Since the 2013 season is now underway in the majority of the country, I began to look back at the 2012 season and review my decisions and analyze where, how, and why I caught my fish in a variety of different situations. I noticed a constant trend in the tournaments that were successful: shallow stained water.
Regardless of the conditions and time of year, shallow stained water seemed to capture my best fish in each tournament scenario. Yes, there is a bias considering the Potomac River is my home waterway, naturally it’s my confidence setting, but finding these conditions yielded great statistics in very diverse venues. I will attempt to examine a few vastly different experiences and unlock the secrets to shallow water, aside from the Potomac.
Experience A: Lake Kerr, NC FLW College Regional Qualifier
This tournament took place in June of 2012, which presented a tricky venue unlike previous dependable conditions of Lake Kerr. Lake Kerr is know for buck brush and pitching, it is no secret. But, this tournament served a totally different entree to anglers as lake levels were extremely low due to droughts eliminating the majority of the quality shallow water fish and substantial cover. The northern everstart series I believe was won fishing in 20 some odd feet of water, off shore, which yielded a significant limit of largemouth.
During our tournament practice we were able to locate a specific area with constant current flow coupled with shallow stained water and an abundance of shallow structure. Given our short practice period, this location yielded the key features that keep a portion of fish shallow regardless of current conditions, cover, current, and creatures, (yes I mean bait I just wanted to use alliteration). Given the the low water conditions and high temperatures, locating shallow water that offers fish a current flow while also holds substantial cover and other forms of aquatic life separates productive shallow water from the rest of the bank. In this example, we were able to catch a respectable limit for our particular tournament fishing very shallow exploiting the key features that hold fish shallow when the water levels drop in the summer months.
In this particular scenario I utilized the Peak series rods constructed by Mountaineer Custom Rods, which was a 7 foot, medium heavy rod, which was used to drag a Carolina rig across a shallow chuck rock grassy hump located in less than 5 feet of water in a small creek lined with aquatic vegetation, buck brush, and substantial current. I depended upon the ultimate strength of 12 lb test Gamma Edge fluorocarbon paired with a 1/0 Trokar offset worm hook to bag a 5th places qualifying finish. Due to the current flow, fish were positioned in this shallow stained water, regardless of the heat, because of the plentiful supply of vegetation that was sustaining oxygen. More importantly, the current was transporting bait which would stack up against the rock bluff. The bass located themselves on the sides of the hump feasting on bait that washed out of the grass and pooled up in the slack water outside the current flow.
Example B: FLW Northen Conference Championship Philpott
This particular event took place in September of 2012 on Philpott Lake in Va which further unlocks the secrets to successful shallow water fishing, taking place in the summer to fall transition period. Philpott lake is a much different than the Potomac River or Lake Kerr, but at this particular time of the year it in fact fished like the Potomac. This lake sets up much like a Lake Lanier fishery, very deep, very clear, with the north section of the lake shallower with creek entries, and with southern end being the dam and very deep with abrupt steeper banks. The strategy upon fishing this lake was thought to be light line, electronic fishing for deep school bass in main lake areas and secondary points. At this time of the year, the thermocline was deep with oxygen levels being more suitable deeper, housing larger more consistent schools of bass. This pattern did in fact yield the most consistent and winning limits of bass but there was potential to compete with the pattern exploring the shallows, going against the grain.
In practice for this event, I had just gotten my Humminbird 898si unit and hadn’t yet gotten comfortable graphing and identifying deep structure and utilizing the unit to vertically attack fish. As I began to dissect the lake via fishing my way around each creek, I discovered similar areas that held substantial amounts of grass uncommon to the rest of the lake. Each of the three areas I was able to identify where flats located near deep water the had clearer water near the mouths of the flats with tall deep stalks of grass and transitioned into think matted vegetation to the surface with stained water in the backs of the flats.
Each of these areas possessed shallow stained water with thick vegetation significant different than any other area on the rest of the lake. Although the majority of the fish in the lake were deep suspending off shore, the better quality fish, although sparse, were catchable shallow within these three locations because of the drastic difference in water clarify, the presence of grass, and large shad that were utilizing the grass for cover which was few and far between in this lake. Looking back on this scenario there was a much larger potential limit within these three areas to be exploited but never the less I was able to catch quality fish within these areas by understanding how and why the fish would position themselves within these shallow grassy pockets.
The fact that the water clarity was so vastly different in these areas allowed fish to be extremely shallow to ambush prey. In the morning while temps where cool, shad had migrated to the shallows within and behind these isolate grass areas which placed the bass around the outskirts of the grass. As the day progressed and the sun rose, the shad would migrate to the adjacent deeper grass and water placing the bass deep within the matted vegetation. Let me explain that the shallow grass I am referring to was located in 3-4 feet of water or less, what the deep stalks of grass was located in 8-15 feet of water, while the majority of anglers and large schools of fish were located in ranges such as 20-35 and 45-60 feet of clear water.
How I approached these areas was first with the use of Mountaineer Custom Rods and Gamma Edge fluorocarbon employing the same strategies as the Potomac. First, during the morning I pitched weightless plastics using the Peak series medium heavy Mountaineer Rod with 10 pound test Gamma to target the chasing bass on the outskirts of the grass. After fishing my way around the grass I would then transition to pitching a 1/2 oz tungsten weight to create a reaction strike within the thick grass on the same medium heavy action Peak Series Mountaineer Rod, but upped my line to 16lb test Gamma. I would perform this same strategy to each of the three locations I identified and rotate through each location.
As I transitioned to from the thick grass to the deeper grass, I covered the water by throwing a J&J Custom swim jig which captured fish as the day progressed. By exploiting this shallower stained grassy area I was able to weigh in the largest fish of the tournament but the quantity of fish was not as consistent as the deep water bite. The fish I weighed in was enough to secure a 6th place sitting on the first day and a 7th place overall tournament finish. To look back, the stained water was prevalent in other areas within the creek but fishing by myself in this partner tournament had me focusing on the areas I had caught fish in practice because of the confidence I had built within the grass. I should have expanded the pattern to the adjacent shallow areas.
Regardless, stained shallow water had the potential to compete with a top finish within this deep water bite tournament if you understand how to unlock the secrets of shallow water. Fish are always shallow all year long, but locating the areas that hold these shallow fish and being able to exploit the features within the prime locations is the hey to success.
I hope this helps to shed some light on how to dissect shallow water and exploit key features within the shallows to unlock the potential for shallow pigs! Please visit www.jonathanmillerfishing.com to check out the sponsors mentioned within the article and other articles and videos to aid your fishing experience.