Where to Find the Fish in a Freshwater Lake (With Quiz!)
How Well Can You Read a Lake?
Whenever fishing a new lake, or for that matter a familiar lake, it helps to take some time to analyze the lay of the lake before wetting the first line. Key features around the lake and under the lake's surface will attract the majority of the fish in the lake. Some fish will key in on one feature, some on another.
So, to help with my brief run-through of where to fish in a lake, I have created a fake lake, as mapped below.
I've also compiled a quick quiz so you can see how well you know your fish hangouts. There are multiple right answers for each question; however, some answers will score more points than others. Also, I am aware that fishing tactics differ from angler to angler, so you will likely disagree with some of my scoring, and that is totally fine. I've tried to score locations based on the most standard and predictable fish hang-outs, so don't over-analyze anything here, it's not a real lake after all.
After the quiz I will explain my rationale and give tips and advice for fishing each of these lake locations. So either take the quiz first and see if you already know it all, or read first and guarantee a sweet score.
And if you think it will help, it is early to mid-summer, and the water temperature is 68 degrees.
A. Lily pads (above water)
B. Docks (with some lily pads)
C. Submerged structure
D. Submerged weeds
E. Ledge with submerged structure at its base
Quiz: Where on the Lake Above Would You Look for...
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Where to fish these spots, and for what species.
A. Lily Pad Weed Gaps
These are a classic perch-and-panfish hang out. Perch often move into such areas to spawn, before retreating to deeper water as the lake warms up. Target them with jigs, bait under floats, or for the more aggressive one guys (crappie) try a small crankbait.
This is also a great location to target largemouth bass, as they are here on the prowl for an easy panfish lunch. One tactic I love for largemouth near lily pads is to cast a large dark plastic lure, or frog lure, on TOP of a lily pad. Proceed to wait, twitching it occasionally. Bass in the area can see the shadow, and will sit in wait. Once the lure is twitched off the pad, be ready for an explosive top-water strike.
A great go-to location for largemouth bass. Bass often target shaded areas, as their usual prey species frequent these areas. When fishing docks, it really helps if you have a good skip cast. To perform a skip cast, sling the lure at a similar trajectory to the way you would throw a rock,if you were skipping stones. If done properly, the lure will skip one or multiple times, placing the lure under the dock, somewhere not otherwise fishable.
C. Submerged Debris
Rocks, trees, concrete slabs—all have similar effects. Submerged piles are great places to target panfish in warm water, as they will transition back to cooler deeper water. Target them with jigs, either baited or unbaited. Trout also often hold around deep-water structures, especially during the day when the sun is high overhead. While trolling or casting to them may be difficult at depth, try either jigging or still fishing with bait suspended over the bottom. Finally, smallmouth bass love deeper structures. You may need a fish finder or sonar unit to locate such structures.
D. Submerged Weed Edges
Now I know what many of you were thinking when you saw the question—this small lake likely could not support many top-tier predators like musky and pike—however, IF it did, this is likely where they would be located. Predatory fish like these love to hang at weed edges and feast on smaller fish that happen to take a peek out of their weedy homes. Your usual baitfish lures, swimbaits, and bucktail spinners will do great here. (Of course "great" is all relative, especially with musky. I'm happy with one in a day.)
Trout can also be found feeding around these areas in early morning and late night. The underwater vegetation provides nesting sites for bugs and insects, and the trout seek their prey here when insects are hatching, while feeling safe having weeds where they can hide from their own predators.
E. Ledge and Submerged Structure
A steep ledge that drops off is an ideal location to target trout. The fish can come up and feed in the shallows, while being able to dive deep quickly and avoid predators. Cast lures, or better yet troll above the ledges to find the trout as they swim from shallow to deep along the ledge.
Since there is a submerged structure here too, as before panfish and smallmouth bass will key in here, though likely not until the hottest part of the summer, depending on where in the country you are.
Better than nothing, but not the best. Predatory fish sometimes hang out here hoping to pick off any small fish, frogs, ducklings, or otherwise that travel between the lake and adjoining outlet stream.
An inlet is a great place to target most any fish. The stream brings in cool, oxygenated water, which is also often full of bugs and other tasty morsels. If the inlet is in shallower water, warm-water predators (bass, musky, pike, etc.) will feed here. If the inlet has higher flow and deeper water, you have a textbook trout hangout.