Finding Fresh Water Fish: Lakes, Rivers, Ponds

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So you’re in a new town and have no idea where you should go fishing. You’ve found a new fishing hole that you’ve never fished before. Nobody around can help you fish it. So where do you start fishing?

Can you still figure out a lake without knowing anything about it? Of course you can! By following these simple tips you’ll be fishing like a pro in no time.

Evaluate From The Bank

Walk along the bank keeping an eye on the water. What’s the water clarity look like? Is it cloudy, muddy, tannic ETC? With low visibility fish aren’t feeding visually so you’ll need a little noise and flash. Clear water requires a slightly subtle approach.

Look for moss, lilypads,weedbeds and natural cover that offers a little bit of shade. Predators and baitfish alike will hide underneath natural cover.

Try to identify the baitfish and forage species. You should get a good idea of what lures you need to work and learn a lot about the water without even getting your line wet.

Finding Fresh Water Fish

Doesn’t matter if you’re fishing a backwater mud pit or crystal clear spring your approach should be the same. Evaluate the water looking for clarity, temperature, forage species ETC and figure out a game plan.

After visiting a dozen or so lakes you’ll probably notice that different water calls for a new technique. What works in a small farm pond isn’t going to work in a rambling stream.

You’ll need different gear and more importantly a new mindset to fish different waterways. Great anglers need to be able to adapt to whatever situation they come up against regardless of the challenges in your way.

Evaluating Different Bodies of Water

There’s so many different bodies of water throughout the United States that it would be impossible to explain how to fish all of them. That being said, if you learn how to fish ponds, lakes/reservoirs, rivers/streams/creaks you can cover most of the country.

Pond Fishing

You can find natural and manmade ponds throughout the entire world. Fly over the country and you’ll see ponds in all shapes and sizes. Small manmade farm ponds, natural ponds and large ponds that look more like a small lake.

When properly cared for ponds can support and ton of fish. It’s all about how they’re maintained to support the local fish population.

What You’ll Find

Who knows what you’ll find in a natural pond that self regulates. Throw a lure to find out. That’s the only way to know for sure. Natural ponds can offer some of the best or worst fishing experiences. Some natural ponds are honey pots, while others are nothing more than a glorified mud pit.

Stocked ponds on the other hand will almost always offer excellent fishing. A well managed pond will endure the heat of summer and avoid oxygen deprived fish kills.

With proper maintenance ponds offer photo-worthy big fish perfect for eating. Most state records come from privately managed ponds.

  • Largemouth Bass
  • Bluegills
  • Crappie
  • Sometimes Trout, Smallmouth depending on water clarity
How to Fish Ponds

Most ponds aren’t going to be big enough to support a small boat. Ponds are better suited for the bank fisherman. Sometimes you might even be able to work your way all around the pond.

Look for those access point to get right up on the water to cast. Most manmade ponds aren’t going to have a lot of structure so there’s no right or wrong way to work the water.

Just look for small downed trees around the edge, docks and thick vegetation. Check for a dam/levy that often holds the deepest water or those tucked away corners that offer a little shade.

Fishing Streams, Creaks and Rivers

Rivers and streams offer some of the best fishing. You’ve got big interesting fish and a constantly changing environment. One week the rivers flooded and the next it’s run dry. Unlike small ponds streams and rivers support natural populations of fish.

Keep an eye out for those deep water holes that support some of the biggest fish.

What You’ll Find

What you find in the river largely depends on its depth. Bigger rivers can support just about every type of freshwater species found in the country. From trout, smallmouths to monster catfish who knows what you’ll find.

A streams current is really what determines what you’re going to find in any body of water. Fish in streams make their decisions based on the current.

  • Trout
  • Smallmouth
  • Largemouth
  • Panfish
  • Walleye
  • Striper
How to Fish a River or Stream

What makes fishing a river difficult is its current. Fish in rivers/streams make all of their decisions based on the current so you need to know how that works.

Just remember that most fish are going to be facing upstream waiting for prey to float downstream. Make sure you present the lure so that it looks natural. Cast upstream and wait for your lure to work downstream.

You have to learn how to position yourself so the stream works for you. Learn how to work the angles so the current drags your lure through cover.

Fishing Lakes and Reservoirs

So what makes a lake or reservoir different than a pond? Natural Lakes and manmade reservoirs are formed where a river runs off and naturally pool. You can’t have a lake without a river feeding into it.

What You’ll Find

Lakes and reservoirs range from a couple hundred acres to thousands and they’re big enough to have tons of fish. You can find just about any type of fresh water fish in a lake. All you need is the right temperature, food and habitat to support the population.

The easiest way to find out what’s in a lake is to ask your local baitshop or check online. Go to the online forestry department and read about what’s in the lake.

How to Fish a Lake/Reservoir

I know lakes can be intimidating to new fisherman, but they don’t have to be. Most lakes are going to have bank access, but you’ll probably want to fish from a boat.

With a boat you’ll be able to cover more water and work those tucked away areas. Fish aren’t distributed evenly over the lake. Look for natural points, riprap, and cover that naturally attract fish.

Where do You Find Fish?

Before you can find fish you’ll have to locate them. Unless you’re living in the desert you’ll be able to find somewhere to fish. Not all fish can live in every environment. They’ll need different cover, water temperature, depth, oxygen levels and structure.

Fishing Structure

Just about every fish on this planet holds near structure. That subtle change across the bottom of lakes/rivers/ponds is going to attract a ton of fish.

Without a fish finder it’s tough to spot structure on the bottom, but along the shoreline look for slopes, rocks, brush etc. These all signify change of structure providing cover and protection.

Temperature and Oxygen

Water temperature and local oxygen levels go hand in hand. If you don’t know how to find the thermocline nows the time. Check out my post on finding the thermocline.

Knowing how to find the thermocline allows you to maximize oxygen levels in those warm summer months. You’re just not going to find bass when fishing areas with low oxygen levels.

Food and Forage

Find schools of baitfish and you’re sure to find those big predators lurking nearby. Figure out the amount and type of forage in the lake so you can determine how you’re going to fish.

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