By Danno Wise
Spring is known as a transition time across the coast. One transitional element which is given little thought is that of the water clarity. Although water temperatures are on the rise during the spring, it has yet to heat up significantly enough to trigger the mass algae and plankton blooms that can cloud summer tides. Therefore, crystal clear water conditions, a la winter, are possible during spring, especially during periods of light wind. However, anglers are just as likely to experience murky conditions, as prevailing high winds commonly stir sediment, drastically reducing visibility.
What is rarely found during spring is a “happy medium,” where the water is “trout green” with plenty of visibility to get a visual strike, but not so clear as to cause fish to be extra cautious. As a result, fishermen are often left to fish one of these two extreme water clarity conditions - crystal clear or sand-stained murk - each of which requires a set of opposite, yet specific techniques to produce results.
Many anglers are under the impression that it is much easier to catch fish in clear water. Nothing could be further from the truth. When gin-clear conditions are prevalent, fish become easier to see, but they are also much more skittish. In order to be productive under these conditions, anglers have to be a bit more cautious and exercise the utmost stealth.
But, there is an upside to clear water. Fish can see a bait from much further away in clear water. Therefore, they are much more likely to travel great distances to intercept a lure. As a result, an angler can quickly “fan cast” a flat and determine if there are any takers in the neighborhood.
Conversely, when the waters darken, fish become more comfortable, which allows them to be a bit more aggressive - and make more mistakes. Anglers can generally get away with being a little sloppier in murky water. For example, noise doesn't frighten fish as much as it does in clear water.
However, there is a trade-off. Fish obviously don't have the same vision as they do in clear water and must rely on sound and vibration to home in on lures. As a result, you are less likely to have a fish torpedo completely across a flat to take a bait. The end result is usually more casts to cover the same amount of water - hoping you can “put it in front of their face” so to speak.
Essentially, it is important to remember that fish can be caught under any water conditions. The key to doing so is usually a matter of following a few simple rules and tailoring your game plan to the prevailing water conditions.
The first step on the water clarity flow chart is lure color. Each type of water requires a much different color scheme. Choosing the proper color can go a long way to establishing your success on any given day.
Clear Water - As was mentioned above, in clear water, fish have excellent visibility and can spot most lures from a great distance. In this situation, too much color can actually be a hindrance. While it is important that a fish be able to find your bait, it is also important to make your lure appear as natural as possible.
As a result, “natural” or subdued colors are often the most productive in clear water. Transparent baits with silver or gold glitter work well, as do translucent hues of green, brown or grey - colors that practically match the water or bottom but are just different enough to stand apart. As a rule, you want to avoid opaque baits in clear water. But, some solid colors, such as brownish hues - pumpkinseed and root beer are good examples - can produce well.
When using hard baits, “something with a little flash” works well in clear water. Silver and gold spoons, as well as silver or gold-sided topwaters and slow sinking plugs work well, as the clear water allows their reflective qualities to be utilized to their fullest potential.
Dirty Water - As the water becomes dirtier, fish have a much more difficult time utilizing their eyesight to find forage items. Therefore, it is important to choose a lure color which offers the maximum amount of contrast to the backdrop of dirty water. Bright colors are the first which jump to mind, which stands to reason. Fluorescent baits as well as colors such as lime and bright green, pink and orange “jump out” in brown or stained water.
One of the bigger surprises to anglers not accustomed to fishing off-colored water is the effectiveness of dark baits. Very opaque colors such as red and purple are among the most productive, as their dark bodies offer a well-outlined silhouette in dirty water.
Exceptions to the Rules - It stands to reason that the baits that work well in one extreme won't work well in the other. Overall, this is true. However, there are a few notable exceptions. Black, white and chartreuse are the best examples of baits which will work under practically any water condition and, therefore, are usually safe choices.
Go to Extremes - Probably the one rule which holds true more often than all others has to do with color choice. Simply put, it commands going from one extreme to the other when making a switch. All colors can be categorized into dark, light and bright. Pick a lure from one color group and try it. If it proves ineffective, choose a bait from another color group. In other words, if they don't hit red go with white or chartreuse, not with purple, black or another dark color.
Once the proper color has been chosen, it is time to “size up” your lure selection.
Clear Water - Again, fish rely on eyesight in clear water and are able to determine fairly effectively between various baitfish and other prey items. In this situation, lure size should closely mimic the size of the baitfish or shrimp in the area. Again, when fish are feeding primarily by sight, you don't want to do anything to signal a dramatic difference between your bait and what they are feeding on. If anything, anglers should err on the side of caution and use a smaller bait than they normally would if the water is extra clear.
Dirty Water - As with color, when it comes to size, opposite water conditions require opposite approaches. Since fish can't see as well in stained water, anglers should “super-size” their lure offerings when the water turns ugly. Fish need a big target, which affords them a good look if they are to see from more than a few inches away. Whether throwing topwaters or soft-plastics, it is often useful to throw the biggest bait in the box when fishing dirty water.
SOUND IT OUT
The final piece of the puzzle is the level of sound - or noise - the offering should produce. This step is critical, as the results of picking the wrong sound can be just as detrimental as the right sound is productive.
Clear Water - In most instances, no sound is necessary in clear water. Most of the time, keeping the amount of noise - especially the entry sound of a lure hitting the water at the end of a cast - to a minimum is most productive. About the only situation which would warrant utilizing sound would be if there is a bit of a surface riffle or chop accompanying the clear water. In that case, a bait with a light rattle or perhaps a softly-retrieve prop bait can serve to get the fish's attention.
Always err on the side of caution when choosing the amount of sound to use in clear water. Again, clear water fish tend to be skittish. Too much noise can send them bolting off a flat in the blink of an eye.
Dirty Water - With reduced visibility, fish often rely on their other senses. “Feeling” vibration or “hearing” sound is often the method fish use to find prey items in dirty water. Therefore, don't hold back. The dirtier the water, the more noise you want to make. Chuggers, prop-baits and aggressively-retrieved dog-walkers are all good choices in dirty water. Anglers throwing soft-plastics should pick a bait with a paddle-style tail, which will emit vibration as it moves through the water.
In the end, being an effective angler equates to be a flexible angler. Very few anglers have the ability to pick and choose the days they fish since most must go when the going is good, regardless of weather or water conditions. However, by following these simple steps, every fisherman can bolster the chances for success, no matter what color the water happens to be when that all-too-rare opportunity for a day on the bay presents itself.
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