Finesse News Network: The debate about the effects of snow on crappie and largemouth bass anglers
April 12, 2013
It has been a snowy and cold late winter and early spring in northeastern Kansas and elsewhere across the Heartland. In fact, the anglers who competed in the Walmart FLW Tour at Beaver Lake, Arkansas, were greeted with some flurries at 7 a.m. on April 11.
One of the old wives' tales that I used to hear around the Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri, when I was a young angler back in the 1950s and '60s was that snow created a chemical effect on the lake water, which put the crappie and largemouth bass into a funk. And several times this past February and March, I began to hear some of the good old boys who fish the Lake of the Ozarks say that the snow had "put a real hurt of their fishing."
During the last week of March, we asked some Finesse News Network members from the Connecticut, Indiana, Kansas, Missouri, and West Virginia if they had ever encountered the snow woes that seem to have plagued the crappie and largemouth bass anglers across the years at the Lake of the Ozarks.
Here are some of their observations and opinions:
Bill Babler of Blue Eye, Missouri, who is a veteran and talented guide on Table Rock and Taneycome lakes, replied straightaway when we asked him how or if snow affected his fishing, and he emphatically said: "none what-so-ever."
But Larry Seger of Kimberling City, Missouri, who is also an experienced and expert guide on Table Rock Lake said: "I have seen snow help and hinder the bass fishing. If the weather is above freezing, but the air temperature is below the temperature of the lake water, and the ground temperature is colder than the water, the snow lowers the lake temperature quickly and kills the largemouth bass bite. On the other hand, if we have a big warming trend and the ground is already warm, which is a big key, the quickly melting snow dirties the water in the backs of the creeks and rivers, and that fires up the shallow-water largemouth bass bite. I've caught big females in inches of water in February with snow on the ground."
Bill Ward is 78 years old, and he is a topflight multispecies angler from Warsaw, Missouri, who has fished all around the world and competitively. What's more, he has fished the Lake of the Ozarks for years on end. During a telephone conversation on April 11, he said that he has enjoyed some extremely bountifully catches of crappie and largemouth bass in the midst of extremely heavy snowstorms at the Lake of the Ozarks, Norfork Lake, Arkansas, Truman Lake, Missouri, and La Cygne Lake, Kansas. In fact, he remembers one outing at La Cygne when it was snowing so hard that he couldn't see his lure hit the water, but he caught largemouth bass galore. According to Ward, it is the aftereffects of a heavy snowstorm that has confounded his crappie and largemouth bass fishing. These aftereffects erupt when the snow melts quickly, and the water rapidly flows into the reservoir. He has found that the sorry fishing usually last for about a week after the runoff from the melting snow has ceased. Ward suspects that the cause of this difficult fishing stems from the mixing of the high levels of nitrogen and sulfur in the melting snow with the reservoir's water. In addition, he suspects the influx of the cold water from the melting snow might accentuate the problems he experiences when the snow melts quickly. He notes, however, that the water and fishing at tailraces below dams, such as below Truman Lake, is not adversely affected by melting snow.
Brian Waldman is an ardent and skilled multispecies angler from Coatesville, Indiana, and he is also the proprietor of a very popular Web site entitled "Big Indiana Bass." In an e-mail on Mar. 28, Waldman wrote: "I've researched it a bit, and I have fished in melting snow conditions here in Indiana some. My observations and thoughts, however, are anecdotal.
"There seem to be a couple factors at work that anglers should be aware of. The first and most obvious is the intrusion of cold water. Cold water temperatures in and of themselves mean little, but when you've had some stable water temperatures (even cold but stable) and then you add a shot of colder water into such areas, this seems to be a negative for largemouth bass. It is especially noticeable in the headwater areas as well as the very back ends of creek arms fed by obvious runoff sources. But it is not as noticeable on the main lake or deeper areas, and subsequently, most of my fishing if this occurs is toward those deeper areas.
"Another related phenomenon that many anglers don't realize or consider is that unlike a heavy rain runoff that tends to make the water murkier if not downright muddy, a steady snowmelt will often bring in cold, clear water. Since cold water is denser, what you frequently get is a shot of very cold and very clear water running into these areas, often making water conditions too clear at times it would seem. Cold, muddy water is a very tough situation as many anglers can attest to, but lightly stained water actually warms really quick due to the suspended organic particles in the water, thereby making them good areas under stable and warming conditions. That cold clear snowmelt (water) will often push that slightly warmer stained water out of the area, not only cooling off the water temperatures, but also prolonging any further warming by clearing out the suspended particles.
"If you are fishing in an area that is adjacent to roadways and bridges, it is not at all uncommon to get a shot of road salt in with the colder water. Roadways that have been treated or de-iced will transfer much of the sodium and chloride ions into the adjacent waterway, especially during the earliest addition of snowmelt into the lake. This creates a saline condition (salt water) that would usually be considered a detriment to the resident fish population, causing them to go off the bite for a short period of time until saline conditions disperse. Also, since salt water is denser than fresh water, and the influx is colder (again more dense) than base water temperature, it wouldn't be out of the question for this cold salt water to settle along the bottom of the lake bed in localized small areas, perhaps forcing fish up into the water column to avoid this salt intrusion. It basically sets up a suspended fish situation, where those fishing along the bottom are fishing where the fish no longer are (fishing under the fish), or the ones that remain have probably become non-biters while they adapt and contend with the salty runoff. Again, in larger more main lake areas, this would all be negligible factor.
"One last observation, this snowmelt phenomena doesn't seem to affect river systems and smallmouth bass quite as much as it might our lake dwelling largemouth bass. I'm guessing the river's flow continuously mixes the water, which prevents it from becoming as potent as it does in some sections of a reservoir. Consequently, I have caught quite a few smallmouth bass locally while having to dodge mini icebergs floating down the river as the ice and snow was melting. So a change in venue and species might be warranted at times for those in such a position to do so on their local waters.
"So I guess my final comments would be that every body of water is different, and none of this is set in stone, merely what I have observed on my waters. As such, keep it in mind, but also feel readily able to disprove any such situations on your local waters. However, if it seems like you can't get bit in your usual haunts during snowmelt periods, I would recommend trying to move as far away from the incoming sources as possible, toward more sheltered (from runoff) cuts and hollows, or more main lake and deeper (stable) environments, at least for a few days."
Rich Zaleski of Stevenson, Connecticut, is hailed by all as a finesse guru, a maestro at inveigling striped bass and preeminent writer about fishing.
He wrote in an e-mail on Mar. 28: "Run-off from snowmelt, both locally and coming down the rivers from the north, is just part of the normal spring progression here, and I can't say I've ever isolated it as a discernible factor. As far as actual snow while you're fishing in open water, I've actually had some great days fishing in the snow. It's no different really than a cold rain.
"But on a vaguely related item that I have noticed, during long, cold winters, where the water temperature is at its lowest for an extended period, we are likely to see far greater numbers of largemouth bass in very shallow water very close to ice out, than in years when ice out arrives early or that were preceded by a warm fall and early winter period. I theorize that the forage supply in the stable wintering areas is finite, and the longer the bass are bunched into those relatively confined areas, the more likely they exhaust that supply, and the sooner individuals will begin to filter out of the aggregation areas on a hunt for food. That hunt eventually takes most of them to very shallow water where they are most likely to encounter the first instances of the season of prey becoming active and mobile. If they were cooped up in tight quarters for a shorter period of time, there is not as much urgency to send them off looking for their next meal, and you don't find nearly as many bass using the shallow bays or gathering around shallow objects along south facing banks.
"The waters I fish are equally split between natural lakes and reservoirs. The pattern of which I speak is more prevalent on impoundments than natural lakes, because in tight quarters, winter aggregation is much more a factor in waters where current is a notable factor. Natural lakes are friendlier winter environments overall, so the fish aren't forced to crowd into small areas that are a little less hostile, and the conditions that lead to the pattern aren't as likely to show themselves."
Burton Bosley hails from Sutton, West Virginia, and since the 1960s, his angling talents and experiences have been far ranging. They commenced at the side of the late Chuck Woods of Kansas City, who is the creator of the Beetle, Beetle Spin, Puddle Jumper and Midwest finesse fishing. After his Kansas City days, he moved to West Virginia for a spell and fished for a variety species. Then he moved to Florida, where he initially became enchanted with a variety of saltwater denizens, and for several years he virtually chased a few of them to all corners of the earth. After his lust for saltwater adventures petered out, he fished and guided for largemouth bass in the Everglades and other freshwater areas in southern Florida until retired a few years ago and returned to West Virginia, where he still fishes as along as the waters are ice free.
In an e-mail Bosely wrote: "Here in the hills of West Virginia snowmelt is an element we have to deal with each spring. I like to fish whilst it's snowing, but I usually struggle with snowmelt
pouring into the system. As with most angling challenges there are no hard and fast rules, but I feel it causes the bass to suspend off their favorite areas, not necessarily deeper, just off a little. I've had some success with a jig and bobber or as it is now called "float and fly." I start out with the jig suspended three feet or so under the float and go from there. I know this is shallower than conventional wisdom prescribes, but it has worked for me. My experience is that the bass want little or no movement of the jig, and they bite very lightly in this situation. A pro-tournament friend of mine from around here opts for a suspending jerkbait in the same circumstances. The timing of your question is relevant to a new experiment: I'm wanting to try your ZinkerZ and mushroom jig on a float."
Drew Reese's piscatorial expertise stems back into the 1960s as one of the forefathers of Midwest finesse fishing who competed in the first Bassmaster Classic. His knowledge about the ways of largemouth and smallmouth bass is matchless. Nowadays, Reese resides in Rantoul, Kansas, and in a telephone conversation in March, he said: "It is no old wives' tale; it is a fact that snow screws up bass fishing in Missouri and eastern Kansas."