Spoon tips for Winter

Clear-Water Fishing Tactics

Fishing Techniques
Clear water fishing

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. 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 significantly from the clear-water impoundments in the state.

At first, the thought of clear water was intimidating, 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. The only structure available for many years was deep water, drop-offs, points, rocks, and more deep water. But since the Hydrilla started growing, we have a new lake. This completely changed the style of bass fishing for the better.

Clear water and Hydrilla go well together. It grows deeper in clear water than murky or stained, providing excellent cover year-round. Thousands of articles have been written on clear-water bass fishing, but I sometimes think 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 to catch bass in clear water. Some 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 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.

When I fish in a clear-water lake in the warmer months, I 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 reasonably fast retrieve. If that isn't working, I will work it even faster for a while. A faster retrieve than usual 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 tremendous. 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 use a high-speed retrieve, 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 exceptionally 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 reasonably shallow, but you can 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 sometimes an advantage 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 reasonably 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 die as quickly 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 at least you will think so. I have tried everything 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 is getting a good hook set with 50 yards of line floating on the water. By all means, make sure your hooks are sticky and sharp. I first try a Bass Assassin in a subtle color like shad or 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 a cast as long as possible 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 often overlooked is dead-sticking a worm or lizard with or without a weight, depending on the wind blowing. Of course, 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 well at times.

Leaving a worm or lizard motionless on the bottom or top of the Hydrilla can be very effective. However, I have seen times when a worm can be 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 slowly is hard, 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 slow.

Remember, in almost every lake with 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 well. Spinnerbaits or small crankbaits are good choices under these conditions. After a significant 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, 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 lost without them. Keep your eyes peeled for movement, and you will improve your hookups.

I honestly think that many anglers have a terrible perception of clear water, which makes them uncomfortable fishing it. They think it's too hard to catch bass, but if you believe that, 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 that difficult. Stick with your first instinct and let the bass tell you what they want. Then enjoy what you can see and catch.

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