Looking at a lake you have never fished before and being expected to catch fish can be an intimidating experience.
I know. Sometimes in this outdoor writing business one is called upon to catch fish in a strange lake with only a couple hours notice. But there is a game plan I rely on in situations like this that always seems to do the trick.
First, consider the species of fish you want to catch. With walleyes you usually need to think deeper structure in the 15- to 25-foot range. Certainly there are guys who catch a lot of walleyes on shallow structures, but I'm talking generalities here.
I further like to narrow these potential structures down to those near the largest expanse of deep water in the lake, or to those near an incoming river mouth. This is most easily done with an electronic depth finder and, hopefully, a lake map.
Largemouth bass and northern pike I view as pretty much the same, even though they're two entirely different fish. I look for the first dropoff out from shore where the submerged weeds stop. This weed edge seems to hold lots of fish. For trophy-sized northerns you'll probably have to look a little deeper.
Panfish also hang near this first weed edge, but suspend out from it a little ways. Crappies typically form schools and position themselves about half way between the surface and lake bottom. Sunfish often get right in the weed edge or just out from it, but usually are closer to the bottom than crappies.
Once you get your boat into the water you must consign yourself to the fact that you're going to burn gas while running around and watching the locator. When you find something interesting, note a few landmarks, drop a floating marker or log the spot with your GPS unit.
Now you're ready to fish the spot. You simply cannot rely on the fact that since fish showed up on your locator you're guaranteed to catch them. It's amazing how many times fish that show up on the display do not bite, and how many times fish you never saw on the display suddenly end up on your line. You only know if fish are cacheable by fishing.
If I had just one method to test all spots it would be a jig and minnow. Many years ago a well-known pro told me that every fish will hit a jig, and he's right. For panfish, use a 1/32- or 1/16-ounce jig with a tiny minnow. For walleyes and bass use a 1/8- to 1/4-ounce jig, depending on the depth, and use a bigger minnow, of course. Add a wire leader to the ensemble if you want pike.
By following this simple game plan you will get on fish quickly and hopefully catch them. It isn't guaranteed, but then what is?
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