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Reading the Water

You're out on the boat and the depth finder dies, or you are shore fishing. These situations become much more manageable by reading what's going on under the surface. Learning to read what is going on under the water is going to allow you to build an underwaterscape. By doing that, you will catch more fish. Most fish like to be by structure, be it a drop off, a fallen pine tree, an old sunken car, a pile of rocks or dense weeds. Knowing what's going on underwater gives you an excellent edge on the fish and takes most of the guesswork out of where they will be.

Basic Water Reading

When reading water and predicting what is going on below the surface there are two keys, structure and current.

Reading Structure

Structure, how is the bottom, is there a gentle slope or a steep slope to the bottom. This can generally be determined by the slope of the shore line, if its flat or a gentle slope into the water the riverbed or lake bottom will also have a gentle slope into deeper water. If there is a vertical cliff that goes into the water it can be a safe bet that it continues straight down making it 20, 30 even 40 feet deep inches off that cliff face. Judging depth can also be done by looking at the surface color of the water, with lighter green-blue even yellow looking water being shallow and the deeper blue being deeper water, and the gradient of that color change will give a clue as to the gradient of drop offs. While fishing from shore, you have the advantage of usually being able to see the depth change and the gradient of the bottom.

The next part of reading the structure is finding things like fallen trees, beaver lodges, rocky outcroppings, Lilly pads, reeds or weed tops poking out of the water. Using what is showing above the surface like the trunk of a fallen tree you can project what it looks like underwater and with how the gradient is can start to build a picture of what's going on under the water. This picture will help you "see" where the fish are and where to cast your bait or where to troll the boat to get close to where they will be.

Reading Current

All bodies of water have a current to them. Rivers and streams have a strong obvious down stream current but also have undercurrents that may go up stream or create small whirlpools. Lakes currents depend on many factors, wind (across the lake), temperature (up and down lake depth) and topography (shallow water heats faster).

River Currents

There are three prominent river currents, the first is the downstream current. This one is strong and can be seen by looking at the direction of water flow. Many river fish will hang out in slacks, pools or behind structures where the current is weaker. The next is an undercurrent, undercurrents are their own rivers or streams, and move at their own speed, these can be in the direction of or against the main flow of the river. Knowing current is important, not only will it help with placing a cast or how a boat will drift but also will also give a good look at what's going on under the water. Seeing a swirl or a whirlpool can give away the secrets of rocks or other structures that are blocking the main flow.

Lake Currents

Lakes also have currents, most prominently created by the wind. However, like rivers, lakes also have currents below the surface that can be harder to detect. Lakes have undercurrents, they may not be as strong as a river's undercurrent but they are present in lakes, moving water from high pressure to low pressure. There is also a temperature current in lakes, where heavier water (heaviest water is 39 degrees Fahrenheit) sinks to the bottom, this creates an up and down current in lakes.

Reading Underwater Structure

Projecting the rest of a fallen tree underwater when the truck is still visible above the surface is one thing, but how do you see a pile of logs under the water when there is nothing above the surface? In rivers this is simple, by reading the current and looking for any abnormalities that would suggest an underwater blockage to the current. A rock in the river may create a pile up of debris that is not able to be seen from above the water. In lakes it can be a bit more difficult, but by reading the shore, such as looking for holes in a grove of trees. Knowing the most common wind direction can give good ideas of where the structure may be.

Using the Underwater Picture

While most anglers have a fish finder or a depth reader that gives a detailed contour of what's going on under the water, being able to create your own picture of what's going on will allow you to reduce the guesswork, and add onto what the information the instruments are giving you. If you are scanning the water and you see a ripple traveling the opposite direction of the wind or the current it very well be a fish. By building a picture of what is happening below the surface unexpected snags can be prevented, bait can be placed in the perfect location and more fish can be caught. Take the time to survey the water and paint what is going in the water in your mind.

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