By Ed Mashburn
Many of Florida’s rivers and lakes are fed by springs, and the water tends to be very clear year-round. But even on waterbodies fed primarily by surface runoff, late winter and spring can see exceptionally clear conditions, due to the cool water and limited growth of algae. This puts us anglers at a disadvantage.
First, the clear water means that bass we can see can also see us. Bass don’t get big by being unobservant and stupid. Captain Robert Baker (Reel-Fin-Addict, 850-210-4375, www.tnthideaway.com) guides on Florida’s famously clear Wakulla River, and he says, “If you can see them, they can see you.”
Clear water fishing requires lighter line than usual, so anglers have to worry about fish fouling the line in weeds and breaking free—it happens a lot. In fact, the first thing that most sizable clear-water bass do when they feel pressure from a hook is to immediately dive into the grass and use the weeds to break off. If the angler tries to pull the bass out at a sharp angle, most of the time the line breaks or the bass works free. When a hooked bass dives into the salad, the angler should quickly position the boat directly over the hooked fish and apply gentle but steady pressure on the fish. Often, the hooked bass will allow itself to be pulled up through the path in the weeds that it made.
Pick Your Gear
Captain Rob tells us, “My general approach to ultra-clear bass fishing requires lots of patience and discovery during pre-fishing. I am looking for bedding bass, and I check around large sand pockets in the grass. I look for fallen trees, stumps and docks where bass may set up to ambush prey.” Baker continues: “I use 20-pound-test braid with 8- or 10-pound fluorocarbon leader.”
Fluorocarbon is more expensive than monofilament, but it has a refractive index closer to that of water, indicating that it should be less visible to fish.
I’ve fished the Wakulla River a bit myself. I always saw bass around a particular dock, but by the time I saw them, they had seen me and developed lockjaw. On a recent trip to the Wakulla, I set up 30 yards downstream of this dock and made a long cast to the end of the dock with an unweighted fluke bait. When the line came tight, a nearly 6-pound bass was on the hook. We may not catch fish that we see, but if we remember where we have consistently seen bass in the past and then work the location correctly, we may do very well in super-clear water.
For lure selection, it’s hard to beat soft-plastic worms, flukes and lizards for sub-surface, and buzz-frogs for surface use. Rig these lures weedless for best results. Any lure with treble hooks is going to spend most of its time hung up in weeds, but single hook plastics can slip and shimmy around and through some pretty thick vegetation.
Captain Rob says, “Use a light leader with little or no weight. Set up far enough to get out of visual range, but stay in casting distance. Cast past your target and slowly work back through the zone.”
It goes without saying that the combination of light line and long casts means that when a bass strikes in clear, grassy water, there’s going to be a lot of line stretch. It is very important to use the best and sharpest hooks possible when fishing clear water. That hook needs to set solid without a lot of “strong-arm” pressure.
Pick Your Days
Captain Rob tells us that not all days are the same on ultra-clear waters. He says that anglers can improve their chances by fishing on days which cut down on the sight of the bass. “Sunrise and sunset are best,” he says, “and on the spring rivers, days when the tide is highest—the water flow is at its least—are best. Overcast skies are best, and a rainy day may be the best possible clear-water bass fishing day.” FS
First published Florida Sportsman February 2015