Russ Lane explains how to quickly understand a new body of water. Photo by Josh Gassmann

Breaking down a brand-new body of water, especially when you’re fishing a tournament, can be an intimidating process. No one has time to survey every single brush pile, point or boat dock when they’re trying to get ready. This is why I’m going to tell you how I break down a new body of water once I roll up to the boat ramp.

There are obviously a lot of different variables for each time of the year depending on where you go, so let’s just focus on this time of the year— the spawn.

Eliminating Water

The first thing I do is look at a map of the lake. It seems simple enough, but you can learn a lot by just checking out the map. I eliminate 80 to 90 percent of the water this time of year because of the spawn. You’re not going to need to be offshore that much, so the main lake is an afterthought.

I’m going to eliminate deep creeks and just fish flat, run-out areas that are protected from the north wind. I also want to make sure that the area I’m looking at is getting good early-morning sunlight.

Down South or Up North

This elimination of water will increase your odds of running into them quicker, but so will picking an end of the lake to start. Start your morning of practice either on the extreme upper end or the extreme lower end, and work your way the other direction.

Most of the time, I like to start on the south end and work my way north. I do that because the south end of the reservoirs have the clearest water in the southeastern part of the country. You’re going to be able to see the fish better, but more importantly, you’ll be able to see the cover better. Whether that’s a hole in the grass, a stump, or even a fish on a bed that’s a little deeper than normal, that clearer water will help out immensely.

Narrowing Down Your Baits

I separate three rigs apiece for three different scenarios. Once I figure out how the fish are biting, what the water looks like, what the cover looks like, and the stage of the spawn, that’s when I start eliminating stuff.

I’ll have three baits tied on with the right line, rod and reel that are going to fit a more clear water and open-cover type of scenario. I’ll have another three or four rigged up for sparse cover and lightly stained water. And then I’ll finally have a few rigged up with heavier line, heavier rods and bigger baits.

Those three categories break down the lake into three parts: the lower (clear water), the middle (lightly stained) and the upper (dirty).

Cover Water

It’s important to not only cover the water fast, but to do it efficiently as well. You can run through an area and you don’t have to throw at every piece of cover. Instead, focus on the high-probability pieces of cover.

If you find a stump that’s on a little secondary point, throw at that. A bite on a secondary point can tell you a lot about an area. You can move through and fish a stump on the tail end of that stretch. If you catch one on the end, you can bet that from there to that first stump probably has some fish in between.

Same thing for the opposite side of that. If you fish two of the best-looking pieces of cover in that area and don’t get bit, odds are there’s probably not a lot of fish there. It’s all about increasing your odds, saving time, and finding what can be productive.

Hopefully, once we get past coronavirus and get back to fishing tournaments again, this process will help someone take home a check. Until then, stay safe everyone.