How to Fish in Shallow Waters: 7 Essential Tips


Fishing is one of the best ways to explore the outdoors and get some food to go home with. The best thing is that you don’t have to go deep-sea fishing if you don’t have the equipment. Shallow water fishing is another way to get a bigger catch and go on an adventure. The trick is that you have to know how to do it right.

Some tips on how to fish in shallow waters involve maneuvering the boat slowly, using a wacky rig, and doing underhand or sidearm when you are ready to cast to reduce the splash that may cause the fish to disappear. You also need to use the right lure to get a good catch.

Shallow water fishing has different aspects that include scouting the waters that you intend to fish. Read on to learn more about shallow water fishing, what it involves, and some tips on handling it.

What Is Shallow Water Fishing?

Shallow water fishing is a type of fishing that involves catching fish in shallow rivers, lakes, and ponds with a high concentration of moss. The fishing lures and bait used in this type of fishing are different from those used in deepwater fishing. 

What Equipment Is Used in Shallow Water Fishing?

Shallow water fishing is more like a hunting expedition. That means you need to use different strategies and equipment. Below is some equipment that you need to use in shallow water fishing.

Hydraulic Jack Plates

Shallow water fishing means you get close to underwater objects like timber, tree stumps, and sandbars. These items can quickly damage your engine and boat. A hydraulic jack plate protects your engine and boat from these damages, which could cost thousands of dollars in repairs. 

Having a jack plate also enables you to lift the engine and propeller vertically to ensure that it’s aligned with the boat’s movement. Doing that not only improves fuel economy but also protects the boat from being pushed at the stern. Always choose a jack plate from a trusted manufacturer and ensure that it goes through tests to guarantee efficacy. 

Power Poles

Power Poles are designed for shallow water fishing due to their preciseness when you deploy them. Moreover, they are not disruptive and are quiet when placed in underwater ecosystems. Shallow water anglers love the durability that these poles provide. Despite their high price tag, power poles are an excellent investment for any angler. 

Shallow Water Lures

Apart from getting the correct angler, you’ll also need a shallow water lure. The lures should have bold colors, exciting patterns, and holographic eyes to resemble a real fish. The traps should also have premium hooks to attach fish profoundly and firmly. Some fishing lures can catch different types of fish like trout, bass, catfish, perch, and more. A versatile and durable lure will come in handy when going fishing. 

Tide Charts

Tide charts help you understand the water depth. Use a chart that corresponds with your current location to avoid errors. You don’t want a situation where the boat comes to a sudden stop, as this can injure the occupants and damage the skiff. 

Tide charts allow you to know the tidal cycles because you may run aground and get stuck. You’ll need to determine what to do, either get out and push or back off. When you notice that the tide is rising, it’s best to relax and wait for the water levels to go back to normal for you to float. 

Unlike deep-sea fishing that involves casting your nets and waiting for your catch, shallow water fishing is different. You’ll need to use other strategies to increase your chances of success. Below are a few tips for shallow water fishing.

Plan Everything

While we like to think of fishing as an adventure where we just up and leave, there’s more that goes into fishing if you’re looking to improve your chances. That means you have to plan your itinerary, which involves checking the weather forecast for wind speed changes and prospects for thunderstorms and knowing the tides. 

You also need to check the waters you intend to fish. You can use Google maps to see the water body layout. Track the timelines in the low left corner to reveal features like pad fields, shallows, and weed fields.

With this information, you can decide on when to go and where. Remember that sometimes the weatherman may not be right, and fish will not always show up where you think they will. Have a plan B or C in case the first plan fails to materialize.

Choose Your Bait Carefully

The bait you choose depends on a lot of factors. One of them is the water you’ll be fishing in. For example, if you’re planning on fishing in clear water, you’ll need to get a translucent bait and a bright color. When fishing in muddy water, you’ll be better placed using dark bait like plastic worms. 

You also need to determine the type of fish you are planning to catch. That’s because some freshwater fish like carp and catfish prefer cut bait. Bluefish and sea trout also prefer cut bait due to the scent. 

The weather and temperature will also affect your choice of bait. Coldwater needs a slow-moving bait, while crankbait works better in warm water. When fish are spawning, you’ll also need a fast-moving bait. 

It’s also essential to know the difference between using natural and artificial baits. You can use natural bait if you’re targeting fish like minnows, eels, and crayfish. However, when using live bait, avoid transferring them from one place to another, making the fish avoid the bait. Choose live bait from the area you’re planning to fish as this is something the fish will be used to already. 

Artificial baits mimic the movements and looks of live bait. Some standard options include crankbaits, plastic lures, jigs, and spinners. Unlike natural baits, artificial baits last longer and are readily available in fishing stores. 

When choosing a bait, you need to be specific on the bait’s color, shape, and size. The size should match the type of fish you’re trying to lure. A good example is when you’re trying to catch bass, you’ll need a large bait, but if you’re targeting small fish, choose a smaller bait. 

Some states also have fishing regulations that list the type of bait you need to use while fishing in a specific location. Ensure that you go through these guidelines before choosing bait to avoid cumbersome fines. 

Understand Fall Shallow Fishing Techniques

Shallow fishing in early fall can be productive as most fish are found in these depths. One of the primary reasons is that fish like to hunt shad that spawns at the back of covers and shallow waters. 

Also, when temperatures are low at night, the water temperature starts to drop. The low temperatures will make the fish move to shallow water as these areas warm up first in the morning when the sun comes up. Knowing where to find fish gives you an advantage, but you need to understand how to fish for them. Some of the best tactics for catching fish in shallow waters are using the drop shot rig and the wacky rigged soft bait. 

The drop shot technique was only reserved for deep water fishing. However, you can make a few changes to the rig and use this technique for shallow water. All you need is to adjust the weight for shallows and the distance between the hook.

To get started:

  1. Use a medium-action, medium-length rod with a spinning reel. You can also use a lightweight rod with a five-pound (2.3 kg) test line if you notice there isn’t enough sensitivity to attract the fish. Remember, the point is to avoid spooking the fish at any moment.
  2. Use a Palomar knot to tie your hook to the line. There should be 8-10 inches (20-25 cm) of slack between your weight and your hook.
  3. Attach a quarter ounce (7 g) weight on the line. You can use a PowerBait finesse worm or a green pumpkin sinking minnow. These soft lures work for a drop shot rig.

Cast the lure where you notice a lot of fish activity. That could be under large rocks or sunken logs. After setting the trap in place, shake the rod’s tip to make the bait appear alive and move. Don’t worry about the location, as the weight ensures the lure stays in your preferred place. Move the lure a few feet as you reel it in and shake the tip again. Do this before moving to the next spot. 

Understand the Casting Techniques

Casting plays a critical role in fishing. You may have the best tempting bait and quality gear, but you won’t get any fish without the right casting techniques. Contrary to popular belief, casting is not only about flinging the rod and letting the bait fly. It takes time to learn to cast, but it’s something you can learn with enough practice.

When fishing in shallow water, you can use the sidearm type of casting as it’s less prone to snarls and snagged lines. It’s also safer, provides consistent results, and avoids huge splashes that may scare away the fish. The technique involves facing the rod squarely and holding the rod parallel to the water. Move the rod at waist level and whip it forward. Release the lure and wait for your catch. 

Underhand type of casting also achieves more success when fishing in shallow waters. Apart from being versatile, this technique also allows for long casts. All you need is to hold the rod at waist level, ensuring that it’s parallel to the water. Check to see the rod is at a 45-degree angle from the target.

Lower the lure to at least six inches from the rod tip. In one smooth but quick motion, draw a half-circle with the rod tip and release the lure once the rod gets to the bottom of the circle. Ensure the end of the rod points down and only use the wrist. Underhand casting is one of the ways to cast farther distances without too much effort. It’s also a fantastic technique when you need to skip bait under boats, docks, or hanging trees. 

Pitch casting is another technique you need to master when fishing in shallow waters. It’s an excellent way to get bait close to the fish without spooking them as it provides a splash less entry. To get started:

  1. Begin with extending the line to the same length as the rod.
  2. Hold the reel with one hand and the bait with another hand.
  3. Quickly flick the wrist holding the reel and allow the bait to be pulled out of the other hand and into the water. Avoid throwing the bait. Instead, let the line remove it. Don’t use a lot of arm movement when pitch casting.

When casting, ensure that you position yourself as far as the water clarity. Sometimes you may need to stay close to achieve accuracy. Ensure the lure gets on the water with as little noise and cast past the target when you can. Lowering the lure some inches below the rod tip before casting gives momentum for the cast. 

Stay away from limb or too stiff rods. Choose a quality rod and teel that matches the weight of the lure. Don’t cast with the arm and shoulder; use your wrist. 

Be Quiet

Sound travels faster through water than air. That is why you need to be quiet when fishing in shallow waters if you want to avoid spooking the fish. Don’t slam hatches, tackle boxes, or coolers, and avoid dropping things on the deck. 

When in skinny water, the sound of a trolling motor and hull slap can also spook the fish. Use a push pole to propel the boat or drift. If you have to use a trolling motor, ensure that you run it at low speeds and shut it down before getting near the casting range. You can hold the boat in place with a stakeout pin or power pole as you wait for the fish to get near the waters. 

Learn How to Maneuver the Boat

Having the best flat, jet, bay, bass, or aluminum fishing boat helps you run through and float in shallow water. Nevertheless, you need to know how to operate it. 

Here are a few tips on how to maneuver the boat in shallow water.

Slow Down

It’s recommended to slow down when you are unsure of the depth of the waters. Going at high speed could not only damage the boat but also leave you stranded when fishing. You can go at the set speed if you know the depth that can accommodate your running draft. 

Fish that live in shallow water love being near fallen branches or vegetation. Avoid going through these areas. Drift when you can and switch off any electronics to avoid spooking the fish that could be beneath you. 

Be Careful With Obstacles

It can be challenging to see shallow-water obstacles when riding your boat. If you’re planning on fishing in shallow waters, use a spotter at the front to ensure you’re not heading towards wrecks, weeds, reefs, rocks, or hollow logs that could damage your boat. 

Understand Your Boat’s Draft

Although some boat manufacturers publish the static and running drafts, some don’t publish them. If this is the case, you need to get a tape measure and head into a shallow area where you can step off the boat and check. That will enable you to know how much depth is needed. 

Watch Out for Color Changes 

Sometimes the sandy shoals appear like light spots in the water, and deep waters may look darker in color. However, you need to be careful as these color changes can be deceiving. Dark colors often signify deeper water but note this is not an accurate method. Avoid any color changes, and stay in the same depth range. 

Watch out for breaking waves in one spot as this could indicate shallower bars than the surroundings. You can use a depth finder to check the water depth. That will allow you to avoid very shallow areas. 

Keep an Eye on the Water Level

You may be tempted to explore some areas with a spit of sand or a remote beach to see if you’ll get a better catch. However, this is not always the best approach, especially when the tide is going out. You need to watch out for the water level to avoid being left high and dry when there’s a falling tide. 

Experts recommend checking the tide before heading out. Checking the tidal cycles will help you know when you take a back seat until the water levels allow you to float freely. Once you see the tide is falling, you can take caution to get the boat off asap before the situation worsens. 

Get a Pole and Poling Deck

You need the accuracy and stealth of poling when fishing in shallow waters. This technique means one person sits on a lifted platform towards the end and pushes the boat through the water using a pole. The angler then does the fishing. Having a pole comes in handy in a case where you get stuck in shallow sands.

Use a Wacky Rig

If you’re looking to target fish in shallow water, you may want to try using a wacky rig. The rig allows you to keep the lure in the spot longer and create movement at the end of the line. A wacky rig will enable you to have resistance in the water. That will push the lure against the water and move around more without shifting the location.

A wacky rig uses a soft plastic worm and a tiny hook, which creates a natural water movement to attract fish. As a non-invasive and natural fishing technique, the wacky rig uses various presentations, from drop shots to weighted shots. 

Wacky rigs are simple to use, particularly for beginners. To tie a rig, you’ll need a soft plastic bait, o-rings, and wacky rig tool, and a hook. If you’re not using the O-ring tool, simply place a hook to the line’s end using the desired knot. At the center of the stick bait, place the hook.

Using an O-ring with a wacky rig prevents the weakening of the hook due to constant piercing. That will allow you to add the amount of fish you can catch after the fish bites on the rig. To get started, place the stick bait through the wacky rig, ensuring that it is half inside. Push the O-ring into the bait’s idle and use a Palomar knot to place the fishing hook to the mainline. Thread the point of the hook around the ring by placing the stick bait to the hook. 

Remember that the placement of the hook is vital when using the wacky rig. A hook that is not centered means the lures won’t move slowly in the water. The lures will dart and spin, which may confuse the angler.

Soft Plastics for Your Wacky Rig

Some of the soft plastics in a wacky rig include:

  • Stick baits: Soft plastic stick baits like BioSpawn ExoStick is the common lure to use with a wacky rig. It resembles the actual thing as you can cast a mile. 
  • Finesse worms: These worms resemble tailed worms that perform well when using the wacky rig technique. They have a slim structure that gives a slight shake on the fall once you place it across the middle part. You can use these worms around docks, seawalls, and tree limbs that hang. 
  • Creature baits: While creature baits do not have many shimmies on the fall as slender baits, they still offer fantastic results when used with a heavy drop-shot. However, you need to shake the bait a little when hooking it. That will come in handy in places with bedding bass. 
  • Craws: Wacky rigging your craw and dragging it along the bottom will help you catch crawfish. 
  • Flukes: Using wacky-rigged flukes will help you capture a handful of fish like bass. That is due to the crazy shimmy of the wacky rigged bait. 
  • Ribbon-tailed worms: Old ribbon-tailed worms allow you to put a pivot point in the center and make the bait spiral. That gives the waving ribbon time to attract the bait. 

Tips to Master the Wacky Rig

If you’re looking to take your wacky rig skills to the next level, here are a few tips to get started.

  • Be patient. Wacky rigging can, over time, become dull as you have to cast and wait, reel in, and repeat the process. As a newbie, that can demotivate you if you don’t get a bite in the first catch. You need to exercise patience as it’s not whether or not you’ll get a bit. It’s when. 
  • Find what works for you. You need to find what works for you and not stick to every rule of wacky rigging. Use what you have in your tackle box. If you have a stick worm and massive hooks, pierce through the worm. Trying new things is the only way to have fun and enjoy wacky rigging.
  • Change your mainline to braid. Wacky rigging has disadvantages as you can end up with missing fish or lost fish. Fortunately, you can reduce this problem by changing the mainline from monofilament to braid. You may end up missing your catch when the line has extra slack due to the short hook set. The braid doesn’t have a stretch, that means when you get the bite and set the hook, it goes deep into the fish’s mouth. 
  • Use a wacky rig with a skip cast. Although you can use wacky worms alone, they give excellent results when used with a skip cast. Apart from skipping well, they have minimal resistance, making them the best device for fishing around docks, laydowns, and other covers. Use this time to learn how to skip the cast in open waters, and you’ll be surprised by the number of fish you catch. 
  • Don’t overfish the rig. The secret key to a wacky rig is to avoid overfishing the setup. That means when you retrieve, do small tweaks with the rod’s tip to give the bait little action while letting the natural water flow provide the bait’s movement. The presentation makes it difficult for the bass to resist. 

Final Thoughts

Shallow water fishing is something that takes lots of practice. You may need to experiment with different techniques to determine what best works for you. When fishing in shallow waters, remember that fish that stay in shallow water get easily spooked and retreat to their habitat with the slightest sound or touch. 

The critical components for shallow water fishing are water temperature, phases of the moon, and current state. Remember to pick a bait color depending on the water’s clarity, avoid the splash, and always be careful with the boat movement.

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