Fishing a Lake for the First Time

Fishing a Lake for the First Time

By Mike Carey

We passed cattle lazily grazing along the lush green rolling hillside, while antelope watched us cautiously, ready at moment’s notice to bolt to safety. The dust from the gravel road made it an easy choice to keep the windows up, while in the distance the Rocky Mountains drew ever closer as my son Matthew and I drove ever closer to our destination. A lone sign indicated we were approaching the boat launch and our adventure was about to begin.

One of the great joys in my life is exploring new destinations to go fishing. I, like most people, have my favorite spots, but I make sure to set aside some weekends for adventures to parts unknown. I never tire of seeing what is around the next bend. New lakes hold a special fascination. What will we find when we get there? How will the fishing be? Will we find lunkers, and, more importantly, will this be a new place to add to my personal “favorite fishing spots”?

I am guessing there are a lot of anglers that share my enthusiasm for finding new places to explore. I think it goes hand in hand for most hard-core anglers. We all dream of finding those hidden gems that few know, let alone fish. If you’re like me, you probably have some methods for researching these destinations. If you’re new to fishing or exploring new spots I’d like to share some strategies that I’ve developed to maximize precious time on the road and the water (not to mention gas and travel expenses).

First, how does one find these new fishing locations? In today’s age of the internet and social media, it’s pretty easy to learn about new spots. While there are those who would never consider revealing locations, others are more open to sharing information. I fall in the latter category. My reasoning is over the years I’ve been blessed to learn of new places to fish from other anglers willing to share. I feel it’s the least I can do to “pay it forward”. Also, my opinion is the more we share locations the more we bring new anglers into our community. In this age of diminishing resources, it may seem counter-intuitive to do this; however, more anglers equal a stronger voice when decisions affecting fishing are made by fisheries departments. Also, the more locations known to all, the more we spread out and reduce pressures on locations in general. Terminal fisheries will always be crowded, but other “secondary” spots can find relief of pressure as anglers find new spots.

When I first hear of a location I haven’t fished before, I will start the self-education process to decide if it’s a lake I want to try. The first spot I check is (of course) Northwest Fishing Reports. With over 55,000 fishing reports in our database, it’s a good first step to see if others have fished the lake and how they did on it. There may also be maps, Hotspots, and depth charts to download. From there I will branch out to other areas of research. For that, I use a search engine, usually Google, sometimes Microsoft. Each will give you further information to drill down and explore. After search engines, I’ll look to YouTube for videos anglers may have posted. This entire information gathering is part of the fun and as I dive into it, I am forming a decision on devoting a day or weekend to fishing there.

One source I have found not very useful is Facebook. In my experience, asking for information on social media just leads to a lot of smart aleck responses and contradictory advice to weed through. Sometimes you may get a glimmer of good information, but honestly, I find other avenues to be more fruitful.

OK, you’ve found your new location; at first blush it looks like the kind of lake you’re looking for. You’ve researched the fish populations and you’re excited by what you found. It’s time to drill down to the essential information before you load up your boat and hit the road!

What do I consider essential information and how do I find it?

Since I’m likely fishing with my boat, number one I need to know I can safely get my boat there and launch it. What are the roads like? What about the launch? Does it have a concrete ramp? How about a dock? What about parking? Besides YouTube videos, the best source to answer these questions is without a doubt the Google maps satellite view. It has been a game changer for me! Any place you want to go you can switch into satellite view and zoom in to see exactly what you can expect when you arrive. I would never go to a new lake without first checking out this resource.

Next on my list is a depth map. This will likely be trickier. You may find a map on the internet to print out if you’re lucky. There are other sources. Navionics makes a phone app that has a surprising number of lake map contours in it. The app is reasonably priced. Just be sure to save the image prior to heading out. If you’re in a remote location it may not pull up. There is an option to save data to your phone, well worth it.

Next, if this is an overnight adventure, are there nearby camping spots or towns that have hotels to stay at? Small towns may only have a couple options to choose from. There’s nothing worse than arriving at a town only to find no place to stay.

What to Bring or “Dang, I wish I had brought my kokanee lures”!

This one is on you – you’re going to presumably a remote location, traveling for an hour or three. Won’t you feel silly if you didn’t bring the right gear (been there, done that!). This all circles back to our early discussion about knowing what species the lake holds and deciding what you want to target. If you’re like me, you have lots of gear for lots of types of fishing. Suppose you get there and discover the kokanee you planned on trolling for really are 6-8” long but guess what, there’s a smallmouth fishery for 3-5 pound fish… but you left your bass gear at home. It’s that old adage – be prepared. Maybe throw in a couple bass rods and a tackle box of bass gear, just in case. For Matthew and my adventure, we fished for kokanee and when the wind picked up moved into more sheltered waters and realized the lake had a darn good pike fishery. Unfortunately, we didn’t have much in the way of pike gear to toss at them. Bottom-line, don’t have blinders on figuring you’re only going to do one type of fishing. Being adaptable to what you find is key to a better fishing trip.

I hope the above ideas help in your quest for new and exciting waters to find and fish! I encourage you to share what you find with others and make the fishing world a better place for all of us.

Back to blog