From seasonal rains to snow melt, rising lake levels are part of natureâs hydrology. Sometimes, though, periods of concentrated influx see lakeâs rapidly expanding into shoreline cover and thereby creating significant opportunities for bass anglers faced with finding high water bass.
No one knows this better than Texas guide/tournament pro Ray Hanselman, who dominated the 2015 Costa FLW Series Texas Division by sweeping the 3-event schedule before winning the overall Series Championship, a feat never accomplished at any level in fishing.
Swollen from voluminous rains, two of Hanselmanâs wins exemplified the truth that when rising water encroaches on the traditional shoreline, everything it its path feels the effects. Inescapable are muddy conditions, at least near the run-in points. This can present an initial barrier, as excessive turbidity causes respiratory impairment and chases away baitfish.
The area in which Hanselman caught the majority of his Texoma fish had been too muddy to fish during most of the practice period. But when he noticed some marked improvement right before the event, Hanselman knew it was game-on.
Essentially, natureâs stepladder affords an irresistible opportunity for bass to expand their feeding and spawning territory â two significant drivers that determine fish behavior.
âThe fish wonât run into that muddy water because itâs too hard for them to breathe, but once it clears up, theyâll come back quickly,â he said.
Bassmaster Elite Series pro Jason Christie notes that the earliest stages of the cleanup can be especially sweet for late winter-early spring. Dirty water, he said, conceals the fish and allows them to move ultra shallow where they can ambush prey and soak up the sunâs rays.
âThe water will warm up a lot quicker if itâs dirty than it does if itâs clear,â Christie said.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN RISING WATER
Conceivably, bass could venture just about anywhere into the newly accessible territory created by rising water, but Hanselman said he looks for a particular setup thatâs especially relevant during the spawn. Details vary lake to lake, but he identified a few commonalities:
Edgy behavior: âTheyâll follow that water in and theyâll usually find an inside edge,â he said. âWhether itâs grass or brush, theyâll usually try to get on the back side of that and travel that inside edge.
âIt could be just 10 feet long and theyâll use it as their ambush spot; or it may be a ring a round the whole pocket and theyâre just traveling.â
Short of such defined lanes, Hanselman says you just âpoke and hope.â Particularly in a drain or a creek channel, heâll work back as far as he can go.
Thick cover: Invariably, Hanselman looks for thickest vegetation he can find, as this tends to offer the greatest opportunity for cover and feeding opportunities. Whether or not fish experience âemotionsâ is not todayâs debate; but you gotta think that thereâs at least some level of heightened enthusiasm. Checking out all the new hidey holes and shadow caverns must be akin to walking into a new home and opening all the cabinets, closets and kitchen drawers.
To that point, Joe Setina, one of Hanselmanâs Rayburn competitors, fared well by flipping flooded buck brush â particularly the ones snarled and tangled with thick, gnarly vines. Bare brush seemed to hold minimal attraction, but the ones with vines that once drug dry ground were golden.
Of course, such treasure comes well guarded and if you line easy-in-easy-out, this game is not for you. From my media boat, I watched Setin strip off his shirt, lean over the side and shove his rod an armâs length below the surface to retrieve a snagged Beaver.
Seek flowering cover: Of all the things a fishermen might expect a fisherman to say he seeks, âflowersâ probably wonât top anyoneâs list. Nevertheless, Hanselman keeps it reel with a solid explanation.
âThereâs something about weeds with flowers that those fish like,â he said. âIt could be 100 yards of bushes and stuff and if thereâs one little weed with a yellow flower on it, thereâs going to be fish on it.
âMaybe itâs the bugs that are attracted to those flowers. The fish eat a lot of insects when theyâre in that rising water.â
BEST BAITS FOR RISING / HIGH WATERS
For those inside edges, Hanselmanâs starting lineup comprises a frog, a soft plastic jerkbait and a flipping rig with a creature bait or lizard.
âIâll start out with the more aggressive bait (the frog) first to cover more water and see how many strikes I can produce,â he said. âA lot of times, in that flooded water, theyâll reveal themselves; especially if theyâre eating insects.
âIf thatâs not the deal, Iâll just slow down and pick it apart.â
For that focused effort, Elite pro Terry Scroggins offers his insight for flipping flooded cover: Always flip to the center of the bush or the base of a tree. On his approach, heâll flip the outside edges first, in case he can pick off a couple of smaller fish before heading to the stud spot.
Sticking a big fish in the center of the cover, Scroggins said, generally boogers that cover for the day, so maximize your opportunities before burning the spot.
Itâs definitely a double-edged sword, this flooded cover premise. On one hand, you have more opportunities for the shallow-water game that melds the hunting and angling minds. On the other, the playing field embodies an unforgiving labyrinth with a tackle testing Minotaur at every turn.
Donât be intimidated.
âTry to reach back as far as you can with long casts,â he said. âIf you see an open hole back there, make a long cast even if you canât get too it because thereâs a good chance thereâs one back there.
âThe way I look at it, I want to get a bite before I worry about how to get the fish to the boat. Iâll figure that out later.â