Go Shallow in Dirty Water

flooded bushesI learned a valuable lesson when I fished a BFL bass tournament in Winneconne, WI in 2004.  The funny thing is, I didn’t realize I was learning it until the end of the tournament.

Unlike many of the tournaments I fished, I showed up a couple days early to Winneconne for practice.  I was intimidated by the endless water, so I sought out a small, isolated area.  Much to my excitement, I found a good number of fish, and they were positioned to play to one of my strengths, shallow water cover.

There had been a good amount of rain leading up to the tournament, so the water was high and dirty.  I remember one part of the river was shut down to boat traffic because flood waters had carried away someone’s propane tank.  In all honesty, the thought of an underwater mine to the North pushed me to the South, where I had eventually found some fish.

I found an isolated area with dirty water flooded up into shoreline bushes.  My technique was to pitch a 1/2 oz jig right into the middle of the flooded bush.  Of course I had 65 lb braid on my spool.  For about 5-6 hours, my partner and I got several bites and managed to put some keepers in the boat.  Had I fished flawlessly, I would have finished in the money.  However, pulling bass out of thick cover generally leads to missed opportunities.  Regardless, the bites were there, and I remained confident that I could squeak out a limit.  That’s about the time the lesson started.

With a couple hours to go, I began to notice the bites were fewer and further between.  I took a step back to reevaluate, and I noticed a change in the conditions.  Where we had started the day fishing high, dirty water, we were now looking at receding, cleaner water.  In a matter of 6 hours, the water had cleared to the point where I could now see in to the bottom of the flooded bushed.  And, there were no more bass.

I scrambled for the next hour and failed to figure out a good clean water pattern.  While going to the scales without a limit is one of the most disappointing feelings in the world, I held my head a little higher this time.

What I learned was, bass are much more comfortable tight to shallow cover when the water is dirty.  It makes sense because you can’t see them.  As I further reflected on that day, I remembered that I had just fished a similar situation at the Clinton tournament.  The only real difference was that the water in the Clinton tournament never cleared up and I was able to grind out a limit.

As Spring time conditions vary, keep this in mind.  Bass will gravitate to shallow cover as dirty water rises.  Don’t be afraid to go get them.  Tie on a heavy jig and some braid.  This can be a frustrating way to fish, but it can also be rewarding.  As water recedes, and/or clears up, pull back a bit to where the fish reposition.  I’ll share my approach to receding bass at another time.

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