Starting to fish on a new venue can be intimidating; each water will present a new challenge, which keeps things interesting but also forces us to learn and improve as anglers. In my article on selecting a venue, I discussed at length the things I consider when selecting a water to fish. In this piece I will be looking at how I would approach a new lake and will be taking into consideration the following:

  • Things to know before hand
  • When to start
  • How to start
  • Record keeping

If you didn’t read the article on selecting a venue it may be a good prerequisite to this one, I outlined the areas I would research to understand whether a venue is what I am looking for. This knowledge then assists in my approach to actually fishing on a new water.

Things to know before hand

A bit of homework goes a long way. It will pay dividends if you can gather as much information as possible on your chosen venue beforehand. I use whatever sources are available to me to help with this, usually the web or friends who have actually fished the water. It’s always worth getting out there and taking a walk around the venue with someone who has actually fished it. Even simple things like knowing swim names or being aware of any major under water features are valuable snippets of information, which may take a long time to gather alone.

It is important to know the stock of the lake you’re approaching, the number of fish you’re actually fishing for should have a dramatic approach on your tactics; so understanding if there’s 1 fish or 100 per acre is important.

What sort of angling will you be doing? Is it very weedy or snaggy? Will you be casting at long range or fishing in the margin? These questions and more will have an impact on the choice of tackle used, rigs and your mainline may need adjusting to accommodate these things, so it is far better to know in advance.

Two quick bites following a flexible and mobile approach

A venue album is great, especially when you’re not sure what exactly a lake contains

Rules

You should obviously familiarise yourself with the lake rules, it might limit your choice of tackle or bait, but you don’t want to be banned before you even get started.

There are also things to ignore when starting on a new venue, people will tell you all sorts of things. I distinctly remember being told that Yateley fish don’t eat mixers. It turned out this just meant no one fished with them and actually the fish there love them… So take advice with a pinch of salt and focus on what you can see for yourself.

I always also try to collate an album of the stock, there is usually a fish (or a couple) which have drawn me to fish somewhere. Having pictures of the ones you would like to catch, or for identification purposes, can prove useful and great for motivation if you’re ever struggling.

When to start

I always try to start on a new venue in the spring period, if the ticket allows. It’s my favourite time of year for a whole host of reasons but it also makes things far easier in terms of learning a new venue. I try and be at the water as much as possible from March time onwards, you will start to see the early shows as the fish wake up, giving away their favourite areas. This doesn’t necessarily mean being there with gear, even just walking the lake and watching, speaking to other members, etc. will give you valuable information which will help you later.

This time of year also lends itself to a mobile approach, perfect when trying to cover a lot of water. Every cast can be felt down and, if it’s of interest, explored further at a later date.

I’m a big believer in record keeping, and always try to log the information from each cast, even if just a reference, it will be invaluable later when you need to set up on fish. Some areas can be written off as weed or deep silt, but others may be more interesting.

How to start

My approach to a new lake is usually the same; I try to be as mobile as possible at the start to build a picture of the lake and its features. Which areas are shallower and which are deeper? Are there any major bars or depth variations? You need to quickly answer these questions when starting.

Tackle should be whatever is suitable for the type of angling you’re going to be doing, but more importantly it should be something you’re confident in. This is critical. Trying to replicate the results of others usually just leaves you tied in knots and doubting everything you do. Don’t be too quick to change something that you know works just to copy someone else.

With that said, making small adjustments based on what you learn is wise, but don’t just out right copy someone without understanding why you’re doing it.

Confidence in your approach is key

I mentally divide the lake into sections, exactly how depends on the lake’s layout. Generally, my goal is to quickly have swims that I’m familiar with in each section. This is great because it means that if I need to set up in an area that the fish are already present in, I already know where my spots are. This approach will help on all waters but particularly on weedy waters, where finding features once the fish are already present can be the kiss of death for your fishing.

During this time every cast can give a little more of the lake’s features away

Of course we all want to catch fish on every trip, but I try to view the first trips, or even the first season (depending on how challenging a lake is) as being mainly for learning. Ideally, I would have fished all the swims on the lake over the first few trips to build a general picture of the topography. During this time, every cast can give a little more of the lake’s features away, of course you can learn from what you see others doing and looking out for where people catch from at certain times of year can be very useful.

A run of captures from an area of deep water last spring on my current venue lead to me focusing on the same area this year with good results. It also aligned with the fish’s activity but it certainly meant I was looking at this area more closely early in the year.

Creatures of habit, observations of previous seasonal behaviour can provide very useful information

Record keeping

Most of the points above are all suggesting you should be gathering information and building a picture to help you in your future angling at the selected venue. To do this effectively you need to record things in a useable way, and as you can imagine there are different ways to do this.

I like to use google maps, it will show you the layout of the lake and sometimes give away prominent underwater features such as bars, plateaus or very weedy sections. This will also show you which banks receive which winds, which can be very helpful.

You might want to start by focusing on the banks getting the southerly and westerly winds, as the fish will usually move quickly onto these, or you might want to be able to fish certain areas that are not accessible if the prevailing wind is hindering your casting. Either way, knowing the lake orientation is important.

Google earth can be massively helpful in identifying the orientation of a water and its prominent features

I keep detailed records of my angling each trip, something I have done for a while electronically. I record a few key pieces of information so that I can replicate what I am doing should I be back in the same swim again in the future. I try to record the following:

  • Date
  • Weather conditions
  • Rod position, horizon marker, usually a tree or something prominent so it can be seen in the darkness and distance (in wraps)
  • Depth, usually just deep or shallow
  • Substrate or how the ‘drop’ felt, so I know I am on the money next time, this will just be hard, soft or tap etc.
  • Results, I will record my captures by rod, on each session

Keeping this information doesn’t take long and is tremendously useful on your next session.

Carp are generally creatures of habit and if you observe carefully, you can begin to understand a water and the behaviour of its inhabitants. This usually takes some time but once you are in tune with a lake it can become easy. Eventually you’ll get to the point where you feel like you cannot put a foot wrong.

Chris Selby

Note taking, simply essential