March 22, 2016
Pretty? Not really. Beautiful? No doubt!
From an aesthetics standpoint, the chocolaty inflow was anything but lovely. My friend and I saw beauty, though, because we were quite certain the bass would be stacked in the dirty water, tight to cover that would provide obvious casting targets, and the fish would readily ambush any offerings they could find.
Stained water is simply a part of spring fishing in many waterways. In fact, some rivers and lakes (or parts of them) turn downright dirty after every big winter storm system. That's not all bad. The added color does create challenges, and undoubtedly you must match your approach to conditions. However, limitations for the fish force them to behave in specific ways. That makes them more predictable, which you can use to your advantage.
Of course, it's probably worth noting that terms like "stained" and "dirty" are relative, and water that would be considered off-colored on one lake might be seen as fairly clear on another. Shifts in bass behavior tend to be relative to the norm for any waterway. And, of course, some waters stay pretty dirty all the time.
It's also worth noting that most rivers and lakes have some sort of "muddy" threshold, where the water is simply too dirty for fish to go to the trouble of looking for food. Unfortunately, that threshold would be difficult to quantify because it varies substantially from one lake to another. Current and water level, which often change with water color, also play a part in the equation, and like the dirtiness, a certain amount is generally good, but too much water can push fish into hiding.
Common effects of water getting dirty include the fish moving shallower and holding tighter to cover. Generally speaking, the dirtier the water, the shallower the bass stray and the tighter they hold to brush, stumps, rocks, dock supports, etc.
They also become a bit less cautious and will readily ambush prey, but only if it comes fairly close. The bass tend to be extra-willing to bite if a lake has been dirty for a few days because they still must eat, and so they become opportunistic. That said, most fish are less likely to chase anything very far when visibility is low, again because they don't want to stray from protective cover.
The fish's total aggressiveness depends on large part on the water temperature and especially the water temperature trend. If the mud is delivered by a cold early-season rain, causing the water temperature to drop, the fish move pretty slowly. They'll eat, but they won't react to things moving quickly. If the inflow is warmer than the lake's current surface temperature, or if the particle-filled water has been baking in the sun for a couple of days, the fish may be fairly aggressive.
MUDDY WATER OFFERINGS
When dirty water prevails, making both food and danger sources tough to see, bass rely more heavily on other senses, especially hearing and their closely related ability to feel and track vibrations with their lateral lines. Most of the best lures for dirty-water fishing, therefore, either make sound with rattles or clackers, or they push a lot of water and create vibrations. A few of the best types of moving baits for drawing reaction strikes are wide-kicking crankbaits, single Colorado blade spinnerbaits and vibrating jigs.
For lures that move along at a steady clip, the fish react and attack when the baits pass close. For jigs and soft-plastic lures, scent can provide an important attractant. A bass won't chase anything very far in dirty water, but if it catches a whiff of something fishy that is just out of sight, it might move toward that scent just enough to investigate. If the scent trail leads to something that looks like an easy meal, that fish will eat it.
The most productive colors for dirty water typically fall into one of two distinct categories. Dark colors, such as blue, purple and especially black, offer heavy contrast and remain visible when lighter hues disappear in the mud. At the same time, ultra-bright colors, such as the loudest possible pink or chartreuse, can be seen from a bit farther away than most other colors in dirty water. Of course, the best of both worlds, color-wise, is a chartreuse crankbait with a black back, or a dark purple worm with a bright chartreuse tail.
DIRTY WATER STRATEGIES
To catch bass from dirty water, the first things you have to do are to find the dirty water and to figure out where the fish should be. When the mud is localized, possibly caused by inflows of muddy water out of creeks or rivers, the fish commonly congregate in the dirty water, and so where you find one bass, you might end up finding a bunch. Often the heaviest stain will begin right at an inflow, where it will be super-concentrated. It will spread downstream but will become somewhat dissipated.
Of course, when the mud gets too heavy and the dirtiest water seems devoid of fish, finding water that's just slightly clearer can be the key. If fresh mud is still coming in, that may mean moving away from the mud source. If a couple of days have passed, it might mean moving as far up as you can go to where the sediment has begun settling.
If there's current, pay close attention to any hard eddies just out of the current. Bass will face into the current and be close to the swift water, ever on the outlook for food being washed downstream. However, they usually stay in eddies of trees, roots, rocks, cuts in the bank or whatever else, if any are available, instead of being right in the current
If the dirty water came from a major water influx that also raised the water level, which often is the case during the spring, look for fish in freshly flooded cover. When the water rises quickly, freshly flooded bushes and trees often have food nearby. They also typically provide the shallowest available cover
Newly flooded or not, shallow cover will hold the most fish in dirty water. If your offerings aren't bumping stumps or dock supports or getting among branches and other cover, you're probably not in the strike zone.
A final important and overlooked way to maximize the amount of time your offering stays in the strike zone is simply to keep the boat positioned close to the cover. The dirty water protects you from spooking the fish by being seen, so you can afford to work close. Keep the boat tight to the cover and make short casts or pitches, and you can keep your lure in the strike zone