Muddy or stained water can make bass fishing challenging but there are ways to turn these conditions in our favor. For most anglers, muddy water is an occasional seasonal nuisance but for others, it is a constant fact of life. The guidance in this article will help pattern bass in muddy water and use the proper baits and presentations to put big bass in the boat consistently.
Late Winter/Early Spring Rising Water
In mid-to-late winter across much of the country, lakes start to really get muddy. As winter rain or snow melt occurs, it washes mud into the lake. Lakes may experience a few mud-events before early spring. This makes for rising water levels and muddy water. Most bass will still be in winter phase hunting craws.
But when the water rises and pushes all the fish into very shallow water, bass will feed on just about anything. Baitfish become key here. Shad, shiners, and alewives are prime food for pre-spawn bass, but even in late winter, they can be a key food source for hungry muddy water bass.
With the rising water, bass will push up into extremely low water along the bank. We are talking about inches of water. As long as the water covers their backs, bass will be up there. Use bright colors like chartreuses, oranges, and whites on moving baits. Dark bold colors, like blacks, reds, and blues, are better for slow-moving jigs and Texas rigs.
Try moving baits first to cover water and locate bass. Spinnerbaits will be the best option. Take off the stinger hook. The target area is “dirt shallow” water around brush and weeds. The stinger hook is more likely to snag, whereas the standard spinnerbait hook can be almost weedless especially with a plastic trailer.
The hook-up ratio may go down without the stinger, but increases the ability to work the spinner in closer to cover and get more bites. I like white and white/chartreuse spinnerbaits. Match the blades to the baitfish in the lake. Willow blades produce a higher pitched sound and more flash mimicking smaller baitfish, like shad and shiners. Colorado and Indiana blades make a thumping noise mimicking larger bodied-shad, bluegills, and trout.
Chatterbaits in white or chartreuse with a trailer are great options too. They produce a ton of sound and allow and angler to cover water even faster than a spinnerbait. Most chatterbaits don’t start “clicking” until the bait moves about 2 feet. Instead, try to pick a chatterbait that starts making sound as soon as the reel handle moves. Remember, we are fishing in dirt shallow water and bass will be sitting right where the bait lands. If it takes 2 feet for the bait to start making noise, the bait is out of the primary strike zone. I like to fish a spinnerbait in warmer water and a chatterbait in colder water.
The last bait I recommend for late winter/early spring muddy water is the swim jig. When dealing with a ton of very shallow weeds, a swim jig is the best bet. A white trailer with a bold chartreuse or light blue/white skirt is the way to go. The head of the swim jig will cut through the weeds. Bass will annihilate this bait when ripping it through grass that catches on the hook.
Don’t fish a swim jig without a good trailer. I like to use a harder plastic trailer like the River2Sea D-walker. The trailer should not only side-to-side kick in the tail but also roll from side-to-side in the body. This side-to-side roll will cause the swim jig skirt to puff out and make it look like a wider profile meal like a big gizzard shad, a trout, or a bluegill. It will make it look like a heartier meal worth a big bass’s time to attack. As much as I love Keitech Fat Impact swimbaits, they don’t create the good side-to-side roll when paired with a swim jig.
If fishing a swim jig in heavy grass, go straight braid and heavier gear. Bass won’t be able to see the braid in muddy water and the braid will be needed to power fish the bait through the grass.
Summer-Time Mud & Stain
Muddy or colored water is a common factor for many summer fishing. Many lakes are simply muddy with visibility often under 1 foot. Others develop such heavy plankton blooms in summer the water takes on a dense green color with very limited visibility. There are three options for summer stained water: add flash, use bright colors, or slow way down with dark colors.
I recommend trying flash first. If the side of the bait reflects sunlight, it will put off tremendous flash in the water, even in almost zero visibility water. This can have huge drawing power for big bass. Jerkbaits, like the Jackall Rerange, are great because they produce a ton of flash, rattle, and draw out a reaction bite from bass. If bass are schooling up, a jerkbait will be the best bet. Some other baits with flash are a swimbait/underspin combo, spinnerbait, and a lipless crankbait with a golden finish. Generally speaking, the blades or finish of these baits should match the water clarity. Chrome or silver shines best in clear water but when the water is muddy or stained, gold is the best option.
Fish these moving baits slowly to give bass enough time to feel the vibrations and locate the bait. The best swimbait and spinnerbait colors for muddy water will be chartreuses, whites, and oranges. These colors really stand out in muddy water.
A crankbait is another great option for muddy conditions. If bass are holding tight to rock or weeds, a squarebill crankbait cannot be beat. The bait deflecting off rock or ticking the top of grass will draw massive bites from bass. Pick stand-out colors for the mud like oranges, whites, and chartreuses. But my favorite muddy water color in summer is powder blue/chartreuse. Rattles can make a big difference when water clarity is terrible.
Cast the squarebill along the shore instead of directly at it. The idea is to make the bait bounce off the rocks the entire retrieve. Play with different angles and different depths until a pattern emerges. In muddy water fishing, it is important to fish moving baits slowly so bass can key in on them before it exits their strike zone.
If bass just aren’t hitting moving baits, go slow. A big Texas rig or a jig is the way to get stubborn bass to bite. Fish these baits as close to visible cover as possible. Bass will hold very tight to cover in muddy water to feel safe and give them better orientation in the limited visibility environment.
Because a bass’s strike zone could be just a few inches in these conditions, bottom baits need to be right on the cover. Pitch the bait right against the stick or weeds. While I recommended bright highly visible colors for moving baits, go with dark colors for slow-baits. Black, black/blue, junebug, and purple are great because they silhouette against the brown or green water backdrop.
General Muddy Water Tips
1. Is Muddy Water the Norm or the Exception?
Not all muddy or stained water should be fished the same. Some lakes are “muddy lakes” and rarely ever have more than 2 feet of visibility. If the bass are pale in coloration along the sides with very faded markings, I’ll bet the lake is a muddy lake. If the lake is muddy, bass are used to it and will still respond very well to natural colored baits like ghost colors or something like Pro Blue Red Pearl. To these bass, 2 feet of visibility is clear. Whereas if the lake normally has summertime visibility of 6 feet and now it is only 2, bass will be greatly impacted by the mud. If the water is dirtier than normal, fish with brighter colors or add gold flash to the presentation. Fish slower too.
2. Heavy Gear, Heavy Line, Heavy Hook
In muddy water, upsize the gear. Bass won’t pick up on braided line so go straight braid. This allows a power fishing technique with the ability to rip bass out of the heavier cover. Normally I recommend braid to leader when visibility is high. Straight braid will be a good option with little risk of bass seeing the line. The one exception would be crankbait fishing. Use mono or fluorocarbon so baits run deeper. Mono especially offers better stretch to keep bass pinned on those smaller treble hooks. It is great for shock absorption too. For crankbaits in muddy or clear water, I go with fluorocarbon to a mono leader. This is my personal preference.
3. Upsize/Downsize Tactically
This tip applies to all fishing situations. If catching a lot of smaller bass, upsize the baits. For example, if catching bass on a finesse swim jig, upsize to a full-size swim jig with a larger trailer. Small bass can still be caught, but it will really open the door for the big bass to take interest. If bites are not a problem, shoot for the big bites. On the other hand, if the fishing is slow and bites are few and far between, downsize. Pick 2 or 3 sizes smaller. Also, fish the baits slower.
4. Find the Pattern, Fish the Pattern
This tip applies to any fishing scenario. Most bass will follow general, fairly predictable patterns given the season, condition, water clarity, and bait source. There will always be your oddball bass that completely break from the norm. These oddball bass are not the target fish. Forget about them. Focus on the majority of bass. Making this mental switch can mean the difference in “getting lucky” with 2 fish or finding the pattern delivering 40 bass day-after-day. In fishing, it is much better to be good than lucky. If you find winter bass are still hitting the ghost craw color, don’t shift over to a bright orange craw pattern better suited for late winter. If you find bass feeding on shad on the 3rd secondary point in one finger of the lake, I bet bass will be doing the same on the next finger and the next. Finding the pattern is the hard time-consuming part, rinse and repeating thereafter is the fun part.
5. Find the Clearest Water
On normally clear fisheries, bass will seek out the clearest water they can find as long as baitfish are present. After rain, the muddiest water will be at the mouth of the creek where all the dirty water is flowing in from upstream. Bass fishing will be the best on the opposite side of the lake where the muddy water hasn’t quite reached. In a few days, when the rest of the lake is muddy, the feeder stream mouth will have the cleanest water since it is now running clear. Bass will feed heavily in this clearer water. This is a general rule of thumb. But it is entirely dependent on the presence of food. If the baitfish aren’t playing ball, crystal clear water won’t have many bass. But if the baitfish follow the clear water as expected, clear water is where the bass will be.
See you on the water,
About Eric Matechak