Don’t be intimidated by all the following advice! Remember, even if you just put a worm on a hook and throw it into the water with a cane pole, you are likely to catch some kind of fish in our lakes!
If fishing alone in a boat, always wear a life jacket and tell someone where you will be and when you will return.
Above all else, have fun!
Buy a light to medium-weight rod with blanks that are permanently bonded to the rod handle. (A heavy action rod is not needed in our lakes and would only take away much of the fun in catching a fish).
Buy an open-face spinning reel. Match its size and weight to the rod you buy (or buy a matched/balanced set). Baitcasting reels are for those who know how to use them or wish to take the time and effort to learn. Closed-face spinning reels (a.k.a. spincast reels) are easy to use but reduce your casting distance, thus are good for youngsters, novices, and infrequent fishermen.
When shopping for a reel, look for one with a drag system that permits the line to slip out smoothly; jerky or sporadic drag systems lead to trouble.
4 to 8-pound test line is all you will need. Start out with the heavy line, then with experience move to the lighter line. Replace your line at least once a year (even if you didn't fish all last year). Set the drag on the reel to 1/2 of the line’s test weight.
Buy lures to match your rod (1/4 - 5/8 oz., 1/2 - 3/4 oz., etc.). Many rods are marked as to the weight of the lure to use with them. Deep-diving lures are best in our clear, deep lakes, but use them no deeper than 25-30 feet (there is little or no oxygen below that depth). Shallow diving and topwater lures are good at night and or heavy overcast days. Rapala™ 13-5 lures are popular for daylight use. Spinners and plastic worms are also excellent choices.
Plastic worms: Salt-impregnated ones tend to mask human scent imparted through handling. Translucent worms are popular in clear waters like our lakes.
Lure colors: Get colors that match the major forage in our lakes. Include variations of those colors to cover varying water clarity and lighting: brighter (chartreuse/silver flake) for stained/cloudy water, and darker (black, etc.) for overcast days and night fishing. If you prefer a fly rod, try yellow, black, or brown poppers and black spiders; try streamers for trout.
Don't skimp on hooks: Buy good ones and keep them sharp.
To reduce problems with twisting line, spray the loaded spool of a spinning reel with silicone. After a few minutes of soaking in, the silicone reduces the line's friction; it will slide more smoothly through the rod guides, thus increasing casting performance and helping prevent snarls.
While fishing, check your reel's drag setting periodically to ensure it slips the line before its breaking point.
Occasionally run a cotton swab through the guide eyes of your rods. The cotton will "catch" on rough/cracked eyes that can nick (and thus weaken) your line.
Check line frequently for damage: Pull a few feet of line closest to the lure through your fingers. If you feel any rough spots, cut the section off and retie the lure.
Cut off a foot or so of line every time you change lures. Cut 4-5 feet off your line several times a day if you’re casting constantly. This eliminates the section most likely to be damaged, especially at the knot. It also progressively removes line until you are forced to change to a fresh supply.
When tying knots in your line, wet them before drawing them tight.
To minimize backlash when using a baitcasting reel, hold the rod parallel to the ground and disengage the reel. Then turn the adjustment knob beneath the reel handle to loosen tension to the point where the bait begins to drop slowly. Then tighten the knob just enough to stop the bait's descent. This will get you started--but you’ll still need an educated thumb!
General fishing with worms: Night crawlers on a # 8 hook are fine. Use a light-medium action rod, 6 to 6 1/2 feet long, with a moderate to fast taper and a straight or pistol-grip handle. This will give you more sensitivity to the fish’s strikes. In thick cover with worms, opt for a 5 1/2 to 6-foot model with heavier action and a straight, extended handle. This will provide more power to bring the fish through the cover.
Upon observing fish movement on the surface, do not cast directly at that point: Cast beyond the "boil" and wait until the ripples from your lure extend at least three feet from your bait before reeling it through the area of movement. This applies to all baits and lures, but especially topwater ones. If multiple boils indicate the fish’s movement, cast in front of its path.
Fish to be used for the table should be kept cool, or on a stringer, and cleaned as soon as possible -- not later than that same day.
Bass Fishing Techniques
Best Times to Fish: Early morning, or about one hour before dark.
Best Areas to Fish: Around structures or "cover" (anything that breaks up the bottom contour): boat docks, weeds, fallen trees, rocks, sunken brush piles.
Worms: Good year-round. Cast to target and let bait fall on a tight line. If you don’t detect a strike, pull the worm toward you a few feet and pause for a few seconds. Continue until you’ve pulled the bait away from the structure. Reel in and start again on a different target. If targets are not visible above water, cast every few yards as you work along shoreline. Anytime there's an indication a fish has been hoodwinked by your worm (plastic or real), quickly set the hookhard by raising the rod tip and reeling in slack. If you wait too long, the fish may drop or spit out the bait (if artificial)--or worse, swallow it, reducing the chances of a live release (if desired).
Topwater Lures: Best when water gets above 60 Deg, around last week in April. Match the noise and action of topwater lures to water temperature:
-- Colder water (60’s): You'll get more strikes on surface plugs that don't make much racket because all fish are more sluggish in cold weather, including the forage fish you're trying to imitate. For example, when using Rapala™-type lures, make cast and let lure remain motionless until rings around it disappear. Twitch slightly, pause, twitch, pause. Continue this for about 30 seconds. If no strike occurs, reel in and cast to new area.
-- Warm water (70’s): Fish are more active, so noisy baits worked erratically will generally trigger the most responses. (e.g., buzz baits: Use in shallow water, casting beyond structure/cover. Start retrieving immediately, and don’t let lure sink below surface--a reel with 5:1 or greater gear ratio makes this easier to accomplish. Use red or yellow before dark, black afterward.)
When a bass strikes any topwater lure, don't set the hook until you feel the weight of the fish or see the lure disappear. Sometimes the fish will bump the lure before immediately striking it again. If you jerk the lure too quickly, you'll miss the second (real) strike.
If using a popper, be ready for a strike as soon as it hits the water; if not, allow it to remain quiet for up to 30 seconds before first giving it a "twitch."
Crankbaits: Generally best March-May and November-December. Try to match size with forage fish the bass are feeding on. Try to run the bait close to lake bottom and/or structure. Stop the bait four or five times each retrieve, for about a second.
Spinnerbaits: Generally best March-May and November-December. Use basically the same as crankbaits. Use small (1/4 oz.) size for fishing shallow water, larger (1/2 oz.) for deeper water.
Maximize fishing time by making efficient casts: In stained/cloudy shallow water, bass cannot see well. They will thus remain close to cover (docks, vegetation, fallen trees, etc.) and rely more on their hearing, but they won't spook easily, so you can get up close and use short, accurate casts. In clear water, when they can see more, bass will roam from cover more but are more wary, so back off and make longer casts to the cover and/or structure.
Poppers produce more action if cast as close as possible to shore or under an overhanging tree.
A long cast beyond cover will sometimes spook a fish, so first cast short of the cover, then use a longer cast beyond it.
In clear water, use smaller lures and smaller (lower test strength) line, to avoid spooking the fish.
At night, use large, noisy topwater lures. Jitterbugs have been successful when water is calm. Use black at night and red or yellow before dark.
Trout Fishing Techniques
Trolling slowly with a small spinner on a relatively long line is a good technique for our lakes until surface temperatures exceed 70 Deg. Try different colors. A spinner with a fly attached often works well.
When water temperatures near the surface exceed 70 Deg., you’ll have to add weights to fish deeper.
Trout will also strike worms and other natural baits, particularly in areas where they have become accustomed to having fish feed thrown from shore.
The best times seem to be generally 9-11 p.m., August through mid-October, especially when the lake water has a black cast to it.
Use a large (1/0) hook and heavy line without sinkers/weights.
Use chicken livers: Cut approximately three baits from each liver. Set them in the sun (on a board, not your pristine dock) beforehand to develop a bit of a leathery skin; this will help them stay on the hook. Night crawlers are also effective, as are pieces of hot dogs.
At night, use just enough artificial light to be able to see your line.
Throw the bait a "heavy toss" away from dock/shore. Then leave the reel bail open so the fish can run with the bait, and be patient.
Catch and Release
Many of our fishermen like to fish just for the fun of it and "throw back" or release some of their catch. The following is suggested to ensure maximum survivability of your released catch:
General Rule #1 - Bleeding Fish - Do not release any fish that is bleeding out the gill slits. Nearly all of these fish are mortally wounded, and they should be kept for the table.
General Rule #2 - Swallowed Hooks - If you want to release a fish that has swallowed the hook, and is not bleeding, cut the leader close to the fish’s mouth and carefully return the fish to the water. The hook will eventually corrode away, and the fish will be fine.
General Rule #3 - Barbless Hooks - If you are fishing primarily to "catch and release," or maybe just to keep a few for the table, then use "barbless hooks". Barbs can easily be bent down with long-nosed pliers, thus making release much easier and much safer for the fish (as well as for yourself if an accident should occur!)
General Rule #4 - If you wish to release a bass or trout, avoid grasping it around the girth or midsection. You want to avoid removing protective slime and/or scales with your hands, and avoid damaging internal organs. If a fish must be handled this way, wet your hand first, and grasp as gently as possible, avoiding pressure around the gills and the stomach cavity. Assure that your released fish revives and swims away on his own.
Fish hooked in the mouth or lips (and even foul-hooked externally) can be successfully released to be fished for and caught another day--if handled properly.
Largemouth Bass are perhaps the easiest to handle and to release. They generally come out of the water with their toothless mouths wide open; so, merely grasp their lower jaw or lip between your thumb and forefinger (just like on TV!), and hold the fish (head up - tail down) while you work your hook free with your other hand. Sometimes a hemostat or long-nosed pliers helps here. Carefully return the fish to the water and watch him swim away.
Trout to be released survive best if they are never removed from the water or touched by a human hand. The protective slime is essential to the health of a trout’s skin, and, unlike a bass, a trout’s tiny scales flake off very easily. If most of your day will be spent catching and releasing trout, use a single barbless hook, bring the fish close to you, keep him in the water, grasp the shank of the hook with your hemostat, and twist the hook out of his mouth. Trout released this way have literally been caught again an hour later!
Bluegill, unless using barbless hooks, generally need to be handled to work the hook loose because their mouths are usually too small to allow "lipping" as described above for largemouth bass. Fortunately, both these species have fairly hard scaly bodies, and can withstand handling far better than trout. Smooth the dorsal fin down as you grasp the fish -- otherwise the spines will stick you!
Catfish are one of the finest eating fish we have in our lakes, and unlike other fish, can take a fair amount of "abuse" out of the water. There are two ways to release one: The first is to cut the leader just above the hook. The second allows you to retrieve your hook. Immobilize the fish with a damp rag between your hand and the fish. Note carefully where your hand is with respect to the sharp irritating spines in his dorsal and pectoral fins. Note: The "whiskers" (barbels) on a catfish are not harmful -- the spine in each of the pectoral fins and the dorsal fin is! Don’t get jabbed! Use long-nosed pliers to work the hook loose. This is much easier if you remembered to bend the barb down before you baited up!