By Ben Team
The number of variables bass anglers must consider is staggering.
Consider bass and water clarity. Before you even think about lure selection, line weight and other gear related issues, you have to take stock of the season, air temperature, water temperature, recent weather and the characteristics of the body of water you are fishing.
Then you have to decide where you think the fish will be hanging out in that water. Are they holding down by the dam or up in the feeder creeks? Once you have narrowed down their geographic location, you have to figure out their preferred holding depth.
Were it not for the fact that careful navigation of these innumerable criteria often results in the sweet, five-pound-tug of a thrashing bucketmouth at the end of your line, you would have probably hung up your rods long ago. But bringing a battling bass back to your boat is one of life’s great experiences, so keep working through bass catching equations in your head, trying to stay one step ahead of the world’s best gamefish.
Here is the problem, though. That bass catching equation has another variable; water clarity.
Pure water is almost completely clear and colorless, but most lakes, rivers and ponds have varying amounts of particulate matter, organisms and chemicals (both natural and manmade) mixed in with the water. These suspended substances scatter light, which reduces visibility in the water.
Several things can cause the water to become more turbid (cloudy). Heavy rains may wash sediment down the watershed; the activities of carp and other bottom feeders can stir up the sediment at the bottom of a pond or lake; or the algae and plankton living in the water can experience a population explosion.
After some time, the sediment settles and the organisms die off to pre-bloom levels, eventually returning the water to its baseline clarity.
Bass and Water Clarity
While bass use a variety of sensory pathways to locate prey, their sense of vision is the most important. This makes it harder for bass to capture fish, crawdads or frogs in water with high turbidity. Not that it is surprising, but a 2012 study, published in Transactions of the American Fisheries Society, confirmed this empirically. Captive bass took longer to locate and capture tethered baitfish in cloudy water than they did in clear water.
Imagine how much harder it must be for them to catch free-swimming prey.
In light of this, bass often move into areas with clearer water, so concentrate your efforts in such places. However, bass often use muddy water as a hiding spot that allows them to ambush passing baitfish; many anglers have great success working areas in which clear and muddy waters border each other.
Putting Knowledge into Practice
Because water clarity alters the behavior of bass, you must also alter your approach – primarily as it relates to lure selection and color. Just as water clarity exists along a spectrum, lure selection varies along a similar spectrum.
At the crystal-clear, travel-agency-photo end of the equation, clear water allows bass to see your lure from a great distance. The flip side of this coin is that the bass can see the lure very well once they get within striking distance. This means that super clear water requires finesse-like lures, rigs and techniques. Line visibility may be an issue, so consider using fluorocarbon leaders.
Life-like crankbaits, spoons, swimbaits and soft plastics in silver, bronze and white are fantastic in these types of waters. Willow-leaf spinner baits – which rely more on flash than vibration to attract fish – are also effective in clear water.
At the other end of the spectrum – when the water is essentially the color of chocolate milk – the bass can hardly see. You have to present them with a loud lure that stands out in the soup and is easy enough for them to catch.
If you are suitably patient, you can pitch a rattling jig with a bulky trailer around isolated cover to try to tempt nearby fish. If you need to cover more water, Colorado-bladed spinnerbaits, lipless crankbaits, chatterbaits and buzzbaits make a lot of racket when you pull them through the water. Black, blue, chartreuse and red are the go-to colors for this type of work.
With all that said, most of the time, you will be fishing waters that fall in between these two extremes. In these cases, consider using a lure from one end of the spectrum, in a color from the opposite end of the spectrum. For example, the water may not be quite clear enough for a soft-plastic stick bait in pumpkin seed or watermelon colors, but you may haul in one bass after another by switching to chartreuse or black.
Conversely, a fire-tiger lipless crankbait may be a little too obnoxious for bass in relatively clear water, but a silver or bronze model may produce just the right amount of commotion to catch fish.