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Fish in a Lake - Freshwater Fishing Basics

Fish in a Lake - Freshwater Fishing Basics
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How-to Fish in a Lake

Lakes are filled with a variety of environments that make them the perfect setting for a wide range of freshwater fish species anglers are eager to get on their line. If you know what to look for, when to go out, and how to freshwater fish for them, you can prepare to get strikes from fish like Largemouth and Smallmouth Bass, Trout, Pike, Perch, Walleye, and more. To help you get ready to land that trophy-worthy fish you’ve been waiting for, we’ve put together the following how-to guide for fishing in a lake.

Fishing from a Boat

Safety Note: When you’re fishing from a vessel, always be aware of your surroundings, the weather, and water conditions. Have a radio and GPS kept safely in an electronics box on board to have access to help, if needed.

When you’re fishing on a lake from a boat, you have your pick of three different fishing techniques:

man holding fish

Bait Casting

When you’re bait casting, you’re repeatedly casting and receiving. This method of freshwater fishing gives you control over how your bait or lure is presented to the fish. Many new anglers look at bait casters and think they’re either lucky or unlucky based on how the fish are biting for them that day, but while luck may play a part, it’s not entirely the case. When you’re bait casting, you’re in control of how you are presenting to the fish, which means you need to understand where they are and how they eat.

If the fish are on the bottom of the lake and you’re fishing on the top, or you’re casting and retrieving quickly when you need to be using slow and controlled motions, you’re not going to get a fish on your line. You can never know what a fish is thinking; however, you can use your knowledge of their habits to make an informed decision when it comes time to bait your line and cast it out. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different baits, lures, and techniques to find a method that works for you.

still fishing

Still Fishing

Still fishing is when you fish from an anchored boat. While you’re anchored, you have the flexibility to be adaptable depending on how the fish are biting. You can change your rigs, switch up the bait, bait cast, fly fish, and more. If you are baiting casting though, be sure to use a float, or bobber, attached above your baited hook so you can identify it out on the water and react quickly when you get a strike. If the bobber jiggles a little bit but doesn’t go under the surface of the water, it’s most likely just your bait swimming around or other little fish. Watch out for if it suddenly disappears from sight, and get ready for a strike!

While you’re waiting for the strike, you want to have an area of safety on your boat to protect you from the elements. This is true for any type of fishing you plan to do from your boat. With a T-top, you’ll have protection from the sun and rain and increased stability by having a handhold at the helm. If you choose to equip your boat with a folding T-top, you’ll be able to fold it out of the way for casting. This is especially critical for fly fishing anglers.

trolling for fish


Trolling is when you fish from a boat that is slowly moving. To do it, trail your bait or lure about fifty to seventy-five feet from the back of your boat. If you plan to have more than one rod out at a time, or if you just want to give your arms a break while you wait, it helps to have your boat outfitted with multiple fishing rod holders that give you the ability to up your chances at a strike with different baits out at once. A solid rod holder will let you pick an angle between 30 and 180 degrees before locking it in place, but for trolling you want it to be set at 45 degrees; the same is true even if you’re holding the rod yourself. Either way, be sure to set the click mechanism on your reel or you run the risk of stripping out your line.

As you’re trolling, a fish can strike at any moment so you want to remain alert and prepared to grab the rod and set the hook the moment you see the rod bend. Just remember that your line can also get caught on an underwater obstruction while you’re trolling, so never yank your rod when you think there’s a fish on the line.

Fishing from a Kayak or Canoe

Fishing from a kayak or canoe means constantly being on the move, which works as a pretty effective second drag system for your reel as you fight fish on your line. While there are few better ways to enjoy the thrill of a fight than experiencing it in full-force on the water, you’ll definitely need to be prepared for constant casting, changing baits, and keeping your vessel in motion. It can be a little bit tricky for new anglers, but if you’re really looking for an adventure then take your kayak or canoe out for some lake fishing. Just remember your greatest limitation will be how far you can paddle within a certain time frame; so fish smarter, not necessarily farther, if you want to get a strike.

fishing from kayak

Shoreline Fishing

Fishing from a lake doesn’t have to be done on the water, it can also be done just as effectively from the shore. The shoreline provides a lot of opportunity for fish to find food and shelter with plenty of structures beneath the water. From Crappies and Perch throughout the day to game fish like Pike or Muskie in the early morning, or late at night, there’s plenty of opportunity to catch a variety of freshwater fish just by casting from the shore. You just need to know what to look for.

Shoreline structures that show promise are brush, branches, logs, trees, stumps, and rocks, be sure to look for those as you’re deciding where to cast your line. Then, how you cast and what bait or lure you put on your line are going to depend on what fish you’re going for and what conditions you’re fishing in.

shoreline fishing

Factors that Affect Lake Fishing

Aside from understanding the feeding habits of the fish you’re targeting, you also need to understand the lake you’re freshwater fishing in. Fish change location as quickly as the temperature of the water fluctuates, so having a basic idea of the factors that are going to affect your lake fishing experience will set you up success determining whether you need to be in shallow or deep waters, or fishing on the bottom or the surface of the lake. Here is a quick rundown of some basics to keep in mind when you’re planning to go fishing on a lake:

  • Time of Year

    As seasons change, so does the lake. Winter makes the waters cooler, which causes the fish to feed less and seek out more comfortable places with warmer water temperatures. In summer, the waters are warm and algae growth encourages bait fish to get active, which attracts the larger game fish you want to get on your line. As a general rule throughout the year, hotter temperatures mean you need to fish deeper, while cooler temperatures mean you should look to the shallows. Just remember that every fish species is different, so this may not always be true.

  • Weather

    Seasons change, as does the weather. Keep an eye on the forecast as you’re planning your lake fishing trip. The weather the day of your trip isn’t as important as the 24 hours leading up to it, so check to see what the conditions will be the day before you head out. As barometric pressure rises and falls, fish tend to get more active; however, if the pressure stays low or high for an extended period of time the fish will become inactive, which may lower your chances of getting them to fall for the bait. Keep this in mind if it was or is raining during your fishing excursion.

    Although the barometric pressure might make them sluggish, rain also brings clouds which can have the opposite effect. On cloudy days, look to the shadows for active, aggressive fish that can offer you some exciting strikes. On the other hand, when the sun is shining bright, look to shady areas in the shallows where the fish will be hiding. However, this won’t affect fish in deeper waters.

  • Wind

    If there’s a breeze on the horizon, look for fish closer to shore. When the wind blows it causes plankton to collect along the banks which attracts bait fish to the shoreline. Larger game fish will then follow the bait fish, giving you prime opportunity to get an unsuspecting fish to grab your bait.

  • Water Levels

    Just as they do with all other conditions that can impact the lake they’re in, fish will adapt to changing water levels. The important thing to know as an angler is that rising water levels cause fish to move up and in, while falling levels cause them to move out and down.

  • Local Conditions

    When it comes down to it, nobody knows your lake and the fish that are in it as well as experienced local anglers do. Speak with them about when and how they have success lake fishing to get some insight into how you should be prepping for your next trip.

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