Nothing can be more overwhelming for an angler than to be fishing a lake for the first time and not having a clue as to where to go. But don’t despair. There are things you can do that will help narrow the search and increase your chances of finding fish.
Pre-trip planning is the obvious first step. Learn as much as possible before you leave the house. You can glean a lot of insight by studying lake maps, visiting websites or talking with other anglers who have been there.
However, don’t overload with a lot of preconceived notions. People tend to pass on yesterday’s information, and maps that were created years ago aren’t always accurate. You’ll gather more reliable information through your own on-the-water research.
Here are some other tricks I employ:
Learn The Conditions – Knowledge of the seasonal pattern on a given body of water is critical. If the lake is near your home, you can probably figure it out on your own. However, seasons in another part of the country can vary drastically. Know what phase of the seasonal pattern the fish are in before you launch your boat. This is really important during spring. If you can identify the spawning areas, you can detect the routes they will use when moving to and from deeper haunts.
It’s also helpful to know whether the lake has been fluctuating. Rising water will push the fish to the banks or backs of the creeks. If it’s falling, they may be on slightly deeper structure.
Clarity is another issue. I prefer fishing stained water when the water temperature is above 60 degrees. If the surface is colder than that, look for clear water, because bass bite better in clear, cold water than in stained, cold water.
Narrow The Search – Since you can’t cover a 30,000-acre lake in one day, pick a section and ignore the rest. Choose one end, a large creek or a large area and dissect it, fishing everything that looks good.
One of my favorite areas is the north end of a reservoir. This part is usually narrower, making it easier to follow channels and read what’s there. Current is normally present here, and that helps position the fish on structure.
Choose The Appropriate Lure – Look at the structure and select a lure/presentation that allows you to fish thoroughly and effectively. You want a bait that not only draws strikes, but one that covers water efficiently. At this point, you’re eliminating water as much as you are trying to find fish. Once you identify where bass are holding, you can go back through those specific spots with other lures.
For example, if I find a stump–lined creek channel with stained water and a lot of baitfish, I’ll probably choose a crankbait. I’ll start in the back of the creek and work my way out, paying attention to where the strikes come. If I catch a fish on stumps around a couple of secondary points, I now have a pattern and will key on them.
You have to stick to a plan, too. Don’t give up on a bait, presentation or an area because it didn’t produce in 10 minutes. If the area has all the ingredients to attract fish at that time of year, give it adequate time and check several places before you eliminate it.
Once a few pieces of the puzzle fall into place, spend some time working each spot thoroughly. Your valuable time will be spent catching fish instead of wondering what to do next.