Outdoor Corner: Surf's Up! Lessons in wade fishing

Lyle Johnson
A sample of the gear that is needed to have a successful wade fishing trip.

When I think back to my teen days the words "Surfs Up" first makes me think of folks on the west coast, especially California heading to the beach to catch some waves. Music by The Beach Boys comes to mind, as well. Heck, they own nine of the top-100 surfing songs including the all-time number one hit "Surf City."

One of my favorite animated movies from 2007 is "Surfs Up," featuring Cody Maverick, a 17-year-old rock-hopper penguin who has wanted to be a professional surfer ever since a visit from surf legend Zeke 'Big Z' Topanga came when he was a young teen. He enters the Penguin World Surfing Championship, inspired by his hero.

But really, when I hear the word surf, it brings an instant photo to my mind of the beach down at Grand Isle or Elmer's Island. Clear and calm waters teeming with speckled trout, redfish, white trout, and lots of unexpected species lures the angler that is not faint of heart.

With a little preparation and information it's not too hard to enjoy a morning doing a little wade fishing, enjoying the outdoors and probably having the opportunity to catch a few fish for dinner. We'll help you accomplish this if you read on!

Let's talk preparation first. A fishing license is needed. If you're a resident or a visitor to Louisiana log on to www.wlf.louisiana.gov, and you can get what you need online. Next, your feet need protecting, so a good pair of beach shoes is a must. There are inherent dangers anywhere you wade, so the shoes can help you avoid everything from a benign crab bite to a sting ray encounter.

Further, the beach is associated with swim suits and shorts, but I prefer using long pants while wade fishing to protect my legs from incidental contact with ocean creatures. That is a personal preference. But pockets go a long way in bringing extra tackle with you, too. Many trips back to the bank gets tiring and cuts down on fishing time.

A fishing shirt with pockets serves the same purpose as the pants: some protection and more storage in the pockets. Short sleeves are fine. Head cover is important as well, so anything from a ball cap to a wide brim fishing hat will do. An enterprising angler will even hang a few top water baits on the hat to add to his or her tackle package. Use sunscreen for all exposed skin. The water magnifies the sun's rays. No need to come out of the water cooked!

Now that we're dressed for the occasion, let's get to the tools of war. Keep everything as simple as you can. Unneeded trips to the shore take away from fishing time and may complicate things.

A medium spinning rod with a spinning reel and 12 to 15 pound test monofilament line is a good choice for the novice or less-experienced angler. It's easy to cast and will work in windy conditions. A bait caster is fine for the experienced angler and affords more accurate casts, although that's not usually a factor while fishing in open water.

Live or natural bait seems like a good tactic and using it does offer some advantages to the range and amount of fish you catch. To me, the pitfalls outweigh the advantages. Live bait has to be kept alive. Floating bait buckets are readily available and reasonably priced, but keeping the shrimp, minnows, or croakers alive is not so easy. You end up with lots of dead bait and some of it jumps out of your hand, gets away, and the fish get a free meal.

Natural bait or dead bait (bait shrimp is the most popular) but it attracts many trash fish. Among them are hard head catfish that have poison in their fins that usually ends up in a hospital visit if you get stuck with one while trying to remove the fish and release it. The risk is just not worth it!

So, artificial bait is the way I like to go. There are a lot fewer complications involved with this route in execution for wade fishing in the surf. The choice of types is a somewhat different matter, so we'll keep it as simple as we can.

Top water is one of my favorite methods to catch any fish. If you're making an early morning trip there's no better way to get started than trying them on top. Get there right at day break to start you fishing before you even step into the water. Big specks like to hug the shore before sunrise to feast on the bait fish that's in the shallows.

The simplest rig that will be easy to cast, change lures, and easy to remove the hook from the fish is a lead head jig. A 3/16 or 1/4 ounce, unpainted head is the best size to use, and the range of plastic baits that you can fish with is almost unending. Cocahoe minnows and sparkle beetles are the most popular.

Basic colors should be determined by water clarity. If the water is dingy, dark colors with a chartreuse tail will usually work the best. Black, purple or dark blue will work well under these conditions. As the water gets clearer change to a color that is a little more translucent (see through) like avocado, smoke or glow.

The more modern colors that are popular can't be figured out by name, but they work. Examples: electric chicken, new penny, opening night, chicken on a chain, blue moon, lemon/lime--I guess you get the picture.

Okay, we've gotten the right tackle, made a cast, and we got a feisty speckled trout on the end of the line. He's shaking his head, trying to throw the hook. I'm in the water, he's in the water. How am I going to land it, and what will I do if I get it off the hook?

Holding the rod in one hand then grabbing the fish with the other (which I've tried) usually ends up with about a 98% loss rate. Invest in a reasonably priced trout net with a clip that attached to a belt loop and has a retractable lanyard. You can stretch it out, dip the fish and it returns to your side for the next victim. Pliers are a must as well. Removal of the hook or hooks will be impossible without them 50 percent of the time.

Long stringers with a float on one end are an option to store the fish until a trip to the shore is needed to ice them down. The only problem with this is the fish are dangling in the water. A fish a little farther up the food chain can find them and try to eat them. My preference is a floating basket that has a long rope that can be attached to a belt loop. This results in less opportunity for other "stuff" to eat your catch.

South Louisiana offers two really nice spots to wade fish without having a boat. All are located off of Hwy 1 south. The first is Elmer's Island. This one is a state owned land that is accessed by vehicle, then walking. Grand Isle is just down the road, seven miles of well kept beach with a state park at the end of the road.

There is one other option for wade fishing for the really adventurous souls. You can take a seaplane to the Chandelier or Gosier Islands to catch speckled trout and redfish on top water baits. Log on the www.neworleansfishing.com website for all the info.

Lyle Johnson is a free-lance writer, co-host of Ascension Outdoors TV and Curator of the Louisiana State Fish Records. He can be contacted at reelman@eatel.net.

Outdoor Calendar

EASL Monthly Meeting: 3rd Monday every month, East Ascension Sportsman's League meeting held at Gonzales Fire Dept on Orice Roth Rd. starting at 7:00 p.m. A meal served and special speaker will be in attendance.

Wednesday Evening Bass Tourney: Every Wednesday at Canal Bank from 5:00 p.m. until dark. Fee $40/boat, one time registration fee of $40 going toward the Classic Tournament. Weekly event through spring, summer. Call Canal Bank for information. 225-695-9074

CCA Louisiana S.T.A.R. Fishing Rodeo: May 25 thru Sept 2 summer-long CCA Louisiana saltwater fishing event. Tagged Redfish, Offshore, Inshore, Ladies & Children's divisions. Registration required. Must be CCA member. Website: ccastar.com.

Wounded War Heroes Fishing Rodeo: June 27 thru 30 @Bridgeside Marina. Founded 4 years ago, 50 of our wounded veterans will take part in this one of a kind, locally founded fishing event. For more info on the rodeo and how you could get involved go to www.woundedwarheroes.org.

Golden Meadow/Fourchon Tarpon Rodeo: July 4 thru 6. Registration is $35. Each ticket includes one entry into the rodeo, fishing towel, rodeo book, boiled shrimp dinner, and a chance to win over $15,000 in rodeo awards and door prizes. Go to www.gmfourchontarponrodeo.com for all the info.

Need an event publicized? Contact Lyle at reelman@eatel.net