Bruce Middleton - 2/15/2011
Excess rain can muddy the water and make fishing difficult…
In the spring when the lakes get a lot of extra rain, and are already full from rains over the long winter and the water levels are way up if not overflowing or even flooding, it can really turn the water conditions muddy. Between the muddy water and all the cold fronts moving in and out of the area, it makes bass fishing a challenging sport but you have to cover a lot of water at this time anyway, so in that respect it’s not too much different. Spinner baits or lipless crank baits are very good choices to start fishing with, as they are an excellent search baits. They work well in shallow water, deep water, clear water and muddy. You can fish them spring, summer and fall, in any temperature of water and at any time of day. They are also the most versatile lures ever made with the widest range of retrieves from ripping fast to fluttering falls. There is no time a spinner bait or lipless type lure doesn’t work. They can climb in and around brush and windfall limbs without getting hung up and they glide over weeds. They are universal lures. The lipless crank bait is just plain a go-getter when it comes to seeking out bass no matter what the time of year.
The key with spinner baits like any other lure is to keep it in the water. You may not catch the numbers of fish if the lake wasn’t flooded and all the other factors were in your favor but you will catch bass. Go right to the heavy cover and the windfalls and work the outsides in to the middle. This way if you spook a bass he will move tighter into the cover and not out away from it.
On the lake itself, look for any small bay or cove or any protected pocket, inlet or backwater that exists. These protected spots will be where the baitfish can be found. And anywhere the bait is the bass are right below them. Use your fish finder to locate the baitfish then turn it down. Remember the depth of the baitfish and start casting a spinner bait through the school at the same level or just barely below them. By barely I mean only a foot and no more. The bass are waiting for a baitfish to leave the protection of the school. Once separated from the school the bass rise up and take the unwary or injured prey and then return to position themselves below the school again. If you feel the spinner bait bumping into the baitfish that is the perfect depth. And depending on the type of baitfish you may even catch them. Rock Bass, Blue Gills and Crappie are some of the better eating of these fish and with a fishing license you can take all of these fish and have a feast with them.
You will also find on the lake banks a lot of flooded trees, brush and wind falls at this time of year. This is an ideal place to drop a spinner bait into or a jig and pig or a bleeding tube or even a wacky worm. Again, cover it well from all angles. Look for the deepest water in these small coves and inlets near the shoreline. This is the same as cover in some instances if there are rocks or other structure under the water. The bass will back up into these tree tops, brush piles and deep rocky areas and stay right on the edges of them waiting for a meal to swim by. A spinner bait is the perfect tool for taking these bass. Slow roll the spinner by these covered areas near the shoreline. Remember the colder the weather gets the tighter the bass will hug the cover and the farther back into the tough stuff they will back into. Rocks and rock piles are good heavy cover too. In really muddy water the bass will be in especially shallow water so flooded brush piles and the like will be places to really concentrate your efforts.
Early in the morning, fish a spinner bait in shallow water cover right up near the surface, even bulging it at times. Then fish it down a foot or two at the top of the cover bumping it a time or two. Finally go a bit deeper and slower by fluttering the spinner off of limbs until it hit the bottom and then immediately lift it back up and run with it until you hit something else. Every time you hit a limb or twig, let the bait flutter down. This is a perfect retrieve for a compact spinner bait, not lighter just shorter with small double willow leaf blades.
A lot of the weight of a spinner bait is in the jig head, so a smaller spinner can weight ¼ or 5/16s of an ounce. The arms are shorter and the blades are smaller proportionally. Blade type and size are the most important element of a spinner bait. The type and size of the blade influences how deep the lure will go and how fast or slow it can be worked without rising or falling. The blades send out a lot of vibration that attract bass from great distances. The action of the spinner will determine whether the bass will strike it or let it pass. The skirt ungulates and sways as it moves through the water but the head of the spinner stays stationary. Bass seem to key in on the stationary head of the spinner bait. The more lifelike it is the more strikes it receives. Red eyes, red gills and/or a red throat patch are added attractants for the bass and they really seem to prefer them on a spinner bait. The best luck I have had is with a 3/8-ounce double willow Booyah spinner bait in white with copper blades and a red bead between them. The head of the spinner looks like a small blue gill or sunfish and the skirt is usually black/white with a bit of red in it and it works in almost all water conditions. But in muddy conditions I use Colorado blades for that big thump I need for the bass to hear it and then swim over to strike it.
The only time I change it is when the lake is mirror smooth. At this time bass have a hard time seeing objects clearly against the sky and they will often short strike it. For this reason I change to a black /red skirt, as the bass are better able to see this color against the skyline and I don’t miss as many strikes. Also, always use a trailer hook.
It is important too to remember the size of the baitfish the bass are feeding on when choosing a spinner bait to use in these flooded conditions. The blade, the main blade, should be the same size and can have the color of the baitfish the bass are eating. In the spring the baitfish are full sized and the use of a big blade is encouraged. In the summer after the baitfish and the bass have spawned there are a lot of small minnow baitfish in the water. At this time of year a small blade is more appropriate. And in fall you go back to the larger blade.
You have to remember that you are going to have to cover a lot of water at this time of year using search lures. The bass will be scattered and those that are to be found are going to be holding tight to cover. You will be maneuvering your boat in and out and around some pretty heavy stuff and in very shallow water. It’s important to run the trolling motor up as high against the boat as you can get away with, run it as slow as possible and never hit anything obvious. The reason you run the motor up high is so you don’t kick up mud and silt with the trolling motor blade. This sends out explosions of shock waves that will scare bass for miles. Also if you are this shallow of water, you may want to lift the main engine.
Do as much parallel casting along the shoreline as possible. This keeps your bait in productive water longer and you will cover the same water several times as you move forward. This will give the bass several opportunities to locate and strike the bait offered instead of just one chance.
Rocky points leading into these protected bays and coves are another great place to look for bass. There will probably be a deep-water channel leading into the cove, which is a perfect place for bass to stage or to hunker down and wait out a weather change. Fish this area with extreme vigor and enthusiasm. Many large bass may claim this spot as a year round place to live especially if there is any structure or cover associated with it.
Slow sinking weightless wacky worms are bass killers. The unique action of this rig triggers bass into striking. It is a shallow to medium deep water technique that is best is spring around grass beds, lily pads and brush that are in 2 to 8 feet of water. Long casts and a super slow retrieve are the key to this technique. You cast it out and let it freefall right up tight to the cover and then keep it on a tight line so you can feel if any strikes that occur on the retrieve. After it hits the bottom wait a few seconds then lift it up in a jerky fashion and then it flutter or ungulate back down to the bottom. Repeat until it’s back to the boat. To get the absolute best action it’s important to get the hook exactly in the middle of the worm. You do this by folding the worm in half and then sticking the hook in the indicated spot. While any worm, tube or most any plastic bait can be rigged this style, a blunt ended, cigar shaped worms has the best action. Use a size 1 to 4 octopus hook.
The exposed hook would seem to be a handicap but it isn’t at all. The way the hook lies, the rig is extremely weedless and suffers very few hang-ups. In heavy grass the hook lies on top of the worm and away from the grass and in rocks and boulders the wacky rig is extremely hang-up free.
The top to bottom, end to end flexing action of this rig is quite unique, and looks very lifelike as it falls in the water. A red hook is an important addition to this rig as it adds that touch of red color that helps trigger a strike. In deep water you can substitute the hook with a 1/16th ounce jig head for weight. Again a red eye on the jig head will improve you chances of a strike.
Because of the lightweight of this presentation, spinning gear is more appropriate than bait casting. It will throw the worm farther and with less effort. The lightweight rod will also give you much more sensitivity. The use of lightweight fluorocarbon line is a must, as its invisibility characteristics will give you that added advantage. Scent too should be used. All bass have a superior sense of smell and they instinctively know that all forage should have a smell or odor associated with them. If the worms you are using are not scented, apply some and if they are scented, it may not hurt to add some more after using them for a while. Salt added to the plastic mixture is important too. Salt is part of the taste the bass gets when he bites down on the plastic. Heavily salted plastics help persuade the bass to hang on longer than if no salt was present. And finally texture. Texture is a non-descript subject few writers and pros talk about because there is so little evidence to back up any statement made about it. But I feel that a bass is more likely to hold on to a plastic bait if it feels like a real thing. It should have some resiliency to it but be soft in texture, like a real worm. The hook is buried inside the worm and therefore has no bearing on the worm itself until set.
Lure retrieve is one of the most important elements in fishing and one of the least understood. Fast or slow, somewhere in between, steady or erratic, pulling or stopping or dead sticking, each has its specific time and place to be used. Some lures have a built in speed limit and others can be used under a wide range of presentations and still others have a very small window of presentations.
The Rapala X rap or a slash bait is a case in point. Worked slowly it has a smooth retrieve style similar to the original floating minnow, the most popular crank bait ever made. It can draw a lot of strikes this way but when fished more aggressively with a fast twitching motion it darts left and right, up and down in the erratic manner I’ve ever seen. Left and right is common but up and down is unique. It can be twitched and paused or used in a stop and go retrieve. It can be worked fast or slow. It has a different action for each retrieve you put to it. It’s like having 6 or 7 lures all in one. It is definitely a must have lure for any ones tackle box just for its versatility alone. And it murders bass by the boatload, they just can’t seem to get at it fast enough. I’ve seen two bass taken more than once on this lure, both hanging on the same lure. While originally designed for small mouth bass it works just as well on aggressive largemouth bass.
What makes a lure attractive to bass? Depth is probably the most important factor. Putting the lure at the right depth is critical, you have to put it where the bass are. If you don’t, you’re just flogging the water with a piece of wood, plastic or wire. Speed is the second most critical factor. You have to match the speed of the lure to the mood of the bass. If the bass are active you can go slow to fast and it won’t make any difference, but if the bass are inactive, slow and very slow is the only way you will ever catch one. Sound and vibration come in next. Bass usually can’t see your bait and they search for it by using sound and vibration. This can draw bass is from as far away as 50 yards which is well out of sight even for a bass. The size color and shape of the lure come in last when the bass is just ready to strike. These are the least critical elements to a lure. So these are what make a good lure. It’s what the bass want that day and that hour under the conditions they are in right then. Basically it is a lot of guesswork but every lure will catch a bass at some time or another. You just have to figure out when.
Angling success depends on you ability to experiment, your ability to try different retrieves and your memory. What worked the last time you were out under these conditions? Also look at the sky, it will tell you a lot about how to fish for bass if you just look.
You need to understand that cold fronts have different effects on different types of water. A cold front has a much more drastic effect on crystal clear water than it does on dirty water. The bigger the body of water and the deeper it is also makes a differences as a cold front doesn’t effect them as much either. And the least effect a cold front has on water is when it is moving like a river, stream or around the spillways of a dam.
High spring water like most adverse conditions is challenging but not insurmountable. You just have to adjust to the situation and use a little common sense. Search lures and the knowledge of where they might best be found are all you need. Besides, high water gives you more water to fish. But remember too that when the water line does fall back to normal levels that what was once a deep hole or a covered brush pile may now be completely out of the water. You must be aware at all time how the water level affects the shoreline and the shallower parts of the lake. The rise and fall of the lake may only be a foot or two but can make a huge difference in where the bass will position themselves during the different times of the year. These effects can be felt all the way out to the 5-foot level, so be aware of the water levels every time you go fishing. Few things are static in bass fishing, everything changes and you have to keep up.
A few key points to remember too are the clarity of the water. In muddy water the bass will move into very shallow water. Sometimes the bass will be as shallow as a foot or two. Loud lures in reds and oranges work best here. In dingy water where you can see only a couple of feet down into the water the bass will more than likely be found on the inside line of vegetation where the silt in the water is sifted out by that vegetation. In these two examples, this holds true just about no matter the temperature of the water and that is important to know. As the water clarity improves the bass will be found in deeper and deeper water. So when launching the boat, look at the water and you will know just how deep to fish and maybe just what lures to use. Just thought you might like to know that.
When the water is still cold the two most used lures for taking bass are the jig and neutral buoyant jerk lures. I always have these two lures tied on a rod until long after the spawn. In fact, I use them all year round, as they are so useful to my way of fishing for bass. I like a jerk bait that is the color of the predominate baitfish in that lake I am fishing and I like them in four to five and half inches long. Not the jig is also a real tool to use all year round. I almost always have a chunk behind the hook to imitate pinchers and the jig and the pincers are not the same colors. I like a black jig with a brown chunk or a blue jig with a copper colored chunk. While these are my favorites I do use a lot of different combinations as long as I follow the rule of two different colors. These combinations make it easier for the bass to see and they are natural food colors. I also use scent since the jig in on the bottom for a long time. This lets the scent saturate the water and aides in catching active and neutral bass. Berkley Gulp™ and Megastrike™ are two great scents and the new pheromone scents are real fish attractors. Without scent you will attract far less bass to start with and those that are attracted will strike it less often.
Now when the water of your favorite lake is between 55 and 60 the crappie will be spawning on the flats near the waters edges. This is around April/May up here in the Pacific Northwest. This will draw a lot of bass up from deeper water early to take advantage of this banquet. A crappie can grow up to 5 inches its first year of life. The world record for one is 5 pounds and 2 ounces but the average crappie caught is about half of that. Crappies also like very clear water and don’t do well in muddy water. They also like deep water, which is where they suspend out in open water. They feed on small minnows and insects. Curiously crappies are attracted to light and are a real treat to night fish for. Once you locate a school at night (or in daylight for that matter) you can almost flood the boat with them. But these fish are very prolific and can cause the lake they are in to become poor fishing for other game fish as they deplete all the food sources. There is usually no limit on this baitfish unless they are needed to have a balanced and diverse population of fishes.
Sunfish too spawn before the bass do and like crappie they are found in the shallows but just before the crappie spawn. Blue gills spawn at this time too but it is rare to find all three species in the same body of water at the same time. Both of these baitfish tolerate much dirtier water and flourish where crappie don’t. So it becomes important to know which baitfish are in the lake you are fishing so as to match your lures to the right colors and size so as to take more bass.
Perch can spawn before the bass also and can tolerate dingy water. They like to hide in and around deep water and in large holes and pockets in a lake. They also are very vegetation oriented meaning they will be found where the deepest vegetation is found. This is usually out in open water away from the banks. Perch are a favorite meal for bass as even the biggest ones can be eaten by very large bass. I once caught a bass who had swallowed a perch and that perch was so big that the whole tail stuck out of the bass’s’ throat. Bass love perch.
Sculpin or mud dogs as some people call them are a small baitfish that spend almost all its time lying on the bottom not moving. While I couldn’t find out a lot about them I find out that bass eat them and they look a little like a miniature saltwater bullhead and act in the same manner. These baitfish however are never found in great numbers in any lake up here in the Pacific Northwest.
And finally are crawfish. For a complete study on them see my story on crawfish to update your knowledge of them. Now that you know the habits of these bait fish and you go out to your favorite lake which is say 20 feet deep you will know what colors and sizes of lures to choose from. Knowing what baitfish exist in the lake you are fishing is just as important as knowing bass are also in the lake. Remember not all lakes have bass in them and baitfishes are the same. Usually only one of the baitfish is in any lake at the same time.
Knowing this type of information is invaluable to a bass angler. It helps you predict where the bass will be as they look for this baitfish and when. By knowing the habits of all the baitfish in the lake you are fishing can give such information as to size, color and action of different baits you might use to catch bass with. So it pays to be well educated about what all a bass eats and the seasonal movements of that food.