Clear water can humble a man right quick.
When the largemouth bass are up shallow, prowling the mucky clouds of green snot, working in and out of easy-to-see lily pads, we’re all rock stars.
Everything we throw works.
We’re all KVD.
We’re all ready to go pro.
… and then… then the little green buggers throw us a curveball. They get weird. They do what they ain’t “supposed to do“. Something changes and they’re just… gone.
Now what, KEVIN?!
I was talking to a subscriber the other day who had emailed me about this very topic. We were discussing how important skunks were.
Not the animal – the days.
If we didn’t eat humble pie from time to time, the victories wouldn’t be so exciting.
My banks have been barren for some time now (sounds like a personal problem, but stick with me). Some lakes are worse than others. One favorite was hit with some sort of chemical last year, and all of the mucky pods that would grow & float near the shore are gone. (This is stupid, because there is no swimming or boating allowed in the lake… they just wanted to make it “look nicer”…)
This removed overhead cover for the bass (plus loads of microscopic goodies that attracted their food) and as a result, they now sit way way way far out away from me… where I can’t reach them.
The change prompted an article on Fishing Slumps, and how to get out of ’em.
It worked at some lakes… but at others, the fish were still not “reachable”. This prompted another article focused on using confusing times to scout areas and learn about new water.
This was productive, and it forced me to do some things that I had been putting off, like installing the new sonar on the boat. It also led to yet another article discussing why it is so important to make time for things that matter. None of us have time – we have to make it.
After all of that, where did we land?
In the jon boat, enjoying a crisp breeze on a crystal-clear Midwest rock quarry lake.
It was beautiful. It was peaceful. It was… challenging… and after eating even more humble pie, I learned a few things that helped me connect with fish I don’t normally target…
I’ll share those things with you now.
Crystal-clear quarry lakes are very difficult to fish.
No rock stars here. Believe me. The banks are steep. The fish are spooky. The depths are depth-y.
Other anglers, you ask?
Few & far between.
If you’re able, start by scouting the area ahead of time – before you do anything else.
My initial scouting mission was via kayak, so every little inlet the lake offered could be explored.
This can be a great way to run out quickly and just “pop in” at any lake. Paddle around, make some casts with a simple rig, and see what you can see. Just make sure you have realistic expectations. Take one rod with something that’s downsized and see if you can mark fish by eye. I used the following:
I saw a few fish inspect my bait but not commit, and landed one smallmouth. Nothing to write home about…
It scratched the itch a bit, but more importantly it made me want to learn even more about the area. It also got me fired up:
What can I do better?!
I came up with the following 4 adjustments that helped me land way more fish the next time out.
1. Look for flats with cover & active fish – work them quickly with a moving bait.
You see that steep bank over there? That hill that goes almost straight up in the air – the one you couldn’t climb if you wanted to? That steep shoreline angle probably continues underwater, meaning that the bottom drop is most likely sharp and steep.
If you’re in a boat, you can visually eliminate certain areas just by eyeing them up. Fish a few of ’em first, of course. You can often find large root systems that are exposed on steep banks. They dangle out over or into the water due to growth or erosion, and they may be in use. If there is no pattern to be found, change your focus and look for brush piles, rocky humps, points or flats.
I found a few bass roaming these areas, and several were willing to hit a walking bait.
Never in my life has this bait style worked for me (as mentioned, I’m usually fishing mucky snot with heavy tackle and weedless baits – not exposed treble hooks), so learning a new technique and finding success was very exciting and rewarding. I fished a Zara Puppy (small Spook) and tomorrow I’ll be testing a Yo-Zuri 3DB Series Pencil 100.
2. Plan to make LONG casts.
Whether you’re fishing fast or slow – the name of the game is stealth. The pit is clear. These fish can see both in and out of the water.
Be quiet. Be stealthy. Try to get a lure in front of them well before they can see your boat, or your ugly mug. (Just kidding big guy – you’re super handsome.)
Pair quality reels and long poles with smaller diameter line for the longest possible casts.
I’ve used Lew’s for a while now and I like their products, and X5 Braid has been holding up well without breaking the bank. Speaking of not breaking the bank, Seaguar Red Label is a good, inexpensive option for fluorocarbon leaders – but go with the Invizx if you plan to fill your entire spool.
3. Use the LIGHTEST LINE you can get away with.
As I mentioned above, we need to make long casts. The lighter your line, the longer you’ll be able to cast – especially when using finesse options.
The added benefit to lighter line, is that it’s simply less visible to the fish.
Both are important.
I have had great luck the last 2 years using Berkley X5 Braid on both spinning reels and baitcasters, and Red Label fluoro makes for decent, inexpensive leader material. Make sure to get a braid that is thick enough it wont bury in on itself during hooksets. Oh! Don’t forget: if you fill a full spinning reel spool with X5 – make sure to start the spool with monofilament backing so the braid doesn’t spin on the spool itself. If that happens, it will cost you fish and render your drag completely useless.
4. Go with NATURAL COLORS and the most NATURAL PRESENTATIONS you can come up with!
These fish can inspect your bait.
You better make it look g-e-w-d GEWD!
That hawg-style bait in your tackle bag, with all it’s appendages and bells & whistles looks fun… but what does it resemble? What are you imitating with that thing? Does it really mimic something that these fish are eating (probably shad or small minnows, bugs and possibly crayfish) or do those appendages create vibrations in the water that work well when fishing heavy cover where largemouth bass are reacting, and can’t visually inspect your offering?
Does that big bushy jig skirt look natural, or throw off negative cues?
On my kayak trip, I saw minnows. A lot of minnows.
I also had bass follow, but not attack my 4″ watermelon stickbait.
This could mean a color problem, a profile problem – or both.
When I went back, I had success fishing the topwater mentioned above, then caught even more fish in the crystal-clear quarry water using a realistic 3.5″ minnow bait on a natural, light wire jighead and light fluoro. Note that if we’re using light line, we need to use lighter gauge hooks so that they can penetrate the mouth of the fish without a ton of pressure – especially at long distances.
I also had a helper rod set up.
What’s a helper rod?
It’s a secondary rod that allows you to have a bait in the water at all times. Mine was rigged with a simple bobber and a braid-to-fluorocarbon connection, a small light wire wacky hook, and a 3″ YUM Dinger trailing the boat (dipped in Dr. Juice). Throughout the day I adjusted the depth, depending on where I was marking fish with the Garmin, and bagged a few extra bass.
The Garmin Striker I recently installed allows me to create my own contour maps. I’ve used my Deeper Pro+ for this in the past – and that unit has the added benefit of also recording what I see on the down imaging / sonar so I can play it back when I’m at my computer. This lets an angler review fish and bottom cover like brush piles that they may have missed while fishing – so you can mark and explore new areas next time.
There are benefits to the Garmin though (even though there are also some limitations) and a ton to love for the price. (If you’re interested let me know and I’ll do an article + video on this unit.)
By “matching the hatch”, and going with natural colors, my catch increased exponentially.
Try these adjustments the next time you’re out.
Finally… Pay it Forward… Like Greg from Geneseo
After a successful 3.5 hour trip, I was extremely pleased with my results. The changes I made were productive, and I started to daydream about coming back and sharing them with all of you!
That’s when I looked down… and noticed my trolling motor prop was spinning at about 15% strength, barely moving ‘ol Jonnie Boy.
Out came the emergency paddle.
I was all the way on the back side of the 25 acre quarry lake… and I was late to get back so I could get the kids from school… I was headed directly into the wind… and my wife was waiting for me back home…
I paddled faster.
As sweat poured off my face and water splashed all around me, I looked up to see a tall bearded figure slowly approaching me with a working trolling motor. He was majestic, wearing a pair of waders, a full white beard and a sly smirk.
(He had pants and a shirt on too, ya weirdo.)
A holler rang out:
“Hey buddy, you getting a workout or you need a tow?!”
We laughed and talked a bit, and I graciously accepted his offer to pull me back to the ramp. He told me his name was Greg, and you can read a bit more about the the situation over at the Bass Resource forum – along with a helpful discussion on boat batteries.
If any of you know Greg from Geneseo, Illinois – or have a story similar to mine – please let me know!
There will come a time when I'm on the water and I can repay Greg's kindness by helping another fisherman. I look forward to it, and I hope that these 4 tips for clear water quarry fishing (along with a warning on emergency paddles and backup batteries) helped you as well.
Go get 'em, and let me know how you do!
Tight Lines & Godspeed, Patriots.
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