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Small Water Tactics for Fishing Big Water

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L'eau Bleue/Flickr

How a small water approach helps your big water game.

Any fisherman who’s tried both big water fishing and small water fishing—especially a fly fisherman—will tell you how frustrating big water can be. The problem? Totally featureless. It’s tough to know where to begin. Most people eventually get over it and have an okay time fishing. But pros say that the trick is not to forget your roots.

Small waters—ponds, creeks, little lakes—are underrated places for fishing, since you assume there’s just not enough space down there to house the nutrients a fish needs to get big. But that’s simply not true. Besides being able to catch big fish, those techniques translate well to fishing larger water, and using them can make you more effective. Here’s some quick and dirty tips on how to fish big water using small water skills.

Slow it Down

With minimal visual cues to guide your casting and plenty of new holes to try, a lot of people coast past a spot without giving it enough time, or without taking the chance to learn what it can tell them about the rest of the water. On small water that luxury isn’t available, and wringing the most out of every pool is crucial to success. That means really sticking to technique—reading the water, trying different lures, noticing what works and repeating that success. It’s easy to get lazy about it when there’s so much ground to cover, but that’s going to be your first mistake.

Fish Are the Same Everywhere

Even though it seems like fish would have to adapt to their environment, they really behave more or less the same. They find the same kinds of hideouts, and look for the same food in the same places. The trick of small water is that you can see these structures much more easily, and you can learn how fish behave.

Bass like to hang around in areas where shallow and deep water meet, migrating between the two depending on the time of day and the available feed. It’s easy to spot where these places meet in small water. For large water, look to a map. Try to find sheltered coves and creek mouths where they flow into the lake or river you’re fishing—that’s going to be a great spot.

Notice the water feature? Photo courtesy Mike Riela/Flickr
Mike Riela/Flickr

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Break Big Water into Smaller Waters

Cruising through a bunch of varied territory, without getting a good feel for what’s working where, isn’t a very efficient way to fish big water. Get out your map again—try to find one or two areas with definite fish-attracting features, and stick to them. Fish them all day, figuring out what works and repeating those tactics moving from hole to hole. Next week, fish it again. Make it your regular spot. The more you get to know it, the better you’ll do on subsequent trips. When you need a change, then you can move on to another part of the lake.

Don’t Neglect the Bank

A lot of small water more-or-less has to be fished from the bank. This is a hassle fisherman are eager to ditch when they can stretch their legs on big water, but this is a mistake. The bank, though often frustrating, is a different presentation, and sometimes the best angle is from the bank. If the wind is blowing it’s going to pull bass toward the shore, and throwing your lure out and pulling it in may give it more time in front of the fish.

So the next time you are in big water, use these small water tactics to give you advantages to hook a big one.

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Small Water Tactics for Fishing Big Water