Learning the Local Waters

Contributed by John Schips

Whether you’re in a boat, kayak, or casting from the shore, learning your local water is crucial to maximizing your chances of success. If you’re in an area that is known for some good fishing, chances are you can find some general information about the more popular bodies of water to fish. However, anglers rarely reveal hidden gems or hotspots within those popular bodies of water, and why should they? Part of the fun of fishing is challenging yourself to identify the best spot to cast, and if you find a spot that works great for you, then it’s all yours!

If you’re into kayak fishing, then you’re already one step ahead, as many of the best spots are most easily accessed from the water. Therefore, in this article, we would like to provide a few tips and tricks for homing in on the ideal fishing spot in your local waters, with a focus on kayak fishing.

Lakes and Ponds

Lakes and ponds are great locations to fish, especially when in a kayak, as the conditions tend to be less dynamic and the kayak is easier to manage than launching/landing in surf. However, that doesn’t guarantee success. Furthermore, kayaks aren’t always the best for trolling due to the slower speed (can still work out well depending on your experience and kayak) and the potential for fatigue, so learning where the high-probability casting areas are can definitely make things a little easier on you. Here are a couple places you may want to start looking.


Most lakes and ponds will have numerous little areas, usually closer to the shore, which will contain patches of vegetation. Bass and northern pike are especially keen on this environment, as it provides a suitable setting to ambush prey. If they see your bait passing by, they will have a hard time not taking a bite. The main downside here is that this environment can increase the chances of a snag, which can make it a hassle to retrieve your lure, or worst case, you may lose the lure altogether. If you don’t have much experience fishing in heavy cover, try starting out with a lure that has a weed guard, or at least one that you don’t covet. It’s also a good idea to use strong line and have some extra line handy as well.


If you can see a pile of rocks underwater, give a cast in that general area. Rocks provide one of the more desirable structures for all types of fish, as they can serve as both feeding and spawning locations. Even if it’s not a big pile of rocks, if it’s more than what you can usually see on the bottom, it’s definitely worth a cast. Again, snags can be a little bit of a concern here, but as long as you’re aware and careful of where you’re casting/dropping the lure, then it’s still definitely worth working the area to see if it’s a hotspot.


Underwater drop-offs are an interesting spot to try your luck, especially if you can spot some shelves or other irregularities. This provides a unique opportunity to test a larger range of the water column, which can be nice when you are unsure of how the water temperature is affecting the fish. Jigs can be really good to use here, as you can simply drop them down from the kayak and feel for any bites. You can use other lures, too, but if you can use something that you are able to bump of a ledge or other structures, then this will provide some extra enticing action to attract bites.

Inlets and Outlets

Inlets and outlets are great spots to try especially when it’s early or late in the season (i.e. not too warm). These areas usually provide cooler water, which a lot of fish prefer, especially prey fish. Chances are you aren’t trying to catch prey fish, but since they’re a primary source of food for many trophy fish, then you are likely to find some of these predators nearby.

These types of areas become slightly less effective in the peak of summer, as they may not offer water that is cool enough for a lot of the fish. In this case, the fish will usually dive to greater depths to find the cooler water, which is a time that a fish finder can be extra-handy. Still, it’s never bad move to test these waters.

Surf Fishing

If you’re new to kayak fishing, we would recommend starting out in lakes or ponds. Even if you’re an experienced angler, surf fishing requires much more experience with a kayak in order to properly launch and land, as well as handle the surf once you’re in the water. We will leave surf kayaking techniques to the experts, but will touch on some tips for finding the fish in this vast environment.

When you’re looking out at the water, chances are you’re not going to see any fish. However, you may be able to identify changes in the water that indicate the presence of fish. Similar to lakes and ponds, one of the key things to look out for are any irregularities in the water or land/structures around the water.

For example, try looking for individual sets of waves and where they are breaking. You may be able to spot sandbars (or elevated bottom topography) where the waves are breaking, and any calmness between the bars could be a nice area to cast. You may notice these areas having a slightly more green color to them, which indicates less turbulent water flow. This calmer water is where fish will prefer to travel, so you may have better luck there, especially if you can spot a school of prey fish (predators will likely be nearby!). If you’re after trophy fish, then looking for calmer areas and irregularities further out from the beach in deeper water can help with this as well, just make sure you always maintain awareness of where you are in respect to the beach, and ALWAYS remember to wear a PFD.

Other Helpful Tips (mostly applies to lakes and ponds)

A fish finder can go a long way, especially in unfamiliar waters. If you’re in a kayak that is capable of mounting a transducer, or you have a portable/castable transducer, then we would recommend scanning some of the lake before even casting. Of course, practical considerations like how much time you have can limit this, but if it’s a location that you know you will frequent, then getting an idea of the underwater topography and where schools of fish appear to favor can lead to lots of future benefits.

On windy days, look for drift lines in the water where the wind is pushing around the surface water. There’s a good chance there is some surface food here for the fish, and it may become a little more concentrated due to the wind, so those can be good spots to try as well. Similarly, on those windy days, the wind will likely push prey fish closer to the shore, so you may want to keep this in mind.

Bring at least a full spool of line. Even if you plan on fishing the shallower water, you never know when you may want to cast further or let the bait dive deeper. Plus, it’s always possible that you may lose some, so better safe than sorry.

If possible, bring an assortment of lures. If you intend on casting in a few different locations, one lure may be more suitable than another for those locations. For example, if you want to cover a lot of water with each cast, then maybe a crank or spinner is the way to go, whereas if you’re more interested in dropping a line deep into the water column, then rigging a jig may be best.

Last, but definitely not least, is learning more about kayaking and paddling technique. If you’re excited about a particular body of water and want to check out lots of areas in one day, you could be limited by how fast you can go in the kayak, and how fatigued you may become. This could help you become more effective with trolling from the kayak, and learning the proper paddling technique can go a long way in general. You might also pick up a few other pointers that can benefit your game as well!

John_Schips_bio_pic_local_waterJohn Schips, the primary contributor for www.flannelfishermen.com, is a fishing and hiking enthusiast who loves to explore Canada. Born and raised in Nova Scotia, John has also lived in Alberta for 7 years, and now currently resides in British Columbia.

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