When bass fishing new lakes putting it together requires an objective. The objective is to quickly catch a few bass and build confidence. The best way to do this is fish with one’s bass catching strengths. If flipping is a forte, then use seasonal patterns to determine the best areas to flip. If casting crankbaits on points or cover water with spinnerbaits is a passion, again use seasonal patterns, lake composition, and match baits to primary forage and get after it. Once a few bass are located adjust patterns to dial in exactly what the best bait, presentation and locations will be.
This objective has to be handled with a bit of common sense. If fishing a lake at a time when the majority of bass are located in 25 foot of water, developing a flipping pattern is going to be difficult. Not impossible, as some bass are shallow year round; however, it may be difficult finding enough targets or bass to be a productive pattern. Most of us have a couple of favorite angling methods for catching bass. Pick techniques by confidence level matching the research acquired on the lake being fished.
When arriving at the lake anglers should have a solid game plan of how and where to catch bass. Hopefully research has reduced the size of the lake to a manageable amount of water to cover in a given time period. Even the most experienced angler will find a new lake overwhelming when launching the first time, just remember there is a game plan and stick to it.
Learning a new lake requires versatility and time management. Anglers have to be versatile enough to present a variety of bass catching possibilities in a short amount of time in each of the predetermined locations. As each location is fished, an angler has to analyze both positive and negative feedback bass provide. Remember, the lack of bites are just as important as hooks ups when prefishing or learning a lake.
Bass Fishing New Lakes Putting It Together
When I first arrive at a lake I will have 30-40 waypoints to visit on each of my prefishing days. Keeping this in mind, I have to be very specific and fish my target locations versus getting lost on a bank line, in a cove or bay. I like to make a series of casts to specific targets/areas with a variety of baits and move on. In 20-40 casts I should know if the area will produce or not. If my research says I can catch summer bass on points, I will work a series of baits covering the water column and then move to the next point. As an example – five or six casts with a topwater, the same with a crankbait, and finish off with a Texas rigged worm or Carolina rig. If it is winter, I’d leave the top water out and add a spoon or jig depending on the lake composition. The goal is not to spend more than a few minutes fishing one point and cover as many points as I can until I dial in a pattern. Once a productive bait or technique is developed, the guessing is gone and covering water gets faster. Using the productive technique, reduce casts to five or six per location. An angler shouldn’t pick an area apart in prefishing. If the area, say a point, is holding bass; one will show itself right away with the correct technique. If there are no strikes on a proven technique after several casts, then there is not a significant concentration of bass at the location and not a place to fish during the tournament.
Spend Time to Analyze – When to Investigate More
If I get a strike or find something unusual in an area, I may spend the time to make a couple of extra casts and analyze what I’ve found. If my crankbait found an extra larger boulder or spot of vegetation, I may want to make casts at different angels to try and trigger a strike. If I discovered a defined change in bottom composition while dragging my jig, I may want to cast the crankbait back at it exploiting the bottom change. Something like this could be a spot within a spot. It’s this kind of areas we watch the professional anglers drive up to, make five casts, catch two fish, and leave.
Repeated strikes without hookups is another factor causing me to spend more time in an area. If I get a strike or two and no hook ups, I’ll want to change speed, color, or size of my presentation and see if I can find the commitment trigger. It’s always better to know for sure the strike was from a bass and how big the bass was versus assuming it’s a bass. At the beginning of my career, I committed to an area because of the sheer number of strikes I was getting. Not wanting to hook anything during prefishing I had the hooks removed from my crankbait. On tournament morning, I discovered the area was jam packed with white bass.
As I mentioned earlier in this series, once a pattern is established, not everything matching the pattern will produce. The flip side to this is, don’t rule out a pattern simply because it didn’t produce the first time it was tried. Also, don’t call something a pattern until it’s easily replicated. Back to fishing points for an example – after catching a few fish on crankbaits, it might be noticed all strikes come on the south side of the points. It could be a steeper side, flatter side, exactly 13 feet, a series of larger boulders, gravel, current, the possibilities forming a pattern are endless. Each strike or empty cast, tells the angler a little bit more. After two days of tweaking a pattern, come the third day an angler should be able to run the lake and fish high percentage areas with a high confidence bait.
Pattern fishing is not just for points; shoreline brush or vegetation can be the same way. Say hydrilla is holding bass and those bass can be caught punching soft plastics through it, but only if the grass extends to 7 feet of water. Deeper grass is harder to find on a map because topographical maps generally do not show grass; although local maps might. Another reason to purchase local area maps. Typically grass in a given lake prefers a specific contour slope and bottom composition. The amount of slope giving way to vegetation growth is usually determined by the water itself, clarity, fertility, amount of current. Once the contour slope providing vegetation for the lake is determined, analyze the maps and eliminate water not meeting the criteria. This map study prevents driving every mile of shoreline looking for vegetation producing water.
Vegetation can be very difficult for anglers to fish confidently. Once the trolling motor goes down, as long as the grass looks good on the surface, anglers will keep fishing it. Before it’s realized, miles of unproductive vegetation have been fished and hours of time lost. Improve the odds of finding bass, look for the structure inside the cover. In this instance, the structure is bottom contour or change. The cover is the grass. Find structure changes and travel routes. Points, ditches, creek channel swings all provide bass something to relate to within the grass. Anglers can catch a bass here and there throughout a giant field of grass. However, bass concentrate in areas the size of a boat if it has a structure change with it. Fishing these high percentage areas will help dial in a productive pattern faster. It will also help rule out vegetation, if fishing high percentage areas in the vegetation yields no strikes, it’s safe to say it’s not a useful pattern. This concept is also true of timber and brush filled lakes, don’t blindly fish the cover; fish the structure in the cover.
When fishing deeper structure, electronics make it very easy to eliminate water. If there are no baitfish present, don’t waste time on a single cast. While electronics may show fish present, if baitfish are not available then those fish are likely not bass; or are bass in a negative feeding mode. Many of my local lakes have an abundance of trashfish (gar and drum) seemingly roaming the lake. However, if there are shad present, the fish in the area will at least be gamefish and worth trying to catch.
Bass Fishing New Lakes Putting It Together With Versatility
The greatest tool in any angler’s tackle box when fishing a new body of water is versatility. Anglers have to be open minded and able to adjust to changing conditions quickly. An angler must be able to bounce a squarebill crankbait off standing timber and then recognize the need to switch to a buzzbait because the crankbait is diving below bass chasing shad on the surface. An angler has to be able to determine if the vibration of a double willow leaf spinnerbait is not strong enough and be willing to try a vibrating jig. Analyzing the water and weather conditions, then applying the tools necessary to trigger strikes draws the line between those who win and those who participated. Many of my tournament wins can be attributed to five different baits on the same day. More often than not, on multiple day events, the patterns change and what worked in prefishing is not effective during the tournament. However, the confidence built in the first few days on the water allow a versatile angler to adjust to the new conditions and find the bass again.
During research, regional colors and baits should have been revealed. Unless something was extraordinary, I try to stay with the basics and choose colors to match the bait choices. For example, if fishing spinnerbaits, I’ll use white, chartreuse, or a combination of the two depending on water clarity. When fishing crankbaits, I’ll choose colors to mimic the forage I’m trying to imitate; shad, crawfish, or bluegill. There are exceptions, one of my local lakes is known for the effectiveness of a red spinnerbait in the early spring.
Use size, vibration, action and depth to solicit strikes versus trying a gamut of color options. A simple adjustment in blade size on a spinnerbait can change all four of the factors just mentioned. The vibration will be different, the overall bait image will be larger or smaller, and the depth it runs is directly affected by the lift generated by the blade size. By increasing or decreasing retrieve speeds, the majority of these factors are also changed. The key is to be versatile inside the presentation being used. Don’t get stuck casting and winding. Every cast should have a different twitch, pause, retrieve speed until a pattern is determined. This applies across the bait spectrum from buzzbaits to deep diving crankbaits. I truly believe anglers put too much emphasis on color, other variables are much more important in generating a strike. Keep it simple in the beginning.
Some Advice from Professional Angler Clark Reehm
Clark Reehm said during an interview about the cost of professional tournament bass fishing, “Don’t reinvent the wheel. If the most productive local pattern is a specific bait or bait color, make sure it’s available in the boat. The local anglers have years of experience fishing the body of water and have probably tried it all, or modified baits and patterns to increase the lures catch rate for the given lake or river.” It’s obvious Clark suggests we purchase and use the bait local anglers have proven works. However, this local technique may not be in the personal tool box. There are still options using the “local bait” as a guide. Let say during research; it becomes evident anglers fish large white and chartreuse spinnerbaits slow rolled on deep ledges. Slow rolling is a complicated pattern for many anglers to understand. It’s not a bottom contact situation, and anglers have trouble developing the sense of where the spinnerbait is in 15 to 20-feet of water. There are other options to mimic this presentation. Crankbaits being one. If I were a deep diving crankbait angler, I would carry a few silent, since spinnerbaits don’t have rattles, deep diving crankbaits. However, a large spinnerbait has a lot of thumping vibration so I would also make sure the crankbaits I carried had a lip able to provide a strong vibration. Finally, in the words of Clark Reehm, I would also buy a couple of the spinnerbaits for the region.
Practice Makes Perfect – Practice Techniques On Local Water
If during research, a pattern or technique is revealed outside one’s bass catching arsenal. Practice this technique on local waters. Before I learned the ins and outs of dropshotting, I had a tournament on an East Texas lake known for how well the dropshot caught bass. Prior to the tournament, I rigged a couple of dropshots with various hook styles and weight systems and fished them on local waters to develop a feel for the technique. It’s inevitable a particular technique could be a player, build the confidence in the technique well before the tournament. The Alabama Rig is a perfect example of how I lost significant time during a tournament. I figured, how hard can it be, it’s a cast and wind presentation. To my surprise, there are many factors in determining how deep the presentation retrieves, how well baits stay on hooks, vibrations, and flash all determining how effective the presentation will be. Then simply casting the rig was a challenge, had I practiced before the tournament, I would have realized my designated rod and reel combination were not up for the task.
Community Holes Start the Process – Says David Walker
I do not like fishing in crowds; however, one of the fastest ways to catch a couple of bass and build confidence in new water is to fish “Community Holes”. In an interview with David Walker, after he had recently won a tournament on community holes, I had to ask him why he chose these locations knowing he would have to contend with the local anglers during the tournament. David’s reply, “They are community holes for a reason. Everyone catches bass there.” David went on to say, “With the advancements in electronics, there are no secret locations anymore. Drop offs, ledges, creek channel swings, flats, it’s all right there on a boat’s electronics. Basically, a whole lake is a community hole. When I research a lake I like to check a few of the spots local anglers talk about; this helps me get a feel for how the bass locate themselves on the body of water. Sometimes I can develop a strong tournament pattern on these locations, or I will take what I learned from the area and apply it around the lake. Bottom line, I never shy away from community holes.”
Putting It All Together – Topographical Maps, Seasonal Patterns, Baitfish
My latest national tournament on a lake in Oklahoma is a great example how using map study, seasonal patterns, and understanding baitfish will quickly put an angler on winning bass. I had only seen this lake via google earth and topographical maps. The tournament was in October at a reservoir with threadfin shad. I studied maps of the lake for two months before the tournament and had 50 waypoints plugged into my electronics before I ever saw the lake. This tournament was a national angler of the year event, and prefishing was limited to six hours the day before the tournament.
A typical fall seasonal pattern in a lake filled with shad is to fish the upper ends of the major creek arms and find bass chasing migrating shad. In my prefishing, I went as far north in the lake as I could only to find there were no shad. Working my way back towards the damn checking my preloaded waypoints, I found shad had only migrated about two-thirds of the way up the lake.
Concentrating my prefishing efforts around the shad, I was able to find several small schools of bass. During the tournament, I presented early topwater baits, mid-day crankbaits, and shakey head plastics. While prefishing for the tournament, I didn’t catch a single bass. However, on tournament day, I culled several times. By putting myself in the areas where the shad were, it was just a matter of covering my predetermined waypoints matched against the baitfish locations to find bass. If shad species are the most predominant forage in the lake, bass will follow the shad during the fall migration. They do it in my home state of Louisiana, and they do it in Oklahoma. A shad is a shad. I came in third during a national championship, on a lake I had only seen for six hours simply by staying confident in my research and the presence of baitfish. If readers take away anything from my rambling in this series, please realize bass and forage react the same to environmental conditions everywhere.
I have covered a tremendous amount of information in this series of articles. Map Study, seasonal patterns, baitfish movements and then putting it all together to catch bass. Remember, it’s bass fishing, the only real constant is bass eat and reproduce. About the time I think I have it all figured out, the rules change and I’m back to searching. The things I discussed in this article series are the few constants no matter what region is being fished. Apply these standards and theories when dissecting a new lake to find bass quickly. The rest is experience and gut calls, if the little voice suggests trying something, definitely try it. When a situation or scenario is recognized from fishing at home, try a familiar productive pattern, it’s bass fishing one never knows. Randy Howell won the Bassmaster Classic on Lake Guntersville because his “little voice” gave him an idea.
Be sure to read the first three articles in the Bass Fishing New Lakes series: