Along with rain and melting snow comes muddy water. These conditions are most common in the spring, but a good rainstorm regardless of the season can dirty up the waters. This can make fishing difficult and frustrating. You may start to wonder if fish even bite in these conditions.
Fish do bite in muddy water conditions. High muddy water often means there is more biomass (food) coming downstream at the fish. This can even cause a feeding frenzy in certain parts of the river. The trick is to know where those feeding fish are, and how to target them.
In this article I’ll be mainly focusing on high muddy/dirty rivers, since these have the most extreme changes in clarity. If you are fishing a muddy lake or pond, then it’s likely muddy year round, and you can fish it normally since the fish are usually adapted to living in such conditions.
Why Can’t I Catch Fish in Muddy Water?
I just said that high muddy water conditions are a time of feeding for most fish. If that is the case, then why is it so difficult to catch them? There are a couple reasons why it can be hard to get a fish to bite when the water is muddy. Understanding these reasons, and acting appropriately can help you get more bites.
Fish Feed in Different Areas When the Water is High and Muddy
Fish don’t like to fight a strong current when they are feeding. After a rainstorm, or during spring runoff, the waters will be high and moving fast. This being said, you should always be able to find slower pockets.
During normal conditions, these slower pockets may be behind a rock in the middle of the river, or maybe in a pool just after a rapid. However, when the river is flooded fish will leave those spots and move closer to the shore.
The river banks can create a lot of drag with bushes, trees, and boulders. And since the water is high and muddy, the fish feel safe going right up next to the bank. Plus, there will be a lot of worms, and insects being washed off that land into the water. So it not only makes a good resting place, but a great feeding spot as well.
Next time you fish in high muddy water, Don’t cast out to where you caught them during low water. Instead, focus your fishing along the banks (especially where a small stream is running into the main river.) Look for where fast water is running right besides slower water. This is what we call a “seam”. Fish like to sit in the slow water and bite whatever comes down the faster water.
Fish Can’t See as Well in Muddy Water
I know… this sounds pretty obvious. So let’s just talk about how to get fish to see our bait, lure, or fly.
First off, we need to get our bait or lure right in front of their face. Or at least within a foot or two. This is why the above step is important to understand.
When the water is high and muddy, fish will be biting at almost everything that floats by. They don’t have time to inspect it with their eyes, so when they see something floating past that looks like it might be edible, and is within close range, they’ll take a quick bite at it and see if it tastes or feels like food in their mouth. If there is something they don’t like about it, they’ll spit it right back out. Fish don’t have hands, if they want to feel something, they do it with their mouth.
When the river is muddy, just get your bait to float within a foot or two of a fish and it will likely take a bite at it. But be ready to set the hook because if you are too slow it’ll spit it out before you even realize you had a bite.
Get Fish to Bite in Muddy Water by Choosing the Right Color and Profile
When the water is muddy or dark, it is more difficult for a fish to distinguish colors. Instead, fish will usually change their focus to looking for the right profile. Good nighttime anglers will know that the best lure color to use at night is black. This is because black lures create the clearest outlines for a fish to see (read Best Lure Colors for Night Fishing.) The same rule applies to fishing in muddy conditions.
Depending on the species of fish you are targeting, you can use black plastic worms, crawdads, spinners, or hellgrammite imitations.
What Color Worms For Muddy Water?
Worms can be particularly deadly after a good rainstorm. Have you ever gone out during or after a rain and seen earthworms all over the street and sidewalks? During a heavy rain, worms will come out of the ground so they don’t drown. This exposes them to being washed into the river and getting eaten by fish. When the rain is coming down, fish will be on the lookout for worms.
It’s a good idea to have a few colors of plastic worms when you fish muddy water. Dip a few in and see which color is most visible to you. Usually dark colors like black, purples and blues work best.
Fish do bite in muddy water. But if you want to catch them, you will likely need to fish the slow water spots near the bank, and use black or dark colored baits and lures that show a good silhouette.
It may take some extra effort and time to find where the fish are at, but once you find one, there will likely be others crowded into the same spot. Once you figure it out it can make for a great day of fishing. Besides, you’ll probably be the only one out.