Fishing A New Bass Lake

Fishing a lake for the first time may sound intimidating, but if you follow these tips from bass pro Gary Dobyns, you'll have no problem mastering any water that harbors bass.

"When you fish a new lake, all you need to do is apply the knowledge you've picked up fishing other waters and start shallow," says bass pro Gary Dobyns. The results are obvious.
Photo by Chris Shaffer

Gary Dobyns' eyes were bloodshot. It was 4 a.m. and he hadn't slept. I had challenged Dobyns, one of the top professional bass anglers in America, to an experiment to see how predictable bass are in the spring -- and to see how good of an angler he really is.

And he was nervous. He and I met at a destination two hours from the water we were going to fish. The catch? Dobyns didn't know where I was taking him. It was a lake he'd never fished. In fact, this was a place few folks had heard of, but my research had proven it harbored bass.

It was far from the Columbia River, Lake Shasta, Clear Lake, Oroville or any piece of water where this seasoned pro would have an advantage. It was obvious that no one at this secluded, seldom-fished reservoir in the foothills would recognize the all-time leading money winner among bass anglers in the West, let alone his fancy Ranger boat.

If nothing else, Dobyns is a gamer.

"A bass is a bass, regardless of where it lives," he said, sweat dripping off his forehead. I pointed toward the left as Dobyns following my directions to a boat ramp. "It's not finding the fish that I'm worried about. We'll be able to locate fish without a problem, but they don't always bite. The only fear you have in the springtime is when you get a bad north wind and a cold front. If you get a high pressure front with a north wind, it's trouble."

Otherwise, it's the best time of year to fish. There isn't an easier time to hook bass than in spring. Regardless of the season, new bass lakes are intimidating to many anglers -- young and old, novices and pros. For most folks, it's just an overreaction.

"When you fish a new lake, all you need to do is apply the knowledge you've picked up fishing other waters and start shallow," says Dobyns. "This is springtime. Most bass will be shallow."

It's that easy? Well, sort of. If you do your homework and come prepared with proper gear, you can have an epic day even while fishing bass water you don't know.

In spring, Dobyns says, bass are straightforward. They aren't hard to figure out. In fact, spring is the ideal time to fish a new water because that's when bass are most predictable.

"The fish are moving up to feed up and getting ready to spawn, so they are aggressive," added Dobyns. "The water is starting to warm and they are coming shallow. It's by far the best time of the year to fish."


While Dobyns was practically blindfolded prior to fishing the lake we visited, you don't have to be. The more research you do prior to launching your boat, the more likely you are going to be successful.

Take the time to learn about the river, lake, reservoir, pond or canal before you leave your house. In today's times, it's easy to find information about waters on the Internet. Other notable sources are local guides, magazines, bait and tackle shops, maps and government agencies.

Locating information about the lake is vital, but asking questions can be more helpful. While there are hundreds of questions that could pertain to you catching more fish, try to narrow your choices to five. Ask which species of bass are available. Smallmouth, striped, largemouth and spotted bass are common in the West, and each, with the exception of stripers on occasion, can be taken shallow in the spring. It's also a good idea to find out that there are bass available.

"You don't really fish any different for the different species in the spring because they are all on the same program," Dobyns said. "They are moving up to eat and get ready to spawn. All bass do it. No just some of them. They are all after the same kind of feed too."

Discovering main food sources is vital. This allows you to choose ideal colors and lure imitations before you launch. Food may consist of, but is not limited to crawdads, rainbow trout, shad, minnows, panfish, pond smelt, kokanee and others. Each water will have something on which bass feed heavily during spring. (Continued)

Learning what facilities are available plays a part in how you approach the system. Some waters may only offer shore fishing; others may allow electric motors, float tubes or canoes, but no motorized boats. Check into whether a gravel or dirt launching area is available and the current state of launching conditions. You don't want to haul your boat to a lake only to find out that low water had closed the ramp. In many cases, a bass boat may be too big. It might be necessary to launch a car-top or aluminum boat. Selected waters may not permit launching, whereas you'd be forced to rent a boat.


If you can find out what color the water is in the spring or what tint it has to it, you'll be able to narrow your bait choices. Water clarity often dictates the bait you use and the technique you employ.

"The clearer water is the more you are going to have to use a more finesse style and downsize baits," says Dobyns, who recommends downsizing line, spinnerbaits and worms under clear conditions. Colored water is different. "Colored water warms faster, for starters. It holds the heat better than clear water and the fish become more active faster than they would in clear reservoirs."

In colored water, you need to adjust techniques. For example, you don't need to use light line; spinnerbaits, jigs and flipping is effective.

One of the most important items you don't want to overlook is structure. If you can get someone on the phone who knows about the lake or river, ask him or her what structure is present. Are there tules, fallen timber, brush, rocks, standing timber? These are all prime bass-holding areas and things you should be familiar with.


Now that you are a little more familiar with the water you are planning to fish, you'll have a tad more work to do once you get to the lake. Right before you hit the water there are several more things you can do to increase catch rates. The first should be to survey the landmass. Studying the shoreline can give you a good indication of what structure the water has to offer and where the most bass will be.

"What am I looking for is something that sticks

out," Dobyns said. "Are there a bunch of flats or am I looking at deep, steep banks with a bunch of boulders? Am I going to be locking on points only or are there flats I can throw on?"

Scanning the shoreline before preparing to launch your boat is a sure way to better fishing. Patience is important. It is better to take the time to scan the lake's structure and look at lake maps prior to fishing than to rush into making your first cast.

"The first thing I do on a new lake is to drive around in the boat and look to see what's available. I make sure to survey the land," he said. "You can learn a lot by scanning the lake's shorelines."

This can be done from the dock, on the boat or walking along the shore. If you have a boat it can be helpful to run over the areas you plan to fish with your depth finder to see the structure the water has to offer. If you are fishing a natural lake, pond, reservoir, river system, canal or slough, you need to eye different areas where bass will hold in the spring.


Reservoirs fish different than natural lakes and ponds. In a reservoir the water is often clearer, unless it has muddy tributaries pushing dirty water in. For the most part, though, the water should be clear. Coves aren't as vital as they are in natural lakes, but they shouldn't be overlooked.

Hands down, there will be fish on points. Points are highways for bass despite of the water you are fishing. In clear-water reservoirs, which are plentiful in the West, you can fish a lot of worms, jigs, crankbaits and small spinnerbaits. The downfall to reservoirs is that there isn't as much cover as you encounter in natural lakes and ponds. On the other hand, the cover available in reservoirs is usually different. It's likely you'll be able to find boulders, rocks (riprap), gravel points and marinas.

Every reservoir has one spot you won't want to overlook: a dam. Dams are often made of rock, pebbles and other forms of gravel which crawdads and baitfish live in or near. This draws hungry bass.

"Dams are a fish factory," Dobyns said. "You'll always find fish on them. Unfortunately, after 9-11 you can't fish dams much anymore in some of the larger reservoirs."

Natural lakes and ponds are similar to dams, but fish differently. Here, you'll want to scan the shorelines for tules, lay downs (fallen trees), creek channels and flooded brush.

"If you have a lay down, brush or some kind of structure, it's going to have a fish on it," Dobyns said. "Look for available cover. The fish are going to be coming out of deep water looking for flats to spawn on in the spring. The coves are a great thing in the spring. Bass move back into the coves to spawn."


In the spring, stay shallow in natural lakes and ponds. Deep water is the enemy most of the time.

"The one thing that's common in the spring is fishing shallow. You are going to have fish on points and in flats," said Dobyns. "You don't have to mess around with humps or deepwater structure. You can just skip all that and go right to the bank."

River systems are much different. In a river, stay away from fast-moving water. Look to fish oxbows or off chutes on the river system. These areas have less current and warm up faster than the main river. Keep in mind that bass aren't salmon or steelhead. They are looking for warmer water, not cool water. Stay off the main river, concentrate on chutes and channels, and you'll catch more fish.

Sloughs, canals and bypasses often have similarities to river systems. "They usually have a lot of cover," Dobyns said. "They have some current, usually. In the springtime, you don't want to be in full blown current."

Instead, look to current breaks and bends, and fish all available cover.


The final recipe to success comes with technique. If Dobyns had six rods rigged with six baits, he would choose: a Revenge half-ounce chartreuse blue and white spinnerbait with gold blades; a half-ounce Smithwick Rattling Rogue with a black back, silver sides and orange belly; a Rivers2Sea topwater frog; a flipping stick with a Yamamoto Kreature Bait; a Yamamoto tube; and a 6-inch Robo worm.

These, according to Dobyns are the best baits he has to throw at springtime bass. How does he determine color and size with spinnerbaits, for instance?

"A half-ounce is the most universal size. You can fish it deep or shallow and it's the top seller by 90 percent. It's what I throw 98 percent of the time," he said.

The baits above are effective under different circumstances. In natural lakes and ponds, it's a good play to call on spinnerbaits, jigs and frogs.

"I'd grab the Revenge spinnerbait and look for tules or some kind of ambush cover. That would be my first choice," says Dobyns. "I'd try to parallel the spinnerbait alongside the brush, tules and weeds, and fish it right inside the cover."

His second choice would be the Kreature bait or a jig fished in the same places. If you can't get a reaction bite off the spinnerbait, maybe they'll grab the jig. Frogs, on the other hand, are big-fish bait.

"When I pick up and throw the frog, I'm trying to catch better quality fish. If I can't get them out of tules on a spinnerbait, or even if I can, I'm still going to be looking for other fish in there," Dobyns said. "I'd cast a topwater frog as far as I can throw it in the tules. There's a lot of fish that are going to be way back in the tules that I can't throw a spinnerbait into, but I can get a frog to those fish. My favorite bait in May and June is actually a frog. You'll get big fish on it."

In reservoirs you don't have a lot of cover. More often than not, you are going to be fishing rocks and boulders. "My first choice would be a Senko. That's my number one bait in May and June on clear-water reservoirs," he said.

Dobyns chooses to keep green pumpkin or watermelon Yamamoto tube bait fished on a quarter-ounce dart head or an oxblood or Aaron's Magic Robo worm on a 6-inch straight tail close by at all times when fishing reservoirs in the spring.

"The green pumpkin works no matter where you fish," he said. "It's brown and green. It's a natural-colored bait and does a great job at imitating crawdads. I start on points and work my way back into the pockets or coves until I find the bass."

Oftentimes when you fish worms you are going to attract bites from smaller bass. On the other hand, big fish can be available on worms. The trick in the spring is to fish them shallow. It's best to target zero to 10 feet. There's no need to fish deeper.

You can choose the same baits to throw in river systems, canals and sloughs. You can't go wrong with half-ounce spinnerbaits and flip baits. Again, stay off the main river as much as possib


"If I've got structure and I can throw a frog on it, I'm going to throw it," says Dobyns. "I'll get bigger bites on a frog. I'm going to try to get into some place where the fish would look to spawn. Flats, protected bays or anywhere I can get out of the major current are good choices."

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