“Are these rules absolute, of course not. However, if you use them as general guidelines, it will put you in the ballpark depth of the bass more often than not.”
‘Water clarity is the single most important factor in locating largemouth bass.’ This statement has been repeated to me, over and over, by numerous bass fishing professionals over the last few years.
Water clarity is so important because it determines to a large extent, how deep the bass will be on any given body of water year round. Once you understand how water clarity effects bass behavior, it makes finding bass much easier.
Bass fishing professionals only have a limited amount of time to find tournament winning schools of bass. They must have a general idea of how deep to start looking for bass on any given body of water. The way they do that consistently is by following a few general rules.
These rules have been proven to be very accurate, regardless of time of year, in relation to water clarity.
Guidelines for locating Bass
1) Water clarity 6 inches or less, bass will be less than 6 feet deep.
2) Water clarity 6 inches to 1 foot, bass will be less than 10 feet deep.
3) Water clarity 1 foot to 2 foot, bass will be less than 15 feet deep.
4) Water clarity 2 foot to 6 foot, bass will be less than 35 feet deep.
5) Water clarity 6 foot or more, bass will be less than 55 feet deep.
Water clarity is crucial in determining bass location for one main reason. The more stained the water, the less a bass uses its eyesight as the primary way it locates and catches prey.
A bass has 2 main ways it finds prey, its eyesight and its lateral line. A bass has sharp eyesight and can see well both below and above the water.
- In water with clarity of greater than 2 feet a bass primarily uses its sight to find prey. They see a shad, bluegill, or crawfish and then go eat it.
- In water clarity of less than 2 feet bass primarily use their lateral line to locate prey. They feel vibrations in the water from the nerve endings on their side, and then use triangulation to hone in on the source. Sight is only used at the last second before the bass strikes, if at all.
Let’s look at this example. It’s summertime on your favorite lake and the water clarity has been 1-2 feet. You have been catching bass on a ledge in 12 feet of water. You pull up to the ramp and notice the water clarity has drastically changed. It’s now less than 6 inches.
The bass will still be in the same general area you were catching them in previously, but they will be know where near as deep. You should start fishing at the 6 foot level and move shallower from there, even though last week you were loading the boat at the 12 foot level. This is true summer, winter, spring, or fall.
How to Determine Water Quality
In order to determine the water clarity, there is a very simple procedure you can follow. Tie on a brightly colored lure and reel it to the very end of your rod tip. Then submerge the tip of your rod into the water until the lure is no longer visible. Mark the rod at the point where it entered the water when the lure disappeared. The distance between the rod tip and the point the rod entered the water is the water clarity depth.
In relatively clear water, visibility more than 2 feet, bass feed primarily by sight. You want to use lures that closely resemble a bass’s forage for the particular body of water you are fishing. You also want to work your lures faster and more erratically, not giving the bass a good look at your bait. Bass will come from a great distance in clear water to strike a bait, but will not bite if the lure is not the same size, shape, and color as their forage.
Key baits in clear water
- walking type topwater
- translucent skirted spinnerbait with small blades
- finesse jigs
- straight tail worms
All these baits closely resemble shad, bream, or crawfish, a bass’s primary forage in most bodies of water.
There are a few guidelines you need to follow when fishing clear water.
- In clearer water you want to position your boat further away from structure/cover. Bass are more easily spooked and will dart away at the first sign of alarm.
- You generally don’t want to make repeated casts to an area. A bass will either bite right away or be alarmed and become uncatchable for a while.
- It’s better to rotate through productive areas repeatedly throughout the day, not stay in one area for an extended period of time.
Wind is a huge factor in clear water. Wind masks boat noise and will generally position the fish shallower on cover/structure. Windy areas and areas with current will hold more aggressive bass in clear water conditions.
In stained/muddy water, visibility less than 2 feet, bass primarily feed by using their lateral line. Under these conditions you want to use lures that move a bunch of water when they are retrieved. Slower steadier retrieves get the nod here. Bass will not travel a great distance to strike a bait and will be positioned tighter on cover/structure.
Baits should be dark or very brightly colored.
Baits to use in stained/muddy water
- big bladed spinnerbait with bright skirt
- wide wobbling shallow crankbait
- big jig & trailer
- large plastic creature bait
These baits all move a lot of water when retrieved, which helps a bass to find them in stained/muddy water conditions.
There are also some general guidelines you should follow when fishing stained/muddy water.
- In stained/muddy water you want to position your boat closer to the cover/structure you are fishing. Bass are not very spooky under these water conditions, allowing you to move in relatively close to the cover/structure you are fishing.
- Bass become much more cover oriented in stained/muddy water and will not chase a bait a great distance.
- You want to make repeated casts to an area, covering it thoroughly from all angles before moving on. Wind and current can help position the fish on cover/structure in stained/muddy water, but are not nearly as important factors as in clear water.
So remember, next time you go to the lake, put your rod tip in the water and see how deep your lure disappears. Then use that information as a basis for how deep you should begin your search for bass.
About the Author
Wayne Hauser is a Touring Professional Bass Angler who is currently fishing on both the FLW Tour and in the BASS Opens.
The 2013 season was his first year on the FLW Tour; he has fished the BASS Opens for two years. Wayne has a wealth of knowledge about bass behavior, techniques to catch bass, and how to do well in bass tournaments, which he will share with us in his articles. He is from and currently resides in North Carolina and is married with one son.
Wayne share more of his experience with us in articles on these links