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I love fishing clear water and here’s why – I find it extremely exciting to target bass that I can spot with my eyeballs. I can’t help but lose my mind and raise adrenaline when I happen across a decent-sized bass, unsuspecting my intentions. Not only for the excitement, but using eyesight can make for an efficient way to mount a very successful day on the water. Yes indeed, eyesight is a monster of a weapon when bass inhabit shallow, clear water. And when an angler uses his/her eyes to search and catch bass, this is commonly referred to as “sight-fishing.”
A tremendous amount of area is searched when cruising shallow, clear water with a trolling motor on a fast speed. Lengthy shorelines of nothing can quickly be eliminated without having to actually cast to it all. Key areas can be found much faster on a whole. In general, this is a very aggressive, active approach. Once a bassy area is found, sometimes they can be caught right then, while other times it is better to simply mark the area and return later while keeping at a distance to avoid spooking them a second time.
The opportunity to sight-fish occurs in windows; conditions have to be right and they are pretty basic. Here’s what is needed:
1.) Clear water. With clearer water comes more opportunities. It’s simply easier to see, and more bass are going to be spotted. If water clarity is less than two feet, this tactic becomes a very small niche, but can still account for some catches.
2.) Sunshine. The difference in visibility between a sunny day and cloudy day is dramatic. Sight-fishing excels on sunny days when maximum light penetration fully illuminates the water. Bass can be spotted at greater depths and at further distances. Under cloudy skies and less illumination, bass do an excellent job of blending in to their surroundings. Even under sunny skies, bass camouflage very well, while clouds further enhance the blending of bass to background. Also note that mid-day sunshine is better at illuminating the water as compared to morning or evening sunshine.
3) Calm wind. When surfaces glass over, it is amazing the visibility we have into the underwater world. Everything (rocks, weeds, stumps, fish), can be seen in great detail. But the instant the wind causes a ripple, details are lost. Fish blend incredibly well even with the slightest surface disturbance.
4.) Bass actually using shallow water. Sight-fishing is useless if most of the meaningful bass are out in deeper water. Therefore, this tactic is often a seasonal one. Most commonly, sight-fishing excels during the spring months when bass move shallow to bask in warmer water and to spawn at some point. Winter probably offers the least opportunity to sight-fish. Bass typically move deeper during this time. Summer and Fall can offer opportunities, but not as widespread as the Spring. It is very niche specific outside of Spring, depending upon a lake’s characteristics and the behavior of the bass within that lake. Most often, aside from Spring, I incorporate sight-fishing more as a secondary option. Weedy lakes for example, may have substantial numbers of shallow bass, but dense growths of weeds in later months hide the bass from view. Therefore I will blindly cast to the weeds as is normally done and catch most of my fish this way. However, I will always be scanning the water with my eyes because occasionally I can spot a bass and catch it if the water is clear.
So what should you do when you actually do spot a bass? The goal is to remain undetected, because once the bass sees you (which it can easily do), then it likely will be more difficult to catch. In fact, it may be impossible to catch. So therefore first and foremost, maintain your distance – quietly! This is a time to lower Power Poles if you are equipped with them. Maintaining distance minimizes the chance of it seeing you. I may even dip down as well. If it’s during the spawn, a quick assessment will have to be made as to whether or not the bass is bedded. With a bedded fish, immediately cast beyond the bed and drag the lure to it, and then react accordingly. With a cruising bass it’s different. When making that first cast (which should be made immediately upon spotting the fish), try to land the lure several feet ahead of the bass such that the bass will travel away from the boat or sideways to the boat when it swims towards the lure. Don’t land the bait directly between you and the fish. That will lure the bass closer to you, increasing the chances of the bass spotting you. Observe how the bass reacts to the presentation and react accordingly. A shy bass may slowly swim out of sight. That is okay. Cast your lure ahead of the bass anticipating its path. The bass will feel more comfortable if you can’t see it and it can’t see you. There have been times when I have stalked the same bass down a shoreline twenty yards or more before catching it.
I haven’t mentioned any specifics about presentation because that depends upon the usual – time of year, time of day, prey species, weather, and so on. So consider all of those variables and then pick accordingly. Note, with a bulk of sight-fishing occurring during the Spring, soft plastics and jigs will account for much of the catch at that time.
Of utmost importance is the selection of sunglasses, because they cut the glare from the water’s surface thereby allowing enhanced visibility below surface. First and foremost with sunglasses is to make sure they have polarized lens! They do a much better job of cutting surface glare. Glasses will be labeled as such by the manufacturers. If in doubt, here’s a trick to determine whether or not a pair is polarized. You’ll need two pairs, one of which you know for sure is polarized. Simply line up the sunglasses so that you can look through both pairs at once. Then while still looking through both sets, rotate one pair while holding the other steady. If both pairs are polarized, you will notice that your view will go completely dark at some point during the rotation. If either of the two sunglasses is not polarized, then there will not be any blackout of the lens.
The preferred color tint on sunglasses has many opinions depending upon water color and cloud conditions. Overall, I prefer lighter tints instead of darker because my aged eyes need more light than less. Another feature to seek with sunglasses is side shields. Yes, these are hard to find. But they prevent sunshine from sneaking in from the sides or behind and casting glare onto the backside of the lens. If side shields can’t be found, then opt for a pair that hugs or curves tightly to your face as this type of fit helps block light from the back or sides. And to further guarantee the prevention of side and back light, wear a hood.
Aside from sunglasses, there are other ways to enhance your vision. 1.) Remain standing while running the trolling motor through the shallows. That’s because the higher your eyeballs are off the water’s surface, the greater the window of view into the water that will present itself. Although bringing a bit of danger to things, there have been times when I have put ladders in the boat to really maximize my viewing window. 2.) Seek calm shores when possible, while avoiding the shaded ones. Yes, that’s pretty obvious. But this isn’t – 3.) Run your trolling motor in a direction so that the sun is at your back. You’ll notice a big difference. When I pick a shoreline to check, I always begin on the end that allows me to keep the sun behind me. Even if it’s high noon, there is still a bit of an angle to it.
I know that I left out much of the nick-picky aspects of detailed presentation but that is because it can be so varied depending upon the many conditions that affect fishing. The point here is to offer some of the basics of sight-fishing because it can be extremely exciting and effective. And this method isn’t limited to just bass but works for many species. In fact, I have had success targeting even muskies using my peepers!