Fishing Secrets by Capt. Ron Presley
Wade Fishing with Capt. Marcia Foosaner
Capt. Marcia Foosaner is a well-known and experienced angler in the waters around St. Lucie Inlet. Her fishing is mostly on foot with fly rod in hand. In describing her fishing area she says, “Plenty of docks line the lagoon and the Saint Lucie River. They are true fish magnets.
There are some oyster bars to fish, but many have been destroyed by the water quality issues inherent in the area.” She adds that many of the previously fishy oyster bars are now covered over by sand from shifting currents, storms or strong tides. The remaining bars are only remnants and not viable as a primary fishing target although they will hold fish at times.
“One of the best things about this area is the fact that there are several dozen places one can just walk into the water from the roadside and catch fish,” says Captain Marcia. “This includes the beaches.”
The terrain under the surface of the flats changed dramatically in a month’s time with Hurricanes Frances and Jeanne according to Captain Marcia. Changes in the flats still occur, even without hurricanes, but normally those changes are gradual. Anglers should be aware of the possibility though, because shifting flats terrain will change the feeding pattern of fish. Only regular trips to the flats will keep the serious angler on fish. Sometimes fish can be found in the same spot for weeks, other times only days.
Turtle grass and eel grass are indigenous to area waters. The flat, strap-like blades of the turtle grass and the long bright green, ribbon like leaves of the eel grass provide nursery grounds for many species of fish. The actual amount of grass on the flats tends to vary with different environmental conditions. Captain Marcia says, “The amount of turtle and eel grass on the flats seems to be determined by our water quality. In the summer it is affected by lake water being dumped on us. In the winter there just seems to be a natural die-off leaving more of the sand exposed.” She says more sand on the flats is not a bad thing for winter fishing, but grass habitat is a desirable condition for the summer. “The channels and cuts around the flats become a mainstay for fish if our water temperatures drop during the winter.” Fish will stage in the deeper water and move to the flats to feed and warm themselves once the water temperatures have naturally warmed.
The abundance of fish and the availability of wading opportunities attract many fly casting anglers to this region of Florida’s east coast. Some don’t have boats and others simply leave them at home because they want to enjoy the experience of finding and catching quality fish on fly. “My absolute favorite way to fish the flats is on foot with a fly rod on the falling tide,” says Captain Marcia. Falling tides give fish fewer places to go. They are forced to seek holes, ditches, cuts, or channels adjacent to the flats. In shallow water the visibility is better and even in the deeper cuts and depressions fish will often be sighted moving or setting waiting for their next meal. “I love the hunt. Most of what I need is either in my pockets, in my wader pouch or tied to me.”
Wade fishing offers an alternative to fishing from a boat, an alternative that some say is more successful. Captain Marcia says the first and most important advantage of wade fishing is the silent approach it provides; the second is the low profile. Both allow the angler to get closer to the fish. “I’m talking about water that ranges from inches to 2 feet. I find and catch fish that have their backs out of the water they are in so shallow. I have nearly stepped on fish that people dream about catching. It’s crazy to try and fish these conditions any other way.”
Snook and trout are the most prevalent fish found while wade fishing the flats. “You would think they would always be sitting in holes, but they are not. They sit where they feel like sitting and like a bonefish, the snook will match terrain they are sitting on. I have seen 25 pound snook just vanish in front of me on the flats -- while I was looking at them. I find most of my snook setting high up on the grass.”
The key to wade fishing is focus, even when there are not a lot of fish being spotted. “Most anglers, including me, when looking for something to cast to might get complacent for lack of seeing any fish. Complacency is your worst enemy and it takes crazy amounts of discipline to walk around on a flat for hours in hopes of seeing a few fish.” Captain Marcia reminds wade angers not to start sloshing around, blind casting without a target or yelling to a companion on the water. “That fish you have been stalking for 30 minutes or more will bolt because of the noise and you will then know exactly where she was -- after the fact. Sometimes I think they even hear the fly and bolt.”
Making a bad cast and nearly hitting a fish on the head sometimes result in a strike, but that is not the norm. Captain Marcia says she may have done that about six times in her lifetime. On those occasions the fish may have struck out of anger or fright, but hitting a fish with the fly or lining one will not normally result in a hook up. She simply chalks those occasions up to fisherman’s luck when a lined fish does strike.
The ideal situation to Captain Marcia is to have a fish facing her straight on or at a slight angle. “We all know we can't have the perfectly positioned fish every time. I try to move to a more suitable location for a presentation if the fish will give me time, I don’t just cast in a hurry.”
One successful approach to fish on the flats includes looking things over calmly and making a decision on the best approach to each particular fish. “I often start by short casting and hope the fish wants it so badly that it comes after the fly. Unfortunately that is not the norm for a sitting fish. That approach is more successful if the fish is cruising.” Sometimes a cast needs to be long and beyond the fish so the fly can be stripped into the strike zone. “If I can get the fly about 8 to 12 inches in front of the fish without it spooking I can get a strike. I usually retrieve a fly slower rather than faster and sometimes barely move it at all.” She describes big snook as lazy and a slow moving fly can be the ticket to success.
Trout are more likely to be found in sand holes than snook, but her wading, fly fishing approach is basically the same for either fish. “I find big trout spookier than snook, but there really isn't a better way to approach them so I fish for them the same way.” One exception to her normal approach is when there are large schools of mullet mulling around on the flats. “I will fish mullet schools by casting randomly into the school.” That said, the strategy has three results, a strike, lining or hitting a fish, or no fish at all. She uses this random cast approach during low light conditions when the fish can’t normally be sighted. “I can't see them, but sense they are there by the behavior of the bait. Skittish bait often indicates the existence of predators near the school.” Still relying on patience and focus she always studies the bait school for some indication of the presence of fish before making a cast.
Capt. Marcia is not bashful about calling anglers and boaters out for rude and stupid actions. A boat on plane can run over some pretty shallow water and sometimes it seems they do it just because they can. The motive must be to save a few minutes by leaving the channel and taking a shortcut.
Imagine spending 20 to 30 minutes floating quietly into a fishing location at dawn, getting out of the boat, approaching your fishing hole and have someone come barreling through the flat at top speed. Or worse yet have someone pull up on the flat with engine running and throw a cast net over the bait pod you just spent time approaching with intentions of fishing. It is rude of the perpetrator and disheartening for the angler. “The fact is they are destroying good fishing spots and showing bad manners. Common sense could go a long way in making better fishing for everyone.”
Editors Note: This article is a selection from Ron Presley’s award winning book, “Fishing Secrets from Florida’s East Coast.” Many more details from Capt. Marcia on wade fishing can be found in the book. Examples include accessing a flat by boat; simplifying fly casting; summer vs. winter tactics; line selection; fly selection; tarpon on the beach and more. In addition to Marcia’s excellent insight, more fishing tactics from 27 other expert anglers are included. Both “Fishing Secrets from Florida’s East Coast” and Ron’s first book, “Secrets from Florida’s Master Anglers” make the perfect gift for any angler. [click to Amazon purchase]