By Nick Simonson
I’ve fished a great number of lakes in the past few years, from alkaline-clouded sloughs in eastern North Dakota to crystal clear lakes near the Canadian border in northern Minnesota. Of all the waters fished, it is the latter that has provided the greatest challenge. Those lakes where a person can sight fish in 25 feet of water provide a test of a fisherman’s ability to adapt and react to the conditions. Applying lessons old and new, I have worked on clear water tactics the past few seasons and here’s what I have learned.
Foul weather fisherman
While sunny conditions and eighty degrees are a delight to have on any water, calm winds and blue skies provide a test to finding fish on a clear lake. When targeting a clear water impoundment, overcast days keep fish shallow and winds providing some chop keep fish up and active. Use the wind to your advantage, focusing on shallow or mid-depth wind-swept reefs and bars that are in use by feeding fish during the day. Fish clear lakes on cloudy days to help your chances of connecting and save the nice days for lakes in your area that are stained or have turbid waters or algae blooms.
Like most waters, clear lake fishing is best in low light conditions. If you tack on the heavy recreational use that these aesthetically pleasant lakes usually receive, the night bite might be your only option. Work the shallows at dawn, dusk and evening for all species of fish, but be prepared to go deeper during the day, especially for walleyes.
Many anglers don’t get to pick the days they go fishing, so when Saturday rolls around, they take what they can get. If a post-frontal high pressure system comes through leaving blue skies and sun, and a clear lake is the scene for the weekend, anglers aren’t out of luck. Adjust trolling and jigging patterns to deeper reefs, holes and humps to find fish and monitor their location on sonar. Generally, more light-wary fish like walleyes will hold deeper on clear lakes, providing another wrinkle in the grand scheme.
Structure fishing on clear lakes can also help the weekend angler on a clear day. Bass will relate to docks, fallen trees, bridges, swimming platforms and other objects that provide shade from the sun. While structure fishing usually requires heavier line and rods, try to get away with the lightest equipment and line as possible, or use a fluorocarbon leader of ample strength when working clear water structure in the shallows. Also check your sonar for submerged structure, like deep fallen timber, stumps or rocks and work it methodically by trolling, jigging or Carolina rigging.
Change it up
The standard tackle a person presents might need some adjustment on clear lakes. From observation, I have found that matching the conditions when choosing lures is key. The rule of brighter colors on sunny days and darker colors on cloudy days is even more so written in stone on gin-clear waters.
Downsizing can help as well. Fish with heightened visual acuity in clear waters can see smaller lures much easier than their dirty-water brethren. Try using smaller tubes, spoons and crankbaits when standard-sized offerings don’t work for bass. Subtler and smaller, in the case of clear waters, can be better.
Finally, adjust your line to the conditions. Superlines, while providing the benefit of abrasion-resistance and increased sensitivity are often visible to fish. Use a fluorocarbon leader tied to a barrel swivel on the end of your favorite braided line to keep the sensitivity of a superline and get the stealth clear waters require.
These tips are a guide to better clear water fishing. Experiment with these suggestions on the lakes you fish and figure out what works. Remember that all bodies of water are different, and clarity can vary from week to week. Knowing what to use and how to approach lakes when they are at their clearest can help keep you on fish all summer long…in our outdoors.
(Featured Photo: Even clear water shallows can be fished effectively at low light periods like dusk, or dawn when the author caught this nice largemouth up in skinny water. Simonson Photo)