John Mathews Wade Report


February 7, 2024 – Shad and Freshwater

I’ve not been wading much as of late, either in the marsh, the sounds, rivers or creeks, it’s just been too chilly and too windy. My focus recently has been on two perennial favorites which the onset of Spring always brings-the yearly shad run and the spawning of freshwater species.

First the shad run. If you’ve ever fished one of the many east coast springtime shad runs you know how much fun it can be but you’ve probably never considered sunny Floridia as having a shad run, but it does and in the Saint Johns river. The Saint Johns rises just west of Stuart FL and meanders at a very leisurely pace some 325 miles north, through numerous lakes, until it finds the Atlantic ocean at Jacksonville Fl. For most of the river a boat is needed. However, when water levels are right, there is a 50 mile section just East of Orlando where there are several accessible, wadable, and productive sections of the river. Currently, water levels are too high, about 5 feet at the USGS gauge just up river of Lake Harney. Water levels are dropping but need to be in the 2-3 foot range in order to access and wade the river safely. At current rate of decreasing flow the river levels should be right about the end of February. I fished the Saint Johns for the first time last year and had an exceptionally good experience, lots of American shad on the 5 weight in a very unique, near tropical setting. With this fishery just four hours down I-95 and with little more cost than lodging and food it’s a great way to kick off early spring fishing. For more information, here are a couple of links for greater insights into this fishery: On Face Book find the Shad on the Fly page. The admins of this page are dialed into the Saint John’s fishery. Shad on the fly.com is a blog style site complete with all sorts of insightful St Johns reports and how to, and how not to, information. A Goggle or Bing search for: “shad fishing the Saint Johns River” will produce a world of information sources. If a guided trip is your cup of tea, you’ll also find guides with this search. A You Tube search will turn up a host of informative videos. If you’re planning on going, I highly suggest that you get and read this book: Wade Fly Fishing, The Upper Saint Johns River Basin for American Shad by Luc Desjarlais, $19.95 on Amazon

Now, the springtime freshwater spawn. In just a few weeks, the springtime spawn will begin in the numerous freshwater lakes and canals we have here in the Lowcountry. If you live in a community with access to lakes and canals, be sure to get out and fish both the spawning bream and largemouth bass. Topwater action can be off the charts. But, if your neighborhood does not have a lake or canal, there are public options. One of these options is the lake at Burton Wells Park. Until this year 75% of this 5 acre lake’s banks were overgrown and virtually inaccessible even for spin rod fishers. However, any area that could be accessed produced good catches of largemouth bass on both topwater and subsurface flies and lures. I made a recon trip to the lake on 4 Feb and, much to my surprise, found the lake’s shorelines had been clear cut to waterline. With the exception of some larger trees in your back cast the entire shoreline of this lake is now accessible and fishable. Wading is not permitted but wading is not necessary.

We’re just sixty days or so away from the earnest return of reds to the tidal marshes. Get your gear and your casting up to speed, it won’t be long now.

John Mathews


30 November, 2023 – Trout Season is Upon Us!

While I have not waded a tidal marsh looking for tailing reds in awhile I expect the that recent cold weather has sent the fiddler crabs underground till it warms up again, and it will warm up again.

My focus has been on creeks both by day and by night.

Water temps are in the lower to mid sixties. The fish are slowing down as is their digestion rate. Shrimp and baitfish are not as plentiful as they were just a few weeks ago but he fish I’m catching are feeding aggressively, often hitting the fly as soon as it hits the water.

At night, I’ve fished under the lights of a dock. Catches are generally better on an outgoing tide but I’ve also had good success on incoming tides. Seems the bigger the tides the better and the first couple of hours of a tide are the best. Two to three hours into the tide and the fish get their fill and the bite tapers off.

Today, just before sunset, I fished a tidal hole just off Battery Creek. This hole is familiar to me and I’ve learned that it fishes best on the last hour or so of the outgoing and the first hour of the incoming tides. Today, the low was at ~1700 hrs. At this phase of the tide the fish tend to congregate in the shallower portions of the hole. In just thirty five minutes I brought to hand twenty four trout and one flounder. At one point I went nine for nine cast and had several other three or four fish cast and catch sequences.

Small baitfish patterns, three inches or so, are working well with dark gray/black over white or off white tied sparsely with bead chain or small eyes-not too much flash.

Interestingly, I’ve had some nice table fare size bluefish mixed in the nighttime trout and several have come home with me for dinner. A fourteen inch bluefish on a 6# rod, in current, is fun.

While water temps are a bit chilly to wet wade long term, lower sixties, they are still comfortable in waders and no gloves were need. If it is chilly, take several pairs of gloves and change out of them as they become soaked and your hands get cold. I always have a gallon size baggie inside of my jacket to put the wet gloves in. Be sure to remember to rinse all of the fish slime off of them before putting them away. Chemical hand warmers are good to have and use on the really chilly and windy days.

Remember, wade and fish safely, go with a buddy, don’t become an evening news item or a statistic for DHEC or the CDC.

John Mathews

September, 2023 – Two Evenings of Wading

The best time of the wading year is upon us. From now till mid December, or even later, tides and weather are near perfect. The reds will be actively feeding to fatten up before moving into and with their open water schools for the winter months.

This reports covers two evening and about 3 hours of adequate water time for reds to be present. I encountered 3 reds in a small area that is the easiest and most high trafficked area of this tidal marsh. While not great, having a red an hour essentially swim by me in a marsh is generally a good evening of wading.

September 11th and 12 gave us two evenings of excellent tides at and just after sundown, I waded both.

September 11th the tide, 7.8ft, was high at 7:45pm, sunset was at 7:45pm. Following a series of thunder storms, the winds were light enough that the gnats were a problem. I arrived and posted up in one place between the terminus of two tidal creeks about 90 minutes before the high tide. Bait fish and grass shrimp were quite active but by 7:15 I had seen no reds. I waded 200 yards along a tall grass line, saw plenty of bait but no reds so I reversed and waded back to my original posting location, still nothing but bait. I then ventured to the opposite side of one of the feeder creeks and spotted a tailer-it turned out to be a sheaphead.
By 7:45 darkness was encroaching and was amplified by gathering storm clouds. As I made my way out of the marsh I glimpsed a red’s tail, he was on the move. I led him, made the cast and whacked him in the head.


NOTES: Two items: I saw less than a half dozen fiddler crabs on all of my walk to the fishing grounds, they were non-existent. On my way out at darkness, I saw maybe a dozen crabs. Interestingly, laughing gulls were flocked up in the marsh and were actively flying over the marsh waters trying to catch bait fish, something I’ve never seen before. These birds are mostly chum eaters, not live bait catchers.

September 12th the tide, 8.0 ft, was high at 8:30pm, about 30 minutes past darkness but would provide adequate water levels for reds to enter the marsh from about 7:15pm till dark. I arrived at the same location as the previous night at 7:00pm and posted up. Winds were 5-10 out of the SE but of no real issue. By 7:40, again, plenty of bait action but no reds. As I began to move in the direction of wading the tall grass line from the night before, a red tail pops up, disappears and pops up again. I made a cast and he disappears with no signs of having been spooked. A minute later he pops up 20 feet away. I move into position and make a cast, he disappears again. Two minutes later he pops up again some 40 feet away. Again, I move to position, make the cast and he disappears again never to be seen again. This fish showed no signs of being spooked but was searching for forage and finding none. As I moved down the tall grass line another red pops up within cast distance. I made the cast and he disappears and essentially repeats the first reds forage habits till finally disappearing totally. Neither of these fish were acting like Tailer or grazers they seemed to be searching in a some what frantic manner for forage. Water levels for both were about knee deep. Ten minutes of wading later with no reds spotted I began the 300 yard wade out of the marsh before total darkness.
Only one other fisherman was seen.

NOTES: Again, I saw no fiddler crabs on the way into the marsh or in the marsh nor any other types of crabs. On my way out I saw less than a half dozen crabs and few signs of mud/soil being pushed up from crab burrows. Something is going on with the crabs. The gulls were again present but in fewer numbers and not working the marsh for food. All in all, both evenings were about as good a wading/fishing conditions as one can ask for.

John Mathews