The outdoors page reports that bass are biting well on a lake that's only two hours from your house. But you've never been there before, and it's tough to convince yourself to drive past familiar waters, especially when you only have one day to fish. If you don't go, though, you still won't have been there, so maybe you should give it a shot while the fish are biting.
Touring pros face similar scenarios all the time. For them there's no decision about whether or not go. If a tour schedules stops at a particular body of water, and a pro is fishing that tour, that's where he'll be fishing that week. They each have a method for surveying new waters. Those same steps the pros take to find tournament success can help you figure out the best ways to find fish in a new lake.
"You can actually learn a lot about most bodies of water from home, and a little bit of research helps you pack efficiently and be mentally prepared," said Bobby Myers, who is fishing all three B.A.S.S. Open Series this year.
Planning begins with a good lake map that shows structural features, deep areas where major creek or river arms run, bridge locations and much more. Myers also takes specific note of which bays have significant creeks (shown simply as blue lines) feeding them and are true creek arms as he has found that these arms are the most productive ones in most lakes.
Florida pro Cliff Prince, a 2012 Elite Series rookie, uses Googel Earth to look at lakes he plans to fish. The satellite imagery often reveals a lot about the color of the water, the shoreline make-up and the type of cover that prevails. The zoomed-in bird's eye view also shows structural features, such as points and humps. The free download (earth.google.com) gives a much different look at the structure compared to topo maps or what you see from the water level when you get there.
Myers noted that the computer can provide a lot of information about a lake. By doing searches by lake name and using phrases such as "tournament results," you can learn a lot about popular seasonal patterns and general areas of the lake that tend to produce good catches at certain times of the year.
"Local guides often have good information on their pages as well. They might have tips for fishing that particular lake, or they might post fishing reports so you know what has been happening recently."
South Carolina pro Andy Montgomery has spent time on tour with B.A.S.S. and FLW, and is fishing the B.A.S.S. Elite Series this year. First off, he always wants to know a new lake's characteristics. "Does it have significant current? Is it a natural lake or a reservoir? Does it have grass? Is it normally stained or dirty?"
Montgomery intentionally avoids talk about specific patterns or hotspots because those tend to give him preconceived notions, and he has found that he does better fishing by "instinct." He wants to learn about the character of the lake and then consider season and conditions to try to figure out where the fish should be.
ON THE WATER
The season is a major factor, according to Montgomery, and he always seeks to apply his understanding of a bass' normal seasonal movements as he develops a starting plan. For mid-summer fishing on new water, he normally starts by fishing grass. If there's no significant vegetation, he'll look for areas that offer the most current flow, focusing on the ends of points that reach out to creek and river channels.
Montgomery doesn't like to run all over a lake. Instead he'll pick a general area that he believes should hold fish and will approach it almost like a smaller lake, fishing different types of structure and depths and paying attention to everything around him.
Myers suggested making early stops at high-percentage areas, such as riprap on both sides of bridge crossing and waters around the dam of any impoundment, both to gain confidence and to help get an idea about the behavior of the fish.
"There are almost always fish near a dam, whether they are on the riprap in the corners, in adjacent pockets or over structure near the dam itself," he said. "Finding those fish with your electronics and catching a couple helps you develop patterns."
For the same general reason, Myers likes to start shallow.
"Shallow fish that are relating to visible cover are easier to pinpoint and often easier to catch. Getting something going early gives me confidence and helps me get a feel for the lake."
Cliff Prince's searching strategy u begins with considering conditions.
"Water color is a big factor," he noted. "I also consider recent weather patterns."
Generally speaking, fish will more readily use deeper offshore structure in clear lakes during the summer, and they'll feed more visually. In dirty water, they tend to stay shallower and tighter to cover, and they feed more by reaction and rely heavily on their lateral lines to sense forage near them.
It's also important to look at conditions relative to what is normal for a body of water. If a lake is well above normal pool, for example, the fish might be very shallow, cruising flats that aren't normally inundated and using everything from bushes to signposts as ambush points. Similarly, dirty water has a bigger impact on a normally clear lake than on waters that are always somewhat stained.
No matter which starting strategy you select, a key for figuring out fish on new waters is careful and continual observation of everything around you. Perched herons, diving gulls, a wind-blown point, a water color change, bass chasing baitfish... Clues are all around, but you have to be intentional about taking them in and working on the puzzle in your head.
Start with a searching strategy if you don't have a really strong idea about what the fish will be doing, varying your tactics and covering plenty of water. Most importantly, pay attention to what the fish tell you. Take note of details every time a fish bites, look for common denominators in those details, and refine your pattern as the day progresses.
"I'm not worried about what the fish were doing a month ago or even a couple of weeks ago. I need to figure out where they holding and what they are eating right now," Prince said.