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Strategies For Going In Blind

A strategic approach to fishing new water

by Craig Ritchie

Thousands of articles have been written on how to prepare for a fishing trip, outlining all the things you can do proactively so that you show up at the launch ramp fully prepared, fully informed, and ready to make the most of your day on the water.

But sometimes our best intentions just don't work out as planned, and we find ourselves going in blind. That's when it pays to take a strategic approach to fishing so you can get on an active bite as quickly as possible.

It's sunrise and you have no info on the lake you're about to fish, so what do you do? Taking a strategic approach lets you eliminate unproductive water fast and catch more fish.
It's sunrise and you have no info on the lake you're about to fish, so what do you do? Taking a strategic approach lets you eliminate unproductive water fast and catch more fish.
When I arrive at the lake with no pre-arrival info on what's going on, I start by using my head instead of my casting arm, and consider things like seasonality and recent weather patterns. If I'm fishing in a period of stable, warm and sunny weather, then chances are that fish will be active and willing to chase down fast-moving lures that I can use to cover a lot of water in a very short time. So more often than not, I'll start out by fishing high-percentage spots with search baits like spinnerbaits or crankbaits, straining the water at different depths and with consistently fast retrieves to see if I get any result.

If I catch a couple of fish, then great - I'll take note of the basic location and try to repeat my success on another similar spot elsewhere on the lake. That's key, because if it works then I could be on to a pattern which I can repeat on other similar spots elsewhere on the lake. bite as quickly as possible.

Starting out by covering water in high percentage spots with search baits like crankbaits or spinnerbaits tells you a lot very quickly, including how active the fish are on a given day.
Starting out by covering water in high percentage spots with search baits like crankbaits or spinnerbaits tells you a lot very quickly, including how active the fish are on a given day..
But if I don't get much of a response from the fish, then that's my cue to slow down and go with a more subtle approach. Sometimes even active fish are looking for more of a light snack than a full meal, so I'll try the same locations again with a smaller and less active lure like a swimbait or a plain old jighead with a twist-tail grub. In keeping with the more subtle slant, I'll usually stick to duller, less gaudy colors while I'm at it.

If I hook a fish or two this time, then once again my next step is to try to repeat that success in other, similar locations to try and establish a repeatable pattern.

What if that doesn't fly and I'm still struggling? Then it's time to slow down further still and go with an ultra-slow approach. This might even be my starting point if recent weather patterns have been unstable, or I'm arriving at the lake right after a period of heavy fishing pressure, like a weekend tournament.

By an ultra-slow approach, I mean something like a drop-shot rig, or even just dead-sticking a tube or a small plastic worm right on bottom. Or, if I'm not competing in a tournament, I may go to live bait.

By this point, I'll either finally strike gold, or I'll finally strike out. bite as quickly as possible.

Once you catch a fish or two, try to replicate your success in another similar spot. If that also produces, then you have likely found a pattern that you can repeat throughout the day to keep on catching fish.
Once you catch a fish or two, try to replicate your success in another similar spot. If that also produces, then you have likely found a pattern that you can repeat throughout the day to keep on catching fish.
If I catch fish, then great - success at last! And if not, then I cut my losses and go fish for something else. More than once, a day where the smallmouth or walleye simply wouldn't cooperate still wound up being a pretty good day for muskie or lake trout. Strategic fishing is partly about taking a methodical approach to really working your spots thoroughly, and party about knowing when to just cut your losses and move on to fishing for another species that may be more cooperative.

The benefit of taking this approach is that more often than not, you catch some fish and, in every case, you learn a lot - which is a pretty good return on a day when you're going in blind. Give it a try and you'll soon agree.

Author Craig Ritchie
Craig Ritchie
About the author:
Over a near 40-year career as a full-time outdoor writer, Craig Ritchie has fished all over the globe for a variety of freshwater and saltwater species. The author of The Complete Guide To Getting Started In Fishing, he has written thousands of articles for magazines, websites and newspapers worldwide, appeared as a guest on several television fishing programs and won numerous awards for his writing and photography. He lives in the Great Lakes region where great fishing is as close as his own back yard.

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