Many of our lakes are at their highest and muddiest during January, but that's no reason not to cast about in them for bass. (January 2007)
Bass move tight to shallow cover when Bayou State lakes turn muddy in January.
Photo by Chris Ginn.
Our first reaction when the power goes off in our homes at night is to feel blindly for something familiar. Whether it's the closest wall, the bedroom dresser or a kitchen counter, getting next to something provides some sense of comfort, and it allows us to get our bearings. From that point, we can pretty much get around our homes by taking small steps and feeling with our hands.
The same thing happens to largemouth bass when a lake gets muddy. January floodwaters often muddy the water so much that bass must feel as if somebody turned out the lights. Their first reaction is to get next to something familiar.
An old bass fishing adage says that when the water is really muddy, you've got to put your bait between the bark and the tree trunk if you want to get bit. There's a lot of wisdom in that saying, because when it's really muddy, bass often get so close to wood cover that their noses are literally pressed against it. The only thing that they're going to bite is something that hits them on the nose.
Don't let the potential for a tough bite scare you away from the lake when it's muddy, though. Because of their proximity to heavy wood cover, bass can actually be easier to catch in muddy water. Here are a few Louisiana lakes that can get pretty muddy in January, along with some expert tips on how to catch bass when they can't see.
To keep his customers happy, Russ McVey of Southpaw Guide Service has to coax bites during the toughest of times at this venue near Haughton. That's why he actually looks for muddy water during January.
"I would rather fish muddy water when it's cold," said McVey. "Some anglers might not realize it, but muddy water warms faster than clear water. Therefore, there's often an awesome midday bite in shallow water after the sun has had a chance to beat down for a while. Muddy water will also hold its warmth longer."
Cypress trees dominate Lake Bistineau, and McVey expects bass to be as close to their trunks as they can get when the water is muddy. Bass that live around boat docks will also pull closer to the pilings and any cover underneath. McVey has a couple of tricks for catching bass from each type of site.
"Bass won't only get closer to cover when it's muddy," he said, "they'll also move shallower. And since muddy water usually comes with a little current at Bistineau, it sets up perfect for fishing a spinnerbait around the cypress tree clumps and swell-butts (isolated cypress trees with big bottoms). The fish will suspend on the downcurrent side of the trees, and they'll tear up a chartreuse spinnerbait with a big Colorado blade."
Another technique that McVey relies on in muddy water involves pitching a soft plastic or a jig big enough to move a bunch of water. One of his best muddy-water baits is a dark colored 7/16-ounce Rattling Southpaw Custom Jig with a crawfish trailer in shades of black, blue, red, brown and orange. A big Texas-rigged creature bait is his second choice.
"I'm looking for something that will make a lot of commotion to help the fish find my bait," he noted. "And this is the only situation where I fish a rattle on my jig, because the bass rely more on sound in this situation than they normally do."
McVey pointed to Mill Creek, the Hog Island area, Bossier Slough and the area around State Park No. 2 as excellent muddy-water hotspots.
Not too many Louisiana lakes get as muddy as does Lake D'Arbonne, in Farmerville, and January -- a month during which the lake looks as if it should be plowed rather than fished -- sees the height of it. The chocolate-milk look to the water doesn't scare away veteran anglers, though. In fact, D'Arbonne veteran Mike Owens likes the mud.
"I look for muddy water fish to be tight to cover and in shallow water," he said. "That's why I typically go up either the Little D'Arbonne arm or the Corny arm when I find muddy conditions. There's lots of cypress trees and buckbrush up both. If I see muddy water at the ramp, I also expect to find current up those two arms."
Faced with an early-morning choice, Owens most often chooses to go up the Little D'Arbonne arm to an area known as the Mixing Hole, or a little farther north to a backwater called Middle Fork. Both areas, loaded with brush and cypresses, have current flowing through them.
"I like to find water pulling around the trees," Owens said. "The bass are already going to be close to the tree because of the muddy water, and the current just solidifies their position. These fish are suckers for a rattling black/blue jig or a black neon tube with a rattle inserted into the cavity. You can also pull out on the brush and sling a spinnerbait around it."
If the upper section of the lake fails to yield results, Owens will try the big lake below the Highway 33 bridge. His most productive tactic involves fishing a Carolina-rigged lizard at the end of small boat ramps. "Muddy water holds its warmth better than clear water," he said, "but a combination of muddy water and concrete makes the surrounding water the warmest in the lake. Bass will often get in the little wash at the ends of the heavily used ramps. Some big bass will lie right in the bottom of that hole."
While most river anglers combat muddy water by leaving it in search of clear water, the Pearl River in southeast Louisiana offers no such luxury: When the Pearl River gets muddy, it's muddy all the way.
"There's really only one or two places where you can get out of the mud," said Covington bass pro Jason Pittman, "but the fish aren't in them anyway. Since the Pearl drains most of the North Shore, any rain there or in southwest Mississippi is going to make it our way. It may not be muddy on the rise, but the mud is usually only about a day behind."
According to Pittman, the bass can be caught in these conditions if anglers slow down and realize that they've basically got to knock the fish in the head to get a bite. The only two options are either to fight the strong current in the West Pearl or to fish the slack, muddy water to the east.
"Look for fish to be thick on the outside bends," said Pittman. "These fish have yet to leave the river to find a place to spawn, and they'll eat tandem blade spinnerbaits with an orange lead blade or a black/blue jig with a bright trailer
like chartreuse pumpkin."
Pittman's most favored muddy-water areas: the cuts and sloughs below Highway 90.
Muddy water at Toledo Bend is a tale of two sides: The northern part of the lake above Pendleton Bridge can get extremely dingy; the creeks on the southern side of the bridge hardly ever do. This is due in large part to all the grass that filters the water as it moves southward.
"Most people try to get away from the muddy water if they can," said Toledo Bend veteran Dennis Tietje, "but the muddy water is often where the biggest stringers come from during the early part of the year. Most people head down to the clear water, so the muddy water in places like San Miguel, Patroon, San Patricio, La Nana and Converse are less pressured when it's muddy."
Tietje remarked that while he might start the day fishing a big soft plastic like a Brush Hog, a big craw worm or a Sweet Beaver, he changes over to a Rat-L-Trap sometime around noon, after the water has warmed a bit. His most profitable colors are variations of orange or deep red.
"By that time the fish have moved off the cover by 3 or 4 feet," he offered. "The main thing is your presentation has to be either really loud or really slow. I like to key on fallen timber, big standing timber or thick brush if it's accessible. Leaning logs seem to be prime muddy-water cover."
Tietje begins his muddy water search halfway back in the aforementioned creeks. The farther he goes back in the creek, the muddier and the less worthwhile the water.
"You've got to remember, too, that muddy water fish will get shallow even if it's cold," Tietje concluded. "If you've been catching fish in 10 feet, and your area gets muddy, get up there and try in 2 feet of water. You don't have to go searching for clear water, because those fish will still bite in the mud -- if you make the proper adjustments."