Catching Bass and Crappie in Muddy Water

Making noise, selecting the right lure and color are key

crappie fishing on a boat in a muddy lake
Ken Schultz

Late winter and early spring rains often muddy up lakes and definitely affect the way fish, particularly bass and crappies, act. Although some mountain lakes stay clear, fishing muddy water may become the norm for a period in the spring, so you have to adapt to it.

The best thing to do on a thoroughly muddy lake is to find wherever the water is clearest. Often, creeks near a dam are a little less muddy than other places. Some big lakes almost always have clearer water near the dam. Ride around and find the clearest water you can.

If the water is muddy everywhere, there are some options. Fish have to eat, even under these conditions, and they are able to find food. After all, a bass can find a black plastic worm on a dark night and a crappie will eat minnows at night, so these species don't have to see their prey all of the time. When the water is muddy, however, they react by holding closer to cover, and they don't chase food far.

Get Noisy

If a lake or river is extremely muddy you can improve your odds by using a lure that makes noise. A plug that rattles (due to BBs inside) gives fish something audible to zero in on. Certain lipped and lipless crankbaits are specially​ configured to make noise. Give the fish a better chance to locate the lure by fishing these slowly and steadily. Although most usually fish a plug with a stop-and-go retrieve to imitate an easy meal, in muddy water it's good to reel it steadily so the fish can track it.​

Rattles on jigs are good when crawling these lures along the bottom. Some jigs come equipped with rattles, but you can also get them separately to attach to the jig trailer or to insert inside the body of a plastic worm. Another noise-making option is to add beads between the lead sinker and a Texas-rigged plastic worm, or between the lead sinker and a swivel on a Carolina-rigged worm. The beads will make a clicking sound when you shake the rod tip. When retrieving these lures, move them as slowly as possible, and shake your rod tip to make them sound off.​

A spinnerbait is also a good choice for muddy water. The spinning blade sends out vibrations that bass can track. Some also have rattles on the body, or they can be added. In muddy water, choose a spinnerbait with one or two Colorado or Indiana blades rather than with willowleaf blades for more vibration. Some spinnerbaits have hybrid-style blades that are intended to produce more noise. Again, move a spinnerbait consistently to offer an easier target.

Color Matters

Lure color can make a difference in muddy water fishing. While jigs used for crappie are generally small and don't have rattles, you can choose a color that these fish are able to locate easier. In my experience, black, chartreuse, and red all show up well in dirty water, and combinations of those colors also seem to be good. One of the best crappie jigs in muddy water has a red head, black body, and chartreuse tail.

For bass in muddy water, try chartreuse spinnerbaits or crankbaits. Use a black jig-and-pig with some chartreuse strands in the skirt. Bright blue also works in muddy water and some folks swear by a black-and-blue jig with a sapphire blue chunky trailer for muddy water.

Keep in mind that muddy water probably affects the angler more than it does the fish. Adjust your attitude and realize that fish can find food in these conditions. You should be able to catch them by choosing the right lures, and fishing slow and steady.

Edited by Ken Schultz