Many lakes and rivers throughout the country are at the lowest and clearest they will be all year. A lot gets written about how to fish dirty, high water in the runoff season, but not many anglers talk about things that matter when the water is especially clear. These conditions can be just as tough, or tougher, when it comes to catching fish.
For one, factors like sunlight and shadows matter more in clear water conditions. Whether I am fishing from a boat for bass, or wading a river for trout, I make a point to know exactly where the sun is in the sky overhead, because I want to minimize my shadows as much as possible. Minimizing shadows, especially when you are fishing water that is less than six feet deep, is the number one factor that will improve an angler’s performance in clear water.
Second, I tone down the colors on the lures and flies I use when the water clarity is best. Colors I use to attract fish when visibility is limited—like chartreuse, red, orange, and black—can have a negative effect when visibility is good. It’s important to focus on natural colors that mimic baitfish and insects more exactly, like tan, brown, pale yellow, white and silver.
Third, I tend to size down when the water is clear. I don’t need to throw a giant crankbait to get a fish’s attention. Sometimes smaller and more subtle is the way to go.
Fourth, you don’t have to drop a bait or a fly right on a fish’s nose to get its attention. You want to make your presentation in a way that the fish gets sight of your offering, and then you want to force them to chase it. Don’t swim a minnow, for example, directly toward the big fish you are trying to catch: fish aren’t used to having bait attack them.
Lastly, when the water is really clear, it’s important to slow things down. If you normally make four casts in a minute, cut your pace in half, or more. Churning and burning might help you cover water and depths when conditions are murky, but in clear water, fewer, better-planned and better-placed casts will inevitably equate to more hookups.
Kirk Deeter is the editor of TROUT magazine, an editor-at-large with Field & Stream, and the co-author of The Little Red Book of Fly Fishing.