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Mike Frisch: Lessons on fishing clearer waters

Jason Foss with a big Lake Sakakawea walleye caught on a Butterfly Rig last summer while filming a Fishing the Midwest TV episode. (Submitted photo)

With another open-water fishing season nearly in the books, now is a good time to look back and see what the season brought, what was learned, and which of those lessons can be of good use for future fishing seasons.

For me, the lessons that come to mind from 2017 that seem most appropriate for the future involve the increased water clarity many lakes now have. Zebra mussels are often blamed for this situation, but other seemingly "good" factors have contributed as well. This, however, is not about the causes of clear water or if clear water is good or bad, but rather how we as anglers can react.

Fish deeper

One thing that becomes very noticeable in many lakes with clearer water is how fish habitat, particularly weeds, and fish populations themselves seem to have made shifts to deeper water.

For example, largemouth bass often roam the deep edges of where weeds stop growing, often called the deep weedline. Deep weedlines in some lakes I fish used to be in water depths of around 12 to 15-feet. Now, however, those weedlines extend to water depths of 20 feet or more.

The effect on my fishing is that where I used to hold the boat in 20 feet and cast shallower to the weedline and the fish, now I hold the boat out in say 25 feet and make that cast. This might require a bit heavier lure weight being used, but the good news is the fish seem to bite just as good from the now deeper weedline.

When walleyes are the target, 30 feet of water used to be deep water. Now, fish are often found in 40 feet and even deeper water. Also, I am finding more and more fish roaming out away from structure in lake basins. However, I must admit, that those basin fish may have always been there, but that I just never looked before.

Regardless whether fishing bass or walleyes, structure or not, good advice on clear water lakes seems to be to shift our fishing searches to deeper water depths.

Fish faster

One belief common among anglers has been that clear water fish often require slow, finesse fishing approaches.

For this angler, however, I have found that switching to the other extreme and fishing faster has been more advantageous for me in catching clear water bass and walleyes.

When bass fishing the deeper weedline, I have had good success using deep-diving crankbaits and working quickly down the weed edge looking for fish willing to react to a crankbait's speed and action. One very useful adaptation for clear water bass is choosing natural, baitfish colored baits. For example, Strike King has some very realistic bluegill and yellow perch patterns in their Pro-Model XD (xtra deep) series of crankbaits that do a great job mimicking the baitfish bass on deep weedlines are used to eating.

Many walleye anglers fishing clear, deep waters are finesse-fishing with slip-sinker rigs or vertically jigging with jigs and minnows. For me, I'd rather go faster trying to put my bait in front of more fish and trigger more reactionary bites. For example, the new Butterfly Rigs tipped with nightcrawlers and fished behind heavy (2 or 3 ounce) Rock-Runner Bottom Bouncers work very well when pulled around a mile an hour along deep structure and even out into the basin. These new style spinners provide flash and vibration that are great for triggering reactionary walleye bites.

Clear water seems to be the norm in more and more lakes forcing anglers to adjust and adapt. The tips just presented worked good for putting fish in the boat in 2017 and can probably be useful to your 2018 fishing, as well.

As always, good luck on the water and ice and remember to include a youngster in your next outdoors adventure!

Mike Frisch is a western Minnesota fishing guide and co-host of the popular Fishing the Midwest TV series. Visit or follow Fishing the Midwest on Facebook for more "fishy" stuff.