeSoto offer lots of wading opportunities, though some sections have fairly soft mud that makes wading difficult. There are many other good spots, including all area public beaches, where anglers are likely to find big snook in water just a foot deep at this time of year – the fish work the beach line at dawn, dusk and after dark. Wherever you wade, you need good wading shoes – neoprene, over-the-ankle zip- up booties with hard rubber soles are best. Flip-flops pull off, and sneakers fill with sand. In winter, most serious wade- fishers switch to chest waders, since water temperature on the flats may drop into the 50s. Most who specialize in wading the flats choose long spinning rods, 7 feet or more, and long-cast reels equipped with 10-pound-test microfiber line, which allows very long casts. This gear allows you to cover lots more water, essential due to the generally slow progress of slogging through the bay. Stingrays are an ever-present danger for waders, and they are most numerous in the warmer months. Go slowly and slide your feet along the bottom, and the rays will almost always stay out of your way. Though it takes minimal equipment and expense to go wade-fishing, some of the best catches taken each weekend around Tampa Bay are landed by waders. It’s sort of “stealth” fishing, and in these days of hook-smart fish, that makes it highly effective. PADDLE-FISHING CLINIC: Capt. Mel Berman hosts a paddle- fishing clinic Wednesday at Gator Ford, at exit 10 off Interstate 4 east of Tampa at 7 p.m.; (813) 980-3673.