Do Your Homework before Exploring New Water

By Jerry Carlson - June 24, 2015
Every summer I make an effort to explore a few new lakes to see if there are bodies of water I am not familiar with that need some attention. I also make a concerted effort to spend time looking for new fishing spots on my list of regulars. Either way, there is some research that is done before I get to the landing.

Before I even think about venturing to new water, I will check out a map that will give me contour and depth information. For me, this is absolutely critical. I need to know what type of structure I will be encountering when on the lake.

There are situations where once I study a lake map, I decide to look for something different and opt to skip that body of water. This happens for two reasons.

Some shallow, prairie lakes have so little structure that there is no place for me to start. Lack of structure means fish could be anywhere. These lakes may have good populations of fish but locating them can be very time consuming.

And then there are lakes that I call over structured. These lakes typically are quite deep and have sharp drop-offs, long points and sunken islands all over the map. Too much structure can be just as intimidating to navigate as lakes with no structure. Again, fish could be anywhere.

Once I find something that interests me, I will spend time on a DNR website. By going to the section that has specific lake information, I can learn about the water clarity, stocking reports and test net data.

Test net data will clearly show the species present, size structure of the fish I am after as well as population density. If I want to target crappies and they score poorly on the data, I know I have the wrong lake. Bass do not sample well so other reports may be more helpful than netting data.

Water clarity is very important to me. By finding the Secchi disk reading, I can determine what the deep weedline is going to be or if there will even be one. Lakes with a low Secchi disk reading tend to be green with algae and uninviting.

Super clear lakes can also present a challenge. If the water is too clear, species like walleye can be nearly impossible to catch during daylight hours.

I go through a similar process when it comes to searching out potential new hotspots on the larger lakes I like to fish. On a recent fishing adventure, my wife and I decided to see what we could find on a point we had never explored that was supposed to have an abundance of deep rocks. As it turned out, the bottom was full of rocks and we caught both smallmouth and walleyes.

Targeting new water is something I have always enjoyed. However, I have found that by doing a little research before leaving home, I can greatly increase my chances for success. Knowing the structure, water clarity and major species present can make my job much easier once I reach the landing.

Author Jerry Carlson
Jerry Carlson
Jerry started his outdoor career in 1987 when he began writing for Outdoors Weekly. He currently writes about a 130 articles a year for various publications in the Midwest. In addition to writing and giving numerous hunting and fishing seminars, Jerry does weekly radio shows on two St. Cloud, Minnesota stations; WJON and WWJO. He also authored a book called Details for Locating and Catching Fish. Hunting and fishing photos and articles written by Jerry, along with his email address, can be found at jerrycarlsonoutdoors.com. Jerry fishes all species but prefers crappies in the winter and bass in the summer. He also loves to hunt Canada geese in the fall.