Many anglers mistakenly believe wading is strictly a spring fling for bass fishermen.
But while there's no doubt early season action is great for wading BASSers, summer and fall wade fishing is equally good, and often more consistent. Further, wading is effective in small ponds, large natural lakes and reservoirs, and in streams big and small. And it works for largemouths, smallmouths and spotted bass.Given the choice, I prefer wading for bass over any other shallow water angling method — spring through fall. Also, under the right conditions, an experienced wader can outfish boat and shoreline anglers.
A number of factors make wading for bass so productive: For one, a wader can work a likely area completely — much more thoroughly than a boat or bank fisherman. Bank fishermen are limited in their approach to many prime bass areas. Boat anglers are at a disadvantage when working shallow water because they frequently spook fish with boat noises. Also, fishermen in a skiff have a higher profile than do waders, because boaters fish from an elevated position. Therefore, boat anglers are more readily noticed by bass in clear water.A boat, however, is a valuable aid to a wading bass angler, since it provides great mobility to lake and river areas seldom fished. Fact is, many of the best wading anglers use boats much of the time to quickly get to their favorite bass locations. Once a fisherman reaches his chosen spot, he either beaches or anchors the boat and wades, or he can tie the skiff to his waist and tow it.
Wading and fishing around shallow weedbeds and similar cover is deadly for largemouths.
Towing a boat might sound a bit cumbersome, but when there's no wind, even a heavy fiberglass bass boat is remarkably easy to pull with a rope tied to the waist.
Some bass anglers tow small rubber rafts or other inflatable boats while they're fishing. In these, they carry extra lures, rods and reels, small coolers with iced drinks, and other accessory gear that may be needed during a long day of bass wading. Rafts and little boats can be transported easily to prime wading waters via car or boat, and they're inexpensive.
Float tubes also have their place in wade fishing, especially in stream and river bassing. Anglers who utilize float tubes to traverse deep holes can effectively reach far-off-the-beaten-track bass spots that rarely see lures. For example, hundreds of small streams around the nation are too small and shallow to be effectively fished by boat. Yet they are so remote and have such deep holes and pools between shoal areas, that they are rarely worked by wading anglers.A float tube is the way to reach such secluded bass lairs, and some surprisingly big bass are available.The best float tubes for such fishing have shoulder straps so anglers can stand and wade when they reach shallow water. The tube just hangs from straps, and you wade and fish as usual. But as you work downstream and come to deep holes or areas you choose not to fish, simply float through the spot in the tube until another hot bass spot for wading is located. Lots of water can be covered in such a manner — many miles in a full day's fishing, in fact.Wading enables anglers to work many shallow, "marshy" waters that are remote and rarely fished, yet frequently hold good numbers of outsized largemouths. In Florida, where I live, small waters that wouldn't rate a second glance in other regions often are jammed with heavyweight bigmouths. Many dozens of such "prairie" lakes are full of fish, and often the action is red-hot because bass in such waters can be malnourished.
Float tubes are good ways to work rivers. A tube enables you to wade the shallows and float through deeper pools.
That doesn't mean the fish are small, only that they don't pass up many easy meals, or lures, for that matter. Bass in prime marsh ponds often have big heads and thin bodies, but I've caught plenty of heavyweights — 5- to 8-pounders — from such places
Unlike fishing from a boat and using a depthfinder to reveal the most productive areas for bass, a wader must rely on his eyes and overall angling knowledge to discover top fishing spots. A wader has to learn to "read" water if he's to consistently catch bass. Often the key to finding prime wade areas is to locate places where there's something "different." Large, shallow, barren flats devoid of cover or bottom structure rarely hold bass.
Concentrate your wade fishing around areas where structure and cover are abundant. Look for sandbars, creek mouths, weeds, fallen timber, stumps and riprap, and holes in the lake floor, for a few examples — anything that can offer shallow bass protection and shade from the sun, or may harbor baitfish, crawfish or other forage.
Lacking sonar, a wading angler still can feel a hole or drop-off edge with his feet. Work along the edge, touching the drop with your toes, and learn where the deep water begins and the shallow ends.
Casts made directly along such drop-offs frequently are productive, and casts usually are best when made parallel to shore, so lures are in the "strike zone" throughout a retrieve. Shallow drop-offs of just a few inches or a foot are very significant to bass in the shallows, so work such areas carefully, and remember their locations.
Plan aheadDedicated wade fishermen plan their strategies well in advance of trips. On new waters, they'll carefully study detailed maps of a targeted lake or river.Topographic maps of reservoirs and detailed hydrographic charts are as valuable to waders as they are to bassers working from boats. Such maps help locate the most promising wade fishing regions quickly.Maps show bottom configurations and can lead a wader to accessible places near drop-offs, points of land and other important bass holding structures. Maps also show where there are bridges (submerged ones, too, on reservoirs), flooded roadbeds, culverts, ditches, feeder creeks, small dams and other prime bass waters that are best fished via wading. Maps also show large coves and headwater creeks that harbor spawning bass for spring wading action.In essence, interpretation of structure is just as important for a wading bass angler as it is for boat fishermen. The ability to analyze the water in a lake or river often is the determining factor for bass wading success.
Some anglers believe wearing camouflage clothing prevents spooking shallow water bass.
Polarized sunglasses and a cap to shade the eyes can help a wader spot bass beds, drop-offs, submerged weedbeds, underwater brushpiles and many other key spots bass may hold around. Frequently, waders can spot individual bass, and then present lures precisely to draw strikes. Spot a small swirl from a bass, or a jumping minnow trying to escape a feeding largemouth, and a quick cast to that spot can yield a heavy fish.
Wading anglers should be especially mindful to approach all fish-holding areas carefully. In summer and fall, many bass waters are as clear as a martini, and fish spook out of their scales if you walk boldly along, scraping your feet on the lake or river floor. Some waders even wear camouflage clothing to keep from being seen by bass. This is especially important in clear waters, like springs and small creeks.
Much of the time, short, accurate casts take more bass for waders than do long tosses. Distance casts normally aren't needed if the water is approached quietly, and if the fisherman remains unseen by bass. It's also easier to work a lure well and strike properly when there's not a lot of line between you and a bass — say, 60 feet or less.
In addition, accuracy is increased with short casts. Pinpoint casting is essential when wading many prime bass waters — which usually are loaded with brush, weeds, lily pads, submerged trees, etc. Inaccurate casts cost wading anglers fish, terminal tackle and valuable fishing time while they untangle fouled lines. Moreover, top fishing areas often are spoiled when an angler must wade in to free a snagged lure.
Accurate casting also improves the number of strikes when waders are "sight fishing" for cruising bass, or ones holding around nearshore cover.
Many anglers who wade and do well for bass in spring don't wade in summer or autumn because they've had comparatively poor success. This usually is because during summer and fall, those fishermen work the same shallow bays and bass spawning "flats" where they caught fish in spring. They also use many of the same tactics that worked well early in the season.
Trouble is, however, that in summer and fall, bass hold in different areas than they do in spring. Also, different tactics work better on summer and autumn bigmouths.
Many of the best summer-fall wading spots are structures close to deep water. In addition, while spring wade fishing often peaks during the heat of the day when the water is warm enough to get bass moving, summer and fall wading action normally is tops during early mornings, late afternoons, in overcast weather and on slightly breezy days.
Night wading in summer and fall is one of the most overlooked yet productive methods of catching heavyweight bass, but anglers must already have a good idea where choice wade areas are located. Nighttime is no time to be "looking" for wading hot spots.
On waters where boating traffic is heavy during the day, night wading can really shine, especially in places where you've seen bass that have refused to strike in the day.
I've had some exceptional wade fishing action for smallmouths at river mouths in lakes, and on beach and gravel bank areas where, during the day, swimmers and jet-skiers made fishing impossible. Bass in such clear waters are more skittish than a turkey at Thanksgiving.
The fish can grow large in these lakes, yet they only move from deep water or out of tangled cover under the cloak of darkness to forage in waist-deep shallows. Slow, quiet, night wading allows anglers their best chance of catching such potbellied, spooky bass.
Lures and gear
Short casts with topwater lures are deadly at night. Since topwater strikes at night sound like explosions, detecting hits and hooking fish is comparatively easy. For safety, it's smart to remove all but the tail hook from night topwater plugs. And employing a single hook is better than a lone treble, since removal of a single barb from a bass is a lot easier.
Surface plugs and buzzbaits are popular night lures because they help fishermen keep in touch with what their artificials are doing at all times. Tandem-blade spinnerbaits and weedless spoons worked on top are favorites, also. A weedless plastic worm fitted with a buzzing spinner or noisy spoon ahead of it also is a prime night lure for bigmouths.
Wade fishing gear can be as simple or as elaborate as you like. If all your fishing is done in warm weather and temperate water, "wading wet" is just the thing.
All that's needed is a pair of tennis shoes to protect your feet, short pants, a small plastic box to hold lures, your rod and reel, and you're all set. Many waders use a small fanny pack that snaps around the waist to hold lures, pliers, insect repellent and a flashlight (at night). If some of your wading is done in cool water, you'll want boots, probably chest-high waders.
In case you step off into a deep hole unexpectedly, especially at night or in a current-laden river, it's important to wear a life jacket. An inflatable vest is comfortable to wear and doesn't interfere with casting.
For much of my bass wading, I wear a fishing vest — like the ones used by freshwater trout fishermen. Such vests don't cost much, and they have plenty of pockets to carry just about any bass fishing equipment you may need. Spare reels, line, insect repellent, etc., can be toted comfortably in a well-designed fishing vest.
Wise bass waders carry a good selection of artificial lures. Surface and diving plugs, spinners, spoons, jigs, plastic worms and jerkbaits all should be included in a wader's tacklebox.
Fly-rod wading is great fun, too, and highly productive. Wading also allows fly-rodders to more easily cast to productive bass water because snags from backcasts are minimal, compared to backcasting from shore, or even from a boat.
Some waders also use live baits very effectively. Shiners, frogs and crawfish are most commonly employed. Baits can be stored in special water-filled buckets that are tied to anglers' belts and towed behind while fishing.
Finally, wading is something anyone can do on virtually any bass water at almost any time of year. It's low-cost angling, requiring simple preparation, and it's perfect for family outings. Mom and the kids can enjoy wading for bass and can catch just as many fish as Dad.
I once thought wading for bass was meant mainly for those anglers who didn't own a boat or didn't want to rent one or hire a guide. But I've since learned that wading not only is an enjoyable, serene way of bass fishing, but it also is a great way to catch shallow water bass.
Bob McNally's best-selling bass book is Bass … In Depth. The 288-page comprehensive guide to bass fishing is available from Bass Pro Shops stores. Autographed copies are $16.95 from McNally Outdoor Productions, 1716 Bayside Blvd., Jacksonville, FL 32259.