The challenges of dirty water

We kicked off the Elite season on the Sabine River in Texas, a body of water that presents new challenges in many ways.

The Sabine system is full of fish, but catching them this time of year when it’s high and muddy is difficult.

During the spring, there is very little vegetation to help clear the water, so visibility is just a few inches.

In other words, if you don’t like fishing dirty water, this is not the place to be in the spring. However, the leaderboard shows just how good these Elite guys are. The fish aren’t huge but limits are still being caught.

Of course, a big advantage of dirty water is it helps position the fish. They feel secure in real shallow water and like to get tight to the cover. I’m amazed at how I can throw all onto the bank, pull my bait in the water and get a bite in places where I wouldn’t expect that to happen.

Bass like to get around hard objects during the spawning season. There isn’t a lot of that in this river system, so finding any firm objects under water is key.

Anglers from this area have learned to become darn good casters. They have to be; casting accuracy is extremely critical when you’re flipping, spinnerbaiting, or buzzbaiting on the Sabine. You must make pinpoint casts without a splash or even a ripple or you’re going to spook these ultra-shallow fish. It can be the difference between getting a few bites and catching a lot of fish.

For someone who lives in the north and doesn’t get a chance to fish in the offseason, it’s important to brush up on casting accuracy. When I got down here I was rusty, but after a few days I dialed it in.

I’ve learned that a rod with some tip action will help you achieve a softer presentation whether throwing a jig, creature bait and spinnerbait.

A shorter rod helps, too. Because the water is dirty, you don’t have to make long casts. A shorter rod is less cumbersome when doing that.

The softer rod also helps you fish lighter baits, which can be important when fishing that shallow. Pitching heavy baits is easy with any rod, but that’s not the case with lighter lures. A softer rod tip will make it more effortless.

In dirty water, I don’t use anything heavier than a 3/8 ounce. My spinnerbait will have tandem Colorado blades to help slow it down and keep it in the upper part of the water. If pitching, I may go to a 1/8-ounce slip sinker on a Strike King Rodent or a ¼-ounce jig. Bulkier baits with a lot of appendages offer more vibration and stay closer to targets and that triggers these bass into biting.

Since I can’t see into the water, I try to visualize where a bass might make a spawning bed and give it serious thought before making the cast. Again, accuracy is critical.

So is patience. One of the hardest things for me to do is let a bait sit in one place for very long. However, this time of year you have to deadstick a bait, and when you move it, move it just a little.

The Bassmaster Elite Series always presents a season of challenges and we face something different at every lake. But if you face those challenges with patience and determination, you’re going to learn something and become a better angler at each event.

Remember, it’s all about the attitude!

—Kevin VanDam