September 17, 2019

We as fisherman are constantly looking for the next hot bite. Whether it is fun fishing, or an upcoming tournament new water is part of fishing. New water has the potential to be a very frustrating task, but the growth it provides anglers is unparalleled.

This last fall I participated in a number of tournaments put on in the Bemidji area by the Bemidji State Fishing Team. Out of the ten tournaments I fished, I fished for bass on only one of them prior to my pre-fishing for the event. Needless to say, I lacked experience on these lakes. Between my school schedule and the no pre-fishing rule the day before the event, I was left with only one day to find fish before the event. In order to be successful I was going to have to attempt to find multiple patterns on these smaller lakes in order to catch fish (and nice ones) come tournament day.

When I broke down these lakes I had a very specific method that I liked to use to find my first few bites. This tells me how I will focus my efforts throughout the rest of the day. I also used only my favorite baits in which I have the utmost confidence. For me, this is a hollow bodied frog, a belly weighted Yee-Ha swimbait, a jig, and a texas-rigged Gambler Mega Daddy Craw. If bass aren’t biting any one of these four baits, it isn’t my day.The New Water Challenge - Smallmouth

Smallmouth were only a factor in one of the lakes we fished. This lake was fairly deep with a good mixture of both rock and weed structure throughout the lake. It was an August tournament so I decided to focus on offshore structure as my main target. When I first arrived at the lake I took a look at the map. I noticed there was one very large hump that could take hours to fish and there was another one that was only a fraction of the size within the same depth range. This smaller hump was one I could fish top to bottom in roughly an hour. To me, this was the perfect first spot to begin my search.

On this given day the weather was partly cloudy with a wind of about 10 mph. With the wind blowing, I began my search towards the top of the hump with a jig in about 6-8′ of water. Right away I could see the top of the hump in 1′ was all rock and began to taper until it reached about 3′ where it turned into a weed-rock mix until the thicker weeds became dominant in around 6′ of water. After two minutes of fishing I was hooked up. It was a healthy largemouth that was close to three pounds. In only a few more casts I boated my second largemouth that was close to three pounds as well. This was a good start to the day, but not quite what I was looking for. I knew the smallmouth in this lake would be crucial come tournament day if I could find them.

I then decided to get closer to the rock on the top of the hump. After casting around the rock on the top for a while it was evident the fish weren’t holding there. The next option was to fish 3-6′ deep. This area also had different structure with rock as a base and just a few weeds scattered around, but no visible clumps. With a couple casts of the Mega Daddy Craw I set the hook on my first smallmouth of the day. A solid 3.5 pounder that leaped out of the water and came unpinned, a perfect release while pre-fishing. To make sure this was not a fluke I continued to cast the same depth range to find more brown fish. Being that smallmouth are notorious for roaming in packs on this rock structure I fired back in the same area and was greeted by another bite. This second smallmouth also went over three pounds. I knew I had the smallmouth figured out, so I started fishing largemouth in case I needed a backup plan come tournament day.

This is my basic strategy when it comes to fishing new water for smallmouth. I like to single out one piece of structure at a time. I always start with a quick drive-by to look at the weed lines with my electronics so I know where the weed lines will be. Then, I put the trolling motor down and physically look at the rock and weed lines. Next, I will just fish the entire structure from top to bottom constantly watching my graph for anything underneath the boat. Now this won’t always work. Rock structures vary from piece to piece. Always make a mental note of what you have fished and what types of structure have produced. At times you may find multiple patterns that yield quality fish.

The New Water Challenge - SmallmouthIt always seems that come tournament day the conditions change and the fish were not where they were the day of pre-fishing. Instead of getting frustrated and moving straight to fishing largemouth, I decided to fish something I didn’t in practice. I moved out to the deep weedline on the same spot I caught the fish on the day of pre-fishing. Almost immediately I felt a tap on the line and a 4.25 pound bronzeback was in the boat. I fired another cast in the same spot. I hooked up once again, only to feel the disappointment of losing a solid smallmouth half way to the boat.

Knowing there were fish on the spot from pre-fishing helped my confidence in finding the fish on the day of the tournament. This scenario of having the fish high on the structure one day and on the deeper edge of it only two days later just shows we can’t assume fish are always going to be in the spots we think they will be. As fisherman, we know fish move and we need to adapt our strategy each and every day to stay on top of these fish. Sometimes we may even have to change our approach by the hour depending on the time frame we are fishing.

This particular tournament was held until dusk. This meant the smallmouth were going to move up shallow and were ready to eat towards the end of the day. With one hour left I decided to look for a few more smallmouth in a different area of the lake. I found rock so shallow, the tops of the boulders were sticking out of the water. This rock structure had a fast break from 1-5′ of water where the weeds then began to grow thick. On the break were large boulders with a misplaced boulder scattered in the weeds every now and again. With the Mega Daddy Craw, I worked this break from start to finish and was shocked at the number of smallmouth relating to this 75 yard stretch. This small area produced two more smallmouth for my bag and countless other 2-2.5 pound fish.

To find other spots on the fly in the tournament anglers must use pre-fishing methods to locate fish. This is best done by putting the trolling motor on a higher speed and cruising until you get your first bite. The first bite is like a puzzle piece, as Mike Iaconelli often says. Gather the pieces and put the picture together.

These are just the basics of finding and catching bass on a new body of water. It is true, all bodies of water are not created equal. However, these principles for finding and catching fish will hold true no matter which body of water you visit.

Nick Retka

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