Clear-water fish, regardless of the target species, provide a special challenge to anglers, but they can be taken with crafty tackle selection and tactics. To be successful in clear waters, attention should focus on all tackle, fishery and environmental parameters as well as specific lure appearance and water-specific techniques.
While muddy water fish are primarily keying in on the artificial lure’s action, fish in clear water are usually more influenced by the shape, size and coloration of their newfound “forage.”
Selection of the right lure in clear water situations is very important. A life-like artificial lure that is realistic in all details will attract fish under the toughest fishing conditions. In such situations, plugs and soft plastic baits that most closely approximate the prevalent live forage will usually produce best. Natural pattern lures that imitate shad, shiners, sunfish, perch, crustacean, insect larva such as hellgrammites and/or other forage in coloration, profile and even action are especially productive in especially clear waters.
In clear waters, natural baitfish give off flashes when moving through the aquatic environment. Shad or shiner finishes are popular fare to toss because they give off a fairly-realistic baitfish “flash” when retrieved. Pearl, silver and chrome which easily reflect light are highly productive lure colors for many anglers who frequent clear waters.
The shad’s silver-pearl scales are difficult to copy in a lure’s finish. They tend to blend into their primary environment, open water, but when the forage moves into areas with cover, their presence is easily detected. Silver-sided lures are, thus, very productive in clear waters with heavy cover.
Many manufacturers produce a replica that closely resembles a real crayfish and reddish brown, orange, greenish gray and dark brown are all stimulating colors to clear water fish because they are the hues of the crayfish clan. Matching the color and size of the crustacean in the particular waters you are fishing is the key to catching more fish. If the forage size and color is unknown, stick to a dark brown in a smaller version. Most forage in clear water fisheries are smaller in size, so downsizing lure size may be more effective.
In addition to lure size, other tackle considerations for gin-clear waters include line visibility and terminal tackle. It is usually wise to employ low-diameter, clear lines such as a fluorocarbon and minimize use of snaps, snap swivels, weights and other terminal tackle. Various finesse rigs with light hooks, jig heads and minimal weights and ultralight tackle are also very effective in clear waters.
Obviously clear waters often provide excellent night fishing, low light and windy day opportunities when underwater visibilities are more limited. Clear waters are often born in rocky, sandy or highly vegetated environments and as such may dictate the type of predominate forage to be found.
They also may help an angler identify prime casting targets (pockets behind boulders or aquatic plant beds) for their often-long casts as well as help with angler or boat positioning. Smart clear water anglers will use and blend in with the terrain in a stealthy approach that’s helpful to success.
Other tips for prime productivity in clear waters include wearing clothes that blend in with the environment, keeping a low profile by wading, kneeling or using float tubes or kayaks, making long casts and fast retrieves when possible. Using “quieter” lures - those without rattles or other noise-making features and imparting a swimming or gliding action rather than crazy antics to the artificial may help you take the challenge out of clear water catching.