Going hip deep in the fish

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Associated Press

Posted on May 17, 2010 at 8:08 AM

Updated Wednesday, May 19 at 8:08 AM

HACKBERRY, La. (AP) — When it comes to wade fishing in southwestern Louisiana, there's no doubt that being tall helps, and height is certainly not an issue for Guy Stansel of Hackberry Rod and Gun.

"That's the draw of wade fishing, to be close to the water," Stansel, an avid wade fisher, said as he drove his boat south from the lodge's dock.

It was one of the those last cool spring mornings before the torrential heat wave of the summer sets in, and Stansel pulled us into Joe's Cove just as the sun was peeking over the horizon.

"You can wade fish anytime, but it's usually best in the winter," Stansel said. "I like wade fishing in the winter because it's a great way to catch a really big trout. The rest of the year, I prefer fishing from a boat."

Stansel rigged up our lines with Corky Fat Boys, and we pulled on our waders, snapped on our wading belts, a must to hold your rod, tackle and tools, and climbed down the boat's ladder and into the lake.

"We'll work this area until we get down to the end over there," Stansel said as he pointed to the south end of the cove. "Just don't walk too far out."

I'm between 5-foot-6 and 5-10, depending on which pair of rubber boots or stilettos I'm wearing, so I made sure to keep my short stack self in the shallow water.

As the wind whipped about, I waited for a rogue wave to knock me and the my not-too-cheap camera, which was strapped to my waders and shoved down the front of the bib, into the water.

"The fish always move better when you have moving water, and wading is better on a high tide," Stansel said. "Make a long cast, work it slow, and walk slow, covering all the water."

And so our nice, peaceful and relaxing stroll began. I love the fast and furious action of working the birds in Turners, but there is something to be said for the leisurely amble and slow working of the bait that comes with wade fishing.

As Stansel and I walked parallel, with him anywhere between 20-50 yards diagonally ahead of me, we casted our lines as far as we could in the slightly muddy water and slowly worked our lines.

"Work them slow when the water temp is 60 degrees or less," Stansel said. "When the water warms up, you can work the bait a bit faster and get more bites."

In addition to Corky's, Stansel also recommend using Mirrolure's Catch 2000 when wade fishing.

Occasionally a mullet would leap out of the water, and I continued to cast my line, getting a few bites, but not hooking anything.

About 20 minutes into our stroll, Stansel caught a small speckled trout, too small to keep, and he tossed it back into the water.

After casting for about an hour, we had reached the south end without any keepers, and we climbed into the boat with our muddy waders, smearing dark muck all over the inside of Stansel's white boat.

"In the winter, fish will get in the soft mud at times, but I like wade fishing on hard sand bottoms because it's easier on my back," Stansel said as we headed to the west bank of West Cove.

We soon hopped out of the boat into the slightly muddy water, within sight of the Blue Goose Walking Trail observation tower on Sabine National Wildlife Refuge.

"There's a ditch about 20 yards out from the bank," Stansel said. "The fish like to get in there and hang out."

The muddy water there proved to be our undoing, and we left the area after only about 30 minutes and just a few bites.

A few minutes later, we arrived at the east bank of West Cove, near the ship channel.

"This is the last spot we'll hit today," Stansel said. "But Turners Bay and the south bank of Big Lake are also good spots for wade fishing."

As Stansel and I made our way out into the water, crab boats puttered around in the distance.

"This spot has the best bottom," Stansel said. "It's kind of level, like a parking lot, and easy to walk on."

And a great bottom wasn't all it had.

In about 30 minutes Stansel's stringer had a speck and two reds on it. I, on the other hand, was getting a few bites, and Stansel soon sauntered over to swap my bait to another color Corky. As Stansel changed my bait, his stringer apparently decided I was some form of structure, and the fish swam around me, looping me up in the string.

"I hope to catch more big trout when wading most days, but I can't seem to get away from the reds because they cover the shore lines," Stansel said. "The best tip for wade fishing is to find the clearest water you can with the most bait fish."

Stansel made his way back to his hot spot, and I continued casting to no avail. He eventually called me over to take his place as he made his way farther down the bank. About 20 minutes passed, and as the sun got higher, Stansel made his way back toward me.

"I think the fish are hating me today," I called out.

But apparently the fish heard me, and one of them started yanking my line out. As the fish fought, I could tell it was no red or speck, and I silently prayed it was not some huge black drum.

I finally reeled the fish in and got a glimpse of a wide, flat, white belly under the surface of the water a flounder.

"Okay, I was so not expecting that to be on the end of my line," I said to Stansel as he unhooked the fish and added it to the stringer. "How often do you catch flounder while wade fishing?"

"Not often, but it does happen," Stansel said as we made our way back toward the boat.

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