Lure Color vs Water Clarity Fishing Tips

How Does Water Clarity Affect Fishing?

One of the top questions of not just bass fishermen but all fishermen – lure color vs water clarity – how does it work? Let’s start with breaking down what affects water clarity.

The amount of sediment in the water is called Turbidity. Too much sediment (high turbidity) will block the sunlight and will stop the plants and algae to produce oxygen for the bass and other fish that need to survive. Highly turbid water will also absorb sunlight and could heat the water to an unhealthy level. Each body of water is different, these suggestions have many applications. The best thing about these general guidelines is that more often than not they will quickly put you in the ballpark to be successful.

  • Water Clarity 8 feet or more = Clear Water
  • Water Clarity 4-8 feet = Lightly Stained WaterWater Clarity 2-4 feet = Stained Water
  • Water Clarity 0-2 feet – Muddy Water

When it comes to water clarity, it does not matter the time of year. It just means adjusting your approach based on environmental factors such as weather and water clarity. Locating bass based on water clarity is a great place to start.

Water Clarity Chart For Locating Bass

Water Clarity Location of Bass
Water clarity 8 feet or more
Less than 55 feet deep. Find the thermocline.
Water clarity 4-to-8-feet
< 35 feet deep. Find the thermocline.
Water clarity 2-to-4-feet
< 15 feet deep.
Water clarity 2-feet-to-6-inches
< 10 feet deep.
Water clarity 6-inches or less
< 8 feet deep. The bass will be pushed tight up against the bank and large structures.

Thermocline = a steep temperature gradient in a body of water such as a lake, marked by a layer above and below which the water is at different temperatures. 

What Is The Best Lure Color For Clear Water?

lure color vs water clarity

What is considered clear water for bass fishing or any kind of fishing for that matter? Water clarity 8 feet or more is considered clear water conditions. Bass specifically hunt and feed using their eyesight in these conditions. For bait color, try to closely ‘match the hatch’. Meaning try to choose lures that closely look like the bass’ primary forage in that body of water that you’re fishing.

Bass will instantly swim in from a long distance away to attack your lure, but if your bait is not the right size, color, and sometimes shape, they won’t attack. Natural colors of browns and greens should be your color of choice if your lake has crawfish, bream, bluegill, or perch fish.

Lure companies will often give their baits these types of names: watermelon, pumpkin, pumpkinseed, California 420. White, silver, chrome, blue colors represent baitfish colors such as threadfin shad, gizzard shad, alewife, and herring. You’ll often see and hear the term “Shad colors”, and it’s referring to the colors found commonly with baitfish. Examples of what lure companies name their baitfish colors: Albino, shad, gizzard shad, sexy shad, pro blue, and white pearl.

Here Are A Few Clear Water Bass Fishing Tips

In gin-clear water, any fish is at its most nervous and very cautious. The threat of other predators (such as other fish, birds, or even fishermen) fish are naturally on guard, so you have to modify the way you fish in this situation. By far, 9-10 anglers will agree it’s very hard to get any bites if the water is clear and if it’s calm and sunny with bluebird skies.

  • Use fast moving baits first. If you find yourself fishing in clear water it’s best to first go with a fast moving bait that will often draw aggressive reaction strikes. Many times you’ll be able to pick off a couple of over aggressive fish.
  • Make the bait look like the real deal. Bass are lazy opportunistic predators, they will often hunt using as little as energy as possible. If the water is clear the bass will hunt by sight. Unfortunately, this gives the bass time to inspect your lure. So you have to choose a color pattern that looks as real as possible.
  • Downsize everything. This is where finesse fishing really shines. Put down your power fishing rod and pick up your spinning rod. Finesse fishing includes the techniques of drop shot fishing, shaky head, jigging soft plastic tubes, dragging a Mojo rig. Many anglers use fluorocarbon line no more than 8-pound test.
  • Fish into the sun. All fish get spooked when they see any type of shadow. They have to be worried about becoming lunch for an osprey or another predator bird. So fish into the sun because it places your shadow behind you.
  • Find a shady spot. Not every bass will move out to deep water as the sun comes up. Some will find a shady spot and wait to ambush a small fish. So finding an area that can give the bass vertical cover can be the ticket.

Here are some examples of shady locations that could be excellent for fishing:

  • Docks
  • Bridge pilings
  • Channels beneath bridges
  • Coves with flooded vertical timber
  • Hollow cypress trees
  • Flooded thickets
  • Laydown
  • Large boulders
  • Bluff walls
  • Underwater ledges
  • Marina structures
  • Docked boats
  • Wave breakers (wing dams) surrounding marinas
lure color chart image

The clearer the water, you’ll need to increase the distance between yourself and that piece of structure. Bass are easily spooked and will retreat to deep water at the first sign of danger.

Give yourself a 5-Minute Rule. Meaning don’t spend more than 5 minutes fishing a piece of structure. If they don’t bite right away, they’re not going to bite at that time. It doesn’t mean you can’t go back in an hour or two… just don’t waste your time on it.

Wind can be your friend if used correctly. As a result, the wind will push bass to structure, specifically tall vertical structures (ie bridge or dock pilings, bluff walls, or standing timber) or large structures like tall submerged humps or large boulders that can offer shelter. Wind will also mask your bait because of the broken reflection that will be created by the waves. This is why spinnerbaits, chatterbaits and shallow running jerkbaits work so well in windy conditions.

How Do You Target Bass In Deep Clear Water?

Most of the bass will move to a deeper location as the sun comes up. In ultra-clear lake clarity this could mean the bass are 20+ feet deep!

Keep in mind the light will diminish as you get deeper. This can give you the opportunity to present some lures that you would not choose to fish in shallow clear water. To present your bait to the fish, you’ll want a quick sinking lure that you can cast from a distance.

Lures such as deep diving crankbaits, swimbaits, jigs, Carolina rigs, spoons, drop shot rigs, are phenomenal choices.

Here are two suggestions of how to approach these areas:

  1. You can make a long cast and work your bait through the strike zone. Deep diving crankbaits, jigs, swimbaits, Carolina Rigs are great for making a long cast and working it back.
  2. Get your jig on! Start vertically jigging some of your lures. You’ll need to position your boat over the fish and drop the lure straight down. Spoons, drop shot lures, tube baits rock when fished vertically.

Fishing Lure Color Selection Chart - Clear Water Conditions

Application Style of Lure Color Pattern
Topwater
  • Walking Baits
  • Poppers
  • Frogs
  • Shad
  • Bluegill
  • White
  • Minnow
Structure or Shoreline
  • Jigs
  • Small creature baits
  • Jerkbaits
  • Drop shot
  • Senko baits
  • Crankbaits
  • Green
  • Brown
  • Shad

Stained Water Clarity Fishing Tips

Stained water clarity is considered 2-7 feet. What is considered stained water? Stained water is a loose term for a body of water that has mild-moderate turbidity. Algae, suspended tannic acid, suspended sediment, and water mixing all cause the water to look “stained”. There are varying degrees of stained water based on how clear it is.
Lightly Stained Water, water clarity of 4-7 feet is considered lightly stained water conditions.

Bass will still primarily use their eyesight to hunt and feed in these conditions. ‘Matching-the-hatch’ is still very important. Bass fishing stained water you’ll need to choose lures that closely look like the bass’ primary forage is always a smart decision. However, consider using baits with a small amount of bright color in them.

Colors such as a chartreuse lateral line you’ll find in nearly every “Sexy Shad Pattern” or a small bit of orange or red in a craw pattern. You’ll quickly notice that bass will still come out of the woodwork to expose themselves and attack your lure!

Heavily Stained or “Dingy” Water is defined as water clarity at 2-4 feet is considered heavily stained water. Bass will still primarily use a mix of both their lateral line sense and their eyesight to hunt and catch prey. Matching the hatch is not as important. Brighter-colored lures in shad or bluegill-colored patterns were great in stained water.

The bright colors of Citrus Shad or Fire Tiger are great examples of bright colored patterns when you bass fish stained water. Choosing lures that closely look like the bass’ primary forage is always a smart decision. This is to say, you also need to consider use baits with a small amount of bright color in them.

Colors such as a chartreuse lateral line you’ll find in nearly every “Sexy Shad Pattern” or a small bit of orange or red in a craw pattern. Spring is the time of year when most anglers will experience stained waters in their lakes, reservoirs, and rivers.

Fishing Lure Color Selection Chart - Stained Water

Application Style of Lure Color Pattern
Topwater
  • Walking baits
  • Poppers
  • Buzzbaits
  • Wake baits
  • Frogs
  • Shad
  • Minnow
  • Bluegill
  • White
  • Green
  • Chartreuse
Structure of Shoreline
  • Jigs
  • Flipping Creature Baits
  • Curly tail worms
  • Swimbaits
  • Drop shot
  • Senko Stick
  • Green
  • Brown
  • Shad
  • Black
  • Pink
  • Natural colors w/ highlights of bright colors

Muddy Water Clarity Fishing Tips

Muddy water clarity is considered 0-2 feet. Fishing muddy water can really throw a novice bass angler off their game if they run into this situation. However, nothing can be farther from the truth.

Even though the bass can’t see very well they use their lateral line to primarily find prey to ambush. Consequently, you need to use baits that are flashy AND put off a lot of sound or vibration! If your bait doesn’t come with a sound built-in, add it then! There are small rattle chambers you can buy that will attach to a jig or a worm hook.

The steady and slow retrieve is going to be your best bet with fishing muddy water. Muddy water allows you to position your boat or kayak closer to the structure you’re targeting. Typically the bass are not as easily scared by something as close as you.

Bass will not chase your bait. They primarily rely on their lateral line to sense your pain, their hearing, and the ambush position relative to the structure. Since they are not as spooked and will hold tight to the structure…

That means you can make a few repeated casts to the same spot that you’re targeting, especially if you have a good feeling there should be a bass there. Baits should have very bright color patterns or be very dark.

Fishing Lure Color Selection Chart - Muddy Water

Application Style of Lure Color Pattern
Topwater; make lots of commotion
  • Buzzbaits
  • Prop baits
  • Frogs
  • White
  • Neon Green
  • Firetiger
  • Black
Structure or Shoreline
  • Jigs
  • Spinnerbait
  • Flipping/Texas Rig
  • Curly tail worms
  • White
  • Neon green
  • Firetiger
  • Black
  • Chartreuse
  • Orange highlights
  • Red highlights

Lure Color vs Water Clarity
The Rule of Thumb to Picking Colored Baits

The most fundamental rule is to fish brightly colored baits in dingy or muddy water and light, subtle colors in clear water. The logic here is that a bass’ visibility is hampered by silt, and colors like chartreuse, yellow and orange are easier to see than bone, pumpkinseed and smoke. On the other hand, when water is clear and the fish can get an unobstructed look at the bait, it’s best to go with softer, more natural colors.

For instance, when water clarity is poor (visibility a foot or less), many pros use spinnerbaits with chartreuse or yellow skirts or crankbaits in a “fire tiger” pattern — orange belly, chartreuse sides, dark green back. Conversely, in clear water, white or white/blue spinnerbaits are favorites, as are crankbaits in chrome, bone and various natural finishes (crawfish, shad, sunfish, etc.).

The same principle applies with soft plastic fishing baits — worms, lizards, grubs and tubes. In dingy water, dense colors are the rule, and two-color worms with bright tails offer added visibility. Examples are grape, black or blue baits with chartreuse, red or orange tails. But in clear water, lighter, more translucent lure colors seem to work best. Favored colors here include pumpkinseed, motor oil, strawberry and smoke. Also, bits of metalflake molded into these see-through worms provide extra flash and attraction to bass in high-vis situations.

The jig-and-pig is a standard bait for flipping, pitching or casting. In clear water, preferred color combinations are a black jig/blue trailer (either a pork chunk baits or plastic crawfish baits), black/brown and pumpkin pepper/green; in stained water, black/yellow and black/chartreuse are perennial producers

Lure Color vs Water Clarity While Night Fishing

Night fishing is the easiest to pick the best lure size and color; always go big and dark when night fishing. The bigger lure creates more water movement and these vibrations will attract a bass that can’t see as well at night. Also, pro bass fishermen agree that the dark solid lure color at night will help provide contrast between the bait and the water. Bass typically won’t strike at something they’re not sure about or can’t see well.

When it comes to night fishing lure colors stick with blue, black, or dark purple.

When to Make Lure Adjustments

Besides water clarity, time of year and preferred forage should also be considered in choosing lure color. For instance, crawfish are a main menu item on many Southern lakes in the pre-spawn, and unless the water is muddy, a crawfish-pattern crankbait like the customer top rated Rebel Crawfish bait or a brown/brown jig-and-pig emulate this natural prey. In the post-spawn, many bass feed on small bluegills, and sunfish-colored lures are effective. When bass are schooling in summer or chasing shad in bays in the fall, a chrome or shad-colored lure is a logical choice.

Two particular fishing situations call for special color considerations: night fishing and topwater fishing. Most expert night fishermen use black or dark blue lures. The theory is that these colors provide a more distinct profile when silhouetted against the lighter background of the water’s surface. Thus, a dark lure is easier for bass to see and strike accurately at night.

Most topwater lure specialists prefer dark-colored baits early and late in the day when visibility is poor, and light-colored baits during bright periods. They are quick to note, however, that a surface lure’s action and noise are far more important in triggering strikes than its color

How Do Weather Conditions Affect Water Clarity and Lure Color Selection?

The bright sun or lack thereof can also impact your lure choice. This is really tied to the water clarity as well because more light lets fish see further in the water. A bright day with clear water means you really need to be modest with your lure color selection. On the other hand, if it’s cloudy and you’re fishing clear water then maybe you can try a more solid lure or a bit of color. The same goes for muddy water, the sun will penetrate more so instead of using a bright color on a bright day, go with a dark solid color on a bright day in muddy water.

  • Sunny and Clear Water: Bass see more detail in the water, stick with translucent natural colors.
  • Cloudy and Clear Water: Bass see more detail in the water, stick with translucent baits but add a bit of color.
  • Sunny and Dark Water: Bass see less detail in the water, stick with solid bright colors to grab attention.
  • Cloudy and Dark Water: Bass see less detail in the water, stick with solid dark colors for contrast.

What Causes Water Clarity or Cloudiness?

Turbidity or cloudiness, blocks the sunlight plants need to create oxygen for fish and other kinds of water life. Likewise, excess sediment and anything else floating in the water soaks up heat from the sun.

Then as the water gets hotter, there’s even less oxygen. This causes water creatures like fish, crawfish, zebra mussels, or clams to suffocate due to lack of oxygen, as well as their gills, get full of debris.

Yet, cloudiness due to things like phyto or zooplankton is vital, as other water creatures like fish or waterfowl need them for food. But if there are too many, it may cause disruptions in the ecosystem and the lake gets dirty, fish die off, and things like swimming aren’t very pleasant.

Water Color Explained

Water color changes are due to several factors. Algae is one of them. A sudden growth explosion is called an “algae bloom”. These blooms can have devastating effects on the lake and fish.

Blue-green algae, also called Cyanobacteria grow fast if it has the right environment. Cyanobacteria algae bloom creates green-colored water, which leads to less light penetration, less oxygen in the water, gives off a foul odor, and produces a toxin that kills fish.

Other types of sudden algae blooms can make the water turn orange or brown in the summertime.

On the other hand for instance, in the Great Lakes, some folks think the water is so clear due to the invasion of zebra mussels, which have eaten the plankton.

That may have caused several issues such as more rooted water plants, as the sun now can reach further.
Other bodies of water, like a bog, take on a brown/ coffee-and-cream color.

That means there’s a tannic acid that leaked from the soil into the lake or pond. Light can’t get through it, so there are fewer plants due to less sun getting down into this water. Water color may also change depending on the time of year.

How Debris Plays A Role In Water Color

Floating debris can also block sunlight and inhibit photosynthesis. That in turn reduces the number of plants, which reduces the number of microscopic organisms the baitfish eat. And if there is less forage fish then the bass and other predator fish population will suffer and start to die off.

Tieing It All Together With Blending and Stratification

The quality of lake water and if fish can live in it is dependent on how the water is blended. Blending quality depends on the lake’s size, shape, and depth, however, plants, climate, stream inflow, and lakeshore topography matter too.

The density of water tops at 39°F, and is lighter at temperatures that are warmer and cooler. Differences in density due to varying temps may keep warm and cool water from blending. Once the ice melts in springtime, density and temps end up comparable from bottom to top.

Water density creates a “blending effect”, and so it recharges the water at the bottom with oxygen and brings nutrients to the top. This blending is known as spring overturn.

Warm surface water loses density. The warm water is only able to circulate between twenty and thirty feet deep, anything underneath isn’t blended. But if a lake is shallow enough it might remain blended the entire summer.

In the summertime, shallow lakes undergo stratification layering. Dependent on the shape, a shallow lake experiences this even if lower than twenty feet in depth. Bigger ones could be mixed continuously by the wind, down to thirty or more feet.

In the summer, the stratification separates lakes into 3 zones: epilimnion (the warm surface layer), thermocline or metalimnion (a transition zone in-between warm and cool water), and hypolimnion (cool water on the bottom).

Stratification holds nutrients freed from bottom debris trapped in the hypolimnion.

In Autumn, the surface cools down and the water temp balances out all over. That lets the blending happen again, which is called fall overturn. Sometimes algae blooms happen in the fall if the nutrients come up to the surface.

Winter stratification (temps variance of merely seven degrees F between the bottom of the lake and under ice covering, stays balanced as ice keeps the water from being blended. A lake’s location regarding predominant winds may affect the total blending. If the lake is small and deep, it might not totally blend depending on the wind movement.

Blending taking place in bays in big lakes looks more like small lakes if an uneven shoreline stops the wind.
Blending dispenses oxygen all through lakes, so if it doesn’t occur the fish could die, as some kinds of fish need lake stratification.
Cooler water in the hypolimnion has more oxygen than the epilmnion’s warm water so delivers a hiding place for fish that like cold water like trout.

But if there are too many algae, and it decays, the lake’s oxygen content depletes because the abrupt temperature rise in the metalimnion stops the oxygenated surface to go to the bottom.

Other Water Cloudiness Causes To Note

Water Levels – This fluctuates naturally via a 13-year cycle. Other things which affect water levels include weather, dry and wet times, changes in climate, or human interference.

Waves created by the wind, sun’s position, or cloud cover – Waves from the wind or boat wake can mix up debris if the water is shallow. An unprotected shoreline may erode, which puts debris into the lake. These issues make cloudiness worse and may block the sun and harm photosynthesis.

FAQ's

  • A bass has two primary ways that it locates its prey. First is with its eyes and the second is with its lateral line.
  • Bass has eyesight that sees 5X better than a human’s eye underwater. Talk about sharp vision!
  • Under normal circumstances, a bass will use it’s phenomenal vision to find and kill its prey when the water clarity is greater than 2- to 4 feet deep.
  • When bass use their lateral line to attack their prey you can expect to find them hunting in water < 2 feet visibility.

According to Current Zoology, researchers from the University of Illinois and Cornell University. Data was collected in “northern strain” bass from Illinois and Florida strain bass from the Florida everglades.

 

Their findings were surprising. Bass will respond/ and can “see” in two different colors: Red and Green. They cannot discern between two similar colors (like chartreuse and white), but they will also respond to varying degrees of color hues.

Yes, bass can see in the dark. Bass have the ability to pick out silhouettes against the water surface.

Experiments have revealed that bass has the best vision in the medium to light reds, red-orange, and yellow-greens. Blues and purples are quite weak. In shallow water or in murky conditions, bass lose all sight of color. So when fishing for bass, remember, the deeper the water or less clear the water, the less color there will be.

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