Fishing Unfamiliar Water

By Ken Cook, courtesy of National Hunting & Fishing Day Website

Here's a few tried-and-true tricks that can make your first trip to an unfamiliar lake more successful and efficient.


First of all, get a good map of the lake. There are even lake maps on CD that you can use on your computer. Even an old map from the local marina can be a good start. Lake maps can help you locate some general fishing areas, as well as advising you of potentially dangerous rock bars and stump fields. Also, scour the Internet: there's sure to be a message board for the area you are going to fish where locals and out-of-towners alike will be posting where and what they're biting. And don't be afraid to ask other people at the marina and boat ramp.

Fishing Structure

If you are like me and bass is the species you are after, the first place that I always look is the classic spots. Deep, rocky points, humps and bars will probably have a resident population of ready-to-eat fish. If you can find some trees that have fallen into water that's deeper than five feet, there's a good chance that the area is holding fish - especially if the area offers quick and easy access for the fish to reach deep water.

Once you've found your area, set some limits for yourself. Even if you think the fishing might be better 30 miles away, limit yourself to the reasonably sized area that offers the characteristics you are looking for. It is much easier to manage your fishing in a pond-sized area than if you are trying to cover 50,000 acres of lake.

Bait Options

If your chosen spot has some weedbeds that grow below the surface, start with a spinnerbait or buzzbait on some medium heavy tackle. By doing this, you are trying to entice those fish that hang out on the edges of the vegetation to feed. If the weedbeds are deeper, try a shallow-running crankbait like a Berkley Frenzy. These baits, in addition to enticing strikes, allow you to cover a lot of area quickly to determine the presence and behavior of the fish. If you find an area with more trees and stumps than vegetation and the bass aren't responding to the quickly retrieved buzz, spinner and crankbaits, slow down your presentation with a jig and trailer or a Texas-rigged soft plastic like Berkley PowerBait. And don't give up on a bait too quickly, otherwise you will set yourself into a pattern of switching rigs every other cast. Just like running to different spots on the lake every 15 minutes, that makes for a frustrating day on the water.

Being able to size up a body of water in a short amount of time under varied conditions is what makes or breaks a professional angler. It takes practice and patience, so don't expect to fill your livewell with a bushel basket full of 8- and 10-pounders the first time out. But if you pay attention and take the time to record some simple notes for yourself, your next trips are bound to be even better.

Ken Cook is the 1991 Bassmaster Classic winner and a 14-time Classic qualifier. A former fisheries biologist, Cook lives on his ranch in Meers, Okla.