CHARLOTTE, N.C. – As Team Toyota’s Mark Daniels Jr. competes in his third REDCREST this week, he’ll be answering one of bass fishing’s most commonly asked questions: “How do you find and catch fish on a lake you’re unfamiliar with?”
While the task of locating bass in unfamiliar waters can be daunting to amateur anglers, it’s actually a situation “MDJ” embraces.
“I’ve never once competed on Lake Norman, but honestly, that doesn’t freak me out,” Daniels said. “Actually, I kind of like it, because more times than not, too much history can hurt you.”
Lake Norman is fairly massive, and REDCREST 2023 Presented by Shore Lunch pros only had two days of official practice, so Daniels utilized technology, and started dissecting Norman at home by studying Google Earth.
“It’s an interesting body of water that features a lot of offshore structure, rock humps, and a gazillion boat docks that always play a factor in tournaments on Norman,” he said. “But with limited time and a love of power fishing moving baits, I’m going to focus on the more off-colored, shallower water in the upper stretches of the lake.”
Sticking to your strengths is a tactic that all top pros utilize, especially on water they’re unfamiliar with. So, his plans to sling around a ½-ounce Rat-L-Trap and a squarebill crankbait in the more stained water portions of 32,000-surface-acre reservoir come as no surprise.
While busting a big 16- or 18-pound limit on Norman is certainly not out of the question, catching 11 or 12 pounds daily will likely carry Daniels far into the elimination rounds, so his goal is not to swing for grand slam home runs, but to instead remain realistic and maximize what the lake historically surrenders.
Playing the role of part-time meteorologists is also critical to all pros’ dissection of the best strategy for any given day on the water, and with chilly spring temperatures returning to the Charlotte area, Daniels says locating shallower pockets that warm faster will also be a key part of his approach.
“Breaking down unfamiliar water starts at home on the computer, but ultimately rides on finding and fishing areas that feel familiar to me with lures I have the most confidence in,” Daniels said. “And, you always have to fish the moment based on what the weather is doing.”
Not getting too locked in on a single pattern is essential, and a major difference between the pro approach and the struggles of amateurs. Savvy pros are masters at following their intuition. So, Daniels is keeping an open mind.
“I’ve been known to be a little spontaneous,” he said. “So, I’ll do all I can to figure things out up-lake, but if I’m struggling, I won’t be one bit afraid to eject and run 20 miles down lake to try something new.”
Map study, followed by pairing seasonal patterns with self-confidence, and paying careful attention to the weather are all keys to how a top pro finds fish in unfamiliar waters. Oh, and a pinch of intuitive spontaneity never hurts either.