If you’re a swimmer, water skier or diver, you’reprobably thrilled when you can enjoy your pastime in a sparkling clear body ofwater. If you enjoy bass fishing, too, however, you also know clear water canbe a despicable spoiler of angling fun. Clear water is the bass angler’s bane,and unless you know how to overcome the problems it presents, you can face manyfishless hours.
To learn clear-water bassing tactics, we must firstknow how to determine what constitutes clear water. An often-used rule of thumbis to lower a white jig into the water on a sunny day. If you can still see thejig at a depth of six feet or more, consider the water to be clear. If the jigvanishes between two to six feet, the water is colored or stained. The water ismuddy or dark if the lure disappears at two feet or less.
Clear waters may be ponds, streams, lakes, bayous orquarries. Many are drinking-water clear year-round; others clear up only duringthe low-rainfall periods of summer and winter. Spring rains and runoff, as wellas the turbulence of fall turnover, tend to discolor the water during thosetimes, but in between, the water becomes virtually or entirely transparent. Unfortunately,it’s during these “in between” times that bass become more difficult to catch,even without the additional hindrance of ultra-clear waters.
To better understand those effects of clear water onbass behavior, location and feeding strategies, let’s use a weather analogy. Clearwater is like a cloudless, sunny day when visibility is almost unrestricted. Underthis condition, bass rely heavily on sight to find prey. They can see yourofferings and will readily chase lures. Light penetration is good, so weedsgrow deeper, and oxygen is found farther down. Consequently, bass often aredeeper as well.
Under clear skies with a bright sun, bass favor darkerwaters for ambushing food and hiding from predators. During daylight hours,they are more likely to be in cover that provides shade. They feed more arounddawn and dusk. Feeding at night is common, and fish will be more active oncloudy, overcast days. Bass also roam more in clear waters and are more easilyspooked by careless anglers.
When seeking clear-water bass, the careful, quietapproach usually produces more fish. Movements should be slow and deliberate. Planyour boating route to take advantage of shoreline cover for camouflage. Wearingshades of light blue or gray helps you blend with the sky. Only your baitshould be seen by the bass, not you.
Fishing during limited light periods is the key tosuccess on many clear waters. In early morning and late afternoon, lightpenetration is minimal, and fish may move into forage-filled shallows to feed. Cloudydays can be good for many hours of successful clear-water bassing, and duringthe heat of summer, many bass fans enjoy night-fishing. During low-lightperiods, you also minimize the problem of spooking fish.
It’s usually difficult to catch clear-water basswhen fishing too close. Long casts are important, so fish with a combo capableof tossing a lightweight lure several yards.
Using light line helps gain extra yardage on yourcasts. It’s also an effective way to entice more strikes from finicky bass. Thediameter of light line is smaller, so the line is more difficult for fish todetect. Less line resistance means deeper running lures as well.
The habitat being fished is a definite considerationin determining the line size to use in clear waters. Where cover is dense, 10-or 12-pound-test line may be as light as you dare go. But on a deep,cover-barren reservoir, the choice might be 8-, 6-, or even 4-pound-test forbest action. You also may want to use clear or low-visibility line to give youan edge, particularly during bright days. Line considerations are extremelyimportant in a crystal-clear environment where bass look closely at prey beforeattacking.
The enticements you use are another importantconsideration under clear-water conditions. When presented naturally, livebaits are by far the best choice in transparent waters; there’s nothing phonyfor bass to observe. Knowing the predominant forage in the water you’re fishingdictates what you should use. Live crawfish, minnows, waterdogs (salamanders)and night crawlers are among the best.
If you prefer using artificials, stick to thesmaller versions. A 6-inch plastic worm may outperform a 10-inch worm in clearwater, and likewise, a 1/4-ounce spinnerbait will probably work better than a3/4-ounce spinnerbait. Terminal tackle like swivels and sinkers should beavoided altogether if possible.
Lures can be retrieved faster in clear waters, oftentriggering impulse strikes. If bass appear aggressive, use a rapid retrieve andactive bait. A flashy crankbait that darts side to side will often draw aresponse from a bass several feet away. Natural-looking artificials thatresemble small crayfish, shad, worms, grubs or other forage can also beeffective. Chartreuse, white, silver and other light-colored lures seem to beproductive when fishing sunlit areas, but when fishing shady or stained water,darker colored lures may be more appropriate.
One way successful bass anglers cope withultra-clear water is fishing deeper structure and cover. No matter how clearthe water may seem, it still cuts light penetration, and at a depth of 20 feetor more, light may be sufficiently reduced that it doesn’t disturb bass. Inextreme cases, light penetration may extend 30 feet or more, and bass will dropto even deeper water to escape the harsh rays of the sun.
You can fish deep-water areas by castingfast-sinking lures from a distance. Or position your boat so you can work aspoon, grub, worm, vibrating plug, live bait or other offering using a vertical“lift-drop” presentation.
If deep-water angling isn’t your cup of tea, don’tfret. You can probably still catch bass in shallow-water haunts if you canlocate shady cover. Virtually anything that casts a shadow is potentiallyproductive, though objects that provide shade throughout the entire day arebest. Boat docks are among the most productive clear-water bass fishinghotspots, especially those built close to the water’s surface. Dense stands offlooded timber and logs are also good, as are thick beds of lily pads, man-madebrush piles, hollow cypress trees, flooded thickets, channels beneath bridges,underwater ledges and the back ends of wooded coves.
When fishing shady cover, position yourself with thesun at your back. In clear water, bass will be facing away from the sun, andwith your boat set up in this manner, your casts will land beyond the bass, andthe retrieve will bring your lure straight toward it.
Perhaps the best way to avoid clear water problemsis finding water with a bit of tint. Large lakes will usually offer some waterwith a little color. This can often be found in creeks or headwaters wherecurrent stirs up bottom debris. This same current will also help to cut lightpenetration by rippling the surface of the water.
Problems with waters that are “drinking water” clearneed not hamper your fishing success. In fact, bass fishing in crystallinewaters can work to the savvy angler’s advantage. The knowledgeable fishermanwill almost always find bass eager to bite, regardless of water clarity.
So next time you’re on a body of water so clear itseems like your boat must be levitating, don’t worry. Settle in, put yourknowledge of clear-water fishing tactics to work, and start reeling those bigbass in.