So, you’re getting ready to fish a small lake for bass. If you stood out on the end of a boat dock or out on the edge of the bank looking out across the water, what do you see? What are you looking for?

Maybe you know the lake well, having fished it many times before. Or perhaps it is your first time to fish a new spot.

How do you know where to start? 

Do you just jump in the boat, push off and start casting, or do you project a plan of attack on the lake? What is the best way to analyze a small fishing lake to maximize your bass fishing efforts?

Or is this simply over-thinking a way to go about bass fishing?

“When I approach a small lake I want to fish, especially a brand-new place, I try to look at all sides and edges of the whole body of water,” said Jason Pope of Madison. “If the lake is too big to see the whole thing closely, then I might use my compact binoculars to inspect it. I like a good, overall orientation before I head out.

“I fish a good many local private lakes, so some of them I know pretty well. I always keep my ears open, though, to new opportunities to fish somebody’s lake where I can either cast from the bank or slip in with a small john boat. Naturally I like to take on a new lake to learn its structures, layout and bass-hiding cover.

“Mainly I am first looking for any kind of obvious bass-holding structure across the lake, scanning back up into coves, grass fields, lily pads, or downed tree structure. A lot of times I do what most small-lake bass anglers do: I just ease around the whole perimeter of the lake, casting often to see what hits.

“More often than not, though, I head straight to an inviting section of the lake with obvious cover features.”


Picking the hotspots

Where do bass hide? Well, just about anywhere there is some kind of cover. If the weather is hot and the sun is beating down and the water temperature is pretty warm, bass will be lurking in spots where they find cooler water.

This means plenty of natural cover, usually not at depth out in the open water of the lake. 

Logic dictates, as Jason Pope said, to just work along all the perimeter edges of the lake, slowly moving from cover to cover.

Certainly, there is nothing wrong with that strategy, especially on a new lake not fished previously. I mean how else would you really know where bass cover was without trolling the entire lake? 

Typical bass hotspots have not changed that much over time. The only difference is that the characteristics of a lake can change over time.

New structure could have been added, Mother Nature could have downed some trees along the banks worth checking out, or other fish habitat could emerge over the years.

All of the visible structure should be fished without mercy. Don’t risk passing something by because it looks tough to fish. Give it all a go. 

This can certainly be the case with grass fields that pop up from time to time from season to season. Likewise, lily pad fields can grow and extend farther out across the surface of a lake.

Some bass anglers might suggest this is a mixed blessing. Without a doubt, bass are going to congregate under the protective cover of lily pads, but fishing can be tough.

Fishing in pads will certainly test your abilities to put a lure in the little open bits of water amongst the floating pads. And if a bass strikes, the fight is definitely on. 

I spend as much time tangled up in lily pad stems and root structures than pulling out fish.

However, when you can jerk a largemouth out of that thick type of cover, more often than not, the result is going to be a pleasing one.


Other cover

Mother Nature is a natural for providing good fish cover, and you need to plan to fish it all.

Certain other hot bass areas include submerged or partially submerged tree trunks and limbs. Fish around any noted stumps that are available — especially if they are in a good shaded area.

Though it can also be tough fishing, work around cover like button bushes, willows and other scrub brush growing out of the water. Move in as close as feasible and short-cast if you have to.

Water depth can play a role in this, as well. Bass will hide up in shallow water, but they need to be a foot deep or so.

Sometimes you can see them moving as you ease up in the boat. Go slow and keep quiet when trying to sneak up on bass. 

Fishing a small lake for bass can be great angling fun. Scan the lake, look for structure, work the edges, banks and cover.

With any luck, you can pull some good largemouths out of small water.