By Jeff Samsel

The good news about muddy water rolling in during the pre-spawn period is that the fish’s locations become highly predictable. The bad news is that it can be difficult to make bass bite in high, muddy water, even if you know exactly where to find them.

Elite Series angler Jason Christie – the No. 1 angler in the world in the BassFan World Rankings – believes the bad outweighs the good when you’re talking about legitimately muddy conditions while the water remains fairly cold. Bass in “average” bodies of water (not always muddy/not always clear) simply get harder to catch in cold, muddy water.
Christie’s first option is to look for the cleanest water possible. It doesn’t have to be “clear,” but anything less than flat-out muddy is better.

(LEFT - Christie's first choice of lures for high, muddy water during the prespawn is an XCalibur Xr50 Rattlebait.)

“Clearer water could be ahead of the mud or behind it,” Christie said. “Or, there might not be any. You just have to look.”

In some lakes, the upper part of creek arms will remain muddy for several days after a rain that adds major color, but sediment will settle farther down the creek arms and especially out in the lake’s main body. In other lakes, especially where the creeks have strong inflow under normal conditions, the first clear water will come from the backs of the creeks and gradually push the mud farther down the creek. In those cases, surprisingly clear water is sometimes right behind the chocolate milk.

The Muddy Approach
Clearer water often can’t be found, though, and often anglers must deal with the hand that has been dealt. If that means fishing cold, dirty water, Christie turns his attention toward the bank in areas close to where the bass will eventually spawn. He targets every piece of cover and structure.

“That pretty much takes away anything in the open water,” Christie said. “The fish will be up shallow and will want to nose up to something hard. That could be a rock, a bush, a dock or something else, but they’ll be close to hard cover.”

Sometimes the stumps and rocks that hold the fish are mostly submerged and scattered on big flats and the only way to find them and fish them effectively is to make a lot of casts and cover water. When Christie’s electronics show him that a flat offers the right kind of cover to hold fish, he blankets the area with an XCalibur Xr50 Rattlebait or an XrK50 One Knocker.
“I can cover a lot water with that bait and it makes a lot of noise and vibration,” Christie said. “They can feel it in that muddy water.”

(RIGHT - When he wants to slow it down and more thoroughly work individual pieces of cover or structure, Christie isn't afraid to break out the flippin' and pitchin' gear. He picks dark colored jigs and soft plastics for short-line presentations in muddy water.)

For working visible cover such as bushes, dock supports or laydowns, Christie often turns to a ½-ounce BOOYAH spinnerbait with a single Colorado blade. Like with the Rattlebait, vibration is a major factor. A single Colorado blade creates more “thump” than any other spinnerbait blade configuration.

For spinnerbait fishing, Christie makes short but accurate casts just past the target and works the bait as close to the cover as possible. Depending on the complexity of the cover and how likely he thinks a given spot is to hold fish, he might make several casts from different angles. Beyond the fact that bass almost need to be hit on the nose when the water is muddy, it sometimes takes multiple looks to coax one into biting under those conditions.

For extra thick cover or simply to slow things down and get more precise, Christie flips or pitches a ½-ounce BOOYAH Boo Jig matched with a YUM Craw Chunk and fishes it right next to a dock support, beside the base of a bush or into the middle of a brushpile.

For spinnerbaits or jigs, accurate casts and deliberate presentations are critical. With little to no threat of fish being spooked by the boat, positioning the boat close to the cover allows for the most accuracy and keeps the bait in the target area most of the cast.
No matter what style of bait or presentation he chooses for dirty water, Christie sticks with dark colors like blue-and-black or red-and-black. Dark colors provide the most striking contrast and the best opportunity for the fish to see the lure.

Little Less Mud
When mud prevails early in the year, if Christie can find water that’s even slightly less dirty he’ll pick that water first. For water that’s heavily stained but not quite muddy, neither his lure selections nor his overall approach really changes.

“It just opens up a little more water. You can fish a little deeper and a little bit out from the cover, and the fish are a little more willing to bite,” he said.

(LEFT - Don't let high, muddy water spook you off the water during springtime. Christie first looks for water that's a little clearer than the rest, but if that's not available, he targets shoreline cover with precise casts."

That also means that any given piece of cover generally doesn’t need as many casts or pitches, which makes it possible to hit more spots and potentially to find more fish.

Because Christie fishes multi-day events that follow a few days of practice, he commonly contends with changing water color during a week. That can kill a specific bite or bring one to life, depending on the lake and situation. If the fish are biting well in a certain area but the water is clearing or getting dirtier, he must decide whether to stay in that area and adjust his strategy to keep with the fish or to follow the right water color in the hopes of finding similar groups of fish in other areas.

Contending with mud is a complicated issue with few clear answers. However, since late winter and early spring invariably deliver big, wet weather systems, cold, muddy water clearly is a yearly condition we all face.