Guide To Lake Fishing
Is It An art? Or a science?
Truth is, it's a little of both. The more you know about the lake and about the fish you seek, the better the odds of filling your limit. Once armed with the knowledge, the art of locating fish and enticing them to strike is the task for the day. Now for good measure, let's add another factor to the equation... Skill. Yes - the skill of detecting strikes, setting the hook and landing the fish.
Exactly What Is A Lake?
Most lakes and reservoirs are created by placing a dam in a flowing waterway. As it fills, it floods acreage on both sides of the waterway up to the elevation of the spillway on the dam. The deepest part will always be the old waterway - a riverbed, creek bed or wash.
Fish use the old riverbed as a highway to navigate their way around the reservoir. Other creek beds running into the lake also become highways for transit. Fish seek out an area of a lake that has good water quality, food and cover plus a variety of depths in close proximity. This area will have a deep holding area (generally in or along the riverbed), a medium depth holding/feeding area and a shallow feeding area. All three of these areas must provide cover and escape routes to deeper sanctuaries if needed. PH can be a factor but only in extreme conditions. Barring changes in conditions most fish will live out their life in this relatively small area. Actual depth will depend on the species, reservoir configuration and water conditions.
How To Fish A New Lake
The best way to approach a new fishery is to learn as much as you can before you leave home. Look for articles, fishing reports and fishing tournament results at that lake. The internet is loaded with information for those willing to track it down.
Get a good fishing map, the more detail the better. Get a lay of the land to determine where the deep channels are. Locate large flat, shallow areas. Identify the major coves or arms of the lake, ones with a significant river channel or creek bed.
Plan of Attack
If the lake is too big to cover in a day you can focus your efforts on a small sector in order to define what the fish are doing. Select a major cove define a pattern of fish location for the day. This cove will be a miniature version of the lake. The creek bed in the back of the cove is similar to the major riverbed feeding the back end of the lake. The back of the cove is shallow like the river end of the reservoir. The water gets deeper as you move out to the main body of the lake just like the lake does as you move toward the dam.
Cover all your options. By fishing various stations of the cove you can determine where the fish are holding. At each station, fish deep, then medium depths and then shallow. Use lures you can cover a lot of water quickly.
Begin fishing this cove by starting on the outside corner where it intersects the main body of the lake. Once you've covered the various depths, move inside the cove to the first irregularity - a small point, brush or rock piles. Fish all depths and move inside farther to about half way back in the cove. Move again to three-fourths of the way to the back. At this point you are probably out of deep water and are limited to shallows. Zig-zag your way across the back of the cove making certain you are fishing all the way up in the shallowest water in the back of the cove. Now work your way back out the outer side of the cove in the reverse order to which you came into the cove.
Once you have completed this process you should be able to identify the best area of the cove on which to concentrate. The vast majority of the time you will find fish concentrated in one of three general sections of a cove: outside, middle or the back of the cove. Within this section they may move up and down throughout the day. Pay careful attention when you get a strike or catch a fish as to why the fish was there. Learn as much as you can on this quick trip through the cove about where the fish are positioned, and around what type of cover.
Armed with this knowledge you can now productively plan your day. You should be able to "pattern fish" the rest of the day, concentrating on the most productive section of each cove on the reservoir.
Also remember that the cove is a mini-version of the lake. If you found fish in the back of the coves they will probably be concentrated in the river end of the lake, in shallow water. If you found fish half-way back in the cove, concentrate on the middle section of the lake. Try to duplicate the type of shoreline and cover where you caught fish. Adjust your depth throughout the day to cover fish which are moving up and down changing depth throughout the course of the day.
Major Factors Effecting Lake Fishing
Time of year is the very first thing to consider when approaching any body of water. In winter the water turns cold, the fishes' metabolism slows way down and they tend to get lethargic. This cold water slows everything down. The fish move less and tend to stay in a comfortable place with reasonable water temperatures and decent oxygen content. If food is nearby or migrates through the area, that's a plus. During winter, fish do not feed as often and the feeding spree is likely to be for a shorter period of time. They will seek out food that is easy to catch.
Spring is the beginning of good times for fish and fisherman. The shallows begin to warm and thoughts of spawn control most activities for fish. Before the spawn, both males and females begin to feed to build up stamina. Once the spawn starts, fish are active defending the nest. Once the female lays her eggs, she becomes wary and leaves for the solitude of a deeper holding spot. Them most males defend the eggs and fry for a short time, then slip back into deeper water to recuperate themselves. After the resting period of a few days to a couple of weeks, both will be back on the prowl for food in the shallows. Even their own fry.
Summer brings warmer waters. Plankton and algae growth expands and the bait fish get active. This in turn sparks heavier feeding by the predator fish. Fish may feed in the shallows as well as at intermediate depths, dependent on the food source. When not feeding the fish typically move to deeper, cooler water to rest.
The Fall season begins when the cool nights start to drop water temperatures. The shallows cool off faster than the deep water so for a while in Fall the fish may prefer the deep water, to the shallows. Often, the lake will "turn over"; the warmer water comes to the surface as the colder surface waters plunge to the deep. As a result, oxygen levels, ph and temperatures are all out of balance. So are the fish. Stay home for a couple of weeks when this happens. If the weather stays nice for a few weeks after, the fish will feed heavily before moving into winter patterns.
As a rule, what the weather has been doing for the last 24 hours is more important than what is doing at the time you arrive at the lake. If the wind has been blowing it's important to know which direction. Heavy concentration of plankton collect along the banks where the wind is blowing into the bank. This attracts the bait which excites the predator fish. High concentrations of oxygen in the water is a result of the waves crashing into the shore. This added oxygen also makes the fish more active.
Knowing the barometric pressure trend can give you an insight to how active the fish might be. A falling barometer is the fisherman's best friend. The fish are generally the most active while the pressure is falling. If the pressure stays low the fish will eventually become lethargic and less active. On a rising pressure the fish are a bit more active than normal. During periods of high pressure you can expect the fish to become quite inactive, holding tight to cover in deeper water.
When it's cloudy, fish tend to get a bit more aggressive than normal, especially in shallow water. Rain can improve fishing or turn it off depending on the associated barometric pressure. Bright sunshine will cause the fish to move into shady areas when they are shallow but has little impact when they are deep. Hot and cold weather only have an accumulative effect. A cold rainy day during an otherwise warm season has little or no effect on the fish.
Be aware of the primary food source of the fish. The more you know about the bait, the more likely you are to properly imitate the food source. Knowing what time of year the crawfish have hard red shells versus soft green shells may help you choose lures and colors for the day. Knowing what time the shad die off due to quickly cooling water could also give you direction for lures, colors and presentation. Be aware of lizards, frogs and other food sources along the banks of the lake.
No matter what the lake level, the fish will adapt. But it is important to know if the level is rising, falling or remaining constant. As a general rule, fish move out and down when the lake level is falling. Look for fish on outside points during these conditions. Conversely, they move up and in when the water is rising. Look for them back inside coves and newly flooded shallows when levels are rising.
Check the fishing reports ahead of time and watch for trends. Visit the local bait and tackle store and ask questions. Spend some time at the boat ramp to ask anglers what they caught, where and how. Local fishing clubs might be willing to share knowledge to help you enjoy their favorite lake.
There is sufficient proof to acknowledge better feeding times during the day which seem to coincide to phases of the moon. From my own experience, I keep it simple. Major feeds tend to happen when the moon is directly overhead and when it is directly under you (180°). Minor feeds tend to happen when the moon is on the horizon, east or west. All you can do with this information is to be on a prime spot during major and minor feeds.
Find fishing lakes by state, with fish species listed.
Learn all you can about the lakes but more importantly learn all you can about the fish. Consider all the factors and do a good job of test-fishing the water. And, watch your line very closely for the slightest twitch... and set the hook!