Newfound Glory

Unfamiliar Waters Provide Predictable Opportunities For Big Bucketmouths

John Felsher February 4, 2013

Many freshwater anglers fish the same body of water weekend after weekend and often employ the same tactics they’ve used for years regardless of the season. Perhaps they fish where their fathers and grandfathers fished for sentimental reasons. Perhaps they simply fish the closest cover to their camp or their favorite launch site for convenience.

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Photo: John N. Felsher

Although familiar waters run deep with memories, some intrepid anglers love to explore new lakes and rivers, if for nothing else but a change of scenery. “If somebody fishes every weekend at the same spot with the same bait, it gets old and boring quick,” said Gary Klein, a Texas bass pro.

Besides digital mapping and satellite imagery, the Internet can provide detailed information on most lakes.

“Force yourself to try new lures and new techniques. Try new lakes. It’s fun to do something different. It’s an adventure and by learning new water and pushing yourself you’ll become a better fisherman,” added Klein.

Professional anglers like Klein seldom enjoy the luxury of picking their fishing locations. They must go where tournament schedules dictate. Professional anglers might fish steaming brackish tidal marshes one day, and a deep and clear glacial lake a few days later, before finally heading to a wind-swept rocky desert impoundment. Although the scenery might vary, bass never change. A largemouth bass in California acts pretty much like a largemouth bass in Florida, except perhaps at different times. Largemouth bass in whatever state tend to congregate around the dominant structure on that lake to wait for the most prevalent forage to come within striking range. Taking time to study new waters in order to determine where bass want to hunt can eliminate considerable time scouring unproductive water.

“Anglers can eliminate 90% of the water before they ever get to the lake by knowing seasonal patterns, weather conditions and where fish should be,” said Denny Brauer, a former Bassmaster Classic champion. “This means a good fisherman needs to search only 10% of the water to find that magic 1% fish are utilizing. Then, anglers only need to figure out how to catch them in that tiny slice of water.”

In a huge system like the 450,000-acre Lake Okeechobee, 300-mile-long St. Johns River or 100,000-acre Kissimmee Chain, even locals who have fished these waters for decades haven’t learned everything. How do professional anglers who must catch fish to win events learn how to fish a vast system perhaps thousands of miles away from their home with only a few days to prepare? I will tell you how they do it…they divide big bodies of water into smaller, more manageable sections.

“The best thing anglers can do, no matter what kind of habitat they are fishing, is take a small section of the lake or river system that they can comfortably fish in half a day and go fishing,” advised Shaw Grigsby, a pro from Gainesville, FL. “If anglers try to run around analyzing the entire lake, they’ll burn up a lot of fuel and won’t spend much time fishing. They also won’t determine any noticeable patterns.”

Most successful fishing trips start with a plan, much of which takes shape long before an angler ever hitches up a boat trailer. More time spent researching a lake can mean less unproductive time on the water burning daylight and gasoline. Some professional anglers hire pilots to fly them over unfamiliar lakes. While that’s a great idea when fishing for $1 million in prizes and endorsements, the average weekend warrior cannot afford this. However, savvy anglers can get powerful insight from the comfort of their own homes without spending a penny.

Highly detailed satellite imagery available on the Internet can provide incredible detail about almost any place on earth. Various mapping services can even zoom into particular coves with amazing detail. Inquisitive anglers can spot potential humps, ridges, channels and other fishy features by utilizing these services without burning a drop of fuel.

Besides digital mapping and satellite imagery, the Internet can provide detailed information on most lakes. The Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission posts valuable lake descriptions and other information on its website (myfwc.com). Anglers can also read recent fishing reports on various web forums or fishing guide sites. Many lake associations, chambers of commerce and other water-related businesses also post information about their local lakes.

“I try to gather enough information from local sources to know what the fishing is like,” explained Ken Cook, a former Bassmaster Classic champion. “At this point, I’m not interested in where to fish. I just want to know what the fishery is like. I want to know what to expect.”

At any given fishery, the time of year and weather determines what fish should be doing. After arriving at a selected spot, start with proven baits and tactics that work elsewhere under similar conditions at that time of year. Try lures that mimic the size and color of abundant natural forage found in those waters during that season.

“Analyze lakes and make a decision on where to start based on the time of year,” Grigsby recommended. “Hit each piece of cover with multiple lures. Don’t just throw a spinnerbait or a worm at a piece of cover. Throw a spinnerbait, a worm, a crankbait, a jig, everything in the box. Fish slow, fast and in-between to see what fish want to hit that day.”

If tried and true methods fail, do something radically different. If everyone on a given lake throws a particular lure or color, but it doesn’t work that day, throw something you never would. Quite frequently, visiting anglers make outstanding catches because they throw lures few fish have ever seen in that lake before.

“In areas with large baitfish concentrations, the logical thing would be to throw a bait that looks like a baitfish, such as a crankbait,” said Mark Menendez, a professional bass angler and fisheries biologist. “However, that’s not always the best option. With so much food available, why would a bass single out a bait that looks like all the other baitfish in the area? Often, I’ll fish something totally different. If everything around a bass is silver, don’t throw something silver. A bass will likely notice something different because it stands out.”

In a state covered in abundant, clean lakes, anglers don’t need to travel 3,000 miles to fish. They can possibly catch double-digit bass from massive systems or the tiniest urban retention ponds. In Florida, anglers may fish upland reservoirs and tidal rivers in the Panhandle, clear lakes and springs in central Florida, vast wet prairies and canals in the Everglades, and a myriad of tiny bodies of water full of fish that seldom see lures.

“In many Florida lakes, vegetation creates the dominant cover,” Grigsby explained. “Every grass patch looks like it should hold a 10-pound bass, but Florida does have some diverse habitat. For instance, Lake Okeechobee has vegetation, but it also has a lot of rock piles and shoals. It also has some rocky places in the rim canals and deep ditches in the middle of the lake. In the Kissimmee Chain, anglers often fish vegetation, shell bars and points. On the St. Johns, anglers can fish creeks, ditches and channels, plus all the other cover.”

Although many Florida lakes look similar with vast weed beds and reedy shorelines, anglers can still find habitat diversity even in those waters. On lakes choked with weeds, look for subtle differences or anything out of the ordinary. Pay attention to where every bite occurred. What was the water depth? What type of grass was at that spot? Was it near any secondary cover such as a log or a deeper creek channel? Look for similarities and differences to determine patterns.

Most Florida anglers can catch all the fish they want close to home, but driving to and exploring new lakes becomes adventure fishing. Huge lakes or vast river systems in unfamiliar territory can intimidate many anglers, but those who venture into such places armed with solid time-tested techniques, a little foreknowledge and a positive attitude may just enjoy the adventure of a lifetime.

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