Breaking Down New Water

Question: When fishing new water, how do you find and target the fish, the pattern, as well as find them offshore?  What should I look for on the graphs? - Jacob


Thanks for the question Jacob!  

This question pretty much sums up the ongoing struggle for anglers to find and catch fish.  

There are many factors that come into play when you approach a new body of water, but I want to share with you a few things that are very important to me when it comes to figuring out fish on an entirely new body of water.  

Know Yourself

The hardest lesson I have learned over the years is that the best way to approach a new lake is by doing the things I am best at.  For example, I am a shallow water power-fisherman-  I love to fish shallow cover using fast moving techniques and flipping tactics.  I often would go to a new lake that had a history for being an offshore lake and I would struggle to force an offshore bite, and would end up with pretty inconsistent results.  After getting a little frustrated with offshore fishing on some of these lakes, I just decided to go fishing and do my shallow water thing- and to my surprise I always seemed to find a decent pattern doing what I enjoy doing most.  

I'm not saying that you should not put effort into expanding your fishing repertoire, but rather, use your strengths as a foundation to build upon when you go to a new lake.   

Nothing can take you out of the zone on a new lake like trying to force a pattern doing something you don't know how to do, or don't like.  

Know Your Seasons

There are countless variables that factor into success in fishing, but none are as reliable on a year-by-year basis as the changing of the seasons.   

Fish are at the mercy of their environment, and they react to the changing seasons in different ways.  Though the seasons affect fish differently each year, and in each different type of lake or river system, the following are some general rules that I live by when I go to a new body of water and want to know a good place to start:

Spring- For bass, spring is all about preparing for, participating in, and recovering from the spawn.  With this in mind, fish are always going to concentrate around shallow spawning bays that are protected from the wind, get good sun exposure and also have suitable hard bottom for their beds.  

Summer-  Summer is a period of time where fish are scattered throughout a lake more so than any other time of the year.  Fish can be found around their shallow spawning areas as well as offshore.  This is a time of the year where offshore fishing shines.  Focus on long tapering points, ledges, humps and other gradually sloping structure that are near the main lake.  

Fall-  The Fall marks another major movement for fish to move shallow.  Generally speaking, once you start getting Fall showers, fish will start moving into the creeks with running water as they follow the bait into these areas.  This is an excellent time to fish shallow cover, as well as points, humps and saddles that lead into the backs of creeks.

Winter-  Wintertime can be tricky at times, but also very rewarding.  Focus on areas of the lake that have the steepest structure, like bluff banks, or creek channel bends.  Any type of structure that gives a fish very quick access to both deep and shallow water is a sure bet. 

Pick A Spot

Another big key to breaking down a new body of water is to break it into a more manageable section.  

If you go to a new lake with the hope of running it in its entirety in order to figure the fish out, you could be setting yourself up for getting very overwhelmed.  

Something that I like to do is look at a lake map and choose a major creek, or portion of the lake, that has all the suitable structural elements that the fish will need to live their entire lives in that one area.  That means that it must have an area for spawning, feeding, and wintering.  Pretty much look for an area that you believe a fish can live there without having to leave during any season.  

Once you are able to isolate this kind of area, which is bound to have a population of resident fish, try to figure out the patterns in that one area, and only then should you try those patterns on the rest of the lake.  

Graphing 101

To answer the last part of your question- electronics are an essential part of your arsenal as an angler, and understanding what you are looking at, and what you should look for is pretty important.  

The biggest advice I can give you is to first use your mapping software to find suitable structure for the season you are fishing, and then you need to look for bait, which will show up as "clouds" on your screen, as well as the bass themselves, which may only be one or two "arches" or blobs near the bottom.  

Very rarely will you be looking for giant schools of fish on your graph.  More often than not, you are looking for only a few marks on the structure you are fishing.  On that note, I also want to stress to you that very rarely will you be fishing for fish that are suspended in the middle of the water column.  Most of the fish I target will be sticking close to the bottom.  

In any case, the first step is to pick out a good looking piece of structure from your map, and then use your sonar as a way to fine tune the area.  

Anyways Jacob, these are very general tips on how I find fish in new bodies of water, but the best advice I can give you is to keep it simple and follow your gut!  

Seek the bite!