November 21, 2017
If you’re a typical crappie angler, you probably prefer fishing waters that are colored a bit, but still clear enough to allow two to three feet of vertical visibility. But how do you adjust your tactics if conditions are less than favorable? What happens if you find your favorite lake swollen and muddy with winter rains and run-off? Do you change your fishing strategy, or simply go home and wait until conditions are better?
The sad fact is that crappie fishermen seldom have opportunities to enjoy their sport under ideal water conditions. Yet few anglers know how to overcome the problems presented by waters that are too turbid.
Fortunately, crappie usually exhibit specific behavior patterns in response to different degrees of water color, and the angler who knows what to expect will have little trouble catching fish even when the water is extremely discolored. If not handled properly, muddy water can ruin an outing. But if you know how to find and entice these panfish in silty environs, you may catch more fish than you would in clear waters.
Understanding the Effects of Muddy Water
All sorts of crappie waters experience high levels of turbidity. Some stay muddy year-round; others get muddy only after periods of rain and run-off, or during the turbulence of fall turnover.
When you first confront muddy-water conditions, you may wonder if it’s worthwhile to try fishing. Rest assured however, crappie don’t quit feeding because the water lacks clarity. Crappie in turbid water eat as often as when water is clearer. To catch them however, you must use special fishing tactics.
Muddy water is like a night with dense fog. Visibility is extremely limited. Just as ship captains must rely on radar rather than sight to navigate under such conditions, sight becomes of secondary importance to crappie. As visibility decreases, the fish rely more on sound, vibrations and odor to find their meals.
Muddy-water crappie also are likely to be in shallower habitats because oxygen levels are better in the shallows. Additionally, muddy-water crappie usually hold very tight against woody cover features. This apparently gives them a reference point and a sense of security when visibility is poor. They’re usually mere inches away from features such as snags, stumps, stick-ups and the like.
Keep in mind, too, fishing for muddy-water crappie may actually be best on sunny days. Under other conditions, the early morning and evening hours may be best. But in opaque waters, midday hours may be most productive.
One Angler’s Solutions
Arkansas angler Steve Filipek recently retired after a long career as a fisheries biologist with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. He’s tackled muddy-water fishing conditions often during a lifetime of crappie fishing. He notes that crappie prefer the least muddy water they can find, and looking for more favorable water conditions is the first step to finding fish.
“If the water I’m fishing is muddy, the first thing I do is look for places where the water is just a little clearer – up in creeks, the backs of coves, around beds of green vegetation, places like that,” he says. “Crappie are sight feeders, and even the slightest bit of clearer water improves the chance of them seeing your bait.
“You also should remember that crappie hold much tighter to cover when the water’s muddy,” Filipek reports. “Most of us fish an area quickly, then move to the next spot. But in muddy water, you have to be more patient. Cover the whole 360 degrees around that stump or treetop, and do it much slower than you normally would. Work your bait close to the cover, work it slowly, and be thorough.”
Though primarily a jig fisherman, Filipek also keeps a supply of minnows for muddy-water fishing. “It’s a good idea to carry live minnows on all your trips,” he says. “In muddy water, crappie can home in on a minnow’s scent and vibrations. A jig tipped with a minnow may out-produce a plain jig, so I often try that if fishing is tough.”
As water visibility decreases, crappie move to shallow water. According to Filipek, this is another fact many crappie anglers overlook.
“In muddy lakes, I’ve seen crappie so shallow their fins were coming out of the water,” he says. “So I concentrate my fishing close to the banks.
“Catching crappie in muddy water isn’t as hard as you’d think,” he continues. “In fact, I’m not sure it affects fish as much as it affects fishermen. Be patient, present your lure right in front of them, and you’ll usually find crappie eager to bite.”
Editor’s Note: Keith Sutton is the author of The Crappie Fishing Handbook, a 198-page, full-color book full of crappie-fishing tips for beginners and experts alike. To order an autographed copy, send a check or money order for $29.45 to C&C Outdoor Productions, 15601 Mountain Dr., Alexander, AR 72002. For credit card and PayPal orders, visit www.catfishsutton.com.