For those of you who regularly travel to new water to bass fish, or participate in tournaments that frequently bring you to unfamiliar impoundments, you are probably familiar with the overwhelming feeling of; “what do I do now?” Well, to offer some consolation, there are several steps you can take to combat this all too familiar problem, many of which are much easier than one might anticipate. First of all, quite possibly some of the most important steps you can take to prepare for new water can be taken days or weeks in advance to physically traveling to your new destination. I consider these steps a form of “Bassin’ reconnaissance”, that will if done correctly, eliminate a whole lot of unproductive water.
Topographical maps, social media websites, bass fishing web pages, phone calls to local marinas and bait shops, all make up this first step of intelligence gathering. Also, as of late, GPS and Loran numbers, however hard they may be to come by, have become a crucial ingredient in a recipe for angling success.
As a rule of thumb, the first thing I like to do when I find out which new body of water I will be fishing is to secure a reliable topographical map. In the event that the body of water is an impoundment, where the lake was created by flooding a river valley, I like to acquire pre and post-flooding maps. This because many valuable pieces of submerged structure, many times man-made, such as buildings or road bridges and beds, can be found on the pre-flooding map, and consequently be located on the post-flooding map. If you have the time and the resources, making a transparency overlay of the pre-flood map, that can be fitted over the post-flood map can make locating important submerged structure quick and efficient. This is especially useful if the lake in question lacks visible man-made surface structures such as bridges and docks. Of course, only a trip over the area with an attuned depth finder will guarantee the presence of the suspected structure, but having some idea of what's down there will make the approach a great deal easier.
After maps, I solemnly believe the next greatest method of info gathering is plain old-fashioned phone calls to bait shops and marinas in the vicinity of your target water. Now granted the quality of the information will vary by each situation, but from experience, I have found most marina and bait shop owners to be more than cooperative when it comes to angling inquiries. Blunt or frontal questions you might want to avoid are usually, "what are they hitting on", or "where is the hot spot this week". Rather, you should use this valuable resource to confirm the validity of the information you have already gathered. Specific questions like "my map shows a large weed bed in the North-East corner of the main lake, what kind of vegetation is it made up of, and have you heard of anyone bringing in anything substantial off of it?", will usually garner a more friendly and accurate response. I have learned that it's usually not what they are hitting on, but rather where. Once you have the location, the rest, as I have found, can come substantially easier. Another great way to make use of this resource is to let them help you with the logistical details of your trips. Trust me when I say take the advice of the locals on where and where not to stay and eat. The same applies to directions to launch ramps and other similar local locations. I think we all may have had the nightmare experience of asking a recently immigrated 24-hour convenience store clerk directions to a nearly impossible to find launch ramp five in the morning because in all your direction gathering you forgot the last leg from the motel to the ramp. Finally, don't hesitate to ask about previous tournaments in the area and the statistics about them. I have formulated several plans based on the results and information I have gathered based on previous tournaments. Again, provided you can maintain a friendly demeanor, the amount of info available from this source is only limited to the number of phone calls you are willing to make. They can help you get on more and better fish, as well as avoid headaches come time to hit the water.
In the last few years, in the wake of the Internet tidal wave, web pages, and chat rooms have become a quick and easy to gather information on nearly any body of water in the country. I feel, as it stands now, one could do a great deal of his or her research online, and wind up with a fairly complete case file for either a tournament or recreational fishing excursion. Though it should be noted that while the Internet is a very powerful and very convenient resource, it is not a be all end all of fishing planning. Depending on the body of water you are planning to fish, it is possible to have too much information to wade through, rather than not enough, which is just as dangerous, and unbelievably time-consuming. From experience, I have found breaking your search into smaller pieces, and entering that on a search engine will be far more efficient than simply entering in the lake name. This applies especially to larger, more nationally known bodies of water. For example, entering "Lake Fork", in a search engine, to find a specific marina or launch ramp will garner countless results, but "Lake Fork Launch Ramps", will give you far less, and more accurate results. This, of course, applies to all search aspects.
A great way to ensure this research is not done in vain, and not only for one trip, but you might also consider using the system of creating something of a case file for each lake you fish. By adding information as you gain it, each lake file grows, and you can refer back to it at any time. As well as continually expand it, until you have created something of a mini-encyclopedia of that lake. Of course, this will take time, but as the amount of lakes grows, and you begin to fish the same waters, again and again, be it recreationally or for tournament purposes, you will soon see the immense reward in doing this. I use this system, and in each lake file, not only do I keep maps, photographs, and previous fishing reports, but I also keep the information to the motel where I stayed, restaurants, the directions to the launch ramp, and a host of other things that makes planning and making your trip incredibly easier. One more point, a great piece of information to keep in this file is the number to a local boat and motor repair shop. Even if you have never used it before, having it there will prevent a mad scramble to the yellow pages should something go wrong.
There are of course far more sources to gain pre-fish, and trip information than I have listed, as to list them all would be nearly impossible. Simply keep an open ear, and as in my case, you might consider carrying a small notepad with you. One would be amazed at what one can pick up just from listening up at the ramp. While it's widely known that there is certainly no substitute for time on the water, I hope this has at least shed some light on an otherwise usually ignored subject.