Fish where the fish are

By Babe Winkelman

Send a link to a friend 

[December 21, 2013]  There is a 100 percent chance you won't catch a fish that isn't there. Yet it's amazing how much time anglers spend on spots that simply don't have any finny critters around. So, before you even think about what live bait or lure you're going to use, or how you're going to present that bait, job No. 1 on any angling adventure is to first find the fish.

Get a treasure map

An accurate lake depth contour map is a fisherman's best friend. Whether it's in the old-fashioned form of a printed map, or a digital rendering in your sonar or GPS unit, it's critical to know the "lay of the land" beneath your boat.

With your map open in front of you, the first things you want to do are to identify classic structures and to eliminate dead water. By classic structures, I mean sharp drop-offs, underwater points, humps, saddles and inside turns. Also, locate potential areas that could have defined transitions in bottom content. For example, where a shallow bay meets a deep main lake basin, there's a good chance there will be a transition from soft silt to a hard bottom. Fish like these transition areas.

Highlight all such areas with a pen if you're using a paper map, or with waypoints if you're mapping digitally with GPS. You'll want to check out these areas. In the process of identifying them, you'll also effectively eliminate dead water. Places where there are no striking depth contour features, like big midlake flats, are often lacking in good fish populations.

Now remember, this is a generalization and not a hard rule. Because some lakes, like legendary Mille Lacs Lake in Minnesota, have huge, featureless flats that are actually fish magnets. In the case of Mille Lacs, it's because the big flats are muddy and are breeding grounds for bug hatches which all fish like to eat.

Embrace technology

I already mentioned GPS. Ever since accurate GPS and digital mapping became available to anglers, recreational fishing changed forever. It's simply amazing technology, and if you truly want every advantage when fishing, you owe it to yourself to invest in a GPS unit. But if you can't or don't wish to, at the very least I encourage you to own and use a high-quality sonar unit. Sonar is the single best way to determine whether you're on fish or you aren't.

Armed with your marked contour map, go to the areas you have selected as potential fish hangouts and slowly explore those spots while looking at your sonar for fish. Maybe you'll spot suspended "hooks" on your screen. Or perhaps you'll mark fish hugging the bottom. Either way, if they're there, fish 'em! If your screen is blank and fishless, don't bother fishing there. Move on and keep moving on until technology tells you, "This is the spot, buddy!"

[to top of second column]

See underwater

Nothing tells you there are fish present like your own eyes. And there are two ways to see the fish. The first is simple: with a good pair of polarized sunglasses. Polarized lenses help deflect surface glare so you can more easily see down into the depths and spot fish. This is especially true when fishing the shallows for bass, bedded panfish, pre-spawn pike in bays and more.

Another piece of underwater viewing equipment is a submersible video camera. These are dynamite for positively identifying the particular fish species you're after after locating the presence of fish with your sonar unit. An underwater camera will also show you the size of the fish beneath you. Finally, by using the camera while fishing best done when ice fishing it will teach you a lot about fish behavior, how they respond to different baits and how different bait presentations can trigger strikes. Plus, it's just plain fun to watch fish on your TV screen above water.

Look on top

Let's not forget the most basic way to find fish, which is by watching the surface. Naturally, this is best done on nice, calm days. If I go out for bass or panfish on a calm day, the first thing I do is sit and scan the surface for several minutes. If I see panfish rising and popping, or spot a big bass crashing something on top, then that's proof positive that there's a catchable fish right on that spot!

I hope these fish-location tips help you find what you're looking for next time you're out on the water. May all of your hot spots be productive...

Good fishing.


Babe Winkelman hosts "Good Fishing" and "Outdoor Secrets," the most-watched fishing and hunting programs on television. Tune in on NBC Sports Network, Destination America, Velocity, Time Warner Sports Texas & New York, and many local broadcast channels. Visit Winkelman.com for airtimes and more information. Follow Babe Winkelman on Facebook and Twitter.

< Recent features

Back to top