High, muddy water is probably the number one troublemaker for springtime bass fishermen. You know the drill: you daydream at work all week about that weekend outing, during which you’re sure a jerkbait flashing in the clear water will make for easy pickin’. Thursday night it pours rain while you’re sleeping, but hey, it’s sunny on Friday morning. All good, right? Then on Saturday morning you look down at the water at the boat ramp and it’s like a scene from Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. If you live in the Carolinas like I do, you get that even more disgusting red chocolate milk thanks to all the red clay in the Piedmont region. But I don’t let it bother me, because there are ways to be successful in the mud.
As a general rule of thumb, if the water rises and gets dirty, bass move shallow, but to figure out exactly where they’re located, you need to factor in water temperature and spawning stage. I’ve noticed that if April water temps are in the low 50s or colder, and/or water levels were low or dropping before the sudden rise, bass go shallow adjacent to their wintering areas and will often gravitate to vertical cover.
An example would be bass moving to shallow bridge riprap that’s in close proximity to a deep wintering hole. This kind of behavior is seen in bass that are not really sure it’s spring yet. They are not totally comfortable moving onto ultra-shallow spawning flats given the cold water, but a quick move up to the rocks or riprap after a sudden influx of muddy water is no problem. And by the way, I’d be casting a red flat-sided crankbait, spinnerbait witha Colorado blade, or pitching a black neon jig to them.
If the water level was normal or rising–or if the water temps were in the 60s–before the sudden rise, get yourself in the way, way, way, back of every creek and pocket you can find and look for cover. I’m talking about jamming the boat behind trees and fishing around debris clusters that could include anything from floating logs to old Frisbees to soda cans.
I’ve caught many bass in high, muddy conditions pitching a black jig or casting a spinnerbait around obscure things like picnic tables, submerged campfire rock rings, and corn rows in a flooded farm field. If you know your fish were shallow because of the spawning stage (including pre- and post-spawn) when the water suddenly rose, use your imagine to figure out where they got pushed. You’ll be shocked at where you find them.