Planning and research are the biggest keys to being successful on an unfamiliar lake.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to do much of either before a recent trip to Beaver Lake in Arkansas. I backed the boat down the ramp with little to no knowledge of the fishery, so as I ran across the lake I had to rely on my previous knowledge and my fish finder. As I darted around the lake I fished everything I could, taking a mental note of the water temperature, amount of structure available and most importantly, water clarity.
Water clarity has a direct impact on the color and bait you choose to fish with, which is crucial to catch more fish. When fishing a clear lake like Beaver Lake, I have found that the most effective baits that provided me with the most bites were the most natural colors, often shad-imitating colors.
Starting the day, I went with my best feeling; fish docks. I cruised around a few, each sitting in several different depths and noticed that the fish were only holding under a certain few that were floating in about 40 feet of water. I noticed a small shad hatch around the dock, so I tied on a 3.75-inch, shad-color swimbait with a three-eighths-ounce swimbait head. I began flipping the bait around the dock and letting it sink a few seconds before slow rolling it back to the boat. On my first cast, I watched as a 3-pound spotted bass followed my bait out from the edge of the dock then darted back to cover. I made my way down the dock, and before I knew it, I was boat flipping a 2-pound spot. I ended up catching a few more similar in size around the dock.
If you’re on a new lake and nothing seems to be working, try flipping along and around docks. Docks offer great places for fish to live year round. They provide cover, warmth in the winter or shade in the summer, and bait fish tend to congregate around this kind of structure.
Structure is another major factor when fishing any lake, no matter its location. With water levels up and rising at Beaver, the fish tended to hold tight to structure. Each bite, whether it was from under a dock or along a stump, came from me dragging the bait as close to the obstacle as possible.
The next day, a cold front rolled in and the fish vanished from my trusty dock, leaving me guessing again. I had heard from some guys at the boat ramp how inconsistent the fishing had been because of all the rain they had gotten in the past few days. I decided to find murkier water, which I enjoy fishing more than clear, so I raced as far back into an arm of the lake where runoff stained the water. I cruised the banks throwing a three-eighths-ounce white spinnerbait along rocks and dragging it by isolated cover. This bait was crucial in getting me bites in stained water, including a bonus smallmouth. Some baits work better in the spring than others.
The short family trip turned into a trip that taught me a lot about fishing an unfamiliar lake. When fishing a new lake, do as much research as you can to maximize your effectiveness on the water.