How to break down new water for fishing

I’d like to New water break. Many of you may not know this, but I used to travel to fishing college in the Southeast and then participate in semi-professional tournaments. The Bassmaster and what was at the time the FLW Everstart Series, now the MLF Toyota Series, opens.

I bring this up just to clarify my point further. I enjoyed competing in everything, and I really enjoyed it when I occasionally did well in an event, but more than anything I really loved going to a bunch of lakes I’d never seen before and getting some new water. This was my favorite part of that season of life.

However, nowadays, I can find myself in a funk from time to time, fishing the same two or three lakes around the house with the same old methods. For something different, I decided to head to a lake about 40 minutes from where I live that I’ve always wanted to fish but never did. So I’d like to talk to you about how I like to analyze new water and what I did in this new lake.

Sample as much as you can

Goat Rock Lake is the name of the fishery I sailed for, which is a small reservoir located between Lake Harding and Lake Oliver. You’ve probably never heard of any of these three lakes located along the Alabama-Georgia border. But you may have heard about the Chattahoochee River that runs through it, along with its neighbors to the north and south: Lakes Lanier, West Point, Eufaula, and Seminole.

Since the lake is only 940 acres, it’s well-suited for a hike like this. I like to divide the lake into sections when I first fish it. If the lake is large, say 10,000 acres or more, and I have several days to fish it, I will find a few ramps spread around the lake and then trailer from ramp to ramp so I can focus my time on the water fishing what is near the ramp in that particular section.

But for a lake this size, a trailer was not needed. I set off upriver near the dam and then inevitably ran 3 or 4 miles down to the lower dam before the day was over. Most river lakes like these can be divided into three main sections: upstream, downstream, and lakeside.

The upper part of the river usually starts at the tail end of the dam or quickly. The riverbed is usually narrow without many pockets, creeks or standing water. Then when you get to the lake part, the water will expand and you’ll see more pockets and spots. It’s important to fish a little in each section of the lake, since different sections don’t fish nearly the same way. The bass may be active in one section, while not in another. You’re usually better off sampling the entire lake, or at least a large portion of it this way, rather than putting your trolling motor down and down the bank all day in one area.

Fish moving water

Look for moving water

Running water is key to look for anytime you are fishing for the first time. From the turbines that generate water through the dams, to the rapids at the back of the creek, to the pipe that pours a little runoff into the water, this moving water is rich in oxygen and has the ability to put both bait and bass on hold.

Current is your friend when it comes to fishing. Small baitfish drift in moving water. Either the bass will chase them into the loose current, or they will be set up behind a rock, point, bridge pile or other current break and wait for the bait to wash over them. That’s exactly what I found at Goat Rock.

I launched my boat within sight of the dam. There were dozens, if not hundreds, of schooling bass in the 10-acre area below the dam, where the current species has spread and thinned out. Most of the bass were small 10- to 14-inch specks with the occasional nozzle mix-up. Surprisingly, there was no bar or hybrid in the huge school of bass busting. This is rare. I fished these guys for about 3 hours, and probably caught 25 of them using different baits.

After a while, I realized that the likelihood of catching a larger bass in this school was slim, so I moved to the face of the actual dam and tried to fish some of the stiffer welds of the faster current. I found one spot weighing just over 2 pounds, and two lines in the 10-pound range. Those bites and fights were exciting enough in themselves, but with the current ripping they were a little exhilarating.

The fish doesn't look good

Fish that look good or clear

At around 10am, I decided it was time to stick to my plan and experience more of the lake. I ran about a mile and the river started to open up a bit and I found three deeper rocky points within sight of each other. Since the water temp was in the mid 80’s and these were the first set points in over 15 feet of water, I thought it would be spontaneous. Especially considering there was still a noticeable current when I went up to the front deck to fish it.

Unfortunately, I moved all three dots and even drugged them around without a single bite. So I then decided to come back and run all the way to the dam, to look at the entire lake first and then fish the sections back. I noticed on my run that there were quite a few sidewalks the farther I went and I wrote them down to sample on the way back.

Just as I started approaching the lower dam, I slid into a narrow little creek. I had spent the day so far fishing along the river, and thought I might find a little running water at the back of this branch. Unfortunately, it was a dead end in that regard, but I still worked my way in and out. The creek looked really good, with shade covering both banks. I tossed the topwater and got a few small explosions, but nothing very promising.

Coming off this branch, I made fruitless attempts to fish the main lake points with a crankbait before deciding to devote some time to the shallow game. I found a pocket with a few docks and some shoreline grass, picked up a swim jig and a buzzbait and chased it. For the next two hours, I moved from pocket to pocket, fishing through a very large largemouth area with only a few simple swipes on my baits.

This was probably the most surprising and frustrating part of the day. The longer I go without a buzzbait, the more confident I become that I will eventually catch a big one. This may seem a little counter-intuitive at first, but that’s just the way our lakes are here in the South. If there aren’t a lot of little ones biting, that’s almost a good sign because it makes room for one or two of the bigger ones to take over the roost. all in vain.

Back circle

Return circle

By this time, I had fished about halfway up the lake. I started back towards the slope, sampling a few more pockets and piers along the way, before finally making my way back along the road to the dam where young schoolchildren were setting off to start their day. I decided to see if I could still catch a few of them with it now that it was late in the day. I caught a couple more little ones wandering around. Although superficial education had certainly been done at that point.

Sometimes I’ll start by eating the best bite I can find all day, but the thought of greener pastures will keep me motivated to move forward. That’s kind of how this trip went. I certainly milked the schoolboys for a long time before I left. But I could have stayed there and caught more, no doubt. However, I knew I could catch some larger animals elsewhere. Turns out I knew wrong.

We hope this example and these simple suggestions will help you next time you need to analyze new water. Whether the lake is big or small, there is no need to let it intimidate you. You can take a 40,000 acre lake if you wish and divide it into up to 10 different small “lakes” of 4,000 acres. These smaller sections are more digestible and often fished in a unique way compared to other parts of the lake that size.

It is always a good idea to look for running water any time of the year. Current is a bass angler’s best friend. Just be careful if you are fishing near a dam, always follow any laws that apply to the area. If the sign says “No Boating,” don’t go in there. Not worth it. If it says “Wear a life jacket after this point,” wear a life jacket! Looking great while trying to catch a bass isn’t worth risking some freak accident and death over it. Be especially careful with these settings when the weather and water temperatures are cold.

Then just try to move and hone your instincts. Fish what looks good, and those instincts will improve over time. Hunt obvious objects such as rocky points, docks, treetops and grass. This plan didn’t work well for me on this particular day, but often a pattern will form of just looking for the most obvious things to start with. This is how I break down new water, and it’s quite satisfying and a lot of fun when the pieces of the puzzle start to come together.

Break the lake into thirds

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