Fishing in muddy water can seem a bit challenging for many anglers. Indeed crystal clear water is sexier, so to speak, it’s nicer. But fishing muddy dark-colored waters is actually a lot easier. Fish won’t see you and spook as easily. They also won’t tend to be offshore as much, making fishing much simpler. In short, I see fishing in muddy water as good news!
A fishing trip in high muddy water on a lake or a river is very different. The reason is that high water levels mean stronger and faster currents. That’s probably a bigger factor to deal with than watercolor. The key is going to be finding places protected from the heavy current. It can be behind eddies, bridge pilings, points, rocks, and so forth. Fish can also be tucked right against the shore in submerged vegetation.
Some rivers have muddy water year-round. If it’s a strong current, the above-mentioned fish location advises apply. In slow or normal currents the fish will basically position themselves similarly to a clear or stained water river. They will just tend to be shallower.
It’s important to differentiate a lake that has muddy water year-round from a body of water with usually clearer water that would suddenly turn muddy. In the latter case, it’s likely that fish will just shut down for a few days. They will wait for the water to clear up or adjust to the new condition. So if your clear lake has just turned muddy, it’s better to give it a few days before fishing.
In muddy water, fish tend to relate closer to cover and structure than they would do in clear water. Expect fish to be either on the bottom or near some type of cover. Even though fish have other senses, they still rely a lot on sight. They will therefore tend to be shallow and will be less likely to suspend right out in open water.
In rising water, fish will quickly colonize new habitats in the form of shoreline vegetation, trees, and bushes. They can be very shallow with only a few centimeters of water over their back. This is particularly true for pike and bass. But they will desert it and revert back to normal pool habitat as soon as the water starts dropping. There probably is an engraved fear of being trapped when the water starts dropping that drives the fish out.
In flooded rivers where perch and zanders are seeking respite from the powerful current, fishing can be spectacular. The best lure is without a doubt a big paddle tail swimbait. It can be rigged on a heavy jig head for fishing current breaks. These spots can be fairly large behind an island or other large current breaks. Choose a lure that moves a lot of water, pick a strong color like chartreuse or pink.
For fishing shoreline vegetation I select a paddle tail swimbait designed to be Texas rigged and I pitch it in heavy brush and bank cover. I try to locate vegetation with as little current as possible and slightly deeper water.
In lakes, for pike and bass fishing, we have a bit larger lure selection to choose from. My first choice is a big Colorado blade spinnerbait. Don’t be afraid to fish super shallow, when possible I throw my lure on the bank and drag it to the water. It’s stealthy and doesn’t waste any water no matter how shallow it is. Big pike and big bass will be tucked in right against the bank and possibly a bit skittish. Hence the stealthy approach.
Crawfish also will move shallow, and that calls for good craw imitation like a jig or a Texas rigged creature bait. It might seem a little counter-intuitive but the darker color will contrast better in muddy water. I like black and blue jigs and craws with bright tips of the claws, like red or chartreuse. It’s a good time to add a rattle to your lure for extra raucous!
Some lakes with thick weed growth will have good open water over them when the level rises. It’s a good opportunity to fish a big swimbait, hard or soft for giant pike. Find a lure with a wide lazy action that sends off plenty of noise and vibration and slow roll it over the grass.
Crankbaits are some of the best moving baits for fishing in muddy water out there. Whether it’s a square bill crankbait for shallow water fishing or deeper diver, you need to select the right lure. Forget about the tight action fast lures. It’s time to pull the slow wide wiggle lures with enough rattles to wake up a dead fish! Don’t be afraid to go all out on the colors too, chartreuse, blue back, firetiger…
Topwater can be a good option too. I like buzzbaits, big wakebaits, and crawlers. Just fish slow and tight to cover. The other benefit of muddy water is that the morning and evening bites are not as preeminent as in clear water, you can sleep a little longer and catch fish on top all day.
Muddy water usually means shallow water fishing and I’m all about that. Forget about drop shots, long casts, and finesse presentation. It’s time for power, shallow deliberate presentation with hard thumping lures, how can it be better than that?