Something I get asked frequently by clients during my guided fishing trips, especially during my Coaching Trips, is where to start when looking for bass on a new lake? While the lakes I guide on I know like the back of my hand, I too travel for tournaments and sometimes fish lakes I have never been too. Honestly I love it and find it very satisfying to find fish on a brand new body of water. While there is no substitute for time on the water and just getting out there and fishing, let me give you three main steps to start with before you even make a cast.
Understanding seasonal patterns is the first step in making an informed decision as to where to begin fishing. Throughout the year the bass change where the live and what the feed on. The better you understand this the more predictable they become. There are so many nuances to fish behavior that you will learn over time and so many "exceptions to the rule". One could literally write a book about it! Let's speak generally and break this down into the four seasons.
Fishing in the Winter:
During the winter months when the water is at its coldest the bass become more lethargic. When I approach fishing in the winter I either fish extremely slow to elicit a feeding bite, or I fish quickly in order to trigger a reaction bite. Just knowing this will help you select bait to start with. For example, a jig or Texas rig are great baits to fish slowly whereas a jerkbait, Alabama Rig, or crankbait can all be good baits to trigger reaction strikes.
Knowing that water temperature is important I know that the bass will move out deep in order to find stable water temps. With that said, during sunny days when there is a warming trend it is common for bass to pull up more shallow to feed and warm themselves. Rip rap/ rock, dams, and concrete boat ramps act as a heatsink and can retain heat thus attracting fish. Looking for places where bass can easily pull up from those deeper spots to feed would be a good starting point.
Fishing in the Spring:
Spring in notoriously one of the best times of year and this is because this is when the water temps are warming back up and the bass' metabolisms are speeding up. Not only are the bass hungry from being more lethargic in the winter and will want to feed up, it's also the time of year when they spawn. Another part of the puzzle we have is that we know this is also the time of year bait fish such as shad spawn.
I will begin my search by looking over lake maps and looking for areas close to spawning flats/ coves to target pre spawn fish. When water temps are ideal for spawning I will move my search to areas I expect bass to build nests in. Lastly knowing that the shad are going to spawn, I will get on my lake map and look for places ideal for the shad to lay their eggs. Wind blow gravel banks are perfect spots for this and will attract bass too since they come here to feed on the shad.
Fishing in the Summer:
Fishing in the summer can be a bit tricky as the water temps are at their warmest which kind of like in winter, slows the fish's metabolism. We know that warmer water holds less dissolved oxygen and that bass prefer cooler water. I will begin my search by looking for deeper or offshore structure that I would expect to hold fish. Offshore humps and rock piles, patches of aquatic grass, deep main lake points, and docks that provide shade are all places to look during this time of year.
Another piece of the puzzle we have during the summer is knowing that a thermocline affects where fish live. During the heat of summer a thermocline will form in most lakes, below the thermocline is little dissolved oxygen and prevents bass from living below it. Knowing this helps me decide how deep to fish. Once you figure out the depth of said thermocline fish as deep as you can without going below it.
Fishing in the Fall:
Fall is that wonderful time of year when we get a break from the heat and the water temps start cooling back down. Cold fronts bring in cooler weather and swings in the barometer, knowing this tells us the fish are likely to feed up more shallow. I recommend getting on the lake map and looking for areas with cover that attract bass but are not too far from the places the bass were living during the summer.
As it gets later into the fall the colder water slows the bloom of plankton in the lake. Knowing this tells me the warmer areas in the back of the coves will attract more shad since they go there to feed. Use this information to look for protected coves that get a lot of sun exposure. Bass will move up into those coves to feed on the shad. Knowing this not only tells us where to look but also what baits to throw. Crankbaits, spinnerbaits, flukes, and swimbaits are all great options.
Using Google Earth to Find Fish
In my opinion one of the most valuable tools available for scouting new lakes is Google Earth. If you have purchased my Honey Hole Reports in the past then you know I use it all the time. The beauty of Google earth is that not only do you have a bird's eye view of the lake, but you can also look at old satellite imagery from years when the lake was low. Lakes like Lake Travis that fluctuate are ideal for this kind of online scouting. That aerial imagery of the lake bed reveals things like rock piles, creek channels, points, and other structure that does not change with time. I.E. grass or brush piles.
Google Earth also gives you the ability to drop waypoints on the places you find to save for future reference. If you are computer savvy you can even download those waypoints and upload them to your fish finder. This right here might be my biggest tip of this article! In your free time before a tournament get on Google earth and just start dragging your cursor around the lake and look for areas that match up to the kinds of spots we discussed earlier. When dropping waypoints take the time to label them so that you know what they are in the future. Within an hour sitting at my computer, for any given lake I can come up with dozens of waypoints I want to check out when I finally get to the lake. This will prevent you from getting to the lake and driving around blind. You should have a game plan when you hit the water and starting with these waypoint you'll have just that. From there get out there and graph and fish and start to develop a pattern.
If I have multiple days to practice on a lake I will come home and get back on Google earth after my first day of fishing. As you fish you're paying attention to where you caught fish and where you didn't. Use that info to get back online and look for more places just like the spots you caught fish... this is called building a pattern!
Here is a prime example of the capabilities of Google Earth. Above you will see a screenshot from Lake Buchanan from 2014 during the last drought. In this shot you can easily see rock piles that are exposed but would normally be underwater. Tip: Google Earth shows you the date of the satellite imagery, most lake's water authority documents the historic lake levels on their website. With this information you can determine how low the lake was at the time of the satellite imagery. This will help you get an idea how deep the structure is you found when the lake is at full pool!
Using Your Graph's Lake Map to Refine Your Search
Google Earth is fantastic but it doesn't have the ability to show you what's underwater. This is where a quality map of the lake comes in. I remember the old days of going to the tackle shop and purchasing a physical paper map. Nowadays apps like Navionics allow you to do that from your phone, tablet or computer. Not only can you use those items, but you can also just sit down in the cockpit of your boat while it's in your driveway and fire up your GPS. Another way I scout new lakes is by pulling up the map of that lake on my GPS while I'm still at home. I will sit there for hours just dragging the screen around looking for anything that looks fishy on the lake map. Ledges, creek channel bends, points, and road beds are all great spots to find fish that are revealed with a good mapping card. I keep a Lake Master, Navionics, and C Maps+ card in my boat so that I can cross reference all these maps.
Above you can see a screenshot from Navionic's mapping. Below is a screenshot from Lakemaster's mapping. With these detailed maps you can easily identify prime fishing spots such as underwater secondary points, creek channels, ledges, etc. By doing this while sitting in the cockpit of your boat while at home you can drop waypoints on these spots to check them out later. (Tip: I recommend coming up with a waypoint management system to help keep your waypoint organized. I.E. Using the blue X or the stop sign icon to make spots you found while at home, and us another waypoint icon to make things you found while on the water.)
A successful tournament often starts with lots of preparations off the water. Spending time utilizing the technology we have nowadays is very beneficial and will save you a lot of time fishing dead water. I offer a guided fishing trip that I call a Coaching Trip, this trip is all about education and teaching you information just like this... except in even greater detail! If you are looking for a fishing guide near you, right here in Austin, TX look no further! For rates, availability, or more info about my trips offered, visit my site!
If this article helped you, please feel free to share it on your social media!