Every angler, especially casual anglers, has a spot that they regularly fish at. Over years of slowly progressing around the lake, they’ve learned about every inch of the water, know exactly where to cast at any given time, and 9 times out of 10, they’ll walk away having caught at least a few good bass.
You probably have a spot like that, as well. It’s your comfort zone, and when you have limited time to fish, it’s the first spot you’re going to head to.
What happens when you go to a new spot, though?
For many, that’s a complicated concept. You might be excited, but once you arrive, you realize you’re completely out of your element. You don’t know what the lake's overall shape is, where the good spots are, what the fish target is, or anything else.
Today, we want to help you branch out to new spots more successfully with a few expert tips for catching bass on a new lake.
After all, that’s how you become a better angler.
Scouting Out the Area: Strategies to Help You Understand New Water Faster
First and foremost, you don’t just pull up to a brand-new lake, cast off the nearest bank, and call it a day. There are a ton of reasons for that, but this isn’t a guide covering that particular mistake. If you are a beginner in bass fishing and you want to learn how to fish for bass properly, we recommend reading our Guide for Beginners first.
First, you want to do some “scouting”. This will take place before you arrive and while you’re at the location. This will allow you to get an idea of what the lake is like before you start implementing fishing strategies, and you’ll have better luck right off the bat.
Here are a few strategies you can implement to help you get through this phase effectively.
1: Use an App Before You Arrive
If you know you’re going to go to a new spot a week, a few days, or even the night before you go, take a minute to download a bass fishing app with maps and other information.
That will let you look up the specific lake you’re going to, and you can spend some time getting an idea of what you’re heading into.
At this stage, you should look for a few things.
First, look at the general shape of the lake. Learn where the points, coves, and man-made structures are. This will give you a good idea of where you should try to fish first.
Then, look at the hazard maps. Are there shallow spots with underwater debris that you can fish from the bank to get hiding fish? Are there particularly deep drop-offs near a certain pier? Make sure you identify those things, immediately.
Finally, use the app to get any information you can about the weather conditions. You can then apply your own knowledge of the sport to change up your approach according to that information.
Without using an app to do this, you’re already starting at a disadvantage, because you can’t get any of this information until you arrive. So, this is one of the most important tips for catching bass on a new lake.
2: Map the Optimum Spots
When you do arrive at the location, remember all those key spots you made a mental note of before you arrived. Now, go to them, and you have a new task to take care of.
Even the best apps don’t provide as much information as getting to the spot and seeing it for yourself. Look at any structures poking out of the water, brush overhanging on the banks, and other things that make for prime fishing spots. If the first spot you’re at has plenty of that, feel free to start casting for a bit. You might get lucky right away.
However, make sure you do this for each of the primary spots you saw on the app. You want to learn as much about the lake as you can on your first trip because you’ll know exactly what you can do right off the bat, next time.
3: Map the Bottom
If you didn’t immediately start catching fish, there’s something else you need to create a mental map of before you move on to the next key spot and repeat the process. You need to know what it’s like under the water.
You can do this two ways from either a boat or the bank.
First, you can invest in a castable sonar system, or use your on-boat sonar. Simply use the system as your particular model is supposed to be used, and see what the bottom looks like or if there are any fish around. This is the simpler method, but it requires you to own the equipment to do it, and you have to learn how to read the information that the equipment puts out.
If you don’t own a form of sonar, feel free to use the weight method. You won’t get a detailed underwater map delivered to a screen, but with a bit of effort, and the materials you already have on you, you can learn exactly what the bottom looks like.
Just attach your heaviest weight to your line, cast it across the area you want to check first, and start reeling it in slowly. As the weight is dragged across the bottom, it will bounce and move around in ways that vibrate the line and make your rod behave differently. With a little common sense and practice, you can get an understanding of the water this way.
For example, you know that if a lot of tension gets placed on your line, and it pulls and retracts a bit before breaking free, you probably snagged a sizeable stick. If it feels like the weight is digging in, the bottom is likely sandy. If your line keeps a lot of slack after the cast before straightening out, you probably landed in a deep spot, and if it gets some slack after a bit of reeling, you pulled it up an incline.
There are a lot more informational bits you can glean from this method, but they mostly take practice to learn. It’s great for finding structures and understanding the bottom when you don’t have sonar available.
Understanding the Unique Local Taste
If you go to Louisiana, Cajun food is everywhere. If you head to New York, the place is known for its pizza. People in different locales enjoy different things. Obviously, bass aren’t quite as varied with their diets as people are, but different things do tend to vary in effectiveness depending on what lake you go to.
For example, you might really love using lightweight pink trout worms to nab smaller bass at your local fishing spot, but at a brand-new spot, they might not catch anything. A lot of flash and noise might be helpful in one spot, but it might not do much for the bass in a different one.
When you get to a new spot, you’re going to want to identify a few things about the local flavor to help you pick the right strategy.
1: Start with Well-Known Seasonal Lures
Since you don’t know what the bass at the location is used to, or what they tend to like, it’s always best to go with options that are generally considered to be “fan favorites” all over the country.
In general, this means matching a trick worm or u-tail to a color that matches the water conditions and seasons, using a crankbait that is colored appropriately, or otherwise using the most cliché stuff you have. Maybe an oddball lure picks up bass at home, but it might be a waste of time in this new pond.
Try to cycle through these “cliche” lures and see what works before moving on to more elaborate stuff.
If you want to find the best lure for fishing bass, it's important to understand the type of bait they are feeding on in the area you're fishing. Doing some research on the local ecosystem can help you select the most effective lure and increase your chances of success.
2: Vary Your Retrieval
You probably know exactly what type of retrieval the bass in your area wants at any given time, but when you go to a new spot, you have to mix it up. Start with that go-to retrieval method at first, but if you don’t catch anything in a few casts, switch it up.
This is one thing that most fishermen mess up. They get into habits when it comes to reeling certain lures, and those habits are hard to break. Switching it up might be the difference between catching bass or skipping your lure right past them.
3: Don’t Stick on One Combination for Long
Finally, you don’t want to stick to any combination of lure and retrieval for very long. The only time you should spend more than ten minutes on a specific combination is when the fish are actively biting on it.
Instead, you want to keep cycling through options that are likely to work, and when you run through every combination without much action, go to the next spot and repeat the process.
On your first trip, you’re mostly trying to learn what makes the lake “tick”. You don’t know what works, where you need to be, or anything else. So, to maximize the usefulness of that first trip, you want to mix things up as much as possible and try as many key spots as possible.
With a bit of luck, you’ll start off with plenty of knowledge on your next trip, and you won’t have to waste any time just trying to learn about the lake.
So, don’t get discouraged if you feel like you’re cycling through combos and locations too much. As long as you settle down when the fish are biting and take advantage of opportunities, you can still have a great day, and if that moment doesn’t come, you walk away with a ton of information.
Planning your fishing expedition and following that plan to maximum effect is crucial, but there are other things you need to consider that don’t really fall into those categories.
In this section, we’ll go over those considerations.
1: To Boat or Not to Boat?
One of the biggest non-primary considerations you should make is whether you should boat or not. There are pros and cons to taking your boat on a first trip.
As a pro, you can cover a lot more water. So, you won’t spend nearly as much time moving from spot to spot, and you can find spots that aren’t reachable just by walking the banks.
You also get the benefit of any onboard sonar you own, and you can fish as you travel around if you turn your trolling motor on.
The problem is that you probably aren’t familiar with the boat ramps, hazard areas, and local boater behaviors. So, you can get yourself into some odd situations here and there.
You also miss out on a lot of the bank activity. The average boat fisherman still catches the majority of his fish relatively close to the bank. So, you don’t lose much capability, and you learn more about the land-based areas around the lake.
If there are multiple key spots you want to check out, it might be better to bring your boat. If not, try the banks. You might find some things that you’d pass right by in your boat.
2: Make Use of Note Features on Maps
Whether you’re using an app that allows you to leave notes on the maps it generates, or your sonar system allows you to store notes, make use of that feature.
This is your first time, but hopefully, it’s not your last time at the spot.
If you take the time to jot down notes about different spots, which lures and retrievals worked best, the local bait fish population, and more, you can look back at those notes the next time you come, and there won’t be as much guesswork involved. This is a simple, common-sense, process that most anglers ignore.
3: Put More Time into Prep than You Do Fishing
Finally, the first few tips we gave are the most important. It’s the prep work you do that gives you an advantage despite never being at the spot before. Your main disadvantage is not knowing what you’re getting yourself into or what to do.
If you put more time into prepping for the trip than you do worrying about lures, you’ll do great. You close that gap between knowing nothing and having experience with the lake a lot more than if you just winged it upon arrival, and in general, bass do tend to be fairly easy to target even if their localized behaviors vary a bit.
Plan well, use your go-to methods without being afraid to branch out frequently, and use modern technology to your advantage.
With the tips for catching bass on a new lake outlined in this guide, you should be well-equipped to have a successful fishing trip. Remember to do your research, use the right equipment, and stay patient. With practice, you'll soon become an expert at bass fishing on new lakes, and your next catch could be the biggest one yet!