Strategies For Fishing A New Lake

By Terry Madewell

Taking a crappie fishing trip to a new lake can be the ultimate adventure for a diehard crappie angler. That’s especially true when fishing reports are outstanding, making some anglers think they may have to hide behind a tree to bait their hook the crappie are so prolific and hungry.
But slaying the slabs as soon as you launch your boat is seldom the reality. The information about crappie being prolific and huge can be true. But without a well thought out game plan it usually takes time to form the productive patterns of how, when and where to catch crappie from a new, to you, lake.
Crappie professionals have by necessity developed tactics to straighten the learning curve on fishing lakes for the first time. One highly successful tournament angler has developed his personal regimen of tactics to help quickly adapt to the idiosyncrasies of a new lake.
Dan Dannenmueller is a converted bass tournament angler now passionate about crappie fishing. The 62-year old Alabama angler has focused on crappie tournaments for the past seven years and has developed an action plan for working new waters.
“Years of fishing for other species have helped me hone skills and knowledge to prepare for competitive crappie fishing,” Dannenmueller said. “I quickly learned that I had to have a game plan in hand before I got to a lake for the first time so I could vastly reduce the time spent searching for and developing patterns. Many variables exist among lakes such as those with lots of vegetation and those with almost none. Some lakes have well-define channels and others are mostly flat on the lake floor. Some lakes are swampy in nature while others are deep and clear. And all of these types of lakes can harbor great crappie fishing.”
“The key for me is to discover how to tap into the crappie resource before the final weigh-in,” he said.

Dan Dannenmueller with a crappie caught on a Bobby Garland jig. Using maps and electronics are important to lead him to the fish.

Dan Dannenmueller with a crappie caught on a Bobby Garland jig. Using maps and electronics are important to lead him to the fish.

Dannenmueller said that he’s kept up with technology changes through the years in fishing equipment as well as other technological advances that can aid his discovery process. He said research is a specific way he learns about a lake when prepping for a tournament.
“I always do my research on a lake, even if I’ve fished it previously but at a different time of the year,” he said. “Patterns will change with the seasons and hotspots fished in the summer will be different from fall hotspots in many instances. My research will depend on what’s available for a specific lake. The internet may have valuable information on popular lakes such as finding basic patterns from fishing reports at various times of the year.
“I’m not searching for someone’s hotspots, I am seeking basic crappie patterns on a specific lake,” he said. “I will develop my own patterns but getting accurate information on basic tactics on a specific lake at a specific time period can save a lot of time. I want to be in the right general area at the outset of my quest.
“The next step in my process is to search maps, with Google Earth maps on the internet being an excellent tool,” Dannenmueller said. “Also I’ll look for hardcopy maps of lakes that depict the contours as well as maps via other electronic devices. Researching more maps means more knowledge.
Dannenmueller said boat electronics are another tool he uses before he gets to a lake. He said he checks the lake and contours and pre-defines places to fish before he arrives. Thus when on the water and the clock’s ticking, he can make the most of his time eliminating places that are not productive and assimilating data on those that produce to develop a game plan for the tournament.

Mike Parrot with a hefty crappie. He believes in finding spots that hold fish then refines the search to the biggest crappie

Mike Parrot with a hefty crappie. He believes in finding spots that hold fish then refines the search to the biggest crappie

Another highly successful tournament professional is Mike Parrot from North Carolina, a former Crappie Masters National Champion who won the team event fishing solo. Parrot, like Dannenmueller, has developed specific methods to refine the pre-trip information into a workable and repeatable plan.
“The electronic graphs are keys to success and I begin my on-site work by using the sidescan and downscan mode of the units,” he said. “I use Hummingbird, but regardless of the name, I recommend anyone get a high quality graph with sidescan. I will be researching a specific target such as a ledge, hump or channel but with sidescan I’ll also be studying what’s on the bottom on both sides of the boat.
“Not only can I see specific crappie-holding targets on the graph, such as brush, standing timber and drops, but I can see forage and schools of fish,” Parrott said. “I can easily mark and save these places then systematically go back over each to study them in detail and perhaps fish them if they look promising. I’m not looking to catch a lot of fish from a spot at this time. I’m searching for cover that holds fish and then refine my search to find targets that holds the biggest crappie.”
Parrot said with this strategy on tournament day he will likely have several places where fish are located and where the biggest fish are likely to be. That gives him a priority order to fish the places with the knowledge that as he catches fish he may be able to further refine the process and adapt further.
“The idea is to use all the resources available and fish systematically so I’ll quickly develop a strong crappie catching pattern,” Parrot said.
Dannenmueller and Parrot agree that meshing all the data available makes them better able to adapt quickly when fishing a new lake. They said adaptation throughout a day of fishing will be valuable to getting and staying on ever-changing fish patterns as conditions change.
“By meshing all the information I can obtain before fishing a lake for the first time, or at a different time of the year, I don’t really feel like I’m fishing a new lake in one sense,” Dannenmueller said. “I may not be my home lake, but I do want to feel at home on the lake when I first arrive. The number and size of crappie I catch is payback for that effort.”
Whether prepping for a tournament or simply fishing for fun, armed with knowledge and a plan of action anglers can make their dream trip a crappie-catching reality.