Breaking down new waters

I’m fortunate to have some of the best fans in the fishing industry and I’m always interested in knowing what they’d like to learn about the sport. I recently conducted a Facebook poll and from all the many great questions I received, the one that I want to address first is this: How do you break down a new body of water?

As an Elite Series angler, probably the biggest challenge I face is finding where to start when I compete on a new lake or river. I’ll be honest, this can be overwhelming if you try to do too much too soon. That’s why I’ve established a straightforward plan for approaching those waters where I don’t have any experience.

First off, I’m not a map guy. It’s not that I don’t value this type of research – I know many good fishermen find it very helpful, but this just doesn’t fit my style of learning. I like the digital approach, specifically Google Earth. Looking at these satellite views enables me to locate the key features like docks and vegetation, while also gaining a clear understanding of the layout. I want to know where the major creeks are, where the spawning bays are positioned, where the long points stick out, etc.

It’s kind of interesting that whenever I arrive to a new body of water, I seem to do best when it’s fresh. I don’t have any history on it, so I don’t go back to where I caught ‘em last year or three years ago; I just go fishing.

I try not to overload myself with what I have to accomplish right off the bat, but I do carry three priorities into every new scenario.

1. The first thing that I’m concerned with on a new body of water is safety. For example, our first Elite Series stop is this week’s event on Lake Seminole. This is a shallow, stumpy lake, so the first think that I’ll do is figure out how to get around without tearing something up or hurting myself.

In these scenarios, I spend my first day on a new water body running around and familiarizing myself on how the trails and buoys are positioned so I can get around safely. If I come off the main channel, I’ll idle into new areas and watch my screen for shallow spots, obstructions and any other concerns.

I want to have a good idea of how to run around and develop a level of comfort with this body of water. Once I’ve been out there a day or so, I have a pretty good idea of where the hazardous things are.

2. Next, I’ll pick a small area of the lake – usually somewhere like a large creek – the first day of practice. And rather than move around a lot, I literally just put the trolling motor down and just take off fishing.

I’m certainly looking for bites, because you always want to find that first piece of the puzzle. But you can gain a lot of important insight on how a lake fishes by just fishing it. That may sound like I’m oversimplifying things, but I’m not talking about a casual fun fishing approach. I’m looking and I’m learning.

You’ll get a certain amount of information from maps and a certain amount from satellite images, but there’s a lot that you’ll only see up close with your foot on the trolling motor pedal and a rod in your hand.

3. Once I’ve selected my starting area, I’ll try to mentally relate it to something I’ve fished before. I’ll look for similarities in the way the lake lays out or the look of the vegetation. I try to relate it to something I have history on, but I also relate it to the same time of year.

You’re going to fish differently in the spring, summer and fall, so I factor this into the equation. For example, if it’s a spring tournament and the fish are either prespawn or on the beds, I won’t be out on the main river channel fishing 25 feet deep; I’m going to be in an area where the fish are going to potentially come in and spawn.

Once I get this comparison with a previous scenario straight, I feel comfortable with the body of water and I don’t feel like it’s a totally new body of water. For example, on Lake Eufaula, they do this in the backs of creeks, so I should be able to do something similar.

As far as bait selection, I usually have to do something other than my preferred tactic of flipping. It’s hard to effectively explore a new area by flipping because it’s just a slower way of fishing. I usually go with some type of moving bait like a Booyah spinnerbait, a Bomber Square A squarebill crankbait or a Zara Spook and just go through an area and try to get some bites.

I learned a long time ago that you can fish through an area really slow and get 10 bites and that’s pretty good. Or you can fish through an area really fast and get two or three bites and then I know that if I come back and slow down in that area, I can probably get nine or 10 bites.

That gives me hope for that area and it lets me cover a lot more water in a day. I don’t want to get a lot of bites in practice – I want to see the areas that have potential and then hopefully figure it out the first day of the tournament.

It kind of gets me excited. It’s kind of like Christmas – you really don’t know what’s in that present. Sometimes, if you know what’s there, you’ll be more one-dimensional than you’d be if you were open-minded about what might be there.

I hope this has provided some helpful insight on the question of breaking down new waters. I’d love to hear more ideas from you fishing fans so send me your questions through Facebook and I’ll address as many as I can.

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