Clearwater Fishing, for the elusive Spotted bass, in deep clear reservoirs can be an intimidating task for those not familiar with the habits of spotted bass and clear water applications. Being a part time guide the most consistent thing I am seeing from my out of state clients is that they are absolutely terrified of that clear water, especially if they are from a stained water environment. Clear water is not an easy situation to overcome for the average angler. The vast majority of the bass fishermen are more comfortable fishing off colored and shallow water. Typically, clear water strategies usually revolve around fishing deep water, which is a whole different ballgame for them. A lot of clear water misconceptions are normally "We gotta fish deep and with small baits". All I gotta say is that's the equivalent of reading Shakespeare or listening to Chopin before going to bed. BORING!!! I tend to fall asleep on the front deck after about an hour of doodling LOL.. But anyway, while fishing deep with small baits will most definitely work if your a small bait/deep water kind of angler. I tend to stick with trying to find active fish which adapts more readily to my fishing style which is Power Fishing. Don't get me wrong, there are certainly times when things are not happening and I have to become more versatile by fishing slower and smaller baits to get the bites I need.
Spots vs. Largemouth, first, let me talk a little about the habits and characteristics of Spots in comparison to Largemouth to get a better grasp of the species at hand. In North Georgia where I reside and fish, Spotted Bass are the most predominant species (not counting stripers). Most of our lakes are roughly 70% to 80% spots with 20-30% of the population remaining being Largemouth. I have actually gone almost a year on some of our spotted bass lakes without catching a largemouth. On a typical spotted bass lake you will find more spots in the main lake and just inside the creek arms (i.e. deeper water) and the largemouth tend to favor the backs of creeks (shallower water). So take a wild guess where I spend most of my time fishing :). Of course you can catch a largemouth in the main lake and a spot in the back of creeks but this is just a generalized statement. Compared to Largemouth the Spotted bass is twice as aggressive and twice as curious which in my opinion is their BIGGEST pitfall that gets the Spot in trouble and also that alone is the #1 aspect that any angler can capitalize on and turn this pitfall into their advantage. If you can fully understand and comprehend the last sentence about Spotted bass being overly aggressive and curious you will improve your catch tremendously for most of the Spring and Summer months in those clear water lakes guaranteed!! As far as aggressiveness levels I tend to think of Largemouth as lazy and slow moving and the Spots more as a torpedo launched out of a rocket launcher, when it comes to defining fish personalities between the two species. The spotted bass will also, generally, live in, or suspend over deeper water more than Largemouth which is another key important part of the equation. By deeper water I mean 15-80 feet and the spotted bass are right at home and I know some people that can't even think that deep :). I honestly feel that spots spend quite a bit of their time suspended over deep water structure. Spots, without a doubt, are a stronger fighting fish than their Largemouth cousins and Spots are even more prone to holding on rock type structure than largemouth and by adding long points and deep brush piles into the equation, they just sweeten the deal even more. After reading all of the above, it might seem that spots are very similar to Smallmouth. Spots and Smallmouth are very similar, if not almost identical. They both tend to roam and move around quite a bit making a pattern VERY short lived for the most part and they both absolutely love moving water (current). Now all of the above characteristics I have listed might not be your ideology of clear water spots in your home state as every lake has their own characteristics, but these are just some of the notes that I have observed and used to my advantage since I have lived here in North Georgia.
Clear water equipment Fishing clear water can be a nightmare for anglers who haven't experienced it and often results in fishless disasters for experienced and inexperienced anglers alike. Yes, I tend to use lighter line primarily for the reason that I don't have near as much structure to worry about hanging a fish on as compared to most Southern lakes. I use 14lb Green Excel for the majority of my reaction bait fishing, mainly because we catch the occasional Striper and I don't like donating my expensive Lucky Craft jerkbaits to the Striper Lure fund. I may bump down to 8lb line in the heat of the summer when the water is clearest and on my Curado 100's I usually use 8lb test. As for reels, any brand will work but I tend to favor faster gear ratio's and you must absolutely make sure they are capable of slinging a lightweight bait in the 40yds ++ as I will explain why later. As for baits, most scientific studies that I have read have shown that clear water bass depend more on sight than any other sense, much more than fish living in stained or even muddy water, which use a combination of senses, most notably those that detect vibration and sound. I generally use the same sized baits that I use for Largemouth. I like to throw Pointer 78's, 100's and even the monster 125, Flashminnow 110 and TR95, Staysees 90, HEAVY compact Spinnerbaits, 4 and 5 inch Senkos, Bandits, Lucky Craft Cranks, Bass Stalker Jigs 1/4 to 3/8oz, Sammy 100's, Alabama Rig, jigheads tipped with a Yamamoto Cuttail worms etc. Sounds like who's who fishing for largemouth doesn't it?? Notice how for the most part the baits I have listed above are jerkbaits which are a huge mainstay in my clear water arsenal. :) Not that I don't know how to throw a Carolina rig, Texas rig, or a split shot rig, but they are just not my primary confidence baits in clear water, but try to remain open minded and versatile they most definitely have their time and place.
Notice when I stated in my bait selections I also like HEAVY compact spinnerbaits. What I mean by HEAVY compact spinnerbaits are baits weighing 3/4 oz up to 1.25 ounces strictly in a smaller downsized double willow leaf setup that you would normally get with a heavy spinnerbait. I don't use these heavy baits to slow roll the bottom, but the reason I use heavy double willow leaf spinnerbaits is threefold. One reason is due to their heavy weights I am able to make extremely long casts with a 7ft rod to have an even greater calling range to take advantage of the clear water and another reason I prefer the heavier tandem willow leaf is the heavier the bait the faster I can burn it to take advantage of the aggressive and curiosity aspects that I explained above. I prefer the double willow leaf set up because it offers the least amount of water resistance and is perfect for burning them just under the water with minimal lift and to prevent it from breaking the surface of the water on a fast retrieve. Very few if any commercial spinnerbait manufacturers make such a heavy compact spinnerbait with downsized blades, however Bill Dee at SOB LURES a BFHP sponsor and Ryan Coleman has recently been producing and field testing a very effective heavy compact spinnerbait bait called the Mini-Me (see picture below)for almost a year that I would highly recommend for Spotted Bass. As you can tell from the picture Bill gives the Michelangelo effect into some gorgeous spinnerbaits and this spinnerbait will do the job!! Now that I have described a little about the equipment and baits that I rely on how do we fish them.
How do we catch'em, I have found that one of the key ingredients to catching fish in clear water relies on the retrieve. Here is what I mean by that. Obviously, in clear water fish can see your bait more clearly. They can see the hooks they can see the eyes, scale patterns etc more so than in stained or muddy water environment. I bet they can read the "Pointer 78" written on the bottom of the bait. By reeling the bait faster I am not only taking advantage of the fact that Spots are twice as aggressive and twice as curious than their Largemouth cousin, but to pique their interest I am also not giving them the slow presentation in a clear water atmosphere to let them "look the bait over" to decide if it is the real deal or not. I want my bait to look like an escaping and fleeing baitfish that is trying to avoid death. By using the faster retrieve, I am trying to trigger a reaction strike from the fish, which actually defines the term "Power Fishing". They are either going to eat it, or miss out on a meal as they rip over their head and, if they miss it, I will mark the spot in my head as a sweet spot and the fish at least give away their location for me to come back to later in the day for another try. One of the most common mistakes that I see people do is they fish too close to the shore and they don't make long enough casts in clear water or they do not have the right equipment to make those long casts. The last thing you want to happen is to have a "Wolfpack" (school) of several 3-5lb spots rise on your reaction bait out of 50ft of water and the lure is right at the boat and the fish get spooked. I feel that longer casts have a greater calling range in clear water and it gives the spots more time to come out of 30ft + of water to nail your bait zooming over head. Not to mention that Spots are already notorious as "bait followers" so by making the longer cast it gives the fish a little more distance to fool around and commit to crashing into your offerings. Let me make a point by saying that spots are the only fish I know of that can pocket pick a jerkbait full of hooks and escape death!! How they do it is beyond me, but I have had some HUGE spots crash my jerkbaits up to 4 times on one cast and still not connect, unfortunately this is normal and the only known cure I have found is to come back in an hour or two with a different color and try again :(. LOL. For the reasons I stated above, while fishing spinnerbaits don't be foolish and fish them without a trailer hook. There are a lot of days where I can easily catch 50% of my fish on the back stinger hook alone. Do keep in mind that every area (point, hump, ditch) has a sweet spot that is the most likely area to call the school up to the surface or sub surface. Your job is to fan cast to find these areas and analyze where the sweet spots are in relation to your surroundings so you can avoid running over it next time with the boat or trolling motor when you visit that area again. In most cases these areas are often located exactly where a normal angler would position his boat to fish the shoreline. So, you basically want to fish quite a ways off the point or structure itself so that is why I normally start out about 80 yards (often in 60+ feet of water) from the structure and fan cast with long casts and slowly close in on the point/hump or whatever available structure around these areas. I mentioned earlier that jerkbaits, spinnerbaits and topwater are a big part of my clear water arsenal. Am I saying that I am fishing jerkbaits, spinnerbaits, topwater that run no deeper than 5 feet over 70 feet of water will catch fish?? Yep, LOTS OF THEM, and fairly big ones too as you can tell from some of the pictures. In fact some of my favorite areas are docks and tires floating over 100ft of water. Just last week I took Ronnie Garrison, an Outdoor writer for Georgia Outdoor News, to my home lake and he caught fish on a fluke in water close to 134 ft feet deep. However, most of the areas I fish for spots, as I said above, takes place in 15-80 feet of clear water with structure such as brush piles on or off points. Mostly, I burn heavy spinnerbaits, jerkbaits, topwaters around these type of structures. The water is so clear the Wolfpack of BIG spots will come out of 60 feet of water to get it and it's the neatest thing you'll ever see when they do, watching them muscle each other out for your offerings. You're basically still fishing deep structure, but you're not fishing the lures deep. In a nutshell you are basically fishing the first 1 to 5 feet of water at the top of the water column and drawing them off their deep holding structure to the surface/subsurface.
Fishin "Mo water" One of the most common things that I am told is I favor the "Run and Shoot" offense while fishing for spots. I like to move around the lake a lot and normally I'll pull up on a spot and fish it for 10-15 minutes or less and if I don't get a bite, I'll leave in search for more active fish. Spotted bass are usually so aggressive spring through the middle of the summer that if they're there you should get a bite in the first few casts to a productive point or underwater brush pile. It's not uncommon for me to crank up and run 60 times or more in a morning to different areas of the lake to try on my milk run to find concentrations of active fish. Spots move around quite a bit from one end of the lake to the other. Sometimes they are biting better on the upper end than they are on the lower end and a lot of times for no reason at all. They commonly turn their appetite and mood off and on like a light switch which makes running and gunning even more effective. The above are reasons why I move around so much and eventually you will find some productive areas by covering vast amounts of water. Paul Elias says it best when he said "If you hopped around and strictly fished points in tournaments you will usually do very well. You might not win the Tournament but your chances are great of doing well and catching fish consistently over the long run are very good". I like to mix my areas up to figure out the pattern as they often change from day to day and even sometimes hour to hour. I might start on some bluff walls then work my way to the main lake points then secondary points and let the fish tell me where they are. If I find them on secondary points I start looking for secondary points that look very similar to the ones I am catching them on. A lot of times you'll end up finding a pattern within a pattern. They might be on only secondary points with big boulders or pea gravel or even on secondary points with rock boulders on those points on the non windward side. Each fish gives you another piece of the puzzle to clue you in on what is going on under the surface of the water so pay close attention and analyze each and every fish not matter how small as you catch them and obviously don't forget to analyze what isn't working as well. "A few mo pointers" I wanted to add a few pointers about color selection. As stated above that most clear water spots hunt their prey by sight more than any other sense, so I like to give them what they want in color selection. I like to give them something they can see from long distances and the one thing that drastically sticks out like a sore thumb is the color favorites of spotted bass. My basic rule of thumb is they prefer very LOUD colors. I always say that if it hurts your eyes to look at the bait, it will probably do very well in catching spots and great for calling them long distances in clear water. I'm talking about White, fire engine red, Neon green, Chartreuse, bubblegum and flashy type colors. Don't ask me why, but a white skirted spinnerbait with pink blades is awesome (Mini Me's can come in this color) and so is hot pink jerkbaits. Colors like the flashy American Shad, Firetiger, Nishiki, Clown, sunfish, bubblegum type baits are absolutely powerful tools for catching spots especially in clear water. In fact, I keep a can of pink and chartreuse spray paint handy for spraying down jerkbaits and spinnerbait blades while on the water for a quick change of pace. Color selection for me remains the same for small plastics as well. I, however, do get around and use natural colors at times. In closing, all of the tactics above have been tried and tested on various lakes in Georgia including Allatoona, Lanier, Blue Ridge, Carters and also in Keowee, SC, Guntersville, Wheeler and Wilson in Alabama and they have been effective for both Spots and Smallmouth. So next time you're out on the lake give these Wolfpack catching techniques a try when things get tough. Concentrate on those points and humps as they hold fish 365 days a year and remember WARP SPEED retrieve and LONGGGGG casts! All the Spots!!! Mini-Me can be purchased here at HighRollerWest.com