(Editor's note: The following is the latest installment in a series of fishing tips presented by The Bass University. Check back each Friday for a new tip.)
Whether you’re an Elite Series angler looking to sustain a living or a weekend warrior looking for a little bit of glory and a few bucks, at some point you’re going to have to conquer a new body of water, and you’ll likely have limited time to figure things out. Knowing how to break down unfamiliar fisheries is what separates consistent winners from anglers who occasionally have a good day.
Oklahoma pro Jason Christie said that he dialed in the process of learning new lakes during one key three-year stretch that he spent teaching relative newcomers how to pattern-fish. He’d make a decision, his clients would ask him “Why?” and that would force him to break things down further. The effect was that rather than staying in the same groove all the time, he broadened his horizons.
Now, with an understanding of how he works best, he starts off with a simple question: “Is it going to be a pattern lake or a spot lake? And by spot, I mean area.” Places like St. Clair and Okeechobee tend to produce best in limited areas, whereas success on places like Table Rock is “all about developing a pattern.”
Other key considerations include the size of the body of water, the fishing pressure it receives, recent winning weights, the type and amount of available cover and the weather leading up to and during your tournament. More than anything else, he said there’s one thing that separates the VanDams, the Christies and the Jordan Lees from the rest of the pack. “It’s all about efficiency,” he said. “That is the biggest word in bass fishing,” and upon that realized he vowed not to waste a single minute, if possible.
He typically has three days to practice for an event, and his seminar followed that schedule, but if you have more or less time, you can adjust accordingly.
On the first day, he’ll pick an area of the lake (like a major tributary), draw a circle around it on the map and vow not to leave until it’s late in the afternoon and he hasn’t figured anything out. Inside that limited zone, he’ll treat it just like a lake unto itself. “I don’t want to see the whole lake,” he added, preferring to develop a pattern first and then expand upon it.
He’s careful to favor his strengths, and said everyone should do the same. “If you don’t like to throw a Ned rig, don’t throw it. It’s not the only bait that catches fish.”
On the second day, he tries to expand on what he learned on day 1, fishing both concentrated and remote sections of the cover that produced best. He also looks at the amount of boat traffic that his key areas receive, but more than anything he resolves to keep an open mind. By the third day, he works to cover as much as the lake as possible and also tries to figure out a likely starting place.
While he admits that “I used to catch ‘em in practice,” he’s increasingly unlikely to set the hook on a bass before the tournament starts. You don’t need to catch fish to learn, he said. “Some of my best practices, I don’t catch a thing. In fact, you don’t have to fish at all.”
If you want to learn some of the other tools Christie uses to break down new waters, including how he applies this “open mind” philosophy to waters that he knows intimately, check out his full video, available only by subscribing to The Bass University TV.