Exploring a New Lake — Wilderness North

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Exploring a New Lake

Have the opportunity to explore a new lake?  Here are a few suggestions that will help you unlock the secrets each body of water holds. And don’t worry, it doesn’t have to be too much of a mystery.


Before setting out and arriving at a new lake, it’s best to do a little research. Tools like Google maps and smart-phone applications such as a lake mapper great options for anglers in a new area. Note: Many lakes in Northern Ontario have no depth charts, but outfitters provide detailed maps for guests. We also recommend the Topo Maps Canada free app.

For lakes that are charted, you can see many of the features a lake holds from a birds-eye-view including possible depth changes, structure, inflows and outflows all from the comfort of your home.

Time of Year

Understand the time of year and how fish may be behaving at that time.  Depending on the species you’re targeting, you can eliminate some lake areas immediately. For example, if you’re fishing for northern pike in the spring time, you can generally count on fish being shallow or near shallow bays in slightly deeper water. Dog days of summer, pike will go deep and fall time, they will be fattening up for the winter relating to structure.  Basically, all fish activity will be patterned around the hunt for food and optimal water temperatures.

Identifying the physical aspects of the lake is a great way to narrow down your fishing areas, keep in mind that fish relate directly to food sources.


When fishing a new lake, structure is KING and really is the first and largest piece of the infinite puzzle fishing presents.  What you see on the shoreline is generally indicative of what you’ll see below the surface.  A sheer cliff entering the water most likely will continue below depth, just as a sandy beach will gradually extend out into the lake or river.  Shorelines will give you a good starting point as to what lake structure looks like.  Main lake structure that attracts fish can be considered boulder fields, secondary points, bays, river inlets, humps and saddles.  Hydrographic maps are also a great way to see what is under the surface of the water, if the system has been mapped that is.  Contour lines will indicate steepness of grade as well as bowls and shoals.  Baitfish will relate to cover and structure for protection, which in turn will cause predatory fish to relate to these features.

Structure can also be found in the form of fallen trees, beaver lodges, boulders, or a variety of other things in the water column, especially vegetation and weeds.  Many fish will use weeds as an ambush point to eat a meal and can be found deep inside a patch or just on the inside of the weed edge.

Moving Water

Current is another great spot to start with respect to fishing a new body of water, and can actually be considered a form of structure. Current from springs, tributaries and even the wind add oxygen to the water attracting baitfish.  Look for river inflows and fish a wide swath of the mouth and if possible fish your way into the current.  Start far out and work your way in.  Windblown points are also a great spot to try early as fish will often lay in wait on the lee side for an unsuspecting meal to swim or be pushed by.  If you happen upon an area where the wind meets the end of the body of water, that is another hot spot as all food could be pushed to the end and stacked up without anywhere to go.  Keep in mind that fish will face into the current so cast into the current and fish back to you.

Fishing Approach

How do you fish a new lake?  Great question! (These are strategies you can apply in any situation, and are a simple guideline.) You may be in the perfect spot for that lake but you still have to do your job and trick the fish to eat your bait.  Start hot and finish slow! Just because you don’t get a bite right away, doesn’t mean there aren’t any fish where you are.  Start by “power fishing”.  Power fishing involves using faster retrieved, louder, vibratious baits that will entice a fish to attack. (Think jerkbaits, spinnerbaits, crankbaits, in-line spinners, topwater baits) They area also called reaction baits and are generally fished in the top 10 feet of the water column.  If you don’t get bit using a reaction bait, start by slowing things down a bit and move to something you can fish a little slower. (suspending jerkbaits, swimbaits, slow rolling spinners) Generally these baits will cover more of the water column. Failing that, slow things right down and “finesse fish” which involves very slow moving lures or even live bait to figure out what those fish are looking for.  (Deadstick suspension baits, Jigs)  Make sure you exhaust an area with respect to fast, medium and slow before moving on.

There are almost countless other factors that play into fishing either a new body of water or one you’re familiar with.  Approaching a new lake with these few ideas in mind will help you enough to be comfortable in targeting the species of the lake.  Fishing is a puzzle and half the fun is putting all the pieces together to find angling success! So have fun! And enjoy exploring!

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