Catching fish in muddy waters


Water and Wings by Ken Parrott



If you are like me, you are getting a little tired of all the rain we have been having this spring.

The frequent downpours have created high and muddy water conditions in the area lakes and it can create some frustrating times for fishermen. Fortunately, I have been able to get in my fishing fix with frequent trips to Lake Erie chasing walleye, but if you don’t have that option, trying to fish around here the last few weeks can be very frustrating.

May and June are traditionally the best fishing months but it has been tough to put together a good fishing trip with the current conditions. When the lakes flood, many fishermen give up and wait until the water settles back down, but I am going to share with you some tips to improve your chances of catching fish when the waters are muddy.

The biggest problem with the incoming rush of new water is the mud that it brings with it. The high density of soil particles can darken the waters enough to reduce visibility to a few inches making it difficult for the fish to find forage to feed on. Fish who rely on their vision to find their prey like walleye, perch, and crappie are really affected by muddy water and can be the most difficult to catch during these times. Sensory feeders like catfish can actually be turned on by flooding waters as the rush of new water and soil tend to bring tasty things with it.

Fishing for these type of feeders can be extremely good if you are using bait that gives off a pungent odor. Bass, which rely on vision, smell, and their lateral line to detect water motion for finding prey, fit somewhere in between the sight feeders and sensory feeders. Their sight is obviously limited but they adjust to the conditions and rely more on their other tools to seek out and find prey.

You can break a flood down into two time periods: rising water levels and lowering water levels. If I could have my choice, I would much prefer to fish in the early stages of the flood or the rising water conditions. As the water level rises, the fish tend to move up with it. If the lake rises several feet, it will create all kinds of new habitat and places for them to find food. The fish also tend to feed hard to prepare themselves for the difficult times that are coming.

I have a lot of luck during these times pitching and flipping right against the bank, even if the area I am fishing is normally dry land. Always remember that the muddiest water is coming into the lake from the feeder creeks and rivers upstream, so to find cleaner water, head down lake where the mud line hasn’t made it yet.

The other time period is when the waters start to recede and return to normal. This can be a lot more difficult time to fish as they will pull way off the banks and can be hard to locate. The deeper water structures can be more reliable during this time as long as the water isn’t too muddy. During the first half of the flood, we told you to head down lake. Now, we are going to turn around and head back up lake to where the feeder creeks and streams are bringing in cleaner water. Visibility will improve much faster at this end of the lake.

Whichever time period of the flood you find yourself on the lake, lure selection can be critical. The most important choice you will make is the color of your bait. Stick with very dark colors such as black, blue, and chartreuse, as these show up better in the mocha colored water making them easier to be seen by the fish.

Stick with lures that displace a lot of water and give off a lot of vibrations so they can be felt by the fish. Jig and pigs, spinnerbaits, flipping plastics that have a lot of appendages, and crankbaits are all good choices. You can also increase your chances by heavy usage of fishing formulas so the fish can find your bait with their nose.

Use the over the counter scents heavily and frequently. Slow your action of the bait way down so the fish can catch up to it and the addition of a stinger or trailer hook to your spinnerbait can be helpful in hooking up with the fish that misses the actual bait because of its limited sight. If you are using live bait for catfish, make your selection based on what smells the worse to your nose and you will probably be alright. There are lots of homemade stink bait recipes out there, but good old chicken gizzards seem to work well.

Fishing in muddy water can be frustrating but it is better than being at home. Just remember that even though the conditions are difficult for the fish, they still have to eat and you might as well be there when they do.

Until next time, Good Hunting and Good Fishing!

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Water and Wings by Ken Parrott

Ken Parrott is an Agricultural Science teacher with Northmor High School.

Ken Parrott is an Agricultural Science teacher with Northmor High School.