Fishing Unfamiliar & Fly-in Lakes
By Bill Rivers
There is a feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment - the pride of craft - that comes with a successful day's fishing on a new, unfamiliar or fly-in lake, whether it is a limit of bass, a few walleyes for shore lunch, or a trophy pike. Not because putting fish in the boat is the measure of a successful outing, but because that success underlines the fact that the angler has effectively adapted to the existing fishing situations and conditions, making necessary changes in bait / lure selection, presentations and locations. That, in itself, is no small feat, even at fly-in lakes which supposedly teem with naive fish. Let me assure you that we always breathe a sigh of relief (even on fly-ins) after having caught a few fish for that first shore lunch. Once that initial success has been realized, the rest of a fishing trip takes care of itself.
Plan to succeed
- Pre-trip Research & Planning
- Upon Arrival
- A Working Map
- Productive Tactics
On new lakes, you need a systematic approach that will greatly improve the chances of near-immediate success and good catches, even when fishing an unfamiliar lake - given the fact that time is almost certainly a limiting factor. To maximize your time and enjoyment of a day's fishing or a remote trip, you need a system. Here's the Ontario Fisherman's oft-tested and proven approach.
Pre-trip Research & Planning
In spite of the fact that most fly-in and many road-accessible lakes offer great fishing opportunities, anglers should develop and execute a plan for fishing any unfamiliar lake. Without such a strategy, too much time on a short trip can be spent searching for fish or prime locations. Notice that I did not say "wasted". No systematic survey of a lake should be considered a waste of time - even when fish are not caught.
One key to finding fish consistently is to quickly eliminate "empty" water, and one way to do that is through trial and error. Better, though, to spend as much time as possible actually fishing a promising or proven location. This can be best accomplished with a two-pronged, strategic approach - one prior to the trip; the other on the water.
Before putting the boat in the water, "explore" the destination lake on paper through the examination of available maps and charts. Many times, gaining a thorough knowledge of the lake and the identification of potential hotspots can be accomplished without even getting in the boat.
Check available map & chart sources, including:
- MNR-produced "fishing maps"
- lodge / camp fishing & navigation maps
- MNR stocking lists & maps
- resource management plans
- topographic maps
- hydrographic / lake-bottom contour maps
- resources maps & plans (e.g. logging)
- maps prepared by previous groups
- canoe / hiking route maps
- maps prepared by local clubs
- sanctuary maps & notices
- aerial photographs & satellite images
Speak to others with experience on the lake, including:
- local anglers
- MNR district fisheries personnel
- guides / charter operators
- suggested references (by phone)
Immediately after booking a trip work through the above lists - a task easily managed if your group shares in the research. Besides, it is actually fun trying to figure out the lake, sight unseen and even better when you discover that some of your assessments were correct. And, having done some of the "leg work" prior to the trip, you will have considerably more time for a thorough "on-the-water" survey once you reach your destination.
Arriving at your departure point or fly-in airbase, the work begins again. Now is the time to ask others about the destination to which you are headed, including:
- outfitter / air service personnel
- bait & tackle shop proprietors
- cottagers, campers, canoeists
- fishing / conservation club members
- lodge operator / guides
- camp clientele (especially repeaters)
A Fly Over
If your group is flying into a remote outpost or lodge, ask the pilot to do a "fly over" of the lake(s) you will be fishing. With a rough, photocopied outline map in hand, look for and mark any:
- congregations of boats
- adjoining back lakes
- inflowing / outflowing streams
- shoals, sunken islands, points
- large weedbeds / weedlines
- log jams / shoreline cover
- rapids, dams
- lodge / cabin location
Previous Party Info
Upon arriving and unpacking, with map in hand, talk to departing anglers about the lake, the fishing, and the camp, including:
- fishing hotspots
- proven baits & tactics
- reasonable expectations (numbers, size)
- boating hazards
- boats & motors
- camp gear & appliances
- portages / trails to back lakes
- shore lunch site(s)
- bait availability / minnow traps
- sanctuary areas
A Working Map
By now, that rough outline map could be pretty marked up, hopefully with useful bits of information and locations that will make those first outings on the lake safer and more productive. Take a few moments to re-draw the map more precisely , and give each "boat" in your party their own map to record useful findings. As the map develops, it won't be a pretty sight, but its value will be inestimable later and on subsequent trips. As you fish and explore the lake or river over the course of your stay, mark on the map:
- fishing hotspots
- landmarks / hazards
- current flows & direction
- good shoreline stretches
- prime cover areas
- mid-lake weedbeds
- structural elements
Never be without a portable depthfinder when fishing an unfamiliar lake or river. Depending on its capabilities, the graph (apart from displaying the bottom contours and water depths) can provide other important data to help you in your survey, including:
- deep-water basins
- fish / baitfish
- bottom "content"
- structural specifics
- water temperature
- trolling speed
Hey, we are fishermen, not cartographers - so let's go fishing ! At the risk of oversimplifying the strategies used to explore and fish an unfamiliar lake, break down your approach as follows:
- prepare the "working map"
- parcel the lake into manageable sections
- cover water quickly
- use a variety of lures / techniques
- eliminate unproductive water
- pinpoint fishing "hotspots"
- update the map continuously >
Parcel Up the Lake / River
It's easy to be overwhelmed on a new lake, especially larger ones. Instead, divide the lake into more manageable sections, and treat each as if it were a separate lake. As each boat explores, fishes, and maps a section, information is shared and. Later, checked out by the others to verify the findings. Even very large lakes can be quickly cut down to size using this approach. However, if there is only one boat and five lake sections, start with the most promising or highly recommended section in order to get on fish quickly and to avoid wasting valuable time checking out "empty water" for half the trip.
On rivers, this system is especially easy and effective. Devoting a half-day to each stretch provides diversity, yet still allows for more time to be devoted to the "best" spots later.
Cover Water Quickly
In a relatively short time you will want to explore, fish and map a designated portion of the lake with hopes of locating the most productive spots in that section. To do this, move quickly - trolling fast-breaking shorelines, casting exposed shoals, working along weedlines with spinnerbaits, spinners or spoons. If fish are caught, it may be an area deserving of a slower, more precise attack later. First, however, finish the surveying task you set out to accomplish. Mark it on the map and come back later.
Similarly, if a promising or recommended area comes up empty, switch tactics or return to it late in the day (as you re-visit the hotspots identified over the course of the day). Fishing live baits, drifting approaches, backtrolling, float and still fishing are too slow for this part of the hunt but will serve you well later as you probe key spots more slowly and thoroughly.
Eliminate Unproductive Water
It's said that "you can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear", so don't waste precious fishing time on "empty water". On the working map, cross out shallow back bays choked with weeds, areas with "ooze" bottoms or less than six feet of water. Abandon shorelines which slope gradually to deeper, regular bottoms. Forget most of the lake's deepest basins (more than 25 feet). Forget casting to reeds growing atop sand bars under just two or three feet of water. This approach will effectively eliminate more than two-thirds of most lakes and will not only save you time and frustration, but will also assure that most of your precious fishing time is spent in more productive areas.
Of course, there are exceptions to every example stated above - bass in the slop, early season pike in the shallows, lake trout in the depths, but most are seasonal movement patterns, which, in turn, help to eliminate other areas which might be better during a different part of the fishing season.
Pinpoint & Mark Prime Spots / Cover / Structures
With much of the lake already eliminated during the initial scouting process, keying on the lake's prime spots and structural features should be much easier now. Fish promising or recommended spots slowly and thoroughly. When a good spot and good catches come together, accurately mark the spot in your GPS unit, with a floating marker buoy or carefully triangulate the exact location using nearby and obvious landmarks. Immediately mark them on the working copy of the map (in colour).
Update the Map
Either for your own use on subsequent trips, as a favour to groups that follow, or as a courtesy to the outfitter, keep the map up to date as it has considerable value to all parties involved. Mine come in handy when I summarize fishing trips for magazine articles and for the countless inquiries I receive each year via e-mail. Show me yours, and I'll show you mine !
Arranging and planning the annual fishing trip for the "boys" or your family is an important and demanding task at the best of times. When daring to venture to unfamiliar destinations, the uncertainties regarding the details and the fishing opportunities are accentuated still further. This season, when the time comes to head out to that unfamiliar lake or river, have your homework done, a "working map: at the ready, and a strategic approach for surveying and fishing the lake in mind. Anxieties will be lessened, the chances of success heightened. And, as you have, no doubt, heard and read many times, confidence plays a very large part in any successful fishing outing. But now you are ready! Enjoy your trip.Recommended Articles :
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