Fish finder sonar screen with fish on a backlit water background.

How To Find The Fish In Freshwater 2021

The most basic of all fishing related stories begin with one simple concept. Fish location. Knowing how to find the fish is the ultimate determining factor that will decide if you catch them or not. While many would choose to have a debate about it, you cannot ever catch anything if you do not go where they are. This is more important than having lures, good lines, an expensive rod and reel, good hooks, and everything else an angler has. It is very important.

Much the same way, nobody can catch anything from a swimming pool that has no life whatsoever. Commercial bodies of water are no different. No present takers equal no catching. It is very difficult to locate them on sonar imaging and many anglers do not even have imaging to use. If this is the case, you can still determine their location by “reading the water”. If you know what to look for, you can greatly increase your chances of finding them. This is essential to your success. The best fish finders can help but knowing what to look for will help even more.

Understanding Very Typical Fish Behavior And Biology

Before you go out and find anything, it is extremely helpful to understand not only what you are after, but how they behave. Different species have different habits, diets, and other things. For example, a largemouth bass may be found under grass mats, lily pads, or reed lines waiting to ambush the bait as they swim by. Channel catfish on the other hand, hold very close to the bottom of the lake or river, hunkering down in the deepest parts to bury themselves in the mud.

Knowing some basic biology of the species you want to catch will help immensely as you start to look for them. Species like bluegill are a very common forage option for many predator species, so it is very common to find them holding close to structure and cover that is hard for larger individuals to get into. Muskellunge or northern pike are the top predators in the freshwater food chains and they know it. They can swim around all day without worrying about predation.

They are actively seeking out smaller ones to eat and will normally be found in more open water. Species such as common carp will be found in bodies of water with a lot of algae and moss while you may find shad or herring spread out across an entire water body and more concentrated in certain areas. The more concentrated the fish are, the more you can catch at a time.

Seasons Vs. Temperature – A Very Big Difference

There is a very important distinction to be made regarding temperature and how it relates to seasonality throughout the year. Both will affect how everything works together in the water but they will do it in different ways. Seasons are not related to temperature although they may have an influence. One is not indicative of the other. The reason the contrast exists is important.

Many anglers believe that they should look for certain species or try to catch them during certain parts of the year and avoid them at others. The truth is though, that weather affects fishing. It affects it in a big way The season of winter is never a guarantee that the water will always be below freezing or a sheet of ice. In fact, temperature ranges can vary dramatically depending on how the season plays out. Sometimes, you will have a very bitter and cold winter that freezes a lake over the first week. This is when fish prefer not to hunt if it can be helped.

Ducks swimming in water of a snowy pond.

Time for some ice jigging! Get the auger! Other times, the winter will be mild and they all will be actively feeding. This is when you can sometimes wait for them to come to you instead. In the warmer and summer months, you could have a very hot and windy day that is just perfect for catching largemouth bass on crankbaits or reaction lures. You can also have another one that is pretty cold for a summer day. This is when you may have to use a worm or a jig to get a bite.

Still, your presentation needs to be different depending on the temperature of the water and never the season. You can throw summer or spring oriented lures in winter as long as the temperature is right. If not, it will not likely work. For example, a crankbait is a summer and spring lure isn’t it? That is exactly what many people would tell you if you asked them.

One for catching predators in the summer and spring seasons. It can be but it is not final. If you have a very mild winter and the water gets warm enough, it can be an extremely productive option to pull out of the box too. Once you stop dwelling on what lures are best for the season, you should be worrying about which lures are best for the water temperature that you are fishing in. The important thing is to remember that this can also change. Quite regularly too.

Not only week to week, but day to day, and sometimes even hour to hour. You need to change your approach and tactics when it does too. Change lures, change lines, or even changing to different spots will start becoming more common. Kevin VanDam likes throwing crankbaits in winter even when lakes are half frozen. This goes to show that not everything is set in stone.

Having Good Awareness To Your Current Surroundings

Another thing that is extremely helpful is good awareness. Not only good awareness but great awareness. Being in tune with the things around you is more important than one may realize. Certain environmental cues can make or break your day of hooking up. If there happens to be a day where you are struggling to find them, you may see Seagulls or other birds landing over or hovering over a certain patch of water. That is just great awareness to have.

If this is the case, this can only mean one thing. Seagulls do not hover over water or start pounding on its surface for no reason. They are trying to catch some like you are. Cast a line with them! Most animals that normally eat baitfish to survive are usually much better at finding them too. Chances are likely, that the birds have located the sweet spot before you have.

No shame about letting nature do the hard work for you either. If you see something like this happening, pull up anchor, reposition your boat, and move to where the birds are trying to feed. The place could be stacked with bait or even a school of predator species that you have been after. Always remember to make the most use of nature. Tournament anglers do it all the time!

The Benefits Of Structure And Cover – Why Fish Care

Structure and cover is one of those topics that I believe is overlooked way to often. Sure, not every species uses it all the time, but it should never be overlooked. Structure and other cover may house or may not house predators. They do however house bait and a ton of it. If you are a defenseless shad and you know you are on a pike or catfish’s dinner menu, you want to hide from those predators. In doing so, you lock yourself in a place that you believe is the safest to be. Optimally, it would be one that is hard for them to get at you. Enclosed spaces anyone?

Pond with grass and sunken trees.

Obviously, most animals do not reason this way yet the exact same scenario applies. Structure and cover are two completely different things, each with their own distinction. Structure refers to the shape of the water bottom. Things like drop offs, ledges, and points. The permanent things. Cover refers to physical barriers that are not permanent such as trees, broken wood, rocks, branches, docks, piers, dams, and bridge posts. Cover is added. Structure is the shape.

Many vulnerable baitfish like to hold near to things like these because they provide protection as well as some shade from the sun. Structure on the other hand can have cover within but it is not certain. One is never indicative of the other but both can house great opportunities for catches. Whether structure and cover will house certain fish is hugely dependent on what species of fish your fishing for. Don’t expect to find anything that is not a structure or cover orientated  species.

Why They Prefer More Dissolved Oxygen In The Water

While it would seem pretty obvious, the amount of dissolved oxygen is a factor that is incredibly important. No animal on planet Earth wants to have a shortness of breath. You don’t either. You do not ever want to inhabit a place that is full of carbon monoxide, smoke, or carbon dioxide with very little amounts of oxygen for you to breathe. Likewise with marine creatures, certain areas of water have an influx of dissolved oxygen that is much greater than other places.

Water receives a steady supply of oxygen by disrupting the surface as it takes in oxygen from the atmosphere via bubbles. The more bubbles, the more oxygen is released back into the water. Water is made up of two oxygen atoms and one carbon atom on an atomic level and it is the universal solvent for many elements on Earth. This is why it is sometimes called H2O. What this means for the angler is actually very helpful. You want to never forget to check out areas that disrupt water aggressively and create a ton of surface disturbance. Surface disturbance is an infinite oxygen source. Certain fish can tolerate lower oxygen better than other fish species.

Surface disruption creates trillions of microscopic bubbles and this fills the water with rich oxygen that their gills use to function. These are generally the healthiest places for them to be and it is built into their genetic code to inhabit places like these. What creates surface disturbance then? Simple. Things like man made fountains, waterfalls, and structures that aggressively disrupt the flow of water. Structures like giant rocks and other vertical structures will often have a reputation for making violent waves as the water crashes into them. The oxygen this produces is incredible. Hit areas like these if you are struggling for a bite on your line.

Great Food Supply And Why It Matters To Your Success

It does not matter what species you want to catch or why. That creature will be looking to feed. If you plan on it sticking around, it needs a reason. Like many creatures that want to survive, the name of the game in the wild is food. Food is the incentive. It is what drives all animals to kill and eat or be killed and eaten. This is even true for herbivorous ones when they decide to kill and eat grass or other vegetation to get big enough so predators will avoid them. In the wild, food is very competitive. It can even be the reason for mass die offs or mass population surges.

If you do not have a good source of food in the water, nothing is going to stick around long enough for you to reel them in. This is why it is always necessary to find optimal food sources. Seeing what forage is available will give you a ton of valuable information that you can use later. For instance, if the water has an abundant supply of bluegill or green sunfish, you know that there is also a healthy population of insects, minnows, plankton, and likely even predator species that love feeding on them. In a sense, they are like humans. You probably will not choose to live in a new mansion if the only food you could eat was a ten hour drive away from home.

The fact is that food is what gives creatures energy and without it, they cannot survive. This is why you need to be observant and see what the water is offering to the local population. Most devout predators will decide to hang around large schools of baitfish. A good rule is to go where the bait goes. The more bait there is in one spot, the more attractive it is and the more likely you should hit it. Many people are concerned with where to find the predators when they should not be. You should determine where to find the bait instead. It will be a naturally occurring thing.

Find the bait that is being eaten and you have essentially found what every predator needs to survive. Do not ever consider that they may be somewhere else either. It does not happen. Roaming individuals do exist but they will always find their way back to the food eventually.

How To Find Fish In Freshwater – The Process Simplified

  1. Consider your targeted species
  2. Know the habits of the fish
  3. Observe the temperature of the water
  4. Look in different places until you find them
  5. Check your sonar on your fish finder if you have it
  6. Don’t give up and keep going until you find fish
  7. Repeat all steps again and document sweet spots

Before you start making any casts, consider all of the previous criteria. They all play an important role. First, consider the species. Consider where they usually live and how they act. Largemouth bass, bluegill, and pike normally like structure and cover while smallmouth, carp, and walleye prefer open water. If the water is a bit on the warmer side, choose a lure that moves a little more aggressively. Something like a crankbait or spinner style lure will do nicely.

If it is a crankbait, make sure it has rattles. This will be your search and find bait that will help you locate them from far away. You want to start by power casting. You want to cover a ton of water quickly so you track them down. Start making casts and retrieving at different speeds. Always make sure to hit the same area a few times with different retrieves. If nothing happens, slowly start to cover more water. Move around on the bank on turn on your trolling motor on your boat. If the water is a bit colder, decide to go for options like jerkbait fishing.

You could also choose to go after swimbaits or jigging spoons. Regardless, the approach remains the same. Retrieve at different speeds in the same spot a few different times. If nothing happens, start moving around. You really do want to try and cover a lot of water quickly when it is warmer. When it is colder, you want to still cover water but you want to be moving a bit slower. Remember to hit those structures, the oxygen rich areas, look for bait, etc.

Overall, It May Be Said That Finding Fish Is Quite Simple

Now we are finally getting to the action. Once you know what you are after, start to make judgement calls and predictions. If after structure and cover oriented species, make sure to swing by all of the cover and structure first and avoid open water. If your targeted species prefers open water, avoid structures and make a few casts with lures that can cover a lot of water quickly. Try putting the fishing lure at a deeper level if the water is warmer and cast it more shallow in colder weather. Pay attention too. Look for anything out of the ordinary.

Every now and then, you may feel a slight bump that is hardly noticeable. It is likely that you have found what you are after. Try not to mistake it for a snag either. Pay attention. Even if you don’t feel it, pay attention to your line to see if it moves, jumps, pops, or starts swimming slowly in one direction. Always be sure to target places that have a high level of dissolved oxygen first, before moving onto somewhere else. Make sure to really chase the bait around the pond, river, or lake too. The bait is the sole indicator of bigger catches in the area. Its the life within.

Nothing is ever set in stone and your results can vary from no catches to having limits daily. It all stems from your ability to know how to find the fish. There is nothing that is guaranteed and nobody can claim otherwise. All in all, it gets easier the more you practice. After awhile, there are situations where an angler can choose to cast to a certain spot and find them right away.

Other times, you may be doing everything else right but there just are not any takers. Ultimately, it is up to the individual to hone their skills and they cannot do that without practice. Trolling is always an option too! What do you think? What makes location tick? Leave a comment below so we can keep the conversation going. Your comment helps others like myself catch more fish!

Leave a Comment