“Look at ‘er… she’s beautiful… but huge. So… where do I even begin?!”
A “big new lake” can mean a lot of different things to fishermen. For those of us that frequent small city lakes and bank fishing, a 75 acre lake can seem monstrous. To reservoir fishermen used to exploring depths of 60 feet or more for predators chasing suspended balls of baitfish, 75 acres is nothing – less than the size of a creek arm.
But no matter what kind of water you are used to fishing, exploring new water can be exciting – and intimidating. I spend much of my time in the winter setting goals and daydreaming about exploring new fishing holes in Illinois. Here are three simple tips that help me bypass the NEW LAKE JITTERS so I can get to work and avoid Analysis Paralysis.
1. Start with what you know – but downsize.
Chatterbaits. Buzzbaits. Frogs. Big ‘Ol Cranks.
There is nothing wrong with working a new area with some sort of search bait. In fact, some of these are top producers here in the Land of Lincoln. However, if you’re looking to get your confidence up and start to learn more about the local biomass – downsizing and reducing the speed of your retrieve might be a strategic play.
Well, smaller fish of all species can attack a smaller offering. This can help you figure out what the local forage might be. When you are fishing in LaSalle County for example, you are likely to find all sorts of fish. Once you start to catch a few… you can adapt – selecting other colors or profiles that will mimic what you see or catch.
The other thing downsizing can do is quickly help to build your confidence, and the more confidence you have, the more effective you’ll be. Does throwing a 4″ Strike King Ocho really get the attention of the local lunkers? Probably not… although there is a chance if the local forage consists of small narrow-bodied minnows. This chunky boy came on a 4″ Ocho…
However, while the big chunky boys are possible, bass in this range are far more likely:
You don’t have to start slow if you prefer working a searchbait (and who doesn’t?). Go ahead and try something like the Z-Man Slim SwimZ on a simple jighead, and select a weight that helps you get this little morsel to the depth you want to explore.
Everything hungry will attack a swimbait.
As you start to catch more and more, you’ll build confidence and begin seeing where they are setting up shop, how they are reacting to your bait(s), and what colors or retrieves work better to attract the bite.
Establish your baseline, we can improve from there one step at a time.
2. Pay close attention to your surroundings above & below the surface.
You can learn a lot about a body of water before you make your initial (downsized) bait selection and lob your first cast.
First, peek into the depths – what color is the bottom? What is the composition? Do you see rocks and gravel covered in mung? Thick green muck over sunken mats of green gunk? Or clear water with high visibility and a barren, light-brown sandy bottom?
A good rule of thumb is to select a color that matches the color of the bottom. This isn’t always the best option, however it is usually a great place to start because the local forage will try to blend in with the bottom so… well, so they don’t get eaten.
The fish you seek may be opportunistic feeders, but they are also probably used to looking for food that isn’t standing out like a sore thumb. Start natural and experiment from there.
Next, look for life above the surface of the water. Are there areas of the lake where you can see herons pecking at baitfish? What are the baitfish? Color? Profile? When I’m fishing in Illinois I don’t see birds like loons or other divers that go after pods of baitfish like what I would see in Arkansas or Wisconsin, but there are plenty of telltale signs that show me where there is life.
If birds are on top of the water looking down at baitfish in a specific spot on the lake – chances are hungry predators are looking up at them as well…
Go get ’em.
3. Break down the lake starting with the obvious (visible) structure.
Begin your search with this lovely little LaSalle County Fishing Tip and fish your bank first! Then, work out from there. Start to attack the banks that look best, or the visible structure that you can pick out from a distance. We’re looking for activity, we’re looking for bites, and fishing with smaller baits to see if we can get anything going.
Pay attention to any and all activity. Do you see baitfish? Activity above or below the water? Are you getting any taps or follows?
Look for things that you can pattern.
If you see baitfish around a certain kind of tree, or structure, or weed – look for more of that as you make your way through the lake. See if you can start to develop a pattern – because it may be a pattern for the day, or a pattern for this specific lake at this time of the year that will work for an extended period of time. Only testing will help you identify fruitful combinations.
As you attack elements that are visible above the water, remember that other fisherman have done the exact same thing.
If you cast to a great looking brush pile, others have as well. That fallen tree? She’s got obvious potential – just like that large point coming off the shoreline over there.
So attack, make many casts, stay alert, and look for clues that tell you what the best kind of structure is – then try to replicate that in other, less obvious areas. Areas that other anglers could miss… and if you don’t have the lake to yourself… make sure you pass over any hidden gems that you find for now, until you can come back without tipping anyone off…
Remember – patience is a virtue.
Between this and the other two tips mentioned above, you’ll be in a much better position to rapidly build your confidence and put those “New Lake Jitters” behind you.
Now get out there and get exploring! You’ll be glad you did.
Tight lines my friends.
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