We’re getting into “pretty water” season. This is a fantastic time of year if you’re a photographer or if you work for the tourism board. But if you’re a fishermen … well, let’s just say that pretty water isn’t really an angler’s friend.
During the summer rainy season, the water in the Harbor and nearshore Gulf can be pretty ugly. It’s brown and hard to see into. This does not make people happy. They want to see water the color of high-end aquamarines — that incredible bluish-green that you’ll find in the Caribbean or The Bahamas.
Why is their water that color? Simple: There’s very little fresh water flowing off the land, so there’s no tannins (natural plant chemicals, like those that color tea and coffee) coming from land-based trees and swampy areas.
Seems ideal, right? But there’s a downside: These are low-nutrient systems. Less nutrients means less plankton, which is the base of the aquatic food chain. Where you find pretty water year-round, you mostly find plain sand on the seafloor. You know what happens here when you drift off the grass and fish plain sand: Not much.
Our water is clearing up due to a lack of rain. This is a normal part of our weather cycle. We have rainy summers and generally dry winters. So in summer and fall, the water is dark and tannic. In winter and spring, it’s clear and bright — and where the bottom is sand, it’s pretty.
However, it’s not pretty to me, and I’ll tell you why: Clear water makes it harder to sneak up on fish. I know a lot of fishermen say they like clear water, because it makes spotting fish much easier. It definitely does. If we’re talking about aquariums, I definitely agree that clear water is better. But if we’re fishing, and I can see the fish, guess what? They can see me, too! And a fish that is aware of my presence is harder to catch.
Now, clear water isn’t going to prevent you (or me) from catching fish. But it will make it generally a bit tougher due to their heightened awareness of things happening above them. So there are some concrete things that we can and should do to actually hook fish instead of just watching them.
The first and easiest is to switch to fluorocarbon leader material, for the simple reason that it’s the least visible option. It’s clear plastic, which is obviously less visible than wire or straight braid. Monofilament is also clear plastic, but underwater it reflects a lot of sunlight. Fluoro still looks like clear plastic underwater. Yes, it’s more expensive than mono. Yes, it’s worth it.
Even with fluoro, go as light as possible. I generally prefer 30-pound test for most inshore fishing, but in clear water I’ll drop down to 20. The goal is an invisible connection. You’ll never reach it, but try to get as close as possible.
If you’re using artificial lures, clear water calls for quieter baits. If the water is murky or dark, extra sound (rattles, propellers, big thumping tails, etc.) will help fish home in on your offering. In clear conditions, sight becomes a lot more important. Loud lures become counterproductive when the fish are more wary. They still have a place at certain times, such as very early or late in the day or when it’s heavily overcast. But generally, quieter is good.
Keeping your distance is perhaps the most important key to catching fish in clear water. The closer you get, the more nervous they become. Remember, the only things that are upright and moving in their world are predators — specifically, herons. And even big fish are leery of herons, because they used to be little fish.
It’s hard to stay back because it means making long, accurate casts. Most people are bad at this, even if they say they aren’t. You need practice if you’re going to do it. You can’t just expect this ability to magically appear when you need it. Fortunately, no matter what your skill level, you can get better.
First, set yourself up for success. Lighter line casts farther. I use 10- or 15-pound braid on all my medium-light inshore rigs. All other things being equal, a longer rod will throw a bait a longer distance. I like a 7.5-footer, which strikes a good balance between casting and handleability. Using a spinning reel with a metal spool or a good-quality baitcaster will make long casts easier.
Then, you need to add accuracy. Set up a target and cast at it. Hula hoops are good to start with. When it gets too easy, increase the distance or go to a smaller target.
To me, the best thing about clear water season is the fact that I can more easily see the bottom when I wade. Other than that, I’d much rather have those tannins back. If you agree, the good news is that the rains will be back in a few months. If you don’t, then enjoy it while you’ve got it, because that water won’t stay pretty forever.
As the Fish Coach, Capt. Josh Olive offers personalized instruction on how and where to fish in Southwest Florida. Whether you’re a complete beginner or just looking to refine your techniques, he can help you get past the frustration and start catching more fish. Lessons can be held on your boat, on local piers or even in your backyard. To book your session or for more information, go to FishCoach.net, email Josh@FishCoach.net or call 941-276-9657.