"A lot of people, for some reason, don't fish shallow enough for walleyes early in the season," says Neustrom, a Freshwater Hall of Fame "Legendary Guide" and Rapala® pro. "They just stay out in that eight- to 12-foot, eight- to 15-foot zone. That's the way they were brought up; that's what they were mentored to do. But we've learned that there's an awful lot of walleyes up shallow early in the year, especially in stained or dirty water."
Bass too spend much of the spring in skinny, stained and muddy water, says Palaniuk, the 2013 Bassmaster Classic Runner Up and a Rapala and Storm® pro. "Usually, any time you have dirtier water, the fish are more comfortable in shallow conditions," he says.
Neustrom likes to target shallow, dirty-water walleyes with Scatter Rap® Shads in Firetiger, a classic green-chartreuse-orange pattern with black stripes. That was the hot bait in one excursion last spring, when he and some friends caught limits of big ‘eyes in two to four feet of turbid water in a bay off Minnesota's Gull Lake.
"Even off of people's docks, we caught walleyes!" Neustrom recalls. "If we would have backed off into eight to 12 feet – or would have been throwing natural perch or shiner patterns — we wouldn't have ever caught them. A lot of it had to do with color. Firetiger was the best color, because the water had a little color to it."
Bright colors like chartreuse and orange are more visible to fish in stained and dirty water. In addition to Firetiger, try these bright Scatter Rap patterns in heavily stained water: Hot Steel, Hot Mustard, Demon, Fire Minnow, Gold Fluorescent Red, and Hot Mustard Muddler. In lightly to moderately stained water, throw Scatter Raps in these colors: Caribbean Shad, Girlfriend, Rasta, Old School, Demon, Clown and Silver Fluorescent Chartreuse.
Scatter Raps have been "really good for us in shallow-water situations," Neustrom says. "You can temper the depth by your retrieve and that gives you better access to a shallower-water presentation."
Neustrom's shallow, bright Scatter Rap bite should be on now and for about the next two to three weeks, he estimates. "If you're fishing shallow in the daytime, the first two or three weeks of the season* – when the water's colder – are great for this pattern," he says. "Because as that shallow water warms up during the day, it gets those fish active."
* Note: Neustrom lives and guides in Minnesota, where walleye season opened on May 10.
The Rapala Shad Rap®, Rippin' Rap® and Storm® Smash Shads are also great early-season walleye baits. Each comes in several bright patterns that are great in turbid water: Rippin' Rap – Firetiger and Chartreuse Shad; Shad Rap – Firetiger, Bleeding Hot Olive, Hot Tiger, Green Fire UV, Hot Steel, Orange Fire UV and Pink Fire UV; Smash Shad – Hot Perch, Orange Fire UV, Blue Pink Fire UV, Purple Fire UV and Fire Perch.
In moderately stained water, try Shad Raps in Bleeding Chartreuse Shad, Purpledescent, Regal Shad and Silver Fluorescent Chartreuse, or Smash Shads in Chrome Clown, Metallic Rainbow, Mossy Orange Fire UV, Blueberry Glitter and Wonder Bread.
Bright Craw Baits For Bass
In the pre-spawn period through the spawn, bass feed mostly on bottom-walking crayfish. So that's when Palaniuk throws craw-pattern crankbaits. In stained and muddy water, red, orange and chartreuse craw patterns generally out-produce brownish and greenish patterns.
Palaniuk mimics crayfish in stained and dirty water by grinding the bottom with Rapala DT® and Storm® Arashi™ crankbaits.
"I do like the brighter, more bold colors in dirtier water usually," Palaniuk says. "If I get into moderately stained water, a lot of times I'll go with just a straight red craw. If it's really muddy, I'll usually go to one of the chartreuse colors. That's just going to be a little bit brighter and help those fish find the bait better."
Among his favorite bright craw-pattern baits is the Mossy Chartreuse Craw in the Arashi line. In the DT® Series, there's Red Crawdad.
Because early-season bass in stained and dirty water are more comfortable in skinny water, the brightly colored baits Palaniuk targets them with are those designed to run shallow — Arashi Square 3's and 5's and Flat 7's, and Rapala DT-4's and DT-6's.