What the…?! Water Clarity? – John Murray Answers the Questions

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by Dan O’Sullivan

Clear Water, Stained Water, Dirty Water - photos by Dan O'Sullivan and Jason Duran

Clear Water, Stained Water, Dirty Water – photos by Dan O’Sullivan and Jason Duran

I’m going to admit, I’m confused.

I’m a bass fisherman, I’ve been doing it for a long time, mostly in the West on my home waters of Folsom Lake, Oroville, Shasta, Berryessa, The California delta and Clear Lake. But, in August, my family moved to Rainbow City, Alabama, and I quickly realized that I was going to have to gear up differently for the waters here.

Don’t get me wrong, I have plenty of tackle. However, tackle made largely for the “West Side!,” as Byron Velvick likes to say, is built for a different kind of water than in the Southeast – or so I’d heard.

Then, heard became seen.

John Murray 2014 Bassmaster Classic Stage - photo by Dan O'Sullivan

John Murray 2014 Bassmaster Classic Stage – photo by Dan O’Sullivan

I was on Pickwick Lake in November for the T-H Marine Media Event and I was with FLW Tour Pro Wesley Strader filming videos of him throwing a small Sexy Shad colored flat sided handmade crankbait along the rip rap walls and the canal leading up to the lock. Part way into the filming, I realized that I couldn’t see the bait until it got near the boat because the water had 18-inches of visibility. It piqued my curiosity as to why he had chosen a white based color in such dirty water.

So, I asked him a question. “Why did you choose that color to throw in this water clarity?” His response stumped me. “I always throw a natural shad color in water that is this clear,” said Strader.”

HHRRRMMPPPHHH!? Brain Cramp in the mind of a writer. “Clear water?” I thought to myself but didn’t have the nerve to ask because if you know Strader, I would have gotten a smart-aleck response back, and then I would have had to push him in the water.

I pondered what I’d seen and heard that day, and looked at the Coosa River water rolling through Lake Neely Henry as we drove around town running errands; and I realized that there are different levels of water clarity depending on where you live.

I decided I needed some help so that I could order appropriate products as well as make decisions on the water. I sought the help of Phoenix, Ariz. pro John Murray. I could have asked any one of number of the pros and they all would have tremendous answers for me. Murray however, has a resume that any angler would envy.

River2Sea Goon Crankbaits

River2Sea Goon Crankbaits

In his career, he has won 31 boats in competition in the West, and has won a tournament on every major tournament body of water in the West. Then, after graduating to the Bassmaster Tour, he won events on the James River and Toledo Bend, and he’s had high finishes just about anywhere else.

In other words, he’s seen it all, and I wanted to know how to look at water from someone who knows both areas in which I’ve lived and fished.

The Focus
Murray said that his general rule for fishing is that the clearer the water, the wider the strike zone, the dirtier, the narrower he focuses. “In clear water, I may only have to make three or four presentations to a piece of cover, but hit every little piece of it in dirty water,” he said. “I also tend to fish faster in clear water, and farther away from the cover. My rule of thumb is that I double the distance I’m fishing from cover if the water is clear; it helps keep me from spooking the fish.”

He also said reduced water clarity helps him narrow his colors down. “In truly clear water, like I grew up fishing in the West, I would almost have to count the flakes in a worm and make sure they were the right size in order to get bites sometimes,” he said. “On tour, I have a dark color, a green pumpkin color and something bright; and that’s pretty much it.”

River2Sea Bling Spinnerbait

River2Sea Bling Spinnerbait

Defining Clarity
He groups most Western impoundments with a lot of the Ozark Lakes for their “versions” of overall clarity. “In those lakes, I tend to see clear water as anything with five feet of visibility or greater,” he said. “I’ve fished Lake Mead and many other lakes out West when I could see 20 feet deep or more, and the Ozark lakes can be similar.”

In Southern impoundments, clarity takes on a much different scale. “Clear on TVA lakes and the other river lakes of the South is something much different,” said Murray. “A clear body of water is something more like two feet of visibility, so you have to bear in mind that the scales are going to be much different by region.”

His visibility scales go something like this:

Western and Ozark Lakes
Clear – five feet of visibility or more.
Stained – one foot to five feet of visibility
Dirty – one foot or less of visibility

Southern and Most Eastern Impoundments
Clear – two feet of visibility or more
Stained – one foot to two feet of visibility
Dirty – less than a foot of visibility

River2Sea Papa Mur and Biffle Junkyard Jigs

River2Sea John Murray Papa Mur and Tommy Biffle Junkyard Jigs

Colors by Lure Type
In asking about the most common lure types, Murray said; like most pros, he chooses his color by water color first. He carries sets of baits that give him the color options he needs for a variety of conditions.

Crankbaits – His choice for shallow is a River2Sea Biggie and River2Sea’s Goon for deeper water
Clear Water – Abalone Shad or TS Minnow
Stained or Western Dirty – I Know It – (a pearl white base color with one bright chartreuse stripe)
Dirty – BC Shad (Chartreuse and Blue)

Spinnerbaits – River2Sea Ish Monroe Bling
Clear Water – Abalone Shad or white with nickel blades
Stained or Western Dirty – Lemonade Twist with one gold and one nickel blade
Dirty – Flo (all chartreuse) with gold blades

Jigs – River2Sea Papa Mur for deep water and Tommy Biffle’s Junkyard Jig for Flippin’
Clear Water – Watermelon with color coordinated Gene Larew Salt Craw
Stained or Western Dirty – Brown and Orange with a contrasting trailer, (Salt Craw for lightly stained, Rattlin’ Crawl’R or HooDaddy for heavier stain)
Dirty – Black with a Highlight Color – (totally contrasting color trailer with action tails, like the Rattlin’ Crawl’R or HooDaddy).

Gene Larew John Murray TattleTail Worm

Gene Larew John Murray TattleTail Worm

Finesse – Dropshot to Shaky Head – His favorite is his signature Gene Larew TattleTail Worm
Clear Water – Murray said open the Plano Tacklebox – Clear, translucent shades with flake like Dark Brown Pumpkin, Grape Silvertail, Sand Shad, Morning Dawn, Watermelon Pepper or Western Craw
Stained or Western Dirty – Brighter, Darker or Solid Colors – Shad Flash, Sooner Run, Green Pumpkin, Sunny Green Pumpkin or Light Brown / Magenta
Dirty – BC Shad Green Pumpkin / Chartreuse, Magenta Chartreuse or Red Bug Lite

Wrapping Up
While the colors themselves will have a bit of personal subjectivity, anglers can use Murray’s experience and his own measurement scale in order to pick out lures that will work for themselves. My conversation with him helped me better clarify the kinds of colors and lures I need to add to my arsenal in order to give myself the best chance for catching bass on my new home waterways.

I’ve got plenty of the translucent colors for clear water from 25 years fishing in the West, but I need to fill out my stock of dark and bright colors in order to be ready. Now, if I can just find where my wife hid my credit card, I’ve got Monster Fishing Tackle open on my browser.