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Speed Reading New Water

By Steve Huber - August 1, 2000
O.K., it's August, you've got some vacation time coming and you're off to a resort. The only problem is that you've never fished this lake before. What in the heck do you do? Well, you could hire a local guide, in that case, I hope you come to the Rhinelander area. No, seriously, a guide can be a great help in deciphering a lake. They know the water, they know what lures/bait are hot at the time and a good guide can eliminate a lot of fishless time on the water. But, say a guide's not available or the family budget is a bit stretched......NOW WHAT?

First of all, get a good map of the lake. Fishing HotSpots has an extensive line of maps as do several other companies. There are even lake maps on CD-Rom huber08_00.jpgif you have access to a personal computer...and if you're reading this, you have access. Even an old much photo-copied map from the resort that dates back to the 40's will help. Lake maps can help you locate some general fishing areas, as well as advising you of lower-unit munching rock bars and hull-holing stump fields.

Once you get the map, find out what species of fish are in the lake. It really helps if you know the basic feeding habits of various gamefish and their preferred forage species. Are there muskies and/or pike in the lake? Well then, look for the weed beds. Look especially at those that offer quick access to deep water, that's important at this time of year. Ditto for largemouth bass. Smallmouth and walleyes are what you're looking for? Well then, the first place that I always look is the classic spots. Deep rocky points, humps and bars will probably have a resident population of these feisty and tasty rascals. Does the map show trees downed in the water? Man, if you can find these that have fallen into water that's deeper than 5 feet, you've got a veritable smorgasbord of gamefish possibilities. I've pulled largemouth and smallmouth bass, muskies, northern pike and walleyes from one shoreline of downed trees. These can be GREAT! Floating bogs can also offer the same wide selection of gamefish. My partner, Gil has been doing really great on walleyes, fishing these floating bogs.

Now that you've gotten the lake narrowed down to several possibilities, it's time to get out there. Boat in the water? Check! Cooler and bait buckets are filled with all the essentials? Check! Rods/reels and tackle box? Check! READY, SET, FISH!! Right? WHOA right there big fella. Not quite yet. Put the spousal unit and the yard apes in the boat. WHAT?? Yep, c'mon family, we're going for a boat ride.

Look especially at those that offer quick access to deep water, that's important at this time of year
Have your trusty map handy, turn on the locator, go for a cruise. Check out the features that you've highlighted on the map. Make sure that the trees are really in the water and haven't been removed by some "helpful" person who's offended by those unsightly trees. Memorize any hazardous locations. These are much better to check out at a slow cruise than find at MACH III. See the extent of the weedbeds, making sure that they've actually come up. Some years are better than others on weed development and it can change the fishing. Look for concentrations of both gamefish and baitfish. All of this can be done under the guise of admiring the scenery and making snide comments about the people whose "cottages" are nicer and cost more than the house you live in all year long. All right, I can see your casting arm twitching. Go ahead, drop the non-fishing family members off and go get em Tiger!

When fishing unfamiliar lakes, I admit it, I go for the easy fish. I target bass (largemouth and smallmouth), pike and muskies. These are very object oriented fish usually and as such are easier than say, walleyes to get to come out and play. Remember those weedbeds that I told you to look for? Well, get crackin' me boy, you've got fish to catch. When I fish weedbeds, lure selection is simple. I use fast running "Search Baits". I'm targeting active, feeding fish and I believe that most fish you find in a weedbed are exactly that. If the weeds are growing within a foot of the surface to emerging above the water, I'll use a spinnerbait or buzzbait on medium to medium heavy tackle. First of all, cover the edges of the weedbed, this will get the fish that are cruising the edges. Then, I'll start casting right into the junk. Keeping the casts fairly short, fire out and begin the retrieve as soon as the lure hits the water. Hesitate and you'll get hung up in the weeds and probably not get a bite. Gamefish don't like salads and they won't hit a lure usually with gunk hanging on. huber08_00(1).jpg Don't worry about retrieving too fast, with the water temps at the seasonal high and a fish's metabolism in direct proportion to the temp, it's almost impossible to reel too fast. You should be rewarded with some vicious strikes doing this.

If the weeds are deeper than a foot, I will use a RattleTrap type lure, fishing it the same way as I do a spinnerbait. These types of lures are especially deadly when fishing stained water. The rattle and vibration that they give off will really trigger strikes. A Zara Spook or ChugBug also works great over weeds of this type. Muskies, pike and bass like to strike from ambush, lying in pockets in the weeds. They'll see a lure coming overhead fast and they don't have a lot of time to ponder hitting or not. They know if they hesitate, the meal is gone so you'll get a lot of reaction strikes. This is simple "Chunk and Wind" fishing at it's finest. It doesn't require a lot of thought or finesse.

If a cold front has just passed through, you will probably have to slow down the presentation a bit, but the fish will still be buried in the weeds. This is a great time for "Twitch baits". Get out the old Rapala original minnow (or whatever you have that's similar). Toss it near pockets, corners, and fingers of the weedbed. Let it sit for a moment, give it a "CHUG", then let it sit. Do this a couple times, then begin a sloooow retrieve, pausing periodically. Twitch it occasionally. You remember when you were a kid, gut hooking a small perch, ripping it up pretty badly and tossing it back because you didn't want that small of a fish on your stringer? Do you remember how it laid on the surface for a moment, then convulsed and dove under, then slowly floated back up? That's what you're trying to do with the lure, imitate that same wounded action, offering an easy meal to any passing gamefish. Bring one of these lures past any gamefish and they'll just ease on up to it and grab it. It's just too easy of a meal to pass up. The strike won't be violent, but they will hit it, believe me. Those downed trees and floating bogs that I talked about earlier can also be fished with many of the same lures. Spinnerbaits and buzzbaits can be worked around and through some pretty tangled treetops without getting hung up. After retrieving a snagged lure a couple times, you'll get a feel for how to get them back without hanging up. You can also cast those Rapalas fairly tight to tree tops and twitch them back. Active gamefish will dart out and strike. Be sure to work each tree from several different angles and depths. Sometimes, fish can be amazingly anal about lure direction. It pays to experiment.

Using these simple lures and methods will keep you going throughout your entire vacation and you'll go back home sunburnt, weary and well rested, all at the same time. And isn't that what vacations are all about?

Good luck and tight lines,

Author Steve Huber

Steve Huber
Steve Huber, an avid angler with over 35 years of experience (man, he's old) is one of the few multi-species guides in the Rhinelander area. He's been operating G & S Guide Service for 8 years now and loves to fish for Muskies, Northern Pike, Largemouth/Smallmouth Bass and the occasional Walleye (in no particular order). A person who loves to see others succeed, he's an educator while on the water and when he's not teaching you something, he'll regale you with tales of adventures and mis-adventures gleaned from his years on the water. If you liked this article, you can check out Steve's web site at
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