Summertime rains can really ruin a fishing trip, especially when your lake of choice collects water from a large drainage area.
And it seems that it never rains on Monday, when you are starting off the week with visions of the coming weekend of catching fish.
Nope. Downpours always seem to come at the end of the week.
And that means muddy water can greet you when you back the trailer in.
“Muddy water can really create havoc,” Arkansas pro Mike McClelland admitted.
The winner of four Bassmaster Elite Series stops said success under muddy-water conditions requires an understanding of how that nasty water moves into a lake and adjusting accordingly.
McClelland heads to small creeks and drains when runoff begins to pour into a reservoir.
“Any time you have runoff, you’ll have things coming into the water that baitfish feed on, and the bass will follow the baitfish,” he explained. “There are times when the fish will just gang up in the drains.”
His focus centers on mixing water along down-current eddies, with particular attention paid to any cover.
“You need ambush points,” McClelland said. “I typically don’t fish just a bare bank; I like to be throwing at targets.”
Stumps and points will hold fish, but McClelland said a laydown is almost a guarantee.
“I like an object that comes from the bank into the water,” he explained. “Fish will get super, super shallow, but they can position wherever they need to on a log.
“They can just move up and down the laydown.”
The veteran bass pro uses a dark-colored jig to work any laydown thoroughly.
“I’ll parallel it and fish the length of it with one pitch,” McClelland said.
However, he makes that one cast count.
“A lot of times, you have to work the cover a lot more thoroughly,” McClelland explained. “I’m going to try to fish down the laydown and shake the jig on every limb.”
Of course, muddy water means low visibility, so McClelland bulks up his jigs. That often calls for the addition of a Zoom Super Chunk trailer, but if visibility is especially low he’ll move to even bulkier plastics.
“A lot of times I like to go with that (Zoom) Brush Hog as a trailer,” McClelland said. “I cut the top off to shorten the lure, but it’s still got a lot of action and it’s a good, bulky bait that draws a lot of attention.”
Rattles are also important to ensuring fish find the lure.
“They have to hone in on that bait,” McClelland said. “They’re feeding more on sound and vibration than on sight.”
As muddy water spreads out from the drains into the main arms of a reservoir, clear-water pockets form along creek channels. And those areas are obvious targets for his attention.
“The initial runoff of that water will tend to follow those old creek channels,” McClelland said. “Whenever you’ve got a cut in the bank or a smaller cove, it’s going to mix right there.”
Even during the heat of the summer, bass pull out of the muddier water of the channels, but McClelland said they don’t actually move into the pocket of clear water.
“Those fish follow lines: tree lines, creek channels, whatever,” he said. “Water-color lines become just like any other line.”
In other words, McClelland works the breaks between clear and muddy water within these pockets.
To make the most of these opportunities, the pro positions his boat so he can parallel the color line.
“The key is going right down that break with your lure,” McClelland said.
Again, cover is important. While laydowns are obvious targets, McClelland also pays close attention to his electronics so he doesn’t miss submerged stumps or brush piles.
Every piece of structure is carefully worked because McClelland knows bass often group up on this cover.
“In a clean-water situation, I might be happy to catch one fish off each piece of structure, but in muddy-water situations I may be looking to catch multiple fish off a piece of structure,” McClelland said.
However, there are times when color lines will form away from the banks where there is little or no cover.
It’s still worth spending a few minutes working such areas, although determining where fish will be on an open-water break line can be tricky.
“When you’re in 15 feet of water or less, the muddy water will be throughout the water column, but when you get in 30 to 50 feet of water, sometimes that water color doesn’t affect the entire water column,” McClelland said.
That sets up a situation where the color break can be a horizontal line under the boat, he said.
He pays close attention to the prop wash from his trolling motor, which will boil clean water if the muddy water only extends a couple of feet.
His electronics are critical to figuring out how to attack a horizontal break.
“To some extent, you can actually see that color change on the screen,” McClelland said. “If you’ve got a very discriminating color change, you’ll get a cluttered look and then the screen will clear up.”
Once he figures out the depth at which the muddy water gives way to clean water, McClelland wants to keep his lures right along that horizontal line.
“If you determine the change is a foot or 2 deep, that’s where the fish will be,” he explained. “It’s really not a 2-dimensional game: It’s 3 dimensional because that color change may not extend all the way to the bottom.”
This is when Spro Aruku Shad, billed crankbaits or War Eagle spinnerbaits are better choices than jigs.
“You’re looking for a reaction bite,” McClelland said.
When he’s working the horizontal break line with a crankbait, the lure’s noise is important but he also chooses a lure with darker and garish colors like fire tiger, brown or chartreuse.
“I want something that’s got a lot of flash or color,” McClelland said.
When using a spinnerbait, McClelland usually uses black-and-blue skirts and Colorado/willow leaf blade combinations.
“If the water was to really muddy up and there aren’t a lot of distinct color changes, I might use a single Colorado blade,” he said.