You’ve qualified for a national championship bass tournament. Along with this excitement, also comes apprehension about being able to find and catch winning stringers of bass on unfamiliar waters. Since this tournament can be on any body of water in the nation, more than likely it will not be on home water. So, how does a bass angler compete? The first step to successfully catching bass on a new lake is map study. Bass fishing new lakes map study is very complex with several parts, from paper maps to electronics and GPS.
Bass Fishing New Lakes Map Study
As soon as the lake or river system is known, get a hold of as many different maps as possible. A good place to start is the internet. Using search engines, find an online resource containing information about the lake. Multiple sources are available such as websites for the larger marinas, Chamber of Commerce in area towns, and local tackle shops. These places will either stock or know where to get maps of the lake containing information like local hot spots, travel hazards, fuel locations, and all the necessary things an angler new to the lake might need. It’s best to contact these places by phone; email or web forms are slow and can be lost, preventing a timely response. With just a couple minutes on the phone, a lot of information about the new waterway can be obtained. Most of these places will gladly provide necessary information and send a map. They want angler’s business when visiting the lake so they will usually be very cordial.
Next, contact the state’s wildlife and fisheries to see if they offer topographical maps of the lake. If they do, check to see if maps are available before and after the lake was flooded. While speaking with the Wildlife and Fisheries on the phone, find out things like average flood stage, current pool level, and overall lake condition. Wildlife and Fisheries will know if the lake is a Corp of Engineers lake. If it is a Corps lake, contact the Corps, and they will also have topographical maps. The goal here is to find the best topographical map possible for the body of water. The best map may be a combination of two; this may involve getting several. Most of the bigger lakes also have multiple companies producing topographical maps and the local tackle stores will know which company provides the best one.
Mapping software available for GPS and fish finders can provide some of the most detailed topographical information on the market. However, don’t pass up the paper maps from the earlier sources, many unique things are added to local maps but not on mapping software. I will not fish a lake without my Navionics mapping software; however, I still get the local marina maps for the local information. Sometimes a man just wants a good hamburger after three days of prefishing, and the local maps will have on-the-water restaurant locations.
Depending on the season (which I will cover in follow-on articles), I start picking the topography apart looking for details suggesting probable starting places. Such details could be steeper drops, longer or flatter points, and creek channels. Depending on the season, use the topography to find the ideal locations. Just like when on the water and visually scanning a line of hydrilla, when something different reveals its self (a laydown in the grass) it’s a place to start. Use map study the same way. When following a bank line and suddenly several contour lines become very close together, this means a faster drop and is something different. Or vice versa, if the lines suddenly spread apart this means a flatting of the terrain and again something different. These changes in topography are great places to start searching for bass.
I used to pick one large arm of the lake and concentrate my efforts there. This single arm shrank the lake down to a manageable size making it easier to find bass. Picking a smaller area to focus on can still be a good idea, but the key to determining this area/arm is an open mind. In many big reservoirs, these single arms are small lakes in their self; bass can live in them year round as they have everything they need to survive the seasons. A couple of things to take into consideration when picking just one arm to dissect: 1) Recent and expected weather activity – Rain and wind direction can change the water color and condition of an entire arm of the lake; 2) Lake composition – In most reservoirs the southern or damn end will have a lot more rock and steeper banks; while the northern or upper ends of the lake will be flatter and tend to be more sand or mud. Both of these can be very influential to catching bass based on the season being fishing.
During spring and fall, bass will be easier to find in the northern or upper ends of a lake. In the summer or winter, the southern or dam ends of the lake will be easier to find bass. Bass won’t migrate the length of a lake to find a particular structure, but patterns are easier to replicate in certain regions of a lake. For example, if winter bass are on steep points, a lot more of these steeper points will be in the lower end of the lake.
If I have significant prefishing time, I won’t limit myself to a single arm of a lake anymore. I will break a lake up into thirds; upper end, midsection, and lower end. I will investigate the lake the first day looking for water color, water temps, and structure/lake composition. Then, using seasonal patterns and my fishing strengths, I will attack a section of the lake. In general, the larger reservoirs will have different water conditions in these three areas. Using seasonal patterns, I will decide which water conditions best fit my bass catching strengths. Based on my fishing strengths, the conditions may dictate which area I start in.
Today’s mapping software is amazing. I like to use Navionics. With Navionics, I can study maps on my laptop and when I find a likely looking area I can mark it with a pin drop. After I’ve completed my map study, I can transfer those waypoints to the electronics on my boat. These waypoints make investigating a new lake much quicker. I can simply bounce from way point to way point. With thorough map study, I can eliminate miles of the lake in a day.
Google Earth is also an incredible tool. When sitting hundreds of miles away from the lake or river, Google Earth can put an angler right there. I like to have my Navionics up on one screen of my computer and Google Earth up on the other (obviously this requires two monitors or two computers or taking a laptop to the boat and using a GPS Fishfinder). Using both the Navionics topography maps and the Google Earth aerial views, anglers can piece together a great image of the lake and its contours. Google Earth’s timeline feature is extremely useful for investigating new water. Anglers can look back through the years and find drought seasons. The time adjustment allows anglers to see the lake when it was low; finding all kinds of brush piles, timber lines, submerged buildings, manmade ditches. The list of bass holding cover and structure visible in drought seasons is endless. Place a pin drop on these items in Google Earth and then copy the GPS coordinates to the Navionics software. Without ever being on the lake, I have already identified probable cover.
Finding a quality paper map, purchasing mapping software, and using Google Earth will save many hours of hunting down the prime water of a new lake or river system. With some research, catch rates will go up exponentially. Spending investigative time before getting to the lake equates to more casts. More casts equal catching more and bigger bass. With a detailed analysis of the lake through map study, understanding seasonal patterns is vital to catching bass and further refining “productive” water. The next installment in this series will go into detail about the seasonal patterns; how bass react to the season and where to find them on the map. Get the maps ready…
Be sure to read the entire Bass Fishing New Lakes series