Clear-Water Bass

Fishing shady cover is the secret to a full livewell.

Outdoor Life Online Editor

True or false: It's more difficult to catch bass from muddy water than from clear water. The answer is "false." While it seems to defy reason that bass fishing in muddy water could be more productive than in clear water, that's generally the case. There are many theories as to why clear-water bassing is so difficult, and each has merit. Regardless of the reasons, the end result is the same: On bright bluebird days, catching bass from clear water is downright tough.

SEE YOU, SEE ME?
Some believe bass are instinctively skittish, which might be the result of a genetic memory chip left over from ancient times when they weren't the biggest fish in the pond. The clearer the water, the more nervous bass are. They will scamper offshore at any suggestion of danger. Stained water is another form of safe cover to bass. Whatever increases their comfort level might also expand their aggressiveness.

Another theory is that bass in clear-water lakes head deeper because of sunlight, not only to get better cover, but also because warmer water might not suit their metabolisms or those of the baitfish on which they feed. When bass disappear into the vast depths, they are more difficult to pinpoint and harder to reach. So clear water is hard to fish. Does that mean we should confine our fishing to lakes with murky water? Not at all; there's a lot of good bass fishing in clear-water spots such as strip-mine pits and lakes infested with water- filtering zebra mussels.

Over time, bass devotees develop their own patterns for coping with these tough clear-water challenges. For those of you who are not yet set in your patterns, allow Uncle Homer to share some of his with you.

FISH SHADE FIRST
Obviously, the best time to fish clear water is at daybreak and dusk, when sunlight hasn't yet become a factor. Start fishing eastern shorelines as soon as you can see. Begin with topwater lures such as minnowbaits, poppers and buzzbaits. If the bass don't respond, or if you notice them swirling at the lure without taking it, switch to subsurface lures such as shallow- or medium-running crankbaits, soft jerkbaits or spinnerbaits. In the evening, move to the western banks and reverse the process, fishing crankbaits first and then working inward from deeper to shallower water with other types of lures.

It's not impossible to catch bass in clear water during the middle of the day, when light penetration is most intense, as long as you concentrate on shady cover or deeper water. Boat docks, piers, old duck blinds, overhanging brush, aquatic vegetation and large trees provide shade. On a typical lake or river, there is plenty of such cover, so don't waste time elsewhere. Use crankbaits that will dig the bottom and have an enticing wobble. Don't crowd the bank, but back off 50 feet or so. Use a reel with a fast retrieve so that the crankbait will get down quickly and stay there most of the way back to the boat.

If bass aren't interested, try smaller lures such as a leadhead jig with a soft curlytail body or a Texas-rigged finesse worm. Fish the rig slowly, particularly under docks and piers or around fallen trees. Rather than eliciting an impulse strike, the aim here is to tease a bass to strike with a more subtle attraction. Tiny soft- plastics teamed with drop-shot rigs can be especially effective if the cover permits their use.

WEEDS AND DEEP WATER
Where shallow vegetation provides the shade, cast weedless soft-plastics that can be fished slowly on the surface or just under it. Bass will come up several feet to hit a hapless victim at the surface. Jiggling a pegged, Texas-rigged worm vertically in a mat of hydrilla is another proven technique.

When bass head for deep-water haunts where light penetration is minimal, it's time to go prospecting. The aim is to cover a lot of water where bass might be holding. Move offshhore and fish humps, rockpiles and ledges with a deep-diving crankbait or heavy spinnerbait. If the water is so clear that light penetrates far enough under the surface to sustain aquatic vegetation, all the better.

Try a perpendicular approach first, from shallow to deep, but if the lure is ignored don't give up until after you reposition your boat and fish parallel to the ledge or the sides of a hump.

If deep weeds are present, fish them thoroughly. Here again, once you're satisfied that bass are present, drop-shot rigs can be dynamite.

Clear-water fishing on bright days is problematic. Persistence is the key. Try different lures and presentations until the bass let you know which approach will work that day. Then it's simply a matter of duplicating the formula in similar circumstances.