Finding Bass Like a Pro
Learn to read the water, and locating fish can be quick and easy.
Few professional tournament bass fishermen can locate bass as quickly and easily as former BASS Masters Classic world champion Larry Nixon. Among the Arkansas pro’s techniques is the careful study of water color, or clarity, which he has been practicing for more than 30 years.
“Water clarity can tell you the basic depth bass will be using, the type of structure or cover those fish are likely to be using, and which lure you should use to catch them,” says Nixon. “Water clarity is easy to study, too, because it’s always present in some form.”
The two keys to Nixon’s system are establishing your own standard to define water-clarity conditions, and then matching water clarity to the season of the year.
You can define water clarity any way you choose. Nixon (as well as many other bass pros) uses as many as six separate categories ranging from muddy to ultraclear (see chart), all based on the visibility of a white spinnerbait in the water. For example, in this system if a white spinnerbait disappears from view in less than 3 inches of water, the water is classified as muddy; if Nixon can still see the spinnerbait 8 feet deep, that water is ultraclear.
Here’s how Nixon matches water color to the different seasons of the year, and how he determines where to look for bass.
Because bass may be as shallow as 3 feet or as deep as 25 feet, Nixon looks for two types of water color. The first is moderate to dingy (visibility 4 feet or less), which generally places bass less than 10 feet deep. These conditions are most often found in the backs of creeks where bass hold around shallow, visible cover and where spinnerbaits, buzzbaits, and topwater lures are often the most productive.
The second is moderate to clear water (visibility 2 to 8 feet). “I also look for and fish shallow ledges that fall from 5 feet down to about 12 feet,” says Nixon. “In this slightly deeper water, I would try either a crankbait or a Texas-rig worm because I’m fishing structure rather than cover, and these lures work well in that situation.”
Bass depths often range from 15 to perhaps 35 or 40 feet deep; the clearer the water, the deeper the fish tend to go. Again, Nixon often looks for two different types of water-clarity conditions.
“The easiest to work is moderately clear water, where I try to find steep shorelines or even a bluff wall,” Nixon explains. “Bass like vertical structure in winter, and this type of structure is easy to fish with a jig.
“I also like ultraclear water (visibility greater than 8 feet). With water clarity that may be as great as 20 feet, I’ll concentrate on the same type of vertical structure, but offshore rather than along the bank. I’ll fish creek channel bends, long points that fall into a channel, or maybe an underwater roadbed. Because winter bass are bottom oriented, I’ll normally fish jigs or jigging spoons because these are also bottom-oriented lures.”
Before bass move shallow to spawn, Nixon prefers ultraclear water. He also concentrates along the edges of spawning flats where the water may drop from 8 or 10 feet down to 20 or 30 feet because early-spring largemouths are frequently still in schools in this deeper water. His favorite lure is a large jerkbait that will attract bass up from deeper water.
“Later in spring, I’ll look for moderate to clear water in protected coves and spawning areas because the bass have come in from the deeper channels,” Nixon says. “I prefer water in which I cannot actually see the bass, so I’m usually concentrating in depths ranging from 2 to about 5 feet deep. My favorite lure choice at this point is a jerkbait, but I’ll also use plastic lizards and tubes.”
Nixon wants moderate to muddy water (visibility less than 4 feet), which is often found in the backs of creeks or the uppeer portions of most reservoirs. He looks for visible cover like bushes, trees, or vegetation, or shallow ditches and channels.
A second choice is moderate to clear water and deeper ledges that drop from perhaps 12 feet down to about 20 feet. The mouths of tributary creeks often offer this type of structure, and Nixon will fish it with a jig, a deep-diving crankbait, or a Carolina-rigged lizard.
“Water clarity can really influence your lure selection,” says Nixon. “In clear water where bass can see lures better, your lures should have a smaller profile and more closely resemble the available forage, and you normally fish them pretty fast.
“In dingy or muddy water, bass will be more shallow and also remain closer to cover. You should use lures you can present accurately right to that cover, such as jigs, wide-wobbling crankbaits, or slow-moving spinnerbaits.”