When runoff makes the water murky, bass don’t give up on eating — so fishermen shouldn’t give up on catching them.
You just have to understand how fish use different sensory elements from sight to sound to water displacement.
For starters, consider the pros/cons of muddy water, as explained by Toledo Bend guide Darold Gleason
“It limits one of the options for a fish; it limits the sight feeding,” Gleason said. “So in muddy water you have a smaller strike zone.
“That’s why it gets challenging, because a lot of your casts and decisions have to be a lot more specific because the strike zone is smaller.”
As Gleason noted, bass in clear water might chase a topwater or swimbait. But muddy-water fish become unwilling or unable to track these baits that can cover broad areas.
“In muddy waters, it’s tight quarters and you have to hit them on the head to get them to bite,” Gleason explained.
But there is an upside.
“The one good thing about muddy water is that you automatically know the fish will be shallow,” Gleason said. “The strike zone is smaller because they can’t see as well, so they move shallow to allow themselves better feeding opportunities.
“So if you want to put a positive spin on muddy water, it would be that you’ve eliminated part of the lake. The fish are going to be shallow and, to take it a step farther, they’re going to be near targets shallow.”
Be it vegetation, wood, riprap — find bass-friendly structure and cover, and you’ll fare well.
Just keep in mind the usual seasonal patterns of where bass will want to be based on post-spawn movements, late-spring transitions, etc.
And if an angler finds mixing water, that’s even better.
“Fish will use a mud line as camouflage,” Gleason said. “Bass like to feed on edges of things, whether that’s the edges of grass line, the edge of a mud line. They’ll hide in the mud, and as the bait swims through the cleaner water they can attack them without the baitfish seeing them.”
And, of course, nothing motivates a bass like hunger. When meals are easy, the fish conserve their energy. When it’s harder to fill their bellies, the fish make the most of each opportunity.
“Typically in muddy water, the fish tend to feed more aggressive,” Gleason said. “I think part of that is that they’re camouflaged so well.
“When something gets close enough to them and they decide to strike at it, they do so very aggressively.”
Maximizing the likelihood of fish finding your bait in muddy water depends on a few key factors, two of which are mass and motion.
FLW regional pro Phil Marks helped develop the new Strike King Magnum Rage Bug that hits the shelves this summer. A heftier version of the popular Rage Bug flipping/pitching bait, this super-sized offering was made with muddy water in mind.
“In muddy conditions, you want a really bulky bait that displaces a lot of water,” Marks said. “Also, you want lots of flappers and (appendages) — more things to create vibration in the water.
“The Magnum Rage Bug has both the big flappers in the back, plus the side flappers and the larger body displaces more water.”
These characteristics make it easy for a bass to target the bait, even when it can’t see it as well.
“Bass are No. 1 sight feeders,” Marks said. “No. 2, they use their lateral lines to detect displacement in the water. In dirtier water, they tend to rely on water displacement as their primary means of detection and vision as their secondary.
Sound also matters. That’s why Gleason favors jigs with rattles.
He also knows that, while vision is limited, bass still scan their surroundings and respond to sight stimulus.
In muddy water, darker colors like black-and-blue mimic the faint outlines of prey darting about.
Conversely, Gleason said he has great confidence in highly contrasting color patterns like black/chartreuse.
“In muddier water, when you’re dealing with a smaller strike zone, the more you can get their attention, the better your odds will be of catching a fish,” he said.
Marks pointed out that, regardless of what bait you throw in muddy water, you want to do all you can to make sure the fish detect it. Bumping hard cover with moving baits is the same strategy you’d want in clearer water, but it might be best to pause the bait a little longer after each impact.
The key is to keep the lure in front of the fish as long as possible.
“You want to go with a lighter weight, so the bait doesn’t fall as fast,” Marks said. “You want to keep the bait in the strike zone a little longer.
“If it’s clear and I’m flipping bushes in 6 feet, I’ll use a ¾- or a 5/8-ounce weight. In the same scenario (when) it’s muddy, I’m going to go with as little weight as possible so the bait falls slower and stays in front of the fish longer to give them time to react.”
Marks also pointed to line selection as a muddy-water tool. For one thing, lower visibility allows you to upsize your line with less concern over spooking fish. More importantly, increasing the size of your fluorocarbon or braid slows the fall rate.
Combine heavier line with bulkier baits and lighter weights for maximum face time.
As far as presentation style, Marks suggested bumping cover with those moving baits as often as possible, but the larger point here is retrieve speed.
“In clear water, you want a rapid retrieve — you don’t want the fish to get a good look at the bait,” he said. “In dirty water, you want a slower retrieve so the fish can hone in on the bait.
“So do whatever you can to keep the bait in the strike zone as long as possible.”