By Doug Yeargain
Growing up in west Texas and fishing off-colored lakes such as Colorado City, Twin Buttes, Thomas, E.V. Spence (or anywhere else we could find water), I never really knew what clear water was until I moved to Del Rio and started fishing Amistad. I have nothing against west Texas lakes. As a matter of fact, some of my most memorable fishing trips were on these lakes, and I was fortunate enough to catch many a big bass out of them. But they differ greatly from the clear-water impoundments in the state.
At first the thought of clear water was intimidating to say the least, but after learning that clear water is nothing to be scared of, I started catching lots of bass. All my years of reading about clear-water tactics and how deep you have to fish to be successful kept me from fishing the shallows, but over time I learned a valuable lesson. Bass in clear lakes do go shallow and they spend a lot more time there than we realize.
We all know that bass move into the shallows to perform their annual ritual. We call it the spawn. But it is surprising how many bass stay shallow throughout the year even in clear-water lakes. Take Lake Amistad for example. For many years the only structure available was deep water, drop-offs, points, rocks, and more deep water. But since the hydrilla started growing, we basically have a new lake on our hands. This completely changed the style of bass fishing, for the better I must say.
Clear water and hydrilla go good together. It grows deeper in clear water than murky or stained and provides excellent cover year round. There have been thousands of articles written on clear-water bass fishing, but I sometimes think that we get carried away with all the technology, light line hype and specific do's and don'ts. I'd like to share some of my hard-learned lessons and techniques that I use to catch bass in clear water. Some of them may surprise you if you haven't fished clear water much.
First, you don't have to use 8- pound test line to be successful or use a buggy-whip spinning rod. I commonly use 20-pound line. I prefer green Trilene, but that's up to you. Another thing I have learned is that bass will hit topwater baits at 12 noon on a 100-degree day with a blistering sun overhead. This includes big bass.
We all have read the articles about subtle colors in clear water, and although this works, I have much better success with brightly colored baits such as fire tiger. I believe the bass can see a bright color farther away, which causes a reaction strike when it is retrieved quickly.
In the warmer months whenever I fish a clear-water lake I will usually start out in the morning with a dark-colored spinnerbait, but I'll only use it for a little while. Next I will pick up a topwater lure and make long casts with a fairly fast retrieve. If that isn't working I will work it even faster for a while. I believe that a faster retrieve than normal is good because it doesn't let the bass get a long look at anything. You want to solicit a reaction strike from them when something zooms by.
Buzzbaits are very good at times. Fishing them around hydrilla early in the morning can be awesome. No light line here. You'll need some real horsepower to get them out of the thick stuff.
Talking about line size, I know in many instances when it won't matter what line size you use. I throw 1-ounce Rat-L-Traps on 60-pound braided line all the time in gin clear water. I do use a very fast retrieve when doing this, and the bass hit like a train. When Carolina rigging I also use braided line for the added feel, again 60-pound for the main line, but I will use a piece of 17- or 20-pound green Trilene for my leader. This combination works extremely well for me. Another favorite of mine is using a small Bomber crankbait on 20-pound line to fish the edges of hydrilla. With the big line you can keep the bait fairly shallow, but you can really horse them out when a big bass takes the bait and tries to bury-up.
I have talked a little about big line and how it will perform in clear water, but on the flip side there is an advantage at times to using light line. Let's say you're fishing a tournament. It's early morning. The wind is blowing and creating some pretty good wave action. This in turn has the fish fairly active. You're chunking a spinnerbait or a topwater and catching a few bass. But around 10:00 the wind dies completely, leaving you sitting on a big, clear mirror with 15-foot visibility. Your spinnerbait and topwater pattern dies as quick as the wind. You break out your big Carolina rig, but it is just as dead as the others and you never get a hit.
I have seen this happen several times over the years and believe me, when the wind stops it makes the bite stop. Or least you will think so. I have tried everything that I could think of throughout the years and found a couple of tactics that will usually work.
Making long casts is important on still water. The problem here is getting a good hook-set with 50 yards of line floating on the water. By all means make sure your hooks are sticky sharp. The first thing I try is a Bass Assassin, in a subtle color like shad or a light green. I rig this on 10- or 12-pound line with a swivel about 12 to 18 inches in front of the hook.
Find a nice long point or the edge of a flat, somewhere where you know fish hang out. Make as long a cast as you can and work the bait very fast. If you see a bass following the bait, don't stop just keep ripping it. If this doesn't work, take the same bait and try dead sticking it around hydrilla. I have caught a lot of bass on soft jerkbaits while the bait was lying motionless on the bottom. They will usually pick it up very lightly and start moving off.
Another tactic that's often over-looked is dead sticking a worm or lizard either with or without a weight, depending on the amount of wind that is blowing. We all know that working a bait fast in clear water gives the bass little time to decide if it's real or fake, but the opposite works equally as good at times.
Leaving a worm or lizard lying motionless on the bottom or on top of hydrilla can be very effective. I have seen times when a worm can be left motionless for as long as a minute and then start moving off when you least expect it. This can be deadly around drop-offs next to deep water. You just have to have a good amount of patience to do this. Actually going out and fishing slow is hard to do, especially if you're fishing a tournament and you find yourself struggling to put fish in the boat. In clear-water situations, I usually do one of two things; either fish fast or real slow.
Don't forget, in almost every lake that has clear water you can usually find some off-colored water in one area or another. These places can be textbook areas with fish staying shallower than others in the clearer water. Look for places where clear meets dirty and work these places over real well. Spinnerbaits or small crankbaits are good choices under these conditions. After a big rain when you have runoff from small creeks is a sure bet to turn the fish on. I wouldn't waste my time fishing chocolate-colored water that is extremely dirty, but, you might be surprised sometimes at the amount of dirt tolerance a bass can have.
Getting back to clear water, do you remember fishing when you were young and throwing small baits like Beetle Spins and the old H&H spinnerbait? Well believe me these baits will still catch bass even with all the modern hi tech lures we have at our disposal. Some guys are a little embarrassed throwing these low-cost baits, but in clear water these lures will darn sure catch some bass. They might not be hawgs, but they can save the day when the fishing is slow.
By all means when fishing clear water invest in a good pair of polarized sunglasses. I have caught untold numbers of bass in clear water because I spotted them following my bait. In clear, shallow water they are a must. You are basically lost without them. Keep your eyes peeled for any movement and you will improve your hookups.
I truly think that many anglers have a bad perception of clear water, which makes them uncomfortable fishing it. They think it's too hard to catch bass, but if you believe that, then you will probably never be very successful in clear water.
Successful fishing requires confidence, and that is gained from experience. And experience is gained from practice. So the bottom line is, get out and practice. You will find it's not really that difficult. Stick with your first instinct and let the bass tell you what they want. Then just enjoy what you can see and catch.