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Find Fish Fast: The Where, Why, When and How Way

By Nathan Coker
In Fishing with Kenny
Sep 29th, 2023


“Most of the world is covered by water.  a fisherman’s job is simple: pick out the best parts.”
– Charles W. Waterman

No matter if you are a serious tournament competitor, a weekend warrior or an occasional angler, everyone likes to catch fish.  It is the catching of the fish most people find to be the addictive hook (pardon the pun), but there are a few of us who actually enjoy the process of finding the fish almost as much as the catching part.  Anyone can catch fish, but the truly great anglers are the ones who can consistently find them.

Having been involved in tournament competitions since I was a teenager, I spent many hours on the water honing my skills.  Many days I might catch a fish or two, other trips would be more productive and still some I would come home empty handed.  From the very beginning, I knew the learning process would be a long one and here I am, all these years later, still trying to put the pieces of the puzzle together.

One thing I was able to develop over the years of continual trial and error, is a systematic way to find fish on any given body of water.  I am not claiming my approach is perfect, but it is what works for me.  By keeping records for almost forty years, I have been able to simplify my system to where it can be put into place no matter what body of water or the time of the year in which I am fishing.  By asking a few basic questions, analyzing and understanding the answers, finding fish has become much easier and more enjoyable.

The four questions I ask: Where? When? Why? and How?, may seem too basic to base a systematic approach to finding fish on a strange lake or even on one you may fish regularly but it is the basis of these questions that gives you a place to start.  Once all the information is pulled together, the picture becomes clearer and easier to understand, increasing your odds to having a good day on the water.

Bass tend to be located on any given body of water based on a seasonal pattern and that is why the first question, “where” is our starting point.  If it is early springtime where would I expect to find fish?  Naturally, I would start looking in shallower water areas.  Northern banks and coves that are more protected from spring cold fronts are easily located on map study and give you a good starting point.  

The second question, “why” is a follow up to our “where” inquiry.  We know where we want to fish but why are the fish there?  Since we are talking about early spring, we know fish are going to be moving to the shallower, warming waters to spawn, a move that has proven to make them more aggressive and actively feeding in preparation for the upcoming spawn.

So, we now have found our area to start, have a good idea why these early spring fish are going to be in this area, so now we ask ourselves “When” is the best time to find them.  I have always found in the early spring or in the springtime in general, fish tend to bite better as the day progresses.  The mid-day until late afternoon is usually best because that is when the water will be at its warmest temperature, making the fish more active.

The ”how” part is probably the hardest of all the questions to answer because this requires the angler to figure out the best way to catch the fish he has located.  If they are aggressive, you may be able to catch them on a moving lure such as a Rat L Trap or a spinnerbait.  However, if they are sluggish due to a passing front you may have to slow down and fish a Senko.  There are no easy answers and trial and error as well as a bit of patience is a must.

I can use this same formula no matter the lake or time of year.  Fall you say?  Ok, where are the shad located?  Bass in the fall are mostly shad related in their feeding activities, so the location of the baitfish is key.  You should be able to find schools of shad in the backs of coves and creeks.  Why are the bass feeding so heavily on shad?  Due to the abundance of shad in shallow water, bass follow them to take advantage of an easy meal.  When is the best time to fish for these shallow water fish?  Considering shad usually are more active in the warmer parts of the days in the fall, mid-day is usually the best option.  How do we go about catching them?  Shad patterned lures such as spinnerbaits, crankbaits and topwaters are good choices this time of year.  Sounds simple doesn’t it?  That’s because it is!

There are a few exceptions that require this system to be tweaked from time to time, such as if I am fishing a river system with fluctuating water, bayou systems or in bodies of water with little depth change or bottom contours.  Also, if a lake has an abundance of aquatic vegetation this is an important factor to consider in your seasonal search.  No matter how cold the winter might be, if a lake has submerged grass, it will work as a magnet to the lake’s bass population.  Just remember to ask yourself where, why, when and how and your ability to find fish faster should gradually improve.

Well, it looks like we have run out of time again for another month.  Time sure flies when we are having fun talking about fishing!  With the start of hunting season, our woods and waters will be as crowded as ever so please be careful and respectful to your fellow outdoorsmen.  Take the time to enjoy the wonders of Mother Nature, leave her creations better than how you found them and most important, catch one for me.