Locating Fish In New, Vast Areas: 4 Tips From Personal Experience

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Photo by Louis Cahill

Photo by Louis Cahill

By Carter Lyles

Are you overwhelmed by the fact that you are consistently being skunked in an area that you are new to fishing?

I know how it feels because this happened to me when I moved from Atlanta, Georgia down to St. Simons Island on Georgia’s coast. Honestly, I think St. Simons is one of the most challenging places in the country to locate and catch fish on the fly if you’re a newbie because: 1) We have nine foot tides,  2) There is a ton of water to cover,  3) Straight up nobody is willing to share any spots or tips,  4) The redfish act differently here than in most places,  5) Dark water.

I’m just going to be flat out honest with you– I got skunked probably close to fifteen times before I caught my first redfish in the Golden Isles. There are reasons for this, which I will share with you so that this struggle doesn’t happen to you:

1) Put Away the Fly Rod

I had this “fly or die” mentality, which is the absolute worst way to approach a fishing situation. God, forgive me. If you’re new to a lake or even huge areas like the Georgia coast, then put away your fly rod. We are trying to locate fishing spots, folks… I used live bait (no I’m not ashamed) and began to really figure out where these redfish were. I suggest you do the same, or at least use conventional tackle if you want the process to proceed at a much faster rate.

2) Put Away the Fly Rod

Nope. This is not the same tip. This time I actually mean keeping my fly rods in my room in a closet where I wouldn’t touch them. Go out a handful of times and don’t even bring a rod. Instead bring a nice pair of binoculars, a pen, and a notepad! It is challenging enough to locate fish, fly fish for them, and learn the water on your boat in a new area already. Why not take one step at a time? I went out with a pair of binoculars on low tide and covered a large area of water that I was targeting and looked for mud flats, oyster bars, and channel cuts, then proceeded to write notes on all of the spots covered that day. Over time I was able to pick out where the redfish would be on the incoming tide and eventually had great success!! *Borat voice*

3) Buy a Map and Draw On It

If you’re fishing a new lake, buy a map. If you’re fishing a new part of the coast, buy a map. Simple. If you’re fishing the coast, I recommend buying the Top Spot map. When you buy this map, take it out and find all of the public boat ramps. Looking at this vast area of water is overwhelming, but if you break it down into sections, it becomes far less stressful. Draw a box of a section and learn that area first. Do not change into a new section until you know the waters and the fish like the back of your hand in your first section.

4) Keep a Log

Here are the questions you need to ask yourself every single time you go out on the water. What is the weather like today? What is the barometric pressure? What is the water temperature? What is the moon phase? What is the tide like? What kind of bait/lure/fly are the fish hitting in this situation? Where are most of the fish congregating? What kind of retrieve did the fish prefer? Did the clouds help? Did the clear sky help? How does the fish like its presentation—what worked? Is there a certain color/fly the fish are targeting in on? The more information you can get out of every situation the better. After about the tenth trip—the pieces will all come together and the light bulb will turn on: “Ooohhhhh!!”

Do these four things and you will be catching fish in no time. Failure to do so will most likely result in a really bad time and embarrassment in front of your fishing buddies. Don’t be the embarrassment of your fishing buddies…

Carter Lyles
Gink & Gasoline
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11 thoughts on “Locating Fish In New, Vast Areas: 4 Tips From Personal Experience

  1. So I guess we were in research phase when we went out that day… Where were your pen and map? Lol…you chunked that spoon for days on end…

    • For the record, I totally agree and thought about rejecting this piece but I thought I’d let it through and see what the conversation is. Thanks for getting it started Jim.

      On a related topic, Carter is no longer involved with. G&G due to some poor judgment unrelated to bait fishing.

      • We know the dangers of using live bait as more often than not, fish swallow the hook and make C&R unlikely. This is particularly concerning if you are fishing for wild fish in freshwater. Now I take Carter is suggesting this method in the context of salt water, but some readers may take it the wrong way and use live bait for wild fish in freshwater rivers…and we definitely don’t want that.

        • I exclusively fly fish, but don’t get so self righteous when others want to throw bait. Are they following the regs? That’s all that matters in my book. I trust the biologists that manage the resources in my area to change regs as necessary. Other areas may not be so lucky.

        • I have not found that to be the case. This may be in relation to the technique I use. I tend to set the hook at the first indication of a take, rather than waiting until the fish really has a mouth full.

  2. When I was writing articles for Saltwater Fly Fishing (defunct) and Fly Fishing in Salt Waters, I did an article on how to locate stripers using a plug, then bust out the fly rod. First off, you can throw the new plugs with weights and rattles in them a darn sight further then you can a fly. Therefore you will cover a lot more water. Also when it is windy, it becomes a must if you plan to fish, especially in more open waters. A plug or even a soft plastic jig, will stay in the strike zone longer. Also you may find a color that is more productive. Because of the pressure and technology placed upon the fish today, it becomes important to have a strategy if you plan to throw a fly in salt waters. Today’s manufacturers are using scent as an attractant. In Charlotte Harbor, maybe the shallowest estuary in SW Fl, it is imperative to take the advice of the aforementioned article. I constantly hear how hard it is to locate fish here. The old adage that 90% of the fish live in 10% of the water is closer to 99% live in 1% of the water here. You must have a strategy to locate fish in new areas and certainly use Google Earth if your not familiar with an area as well.

  3. I am going to have to side with Carter on this one.

    I recently moved to a new state that does have some stream trout action but few and far between, really have to get out and scout.

    I spent several weekends in a row run and gunning streams that I found on topo maps. I had a little worm rod I carried on my dirt bike and stopped at every stream crossing on my map. Chuck a worm into the culvert holes a couple times and then move on. Between that and stream temps I narrowed things down pretty quickly.

    I came back later and hit each prospect with my fly rod and explored much more water than what I saw just at the road crossings.

    Had I started with flies straight up I probably would have been doubting myself if the issue was no trout or wrong fly.

    • Every old soldier knows that you don’t make a full assault on an objective without having gathered some solid intelligence from a thorough on site recon.

      Jeff in Oregon here.

  4. These are great tips. Did the same thing when trying to figure out how to catch stripers on the fly in my local tailwater. Bait first, lures next, then flies. I rarely feel like I could do better with lures than flies at this point – bait might still work better.

    Circle hooks make it a hell of a lot easier to safely release a bait-caught fish than two treble hooks on a plug sticking a fish all over its face. Come down off that high horse, Jimbo.

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