LURE FISHING IN COLORED WATER
(First published in Pike and Predators magazine)
by Dave Lumb
A lot of folks I speak to are of the opinion that crystal clear water is essential for lure fishing success. If not that then they at least want to be able to see every detail on their lures a good many feet below the surface. I am not so sure that clear water is advantageous. Not least because clear water exposes you, the angler, to the pike more easily, but also because it gives pike a good look at your lures and therefore exposes their obvious artificiality. No doubt when fishing for unpressured pike giving them a good view of your lures from a long distance will improve your catches, but most of us are not fishing for such naive fish most of the time.
When it comes to judging the effect of
colored water it is worth first looking at the main reasons for colored water. The most obvious kind of
colored water is suspended silt. This gives rise to a varying degree of color to the water, at its worst that horrible impenetrable muddy, sludgy look. No matter how muddy the water might be lures can succeed - so long as thatıs the water in questionıs normal state. If a water is permanently
colored, or is heavily colored for long periods on a regular basis, then the pike there will be accustomed to feeding under those conditions.
Another type of colored water is that encountered mostly, in my experience, on upland waters. A tea like peaty stain. This type of
color actually results in clear looking water with an orangey-brown tinge to it. Similar to a cup of tea with no milk. Lures are often visible quite a way below the surface, but the brownish stain affects the way their
colors are perceived - certainly from above the water. The third cause of colored
water that I have come across is algal bloom. The degree of color in this case is dictated by the state of the bloom and can vary from widely spaced globs of algae suspended in clear water, to a thick green pea soup. All three of these
colored water states can be fished with success, although it wonıt be easy.
I shall take the simplest one to deal with first, and to my mind that is the peaty stain. I feel that this is the easiest to cope with because it usually gives the best visibility of the three. I have found that bright orange lures have worked well on these waters. Visibility is not all that bad in most cases, even after heavy rain the run-off doesnıt bring in much in the way of silt and the stain just gets darker.
Light transmission through peat stained water seems pretty good to me, and in bright sunlight chrome or prism finishes still give off plenty of flash to draw pikeıs attention. To contradict myself I have also found perch patterns to work in peat stained water - but that could either reflect the fact that perch can be a predominant prey species, or that perch patterns often have gold scale overlays that reflect light and give the lure flash. Peat stained waters are the ones that I have least experience of on a wide scale, so my recommendations are not necessarily the best advice around.
Algal blooms on the other hand I have encountered on a range of waters. What I will say is that the pea soup of high summer is almost the kiss of death to pike fishing as a whole, not just lure fishing. During the period the algae is spreading pike can be caught on lures, and when it is dispersing in autumn they can be caught more readily again. What is noticeable is that when the alga is blown by the wind and builds up in one area the pike are, likely as not, to be found outside that area. The rest of the lake will be clearer, and thatıs where the pike will be.
I have seen a large accumulation of alga during the autumn, the edge of which could be clearly seen as a green underwater curtain extending down to the limit of visibility. There was a really hard edge to this mass of green gunge, and the pike were very definitely to be found in the clearer water. When faced with a more widespread, but less dense, algal bloom it can be beaten by choosing lures that work slowly and which are dark in
color. Predominantly black jerkbaits are a good choice, ones that run fairly deep. My preference is to work all baits under these conditions just on the edge of my visibility of them. I canıt explain this, and it could just be a confidence thing, but maybe this is the depth at which lures give pike the best silhouette. Or maybe pike keep nearer the surface during algal blooms. Seeking better oxygenated water?
The muddy water scenario can be similar to the algal bloom in some respects when it comes to locating pike. If the
color is being caused by water entering the lake, or river or drain for that matter, there will often be a
mud line visible. You can bet your bottom dollar that the pike wonıt be found in the most
colored water, but away from the mud line in the clearer water.
Sometimes a mud line can be created by wave action against the shore, or run-off from the surrounding fields, and in these instances it will extend out from the bank either right around a lake, or along one section of bank. This will push the pike out from the margins. As with the
curtain of algae, fishing on the edge of the mud line can be a good starting point if the area that is
colored up is usually productive under more stable conditions. Pike tend to move only as far away from their preferred haunts as they have to. A temporary mud line is unlikely to push pike to a completely new area.
Now, on waters that are muddied to some extent all the time, the depth of visibility is less crucial than on waters that are usually clear but
color up. You could therefore have two waters with exactly the same level of color
from suspended silt, and one could fish really well (being clearer than usual) while the other would fish poorly (being more
colored than usual). It is not the degree of color that is important, but its degree relative to the norm.
A recently colored water is going to fish less well than it usually does. There is no doubting that all adverse changes in water conditions put pike off the feed, while improved conditions can bring them on. If a clear water has
colored up, or a colored water has got muddier still - forget it. If the color remains stable for some time, the pike will come back on the feed again, and when the water starts clearing you should be in with a really good shout. This is well appreciated by river and drain aficionados, but it applies equally to still waters.
Although colored water doesnıt look too appealing for lure fishing, unless it is recently
colored I am not unduly deterred. I have caught pike in water so muddy I have not been able to see the fish until they have broken surface. Now on seeing that level of clarity some folks would turn straight round and head for the pub! The key to cracking those conditions is to put your lures right on the noses of the pike.
When a water is muddy to the extent that lures can only be seen less than a foot below the surface you can still catch on them. Faced with such conditions the slow and deep retrieve approach usually works best. Grind those baits back along the bottom and almost bump them into the pike. If the water is shallow, say four feet or less, you can get away with a faster retrieve simply because the pike arenıt going to be far from the lures no matter how high you retrieve them. I also start out with a steady retrieve rather than a wildly erratic one. Give the pike more chance to target the baits at first. I have used this approach with in-line spinners and unweighted Sandras (in the days before Shallow Bull Dawgs) worked like that to outfish deadbaits, which looked like the best option, in shallow and murky water.
As with the algae situation, dark lures work well in muddy water, again because of the silhouette factor, but brighter lures can be good, and white should not be overlooked. Patterns that rely on flash for their attraction are probably a waste of time, except when fished well off bottom on sunny days where pike are higher in the water column, or simply in shallow water.
Donıt think that noisyı lures are essential in these conditions either. Pike that are accustomed to feeding in murky water can locate their prey, and our lures, without much difficulty - I suspect simply through sensing the displacement of water that the lures make. While a large, brightly
colored, large bladed spinnerbait will succeed, so too will a dull- colored grub dragged along the bottom on a jig head.
So next time you find a water to be more colored than you might consider worthwhile for lure fishing, donıt head for the pub. Give it a try. Head for the spots you expect the pike to be in and fish them. You might come to change your mind about
colored water if you do.