Jul 10, 2018
New Water Breakdown
Heading to an unfamiliar lake in search of musky? Follow these steps to learn a new body of water
By Derek Dittberner
It’s the middle of July – peak summer weather is upon us in Wisconsin. I am packed and ready to go on a trip to a chain of lakes in northwest Wisconsin.
I prepared myself by studying maps of the lakes in the weeks leading up to this day. I make the three-hour journey from my home to the cabin I will stay at for the trip. I arrive around noon. After settling in and putting my boat in the water, I decide to make a trip to some of the spots I noted in the maps. I use my electronics to find weed edges and to mark underwater cribs and structure that stand out. I use most of the rest of the day noting areas to fish later.
I fish that evening with not much success. I head into the cabin questioning myself and the body of water. “What did I do wrong,” I thought to myself. “Are there really even muskies in this lake?”
The competitor in me encouraged another review of my lake map that night. I was determined to find the muskies in these lakes, and quick. I check over the map again and look online to find the weather and when the moon phases were the next day.
The next morning, I wake as the sun is just beginning to rise. I set out to a spot I had looked into the day before. I work into the bay, around the point, and then I see it – my first follow. A smaller musky followed my hellhound glider from the corner of where the rocky point met the weed edge, but he turned back to cover.
I quickly mark a waypoint on my graph and continue on. Just then a large boil struck right behind my bait, and I marked another waypoint after finishing my retrieve.
That afternoon I had a high level of confidence. I decided to head to a different spot from the morning. A spot I looked into weeks before in my maps of the lake. About 6 feet off the edge of the weeds it happened. As soon as I gave a burst of speed on the retrieve from the depths, a musky came up and smoked my spinner. I saw the strike, I saw the fish, and as soon as I set the hook I knew I had hooked my target, a musky. I happened to have my fiancé on board so I yelled to her to get me the net. After a few good runs and head shakes, I netted my first musky on this chain of lakes.
I’m sure we all can relate to the feeling of helplessness when we decide to fish a new body of water. Hiring a guide is usually the best bet, but it may not always be in the budget.
Learning new bodies of water has so many rewards if you are willing to put in the effort. These are some tips to make your next trip to unfamiliar territory much more successful.
Before your trip begins, research the body of water you plan to fish. Finding fishing information on the web is fairly simple when you put in the effort. A simple search can get you local information on the fishing reports of the lake you plan to fish.
Also the DNR website will typically have information on the stocking of the lakes. The Wisconsin DNR notes which specific waters are known to contain musky.
You can also find maps of most lakes online or in sporting goods stores. Some lakes are less known, but if you check local bait shops, you can usually find a map of the lake.
Some maps are more detailed than others. You can find weeds, points and bays that indicate spots that might hold muskies.
You can also find out information from local bait shops. See if they have heard anything from fisherman on where they caught musky or what the musky are eating.
Once you have done the research and arrive at the lake, learn it by actually seeing it. I take the time to find the spots I've learned or heard about by going to them and going through them. With today’s electronics we have a much larger advantage allowing us to see what’s below and beside us in the water.
If it’s the weed edge I'm looking for, I find the bed then locate the edge and follow it trying to figure about where the weeds end, and in what depth they end. Subtle differences in structure can be the prime location for any fish to hold, which may in turn hold muskies more than the rest of the location.
Now that you have evaluated where to go, the next step is to decide when and what.
First let’s focus on the when. As musky fisherman, we all sacrifice a lot of time on the water in which we don't see or catch anything.
If you are anything like me, you will fish throughout any condition throughout the day, but there are still certain factors to keep in mind. Fishing for long hours can take its toll mentally and physically. While feeding windows can be very short, there are certain times that are more consistent. The moon phases, sunrise and sunset have been my personal best times to hook into a musky. Look for overcast days or storm fronts that may be moving in. Hitting good spots right before a storm can produce fish as well as various phases of the moon.
Wind can also play a big factor. Fishing on a windy day consistently produces fish. Pay close attention to where the wind is blowing and has blown on prior days. Wind will push baitfish to certain areas of the lake, which in turn push the muskies to them as well.
Which bait to throw is another big decision. When I get to a new lake I focus on time of year and time of day.
If it’s spring or fall, I like slower moving baits like Hellhound jerk baits, bulldawgs or use a twitch-style retrieve or slow rolling with a Headbanger crankbait or shallow raider. During mid- to late summer I go to blades and top water lures.
My retrieve depends on the water temperature and clarity. In warmer and clearer water, I move the retrieve quicker – cooler and more stained water, I slow down. Blades are also my go-to when it comes to new water during summer months.
I’m not guaranteeing you are going to catch a musky your first time out on a new lake just by following these steps. Many other factors always make musky fishing a challenge.
Lakes with high musky populations are seeing more and more fishing pressure. Mixing it up and fishing new water a body is a great way to learn new locations and get you away from the high-pressured lakes.
Moving into unfamiliar territory may seem intimidating, but the benefits are a great way to better yourself as a musky angler. So the next time you make the jump to hit a new body of water you haven't fished before, try to reflect on these techniques: research ahead of time, plan out your runs, know where and when you want to be on each spot, select the best lure for the situation, and focus your attention to the best spots during moon phases, daybreak and at last light. If the lake has a high number of fisherman and other boat traffic, try the spots at night.
By putting forth a little effort and using these methods, you can find better success on new bodies of water more quickly. In the end you will find the fish faster and save yourself a lot of stress, making the jump to a new lake easier and more productive.