Catching Bass in Unfamiliar Lakes | Great Days Outdoors

Fishing a new lake can be intimidating, but with some planning and preparation anglers can end up having no problem catching bass. 


At some point in their fishing endeavors, every angler will be faced with fishing a new body of water. Casting in unfamiliar territory might seem a little overwhelming. But with planning and some basic insights, the average angler can find and catch bass on a new lake.

“Specific strategies for locating fish can be utilized on any body of water.”

Tournament anglers are often forced into catching bass on a body of water they have never fished. Oftentimes, even pro anglers must resort to fishing unfamiliar lakes. Their first task is to locate the bass and then catch some. Specific strategies for locating fish can be utilized on any body of water.

Using crankbaits for catching bass.

Crankbaits can be a go-to lure when fishing new lakes. Photos by Charles Johnson

Preplanning Your Trip

Weeks or even months before your trip to a new lake, take time to do some research.


The least inexpensive method is to purchase a lake map. Many sporting goods stores and tackle shops will have maps of nearby lakes. If your destination is several states away or just up the road, locate a quality map of the lake.

Paper maps may appear to be outdated but they do provide quick access to much information about the lake. Maps will indicate marinas and boat launch locations. Also, some lake maps list GPS coordinates of fishing spots or structures around the lake.

Upscale marine GPS units can accept electronic mapping cards for almost every lake in North America. Companies like Navionics and Lake Master offer preloaded map cards with many lakes in one region.

These are highly detailed maps with topography, landmarks and other features. Some may list fishing spots marked with a GPS waypoint.

“With your electronics you can scout out a lake before ever leaving home,” advises B.A.S.S. Elite pro Matt Herren of Ashville, Ala. “The lake map cards offer plenty of details about the lake.”

Also, these cards can be loaded on a computer or tablet for ease of scouting. The lake area, topography and fishing locations can be viewed in the comfort of your home. Possible fishing locations can be marked and stored to the card. Then the card and saved data can be transferred to your GPS unit in your boat.


Herren says depending on the size of the lake, concentrate your search to one portion of the lake. Some large lakes could take weeks or months to scout out. To save time and frustration, Herren suggests to pick an area of the lake based on the time of year you will be fishing.

The Internet is a valuable tool for garnering information about a lake. Fishing reports, weather, water releases and other information can be found by searching the World Wide Web. Tournament reports can also be located on the Web. Usually these will provide information on techniques and lures used by the top finishers.

Check out the chamber of commerce sites for cities and towns near the lake. Also, look for convention and visitors bureaus online. These organizations may have fishing information or other links to lake guides or tackle shops.

Don’t hesitate to contact a lake guide or local marina at your lake destination. These folks are usually willing to relinquish some fishing information.

Google Earth is an excellent tool to help anglers familiarize themselves with a new lake. Satellite photos will show the layout of the lake and access roads. Certain features allow the user to zoom in to see rocks, fallen trees and terrain features around the lake.

Catching bass in unfamiliar lakes.

On unfamiliar lakes, soft-plastic baits perform well in late summer. Photos by Charles Johnson

Plan for Seasonal Patterns of Bass

The key to locating fish on any lake is to determine the seasonal pattern of the bass. Springtime finds bass spawning in shallow water. As the weather warms toward summer, bass will move out to the channels and ledges in deeper water.

“Fish the seasonal patterns for bass,” explains Bassmaster Classic champion Chris Lane of Guntersville, Ala. “During the spring, the fish will be shallow. Look for spawning areas in the back of coves and pockets.”

Lane also mentions the water will warm first on the southern end of the lake. This is the area to target in early spring. Not all bass will spawn at the same time. Visit bass bedding areas near grass patches and flats leading out to creek or river channels.

Anglers may arrive at the lake and find it stained from recent rains and runoff. Don’t panic. During the spring and early summer, this can actually help anglers locate fish. There will need to be some adjustments in approach and attitude.

“In muddy water the bass will stay shallow,” Lane mentions. “If the water level is rising, fish the banks and back end of pockets. In stained water, anglers should fish shallow.”

“The type of lake will tell what the fish are doing at a specific time of year.”

In the spring months, if the water is muddy or stained during your fishing trip, don’t panic. Stained water will warm faster and stay warm longer. On clear water reservoirs, pro anglers will search out areas with stained water. The bass will be shallow in muddy water situations.

Water temperature can also be a key in locating fish. Herren and Lane agree that anglers should follow the seasonal pattern based on water temperature. During the spring and early summer months, water temps in the upper 60s to low 70s are ideal for spawning bass.

“Anglers should learn about the seasonal patterns, migration routes and the habits of bass,” Herren comments. “Also, look at what type of lake it is—river, highland reservoir or tidal lake. The type of lake will tell what the fish are doing at a specific time of year.”

Lure Selection for New Waters

Usually, anglers are told to fish their strengths. And generally, this is a good rule of thumb. However, anglers should approach an unfamiliar lake without any preconceived ideas about lure choices. Lure selection should be based on time of year, water temp and the primary forage for that particular lake.

The color red in crankbaits and jerkbaits performs well on Lake Guntersville. However, shad-colored baits seem to produce more strikes on other lakes of the Tennessee River. Also, lure may not be as important on some lakes as the type of lure used.

“A square-billed crankbait in shad or crawfish pattern is my first choice in shallow water,” Lane says. “I would also try worms or other soft plastics around visible targets.”

Lane says he looks for good types of cover when fishing shallow. Rocks, stumps or grass clumps are primary hiding spots for bass. Even after the spawn, bass will continue to use cover in shallow water areas.

He says to look for something a little different along the shoreline. A group of rocks on a sandy point or a single log jutting out into a slough are a couple of examples.

Once the water is above 50 degrees F, Herren recommends a spinnerbait to locate bass. White, chartreuse or a combination of both colors is a prime choice for bass on most lakes. Lipless cranks like the Rat-L-Trap, Red Eye Shad or the Rapala Rippin’ rap are top choices.

As the water warms up toward the summer, bass will move out deeper near ledges, channel drops, and other structure. Deep-diving crankbaits, Texas rigged soft-plastics and shaky head rigs should produce some bass. Anglers can focus on points extending out into the lake. Begin casting shallow and work down to deeper water.

Locating baitfish is another method of finding bass on a new lake. The baitfish can also direct the angler to a specific lure size or color. One way to locate a school of baitfish is to look for birds diving into the water. This usually indicates the baitfish are shallow. Count on the bass being not far behind.

Anglers will usually opt for a top-water or lipless lure in this situation. However, a soft-plastic swimbait like a Zoom Fluke or similar lure will provide more solid hookups.

Whether fishing for fun or competing in a tournament, fishing new waters does not have to be intimidating. Anglers can do some planning and fish the seasonal patterns and end up with a great day outdoors.

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