Seeing through clear waters

John Crews
John Crews

When it comes to water color, a lot of anglers fall prey to the "grass is greener" principle. Those who fish clear water wish it was dirtier, and those who fish dirty water may find themselves wishing it would clear up a bit. Regardless of where you stand, here are two Elite Series pros' takes on approaching and fishing clear water.

John Crews: Be gentle, subtle

Virginia pro John Crews fished his first tournament on the clear waters of Smith Mountain Lake. Crews defines a "clear" lake as one that has visibility of 3 feet or greater.

"When you're fishing clear water, you can cover a lot of water more effectively," he says. "You can work reaction baits faster, if you've got the right conditions. As long as you fish the conditions, fishing clear water isn't all that bad. A lot of times it's preferred."

The "right conditions" he's referring to are usually one of three things: overcast skies, rain or wind. Any combination of the three will work, too.

"When you get those conditions, the fish will come a long ways to get your bait because they can see it and aren't afraid to move around," Crews says. "But, if you get bluebird skies and real slick, calm conditions, you're going to have to go the other way."

The other way is light line and natural-colored baits (for the most part). Crews will shy away from reaction baits but doesn't completely discount wild colors. A bubblegum floating worm or topwater with lots of chartreuse can be deadly in clear water based on how visible they are to the fish. If he's throwing subsurface baits, Crews opts for natural colors. Shad and baitfish patterns and the watermelon colors are his preferred choices.

Clear water allows you to see the fish from farther away, but the same holds for the fish seeing you.

"Generally, you want to stay off of the cover a little more and make longer casts," he says. "In dirty water, being quiet is more important, because I think those fish feed by sound so they're more likely to be spooked by dropping something in the boat. Clear water fish are sight-feeders."

Crews says that once you get comfortable in clear water and understand it, it's almost preferable to dirty water in some ways. Crews emphasizes the importance of paying attention to the conditions in clear water.

"On a muddy river, you can throw a crankbait if it's raining or if you have blue skies," he says. "In clear water, you're not going to get a reaction or swimbait bite unless you get some help from the rain, clouds or wind to disguise that bait."

Rojas: Pay attention to positioning

Arizona pro Dean Rojas believes there's an advantage to having cut his teeth on the West's clear, canyon reservoirs. He says it has made him a better sight fisherman and well-rounded angler. Rojas considers water clear if he can see 5 or more feet into it.

"I love fishing clear water; it's my forte," he says. "I like fishing dirty water, too, but there's nothing like being able to see a fish before you catch it."

Rojas takes advantage of clear waters by scouting bass' behavior.

"The neat thing about clear water is that you can take 20 or 30 minutes and go down the bank and look at them and get a feel for how they're relating to cover," Rojas says. "Seeing how their positioned is a great help when you fish for them later."

Before he approaches an area to scout, Rojas cautions that you shouldn't kick the trolling motor on high and cruise through. The fish will spook, giving you a false reading of their positioning.

"You have to shut the motor down a lot sooner and do more gliding rather than trolling through shallow areas," he says.

Rojas agrees with Crews on color selection. He reaches for natural pearlescent tones versus solid, contrasting colors used in dirty water.

Rojas says the most important thing an angler can bring to a clear lake is patience.

"Fishing clear water gives the fish an advantage because they can see you and your baits better than normal," he explains. "Your presentations have to be a lot better and cleaner. Your baits can't have scum or anything on them. Settle in and pay attention to the fish until you find what they want. This can be trickier in clear water."