Cold water colored brown by runoff is one of the toughest fishing conditions in spring. Rains that muddy the water improve fishing from mid-February to mid-March because the run-off is usually warmer than the lake’s water. The increase in water temperatures pushes large bass and sunfish into shallow, warmer water.
As the fishing season slides into April, increased daylight and warmer temperatures heats the water considerably. April rains often accompany a cold front and arrest the warming. This situation makes fishing tough. However, slowing down your presentation and using lures that attract fish in muddy water will put some in your hand.
A spinner bait draws strikes from bass in dirty water because the lure creates vibrations that fish can feel. “They aren’t going to have any ability to see to track things down,” said Jeff Ross, assistant director of fisheries and former black bass research biologist for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. “Bass have to rely on their lateral line to find prey. The lateral line runs down their sides and picks up vibrations. Spinner baits are a good choice as a result.”
Combinations of white, chartreuse, brown and blue make good color choices for spinner baits in April. Choose a double-bladed model with two round Colorado blades. These provide more thump in the water than the thinner willow-leaf blades. “Sight feeding is tough for a bass in murky water,” Ross said. “Anything that draws more attention is good.”
Toss a spinner bait around shallow submerged cover such as a log, treetop, rock pile or standing timber. Work it back as slowly as you can while still making the blades turn. Bass in muddy water need time to track down prey. They won’t hit something zooming by their noses.
If working shallow cover produces no strikes, fish your spinner bait slowly near the bottom of the first drop-off closest to the shallows. Bass often stage here during periods of unstable weather and wait until a warming trend before moving shallow. A spinner bait thumping right in front of their noses usually proves too much for a bass to resist.
Bluegill and redear sunfish also hit small, in-line spinning lures in cloudy water. A small white, chartreuse or chartreuse and orange in-line spinner worked in open water near the bank works well.
“For sunfish in muddy water, I like a small white Rooster Tail in-line spinner,” said Rick Hill, staff artist for Kentucky Fish and Wildlife and dedicated sunfish angler. “They can find it easier and use their senses to attack. You can catch some really nice bluegill this way.”
A large, dark jig-and-pig combination is another effective dirty-water bass lure in mid-spring. Although white and chartreuse stand out as spinner bait colors, dark jigs are the way to go in soupy conditions.
“You make a bigger disturbance in the water with a large jig, and bass detect it,” Ross explained. “You want a bigger profile as well. Bass see the jig better with a darker color. The dark color provides a better outline.”
A black jig with a black and blue trailer is hard to beat for muddy water. A black jig with strands of chartreuse in its skirt and a plastic black and chartreuse crawfish for a trailer also provokes strikes. A brown and orange jig with a brown chunk trailer is another proven choice.
Throw the jig against shallow cover and crawl it back to you as slowly as you can stand. “You have to fish a jig in murky water much slower to give the bass a chance to track it down and strike,” Ross said.
A dark jig slowly crawled or subtly hopped across a mud flat near a drop-off excels for bass in April. Large female bass relate to flats in spring as they may drop eggs there a few weeks from now. Crayfish also emerge from mud flats in spring after spending the winter burrowed into them.
A channel or deeper water nearby provides sanctuary. Flats also don’t see nearly the fishing pressure as visible shoreline cover such as a fallen tree.
Don’t fear creamed coffee colored water this April. Sling a spinner bait, in-line spinner or a jig and slow down your retrieve. You’ll land some bass and bluegill when most go home.
Author Lee McClellan is an award-winning associate editor for Kentucky Afield magazine, the official publication of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources. He is a lifelong hunter and angler, with a passion for smallmouth bass fishing.