Fishing Unfamiliar Waters

By: Mark B. Scocco

    Whether we are novice anglers or the seasoned tournament veteran, there comes a time when we all find ourselves fishing unfamiliar lakes and rivers. It is then when we must rely on our abilities as fisherman to locate bass and not just depend on "spots" that have produced in the past. There are a number of tactics that you can take to increase your odds of being successful.

Do Your Homework!
    Prior to getting to the lake, purchase a good topographic map and study it hard as there is much that can be learned from reading it. First, you can get familiar with the layout of the lake and it's prominent features such as creeks, points, and coves. It will also help in locating and avoiding navigation hazards. Check your starting point from where you will be launching and closest marinas in case of inclement weather or an emergency.
    Determine what seasonal pattern the fish are most likely to be in and that should clue you in to what areas of the lake to concentrate in. Now take that and apply it to your contour map. This can help to eliminate water and wasted time, maximizing your chances of finding a pattern. Develop a back-up plan and locate these areas on your map as well. Areas that you can explore both your primary plan and back-up plan without having to waste a lot of time driving are places to start looking for your pattern.

When you get there, keep your eyes open!
    Once on the water, visualize your map and it's features. Check your water clarity, temperature, wind and sky conditions. Then ask, "do the conditions change anything in what pattern I think will be working?" You may need to make adjustments, or the condition may help to fine tune a pattern or even tell you what lures or presentation to use. Being observant before you even put the boat in the water will help you tremendously.
    As you head out to your first area, look around to see what types of visible cover may exist. Are the banks rocky and steep or gradual? It is heavily populated and lined with docks? Are they floating or stationary docks? Is there any emergent vegetation such as bull rushes or lily pads? Take note of anything that sticks out in your mind. Of course, obvious cover is often heavily pressured by other anglers but the obvious visible cover may give clues as to what lies beneath the surface and help pattern other productive areas that you may "stumble" onto. Also note the location of other boats on the water, sometimes theses boats may give away the location of a submerged island, grassline, or dropoff. Obviouly, be sportsmanlike and do not encroach upon water another angler is fishing. There is always time to fish that spot later.

Being Friendly Only Helps!
     Whether it is at the ramp or while out on the water, being friendly to other anglers will only help. Don't hesitate to ask questions if you meet up with another angler. Ask them how they are doing and tell them that you are new to the lake. Perhaps the angler can offer a few suggestions for you. Experience is invaluable and since you have none on this lake, every little bit should help. Naturally, most anglers like to brag and show off their fishing ability so they may be more than willing to share a few basic tips. Don't be too prying if the angler gives up any information and respect if he mentions any specific area. Lastly, always remember to say thank you and wish the angler good luck.

Trial and Error...Adjust if you have to!
     Map study, talking to other anglers, seeing visible cover. It all is meaningless without execution. It is often execution that is the difference between an average angler and an angler who consistantly produces good catches. Keep an open mind to the conditions of the water and if there are any changes. When you do catch a fish, take note of where and how you caught it. Was the fish aggressive or was the bite subtle? What type of cover was the fish on? Each of these are clues to help you to develop a pattern. Being able to use logic and deteremine what that pattern may be is crucial to your success. When you locate fish in an area, don't hesitate to try other baits and presentations. Often, a minor change like that can help to refine your pattern or even help locate bigger fish.
    Your ability to keep an open mind is eased by not just fishing "hot spots". However, you unfamiliarity with the lake will make it difficult to find area where you can duplicate your pattern. This is where your map comes in handy once again. Utilize any resource that you have at your disposal. By following few of the tips that I have provided, you will increase your chances of having a successful first outing on that unfamiliar body of water. Good Luck.

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Author: Mark B. Scocco
Created: January 11, 2001