How To Be A Better Angler, Part 4 – Really Get To Know A Lake

[This is the fourth in a series of posts about somewhat unconventional advice for becoming a better angler. It’s not tips, tricks or tactics, as such, but suggestions for becoming an overall better angler that you might not otherwise think of.]

When it comes to becoming a better angler, fewer things help mote than actually spending time on the water. After all, you’ll never catch fish if you don’t wet a line every once in a while.

Most of us spend a good portion of our time fishing fairly close to home. As much as we’d like to get out there and explore every lake, those special trips to the waters we’ve been dreaming of only happen a handful of times a season.

For some, this isn’t exactly an ideal situation. It’s easy to get bored when you fish the same few lakes again and again.

For some.

Personally, there’s a benefit to doing so that most people don’t realize. In fact, I’d go so far as to say spending as much time as you can on one particular lake is even more beneficial than spreading yourself over a  handlful of different lakes.

What Do You Mean?

Simply put, the more you know about one particular lake, the more you’re going to be able transfer what you know about that lake over to other bodies of water, especially when you’re fishing new water for the first time.

Fish aren’t going to be holding in the same places on every lake, not by a long shot, but when you’re fishing a lake for the first time and you’ve eliminated all the obvious places–structure, drop offs, creek mouths, etc.–you can start looking in the less conventional places for the fish and, the only way to find less conventional places to look for fish is to spend a lot of time learning where they sit in one particular lake.

In other words, you look for fish where you found them on the lake you got to know. You’re not necessarily going to find fish in those places, but knowing that there’s a chance they’ll be there gives you something different to try out and helps keep you hopeful.

What Should I Be Looking For?

Anything and everything that holds fish, first of all. The more you know about where the fish hang out on one body of water, the better a chance you’ll have finding them on another–yes, I know I just said that, but this is really a key point here.

For instance, I recently discovered on a lake I fish fairly often that, right out in the middle of a spot where it’s around 50 feet deep, it goes up to around 30 or so feet. It’s not a drop-off, but a gradual upward slope. The brook trout seem to love that change in-depth as I always seem to find them there, something I’ll file away for the next time I’m on a brook trout lake that gets that deep.

If you can find depth charts for the lake, perfect. That’s always a good thing to have a look at. You’ll be able to find a lot of very fishy looking spots just by studying those (if you don’t know how to read a depth chart, here’s a great resource). If you can’t find a chart before you head out, use a depth sounder while you’re on the water.

Another thing that can be helpful is taking notes about things like when a certain hatch happens. If you notice that sedges come off the water every year around a certain time on your lake, chances are it’s going to be happening at other lakes at the same elevation around the same time.

Keeping in mind that hatches aren’t always going to be the same time, just around the same time, you stand a pretty good chance at following a hatch around this way, at that elevation anyway. If you want to go up to a higher elevation, there’s a bit more guesswork involved, but it’s possible.


How Does This Help?

Mostly this just adds tools to your toolbox. The more places you can think to look for fish, the more likely you are to find them. This is especially helpful on new lakes, or even on lakes you’ve been to in the past that haven’t been super productive for you–which can be especially frustrating if you have friends who talk about how good the fishing is there.

It also gives you more confidence on the water, which I think makes all the difference in the world. Not only do you spend more time in a relaxed state, but you can go home feeling like you really did everything you could to catch a fish and that it just wasn’t the day for it, you won’t think of the day in such a negative way–it may even make you want to go back there and try again, just to crack the code (and discover more places to look for fish).

As I’ve said in the past, I do a tonne of research when I’m heading out to a lake, even if I’ve been there before. Just knowing the history of the lake and seeing what others have said about it helps set reasonable expectations and allows for more surprises in terms of either big fish or numbers.

Places to look for information:

  • Backroad mapbooks and fishing guides. These things are great for helping you figure out at least something about the lake. You may not get more than a sentence or two about the lake, but these books are always my first stop.
  • Online forums. If you’re a member of a fishing forum, check here. Do a search to see if anyone’s asked about it before or, if you don’t find anything, post a question. Outside of the occasional person who’s going to growl at you about not doing your own legwork, you’ll very likely find someone willing to share at least a bit of info about the lake.
  • Old government reports. These are usually more interesting than helpful, but you can sometimes find out some really interesting tidbits of information about a body of water by doing an online search for them. It can help you find out if there’s been any stocking or conservation programs to enhance the fishery or it can tell you what the numbers of certain fish are (one lake I’ve fished in the past used to have great numbers of lake trout, but the numbers plummeted over the years to the point where there’s no point in trying for them).
  • Stocking reports. I know some guys who decide which lake to fish based on these reports. I don’t rely on them too much, but they are worthing taking a look at. If nothing else, you can figure out which fish you’ll find in a lake.
  • Regional Fly Fishing Clubs. If you can find one in the area you’re looking to fish (or live), check out their website. They are usually a wealth of information about a certain area. You can learn everything from what fly patterns to use, when to use them and where to use them. You might even get lucky with localized hatch charts.


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  1. Lots of good advice here, Douglas. I agree that the more you can learn about a body of water (or any place, in general) the more you’ll benefit from it. And when it comes to larger bodies of water (rivers or lakes), you can never learn enough because, for one reason, that body is always changing from the forces of nature.

    1. Thanks! I find that fishing is a game of constant learning. You could probably fish one lake every day for a year and never have the same experience twice. It’s an interesting pursuit in that respect. Anything you can do to increase the odds of catching a fish, helps. Big water, both rivers and lakes, intimidate me a little. I haven’t quite wrapped my head around them as an angler yet.

    1. Thanks! Fishing is a great excuse to get out there and explore this amazing country we live in. And I really can’t help but find the learning exciting. Any day I can walk away from the water with a sense of what I have to learn about next is a good day.

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