Reading Strange Water
The hunt for where bass live starts where you live.
By Larry D. Hodge
Pro angler Ray Hanselman Jr. of Del Rio knows Lake Amistad so well he doesn’t even have to use electronics to find his fishing spots. But when it comes to fishing unfamiliar lakes, he’s in the same boat as the rest of us he has to hunt for the fish. Here’s how he does it.
“Start with the basics and go from there,” he advises. Much of the information you need can be found using the TPWD Web site. Start at <www.tpwd.state.tx.us/fishboat/fish/recreational/lakes/> and follow links for current conditions. “This will give you an idea to start on,” Hanselman says. “Find out what you can about what kind of structure the lake has and consider the time of year, water clarity and water temperature when you will be fishing. Then go to a map and look for areas that should be best suited for that time of year and those conditions.
“As a rule of thumb, seasonal patterns for bass are pretty standard on all lakes,” Hanselman continues. “In spring, before the spawn, look for creek channels leading to the backs of coves, where fish will be staging to move in to spawn. During the spawn, look for protected creeks. Start on the north side of the lake, because the water usually warms up first there. You may see a creek and say, ‘There are four or five other areas like that I need to check.’”
Post-spawn, Hanselman keys on main lake structure on flats and points. This can be flooded timber, rocks, submerged roadbeds, vegetation anything that will provide cover where a bass can hide, feel safe and ambush prey. “Look for open-water structure, which is what most lakes in Texas have,” he says. “In fall, fish will start moving to the backs of creeks following shad. In winter, look for deep structure. Bass may not be in the same place every year, but they will be on the same kind of structure.”
Modern electronics that let you download lake maps into your fish finder/GPS unit can be your best pre-trip fish-finding tool, though it may make your neighbors think you’ve lost your mind. “Study the lake maps on your unit while sitting in your driveway at home,” Hanselman says. “When you find structure or lake features such as channel bends or contour changes that look promising, you can pop waypoints on those places right in your driveway and go straight to them the next day. Then if you find fish in those places, you can look for similar spots and go right to them, too.”
It sounds too good to be true, but Hanselman says it works. “I fished a tournament in Arkansas on a lake I’d never been on,” he reveals. “It was a fall pattern, with fish moving back into the creeks, so I pulled out a map and circled every creek, then started with the big ones. I caught fish and did very well in the tournament and I’d never been there before.”
A popular comedian once cracked that the opposite of déjà vu is “vuja de” the feeling something has never happened before. You may experience that when you follow these tips and catch fish on a lake you’ve never fished before. It’s a good feeling.