In many rivers and lakes, the task of locating fish in thousands of acres of water is daunting.  Harry Padgett, an Arkansas tournament angler, takes a much more systematic approach that begins with looking at things from the bass’ perspective. He considers the five factors he finds have the greatest impact on a bass’ locations and behavior: season, water, temperature, water color, water level and weather.

The season provides answers to many big-picture questions that help in knowing where to begin searching for fish. Are stages of the spawn a factor? Should the fish be on mid-summer structure? Are they apt to be following baitfish up creeks? Not all fish in a lake do the same things at the same time, but thinking about the season helps you narrow your thoughts about where most fish should be.

The season must consider geography. Fish finish spawning in Florida while Minnesota lakes remain frozen. Pay attention to when things happen on the bodies of water closest to you.  They you have the first piece of the puzzle.

Narrowing the focus a little, the water temperature reveals more about how fish will behave and about where they will be. Anglers too often ignore the temperature readings shown on their electronics.

Exactly how the temperature comes into play depends upon the season. During summer, you are looking for those areas that are a couple of degrees cooler than the rest of the lake. During winter, the opposite is true. Through spring and fall, temperatures help you know how far along fish are likely to be either in spawning phases or in transitional moves.

The water temperature, which can change as a day progresses, also affects the activity level of the fish. When the water is somewhat cool late in the fall fish often become more active and may move shallower as the day progresses and the water warms.

Water color is darker in the spring, influencing the normal behavior of the fish. Generally speaking, dirtier water causes fish to stay shallow, hold tight to cover and rely heavily on their lateral lines for finding meals. In clear water fish are more apt to use offshore structure or cruise flats and to feed visually.

Take note of how water clarity varies within a body of water. If a lake badly muddied by a big rain but with the backs of its creeks beginning to clear, there’s a good chance feeding fish will be concentrated in the clear water.

Understanding the influence of water color helps you pick potentially productive areas and to choose the best lures. It also impacts color selections. Padgett’s picks range from darker colors that are easy for fish to see for dirty water to translucent colors for very clear water.

Some waterways are subject to massive level fluctuations, while others only vary slightly. Most go up and down and the fish tend to move up and down with the water. High water generally pushes fish toward the banks, especially as new cover gets flooded. Low water draws fish out toward creek and river channels.

In most rivers and many reservoirs, high water has the added effect of creating current, helping position fish because they either move into fully protected pockets, protected from the flow or they hold in predictable positions behind trees, dock supports or other current-breaking pieces of cover.

As with other variables, the trend is at least as important as the current conditions. As you look at the level and consider how the fish will react, also take into account whether the water is rising or falling (or neither) and how the trend will impact the fish’s positioning.

The weather is a “constant variable,” according to Padgett, and the bass give evidence to it. The morning begins bright, and while the sun continues shining the fish bit well. When thick clouds settled in, the bite slows dramatically and the fish reposition themselves.

Rising and falling pressure, rain, clouds, sunshine, steady wind… many weather conditions dictate where the fish are likely waiting, so watch for clues. Pay especially close attention to any condition that changes during the day and note how that change affects the fish.

To cover all variables involved requires “a very large volume,” according to Padgett, and there is no simple, specific formula that leads to the fish every time. Giving fair and intentional consideration to these factors and taking into account acquired knowledge about the water you are fishing can be a major step toward putting fish in the boat.

Padgett does not assume anything.  He lets the fish provide the final answers each day.

“I’m still trying and learning,” he said, “because the fish make the rules and can change their rules when and where they choose.”



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