Fishing high, dirty water

Swimbaits have plenty of action, which is needed when the water is dirty and bass have trouble seeing their next meal.

Big storms make for full, muddy lakes. Don’t fret. Adjust.

October is usually one of my favorite months to catch bass, because it’s a month when fish are moving, feeding and hitting my favorite baits, crankbaits.

But every once in a while, you get an October that’s very different. Abnormal Octobers are typically caused by big storms that blow in and dump a bunch of rain on us and muddy up all of our lakes and rivers. Just in the last month or so, we’ve had Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma, so fishing in the fall when water levels are way above normal and the water is dirty is something you need to understand.

There’s not a lot of difference fishing high water in the fall and high water in the spring, except that in the fall, fish aren’t thinking about spawning. Either way, if the water comes up a lot, the fish will go in shallow as fast as the water comes up. All bass want to be shallow in the fall anyway, and fish are going to feed all the time, no matter where they are or what the conditions. A lot of fishermen get detoured when a lake comes up a lot. You have to find where they’re eating with relation to the water level. It’s usually going to be 3 to 5 feet or shallower.

When the water is down in the fall, you catch ‘em out on the edges with a crankbait like a Dredger, and you can catch ’em piled up. But with the water up, they’re going to go shallow, and a square-billed crankbait like a Square Bull and topwater baits come into play, a jig is a big deal, as well as a buzzbait or a spinnerbait and a swimbait. When the water is rising, fish are going to be looking up, and that makes some of these baits really good.

High water in the fall means fishing shallow, visible cover. If you’re fishing a lake that doesn’t have a lot of bushes, you’re going to be looking for laydowns, for rocks, for docks with a lot of shallow brush around them. At Buggs Island, one of the best fall patterns when the water is up is fishing stumps that you can barely see under the surface. That’s a dynamite pattern in October and November.

One thing you get a lot of the times in the fall when you’ve got a big storm and rising water is a mud line coming down the river or out of a creek. The bass really don’t want to be in the nasty, muddy water; they’re going to be looking for places where the water is clearer, because they can’t find their food in muddy water. I can remember having a big day one October on High Rock, catching bass in Flat Swamp Creek. There was a big mud line coming down the creek, and the bass were all out in front of it, in the water that was still clear.

“If the whole lake is muddy, some guys like that because they want to fish a spinnerbait or a jig, but for the first day or two, new muddy water is not great. That kind of muddy water is death. If you have no other choice but to fish it, use only dark colors: blacks or browns. What you want to do is try to find a little bit of stained water instead of the red mud. If the muddy water settles down a little, that can be good; the fish will get used to it. But if there’s still a lot of particles in it, a lot of silt, it’s really bad.

There are places in every lake where you can usually find water that’s a little less muddy. On lakes like High Rock and Buggs Island that have a lot of different creeks feeding them, you want to look for creeks with less water flow. At High Rock, when things get bad, Abbotts Creek will get muddy, and Swearing Creek will get muddy, but a creek that doesn’t have as much flow won’t be as muddy. And a creek with a lot of twists and turns, there will be a lot of places that will hold little patches of clearer water, maybe just stained or a little dingy. You get off the main lake and get back some secondary coves and cuts, and it won’t be as dirty.

What you need to also know is that fish aren’t going to swim 5 or 6 miles to get away from the muddy water, but they’ll go a little ways in a creek or a cut to find water that’s not as muddy.

Now, how do we catch them? Remember, when the water is coming up, fish will be looking up. Topwaters, buzzbaits, spinnerbaits, swimbaits, a little square-billed crankbait, a little crankbait like our Berkley Digger 4.5 that’s 11/2 inches long, hopping or swimming a jig. You want baits with hard action, moving baits that are moving water. You want to get away from baits with a tight action. You want a bait with more aggressive action. That’s why swimbaits, anywhere from 3.8 to 6 inches long, can be really effective.

So, don’t freak out and keep your boat in the garage when a big storm really fills up your favorite lake. Know that fish stay hungry, and in the fall, they want to be shallow, and rising water just pushes them there even harder. Keep a few of these little tips in mind, and you may start looking at the Weather Channel a little more often, waiting for those big fall storms to bring on the rain.

About David Fritts 128 Articles
David Fritts is a 61-year-old pro bass fisherman from Lexington, N.C. He won the 1993 Bassmasters Classic champion and the 1997 FLW Tour Championship, and he was the 1994 BASS Angler of the Year. He is sponsored by Ranger boats, Evinrude outboards, Lew’s, Minnkota,and Berkley.

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