Fishing New Waters
Fishing new waters can be challenging, but with the right know-how it will be like you've been fishing them your whole life.
The first thing to do when planning a trip to a new spot is to research. Research the area, the species, the water clarity. Pull up a topographical map and even talk to some people that have fished the area before if you know any. Online is a vast array of information on anything you could possibly need for a trip to a new spot. Some states have lake reports on their Natural Resources page, most big lakes and rivers have Weekly fishing reports put together. With these tools you can make a new spot feel less intimidating.
This is a screenshot of a lake report from the MN DNR website. Every few years they go out and sample the water and fish of the lakes and compile this list and Fishery Status with averages and sizes and how they caught them. Before going to any lake I like to check out the Lake Report. Lake reports give some important information, water clarity, average size and prominent species in the lake. A synopsis about the lake is also helpful as it will break down the information in the charts even more. This is the first thing to look up when scouting new spots because it answers a lot of questions on whether or not the spot is even worth fishing. Does this spot have a large number of fish I want to go after? Are they big or are most below the average length for the species? Does it have public water access? Almost all of these questions are answered by looking at the lake report.
Weekly Fishing Report
Weekly fishing reports are put together by many different groups, I have seen them done by local guides, bait shops, fish associations and conservation organizations. Weekly fishing reports are usually a compilation of tips given to these groups by local anglers. It is a good idea to look at multiple fishing reports as they tend to have slightly differing information. This allows you to really know where, when and what the fish are biting on. Weekly fishing reports also tend to incorporate the weather into their prediction and follow trends from previous weeks, giving you a stockpile of information to comb through to come to your own conclusions on what to use, where to go and how to fish.
Topographical maps are tougher to find and are incredibly helpful when fishing new water. Not only will it give shallow spots that should be avoided to prevent boat damage, but they will also give you a great layout on how the depth varies across the lake. Studying the map allows me to know where the fish I am targeting will most likely be based on depth, sometimes this changes when I arrive at the location and see the structure. Topographical maps allow you to know where 10 to 20 foot drop offs are, or a big hole or shallow shoal in a bay are before even getting on the water. Giving you great places to start fishing.
If you can, and through social media it's becoming increasingly easier to do, is to talk to a local fisherman that has worked the water for years. This works particularly well at lodges and resorts. The owner should be more than willing to help fill you in on great places to fish and if you can find a friendly regular that happened upon a spot that the owner doesn't know about that is even better. Sometimes people like to keep their spots a secret for fear of others stealing their fish. I prefer to share the hot spots because it is never fun searching a new lake and coming up empty. (I may not say what bait I used).
Study the Forecast
One thing that I just started to do and it has helped me immensely is study the forecast, not just the current forecast, but also the past three days and the future three days. Fish can sense changes in barometric pressure and feed accordingly. There is nothing worse than showing up to a new lake after doing research about the depth, the species and the clarity and then not catching anything because a low pressure system barreled through two days ago and the fish are still recovering from that. Knowing and understanding weather patterns before going can really improve the day on the water. I like to look three days back because in most cases fish take about one to two days after a low pressure system has moved through to go back to normal activity. Knowing how the weather was can really help knowing how active the fish will be.
Knowing the main source of food for the fish in new waters is another key to making the journey to new waters more successful. This may be on the lake report, such as the one above has Cisco (Tullibee). As well as perch, crappie and bluegill all of which can be prey fish for Largemouth bass and Northern pike. Knowing the main baitfish and their patterns are important. Other than knowing where the bait fish will be in a given season knowing what the forage is can also help match color and size of baits. For example if you're used to fishing in water that has shad as a primary food source and then fish a lake where perch are the primary forage you will want to switch to baits that have flashes of reds and oranges.
When you Arrive
Once you arrive at a new body of water, study the shore line and try to find anything that stands out. Search out the spots you found on the maps or were told about, but sometimes following your gut and throwing a cast around a fallen tree or stream coming in. Using this knowledge and your own experience can make fishing new waters much more enjoyable by bringing in more fish.