One of the hardest things for most anglers is to fish a new lake that they have never been on before. But there are a few things you can do to make that trip on new water even better the next time you try it.
I like to break up my trips to new water into three key stages. When you take these steps it makes the idea of being on new water, less intimidating and makes for a successive trip more often. The three key stages I break the trip up into are:
Info gathering is maybe the most important part of fishing a new lake. In the age of the Internet, this has become very easy to do. The 1st thing I like to do is find maps, yes I said MAPS, not map. Depending on the lake you can have maps that show more of the lake contours, or one will show where springs come in, and they can even show you what type of bottom is in a giving area on the lake. All of this is critical info that if you can get it will help you dial in on fish that maybe even the locals don’t know about.
One of the 1st places I look here is Michigan is on the DNR site. They do a great job of putting up maps and basic info for the lakes that have state-owned access. Even some of the larger ones that are totally private you will be able to find info on them. If you dig a little deeper into their site you can even find net surveys and fish studies, and stocking reports for a giving lake. Also, pay attention to the dates of when the net samples were taken. Cause if you are lucky to find a map that has notes of where the samples were taken you can get an idea of what was going on, on the lake when they did the study.
Also get the biologist name and number that looks after that area where the lake is at. Shot them an e-mail sometimes they give you very good info on lakes and can even maybe point to a lake you may have overlooked in that area. I also like to try to find out the local bait shops. Another good source is the web forums, sometimes you can find someone who can give you detailed info on local hot spots.
Now after you have gotten all your info, start forming your game plan. I like to compare the lake I am going to go fish to a lake I know really well. Find similar areas on the lake you are going to, to the ones you know well. This will help you feel more comfortable with a lake. Also, dust off those old fishing books and reread those section on the fish you are wanting to target. This might sound stupid but every once in a while something you read in there might apply to the lake you are going to. Also, make a note of the water clarity of the lake you are going to. You should have found out in your info gathering stage what to expect when you get on the lake. If the lake you're going to has darker water then the ones your normally fish shift to a bit shallower water. You do this cause the weed growth in dirty lakes tends to not go as deep as it does in clearer lakes.
Make a plan of attack. What I like to do is make a milk run of places to check really quick. This will help you get a pulse of the lake. Set it up so you can check different depths on the structure you are targeting. Just before you go out to the get a last min call into the local bait shop. That way you can adjust the game plan if something happens on the lake such as a large amount of runoff.
Turn and Burn!!!! When you hit the lake keep moving go through your milk run. Make sure when you are checking structure to check shallow to deep. This is where using your cameras and sonars are key. Make notes of the fish size seen and caught, type of weeds, what type food you see. And anything else you come across that will help you form a pattern on the lake. Once you have gone through the milk run go back to the best areas you checked.
At this time you will want to really go over that area and fine tune what you are doing. Once you have that dialed in. You can now go and look back at your maps and maybe find other areas that you can apply your pattern too.
If things are not panning out take a look at what the locals are up to and where they are fishing. It never hurts to make friends with them.
So now that you know how I do it, get planning that fishing trip with your buddies to some new waters. It’s not as scary as it seems.