Bait Selection on Unfamiliar Waters

A beautiful January day in IL.
Photo Cred: Jeff Ashmann
This past weekend, I managed to sneak out on the water on a gorgeous 61 degree day.  I have no idea how or why it we had a 61 degree day in January, but I wasn't gonna miss my chance to break the yak out.  I met up with a bunch of new friends from Southern IL and we went to a local power plant lake.  The fishing wasn't great, we did manage to catch some fish and I got to fish in shorts so I was a happy camper!  One thing that I pondered while on the water was how do you determine what bait to throw (slow moving baits).  I know everyone has their preferences and confidence baits, but what is the deciding factor when fishing a new lake?  Is it the water clarity? Type of cover? Presence of forage?  In my opinion that is A LOT to take into account when you are on the water, especially when you have a limited amount of time.  Now let me preface, most will start with a reaction type bait to find fish, which I did but I couldn't get fish to commit.  This lead me to slow down and begin throwing bottom contact baits and finesse baits.  Its no secret that I love finesse baits.  To be honest when the bite is tough you will see me jumping for joy as I pick up my spinning rod, while others are grumbling under their breath.  What I do different is I power fish it.  I can actually cover just as much water with these finesse baits as I can with a reaction bait.  Now let's go over how I broke down the water!

Trying to make a pattern happen.
Now if you read a lot of articles from elite series pros, a lot of them will say to look for bait around the ramp.  Whether this could be bluegills, shad, or crawfish.  While I have found bait doing that, usually bluegill, sometimes you can not.  One thing I have found that is easier is to look up the lake report.  Many times you will be able to find a full list of aquatic species that are in that body of water.  This can give you a general idea for color selection.  Use these natural color hues and modify them with the water clarity.  Say you have slightly stained water, I love to throw a lure that combines browns, greens, and blues.  This color can match a variety of things, such as a bluegill or crayfish.  A quote from Gerald Swindle "These are tiny little creatures with tiny little brains...We give them too much credit and overthink things".  This is very much true.  If you overthink things it will make things way harder than they should be!  I usually will pick two starting colors depending on water clarity, clean water I usually start with green pumpkin/blue and brown/green and muddy water my picks are black/blue and black/red.  Picking two starting colors that you think will best match the conditions will help simplify your life and give you a starting point for the hundreds of colors made by manufacturers.

The all magical Neko Rig, great when it's too windy or too deep
for a wacky rig.
Next up is the body shape.  The body shape is just as crucial the color.  This past weekend I was fishing right next to my buddy who was throwing a summer craw beaver style bait, while I was throwing a summer craw/brown jig.  He caught multiple fish working the same laydowns behind me.  While our baits were the same color and had very similar silhouettes in the water, he was catching fish that I was missing.  Don't be afraid to keep trying different body shapes.  For me this is usually mandated a lot by the type of cover I am fishing.  If there are rocks I am usually pulling out a jig.  When fishing wood I really like throwing a shakey head.  My all terrain vehicle for finding fish is a wacky rig.  I fish it fast and I have several ways to rig it to work in all conditions.  If I am fishing shallow I will rig it weightless with either a senko or a trick worm.  To work the mid depth range 5-10 foot, I will use a trick worm with a nail weight in the head of the worm (Neko rig).  This essentially combines a shakey head with a wacky rig worm and can be very deadly!  For deeper water 10+ feet or very slow fish (cold front) I will use a wacky rigged worm on a drop shot.

While these aren't fool proof tips, they have helped me keep the skunk out of the boat countless times.  Next time you are out there give this a thought and see if it can help you put a few more fish in your boat!