EACH ABLE-BODIED BASS ANGLER has a matched pair of secret weapons. Mine are ample Size 12’s.
Wading is an effective and often overlooked approach during early fall. The summer swelter is gone and cooling conditions encourage bass to move shallow. The fish are there to feed, and putting your best forward, one step at a time, can be a good way to intercept them.
Catch numbers aside, the one-on-one elemental contact carries the experience to a higher level. At least, this is my opinion based on more than half a century of soggy research.
This tactic can be exercised from bank or boat. The former allows the shoreline angler to work open water beyond clogging rims of weeds or brush; the latter permits the boater to ease over the side to probe inside screening cover that blocks conventional traffic.
By either path, the soft shuffle offers several advantages:
First, the cautious wader presents a lower and smaller profile. Under high-visibility conditions of calm surface and clear water, this ability to work under the radar offers a stealthy edge.
Camouflaged casting pays dividends in the shallows. The savvy wader is a predator who, like the flooded- timber duck hunter, should strive to blend with the background. Worth note, the mallards are just passing through; the bass live there.
Walking into the realm of the bass is no time to be sporting a bright cap and a loud Tommy Bahama or Tori Richard aloha shirt. Wear drab garb and keep movements slow and tight. When possible, hug the shadows. This attention to detail can earn a few extra strikes on skittish fish.
Second, the angler afoot is quieter than the fisherman afloat. Well, this is assuming he doesn’t fall over a submerged log or bumble up the back of a slumbering alligator. Untimely interferences aside, each calculated step is virtually silent.
The banging, clanging, clunking boat cannot match the sly creep of a pair of boots amid brush-choked or weed-clogged quarters. The dip of a kayak paddle comes close but—Oops!—here comes a mutinous gust of wind.
The wader is planted, difficult to uproot by blustering weather. Conversely, the boater struggles to hold steady along a windward bank—and the exposed shorelines during mild weather often are best for aggressive feeding. Also a thought, the very chops and riffles that confound the boater can provide surface “cover” for the wader.
At best, having to reposition a wind-blown boat every few minutes to reach new casting water is a hassle.
Wind or no wind, the wader should have the ability to ease close, perhaps shading left or right to set up a high-percentage cast to a specific target. No rush, no panic; take the time to fine tune the delivery. And, as veteran bass anglers will agree, accurate presentations can be critical for covering ambush-oriented fish.
The boater bouncing by in the gusts may have to “chuck and chance it” with a marginal shot at long range during a fleeting window of opportunity. This random work might be satisfactory while drifting for specks and reds on Galveston Bay or the Laguna Madre, but maybe not so good when you miss by 10 feet the 10X circle holding a big bass.
Of course, wading has drawbacks. It’s not for everyone—or every situation.
The wader is severely limited to the amount of water within reach; therefore, the astute angler needs to study the available options and pick a shoreline ripe with fish-holding potential. This is assuming the bottom is reasonably firm, not a goo-pie quagmire awaiting the first step.
But being restricted to a small theater forces you to concentrate on covering the water, hitting every realistic target within reach. A particularly good-looking spot might be worth repeated casts, perhaps a lure change.
The determined wader has this ability, and by moving slowly and quietly you might be able to double-dip the same stretch.
For example, you can use a craw-type soft plastic or a shad-imitation spinnerbait to work down the bank, then rig with a frog-pattern topwater plug to retrace to the starting point. Shallow bass are opportunistic feeders and a different look might pull the trigger on “used” water.
But, as another negative, a careless step might carry into harm’s way. Unpleasant creatures thrive along the rims of bass water.
Sightings of snakes can be common on mild days—but most are non-venomous species. Innocent snakes outnumber by a huge margin the pit vipers. But, for sure, the dangerous cottonmouths and copperheads are native to the edges of ponds, lakes and sloughs of Texas.
Snakes usually are sighted on the banks, rather than in the water, so vigilance pays when stepping through brushy or marshy terrain. Shoreline logs or stumps, especially ones with scooped out bowls, sometimes are used as sunning perches.
Regardless of pedigree, the typical snake wants nothing to do with you. If a startled cottonmouth pops open its white jaws, it is not preparing to attack. It is in a defensive mode, proclaiming, “Here I am! Don’t tread on me!”
Give any snake of uncertain Identity a wide berth. It will either remain motionless, trying to stay undetected, or unravel in the opposite direction.
A giant alligator might be a different issue. Decades ago, attacks on humans were extremely rare but the rules of engagement seem to be changing. This no doubt is due to increased familiarity and interaction, especially in urban-type ponds and lakes. In my opinion, any small body of water known to harbor a resident jumbo—old “Fred” or “Brutus”— should be avoided.
The odds of being snatched by an alligator probably are less than being hit by a shark—or a bolt of lightning, for that matter. But if a swarthy, snuggly 10 or 12 footer is lurking within easy casting distance you might want to seriously reconsider those statistics. Towing a short stringer of twisting, flashing fish probably doesn’t help.
To my knowledge, I never have been in proximity to a large alligator while wading. But I would be remiss in not pointing out that the possibility of an aggressive encounter, however remote, does exist on some ponds and lakes.
Various infestations of insects can be an issue. Chief among them are fire ant beds along high banks and wasp nests in overhanging branches. Concerning the former, be careful where you stand or place any accessory gear; regarding the latter, look carefully before “busting the brush” or grabbing foliage for shoreline stability.
Certain water bugs or beetles can be annoying. Not being an entomologist, I have no idea what the hateful things are or whether they bite, sting or pinch—or all three at once—but the contact can be irritating. Incidentally, a pair of chest waders provides insulation from assorted riffraff, an overlooked plus for cool-weather fishing.
But, in the sum, the bass wader has less chance of a hostile encounter than his saltwater counterpart—no sharks, stingrays, jellyfish, or oyster reefs, not to mention risks of dreadful bacterial infection.
Fresh or salt, water safety always is a consideration. If you plan on wading more than a few steps from a reliable bank, a life jacket is smart insurance against a hat-floater channel. The pond wader does not have to contend with tidal currents or breaking waves or river flows but irregular bottom demands respect. And many freshwater impoundments have uncertain structure—more so than the typical shoreline of a coastal bay.
If nothing else, the proper wade-fishing vest provides pockets for stashing a small lure box or two—all you need for a short wade. And in our increasingly cluttered lives of pro-class, can’t-miss, must-have gadgets this simple and basic approach can be, literally, a refreshing change of pace.
Join a team of fisheries technicians as they perform a creel survey on Lake Conroe. Fisheries biologists doing creel surveys interview anglers, measure fish, and track the number of hours fished. These surveys help get information about the fishing quality and the health of fish populations in the lake.
—story by Joe Doggett