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Pre-Planning the Assault on New Water

By Steve Huber - February 1, 2000
O.K., it's winter here in northern Wisconsin and the weather really stinks. First, we had no snow and warm temps for the deer season, then, when it did finally get cold and freeze, it snowed. Now whenever you drill a hole and try to ice fish, you end up with 6 inches of slush and water on top of the ice....nasty stuff, you can't walk easily, snowmobiles get stuck and 4 wheelers aren't doing much better. The boat is covered, I've watched fishing shows until I'm twitching and I sit on the sofa with a new reel, endlessly reeling, staring blankly into space. I'm bored, bored, BORED!!

It's time to do some planning for next season. "What???? in February???" Yup, get off the couch you slug and get moving. It's not too early to start planning or the coming season, and here's how I do it. First of all, I study plat maps or detailed county maps and look for lakes that aren't commonly heard of or fished. In my neck of the woods, that translates to a LOT of water. I look to see if there is a landing or access of some sort. It might be a resort with launch facilities or maybe just roadside access. These factors play a role in deciding if I'll investigate further and how I'll fish it. Will I take the mighty Tuffy or is it a canoe lake? Both types of water have their

It's time to do some planning for next season. "What???? in February???" Yup, get off the couch you slug and get moving.
advantages. I like the comfort and "fishability" of my Tuffy Bassin' Marauder, but small, out of the way canoe type waters are typically less fished. Some of these small waters, even if they are on private land, are still accessible under the Forest Crop Land Management Program. If they are, don't write these bodies of water off, you normally can get access to these lakes.

Anyway, after checking this "stuff" out, I'll take a run to my friendly neighborhood DNR office. Ask the nice lady at the front desk to talk to someone in the fisheries department. These people can give you a wealth of information. Talk to them, they can look up the lake in question and tell you the fish species present, the stocking history (if any has been done), baitfish present, possibly even census information from Fyke Net surveys and boom shocking. This is good stuff to know! They can tell you sometimes the growth rates of the gamefish and panfish, and even an idea of average size, whether there is a chance of winterkill, etc., all kinds of info. Some of these guys (or gals) are anglers themselves and can possibly even give you tips on what works and what doesn't. While you're there, ask them if they have a hydrographic map of the lake, because while commercial maps are great, they don't cover every lake in the area. Sometimes, the only map available is from the DNR.

Alright, now you've got reams of stocking data, census studies, lake fertility reports and a map of the what? Sit down and study that map! You can tell a lot about a lake before you even physically go there. Is it a basic "pothole", without points, dropoff, feeder creeks, etc.? This probably means that, (especially if it is fairly shallow) it'll be a weed oriented bite. If it's a lake with more features, there are still some basics that work on any body of water, large or small.

Points and Bars (no, no, no, not that type...I mean in the water). One of the easiest and most productive features of any lake is points/bars. You can locate these without fancy electronics, just observe the shoreline. That land contour doesn't stop at the waterline, it continues along, under the water and by looking at the shore, you can get a fairly accurate mental picture of how it continues underwater. Does the shoreline drop off fast? If it does, you can be pretty sure that it's a fast breaking point and that there'll be some fairly deep water close to shore. Depending on the time of year and type of fish you're chasing, this can be a very good thing. Is the shoreline rocky? Is it soft dirt and vegetation? These clues will tell you what that point is like also and will give you an idea of what type of fish will hold there. Soft, weed covered points will hold bass and pike, hard bottomed, rocky points will be more to a walleye or smallmouth bass's liking. Muskies? God only knows, those contrary buggers seem to like both types of points.

RipRap shorelines are great for gamefish of all types. I've caught largemouth bass, northern pike and walleyes working the same section of riprap. Crankbaits with large lips work well in these areas and will take all species of gamefish. Work fairly close to the rocks and cast parallel to the shoreline. Let the crankbait dive down and bounce off the rocks. Bass and walleyes will patrol these shorelines, looking for crayfish so a good crab imitator is a great lure to start with. With the large lip, they'll dive deep and ricochet off the rocks, triggering reaction strikes in the process. Spinnerbaits will also produce and if the rock chunks are really big, don't be afraid to flip a jig into the crevices. Quite often, bass will tuck into these dark areas and lie in wait to ambush unsuspecting prey.

Brushpiles/Fishcribs, in a word.....AWESOME. Baitfish will use these "structures" to hide in. Guess what follows the baitfish? You guessed it!!! The gamefish will be there, picking off the careless minnows. These areas are not a place to slam-bang fishing, typically, this is finesse or livebait fishing. Usually, before diving into the brush, I'll fish the general area with a crankbait or spinnerbait. Many times, you'll pick off the "active cruisers" that are hunting the area. Fan cast the area around the brushpile first. Then, slip up to casting distance and work the pile with a Texas rigged plastic worm, a jig/pig or a jig/livebait combo. If you are patient and cautious, you can work a weedless jig through some pretty thick brush. If you feel like you're hung up, give some slack and gently bounce the lure up and down and try to crawl the lure over the offending branch. Sometimes, while doing this, a fish will grab the jig and unsnag you in the process. A word of caution however, once you really hang up a bait and "go in" after it, you'll disturb the pile and will have to let it settle back down. Depending on how spooky the fish are this can be anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour. Walleyes, bass, pike, muskies and crappies like this type of cover. One other word of advice, when you get bit (and you will) you have to set the hook and keep the fish coming to you. If you let it get back into the brush, it'll be gone, spooking the other fish in the process.

Weedlines.....well duh, I mean, all you have to do is look at a lily pad bed and you "know" that there's fish to be had. Outside edges, closer to deep water will "usually" be better. Look for turns and pockets in the weeds, anything you think will make a good ambush point usually will. Lures to use in these areas are spinnerbaits, buzzbaits, soft plastics (rigged Texas style), topwater lures of any kind will work in and around lily pads, when worked with caution. Long, minnow imitating lures work great around the outside edges of the pads and really shine over weed that haven't made it to the surface. You just twitch/pop them in place, trying to work them over the tops of the weeds and predators will come up and help themselves to an easy meal.

So you see, if your map shows any of the above listed components of a lake, you can really learn a lot before you even get the boat out of the garage. And I've just barely scratched the surface of things to look for, these that I've talked about are just the basics. I haven't covered boat docks/boathouses, piers, pilings, Main Lake humps, bridges, feeder creeks, dams, inside weed edges..all kinds of stuff. If you're interested in learning more about pre-planning a lake, let me know.

Until next time, see ya.

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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