How to Catch Fish in a Lake

how to catch fish in a lake

Is your lake fishing trip coming up soon, and you do not feel well-prepped?  Well, this guide is certainly for you. Lake fishing is an interesting venture for beginners and experienced anglers, whether on foot or on a boat.

And you are spoilt for choice, considering the United States has over 100,000 lakes (both man-made and natural), most of which are regularly stocked by county programs and state agencies. 

Like most beginners, you must be looking for the best way to catch fish in a lake. This lake fishing guide explains lake fishing basics, including the best gear, effective techniques, and times to get into the water. 

Larry Stark

Professional fisherman, who loves to review new fishing gadgets.

Table of Contents

Different Techniques That Are Effective for Catching Fish in a Lake

The basis for learning how to fish in lakes includes learning the different fishing techniques. We will discuss three lake fishing techniques: casting, trolling, and jigging. 


Casting is one great and effective technique. It involves using a flexible rod to cast the bait, then creating an action to lure the predator fish into striking. 

When casting, have the lure hanging just 1 foot away from the end of the rod so the line delivers a strong cast. Then, push the lever on the reel to prepare the line for release and move the rod behind your shoulder, ready to cast. 

Next, move the rod forward from behind your shoulder, and once the rod is in front of your face, let go of the lever to release the line into the water. At this point, all you can do is wait for the fish to bite. But move to a different location if you do not feel a bite in thirty minutes. 


An effective technique when lake fishing on a boat is trolling. It involves rigging lines with bait and dragging them through water from the moving boat. Trolling helps you cover more ground and reach fish species in deeper waters. 

Most fishermen recommend moving the boat in ‘S’ patterns rather than straight lines. This breaks the speed and action of the lure, triggering the fish to strike. 

Also, for best trolling results, consider the fish species and season. Lake fish are inactive during winter, so it is best to use slower boat speeds. On the other hand, the fish may hide in deep, cooler water during summer, prompting you to sink the bait and lures into further depths. 

Lake trolling may get you some kokanee, salmon, brook, rainbow, or lake trout. 


Jigging is another effective technique preferred by many fishermen. It requires you to rapidly lift the rod after you cast it to create vertical, jerky movements of the lure. This simulates the natural movement of baitfish, enticing the predator fish to bite.

After making the jigging movements, let the lure sink to the bottom for a few seconds before trying again. Or, instead of the up and down movements, you can move the rod sideways or alternate between the two. 

Jigging is effective on most fish, including bass, trout, and salmon. But ensure you use the correct lures and jigs.  

Importance of Selecting the Right Fishing Gear for the Lake Environment

Lake Fishing Rod

You need to find the right fishing gear, whether you are fishing in a local lake or one of the Great Lakes. Many anglers use spinning rods when fishing in freshwater lakes.

Spinning rods have straight handles with downward-facing line guides. They are easy to cast and inexpensive. Medium-action spinning rods are perfect for lake fishing, thanks to their versatility. They allow you to catch small and big fish while providing sensitivity and flexibility. 

The best spinning rods for trolling are 7 to 9 inches long, and they offer better control when fighting big fish. Plus, they absorb the violent strikes and let you use longer leaders. Meanwhile, 6.6 to 7-inch rods are perfect for jigging.  

Lake Fishing Reel

Once you get the best spinning rod, it is time to find a quality reel. Spinning reels are perfect for casting, jigging, and trolling. They are lightweight and compact, which reduces strain on your hands when fishing for long hours. Plus, they are inexpensive compared to baitcasting reels. 

We recommend getting a reel that matches your spinning rod’s weight. Doing so ensures the line and rod do not break, and the rod will feel balanced and comfortable on your hands so you can make better casts. 

Also, look for a reel with a powerful drag system. A drag system features friction plates within the reel that overcome friction without compromising smoothness when fish pull the line. 

Here are our detailed guides on the best Daiwa spinning reels and the best Shimano spinning reels

Lake Fishing Line

You also want to get a fishing line that matches the strength of the target fish. A monofilament (mono) is simple yet effective for freshwater and saltwater use. It is easy to handle, stretchy, shock-resistant, and less visible. We recommend getting a 6 to 12-pound monofilament line for lake fishing as it is versatile. 

If you are after bigger fish, get braided or fluorocarbon line. Both lines have high tensile strength and are less prone to breaking. Braided lines are also ideal when fishing in areas with a heavy cover or aquatic vegetation. At the same time, fluorocarbon’s low visibility is perfect when fishing in clear waters, pursuing wary fish, or ice fishing. 

Lake Fishing Hooks

The size, style, and material of fishing hooks also matter. You must find the right hook size for the fish you are targeting, the type of fishing, and the lake’s location. 

Using a bigger hook when targeting small fish will see you losing bait since the hook will not fit in the fish’s mouth. And if you use a small hook to catch big fish, they will swallow the hook, making it difficult to catch and release them. Besides, it will be difficult for fish to notice small hooks when fishing in murky water.

So, gauge whether you need small or large hooks to catch lake fish. When working with fish hook sizes 32 to 1, size 32 is the smallest, and 1 is the biggest. And if you have hook sizes 1/0 to 19/0, the former is the smallest while the latter is the biggest size. The best hook size for bass fishing should be between 1, 1/0, and 2/0. 

Regarding style, the most popular are treble hooks, J-hooks, and circle hooks. Treble hooks feature three points that securely hold fish when they bite. But, some states prohibit their use because they injure and even kill the fish when released. 

Meanwhile, J-hooks work with different kinds of fish because they fit well in the mouth. You can use them with live bait or artificial lures. If you are going lake fishing for fun, use circle hooks, as they allow you to catch and release fish without hurting them.  

You also want to consider the hook material. You do not need rust-resistant material when fishing in freshwater lakes. Nevertheless, the material should withstand fighting big fish without bending. Stainless steel hooks are suitable for fresh and saltwater lakes. 

Lastly, consider the sharpness of the hook. Sharper hooks allow easier penetration into a fish’s mouth. So, buy new sharp hooks, or sharpen the existing ones with a hook file.

Lake Fishing Lures & Baits

Getting the right rod, reel, line, and hook will be futile if you choose the wrong lures and bait. Luckily, you cannot go wrong with live bait such as insects, crickets, mealworms, shrimp, minnows, leeches, crayfish, and other smaller fish. You can get live bait from the local bait store or look for fresh worms and insects from the shoreline. 

Alternatively, you can use artificial fishing lure like crankbaits, jerkbaits, soft plastic worms, spinnerbait, jigs, and spoons. Crankbaits have round, oval, and flat body styles like baitfish to trigger a bite. Jerkbaits have slender bodies with jerking movements and can be used in deep and shallow water. 

Soft water plastics effectively catch fish hiding in aquatic vegetation or at the bottom, like largemouth bass. Meanwhile, spinnerbait lures capture a fish’s attention using vibrations and flashes. Spinnerbaits are effective at catching largemouth bass, northern pike, and perch.  

Different Types of Fish That are Commonly Found in a Lake

Now let’s discuss what fish species are found in lakes. You can expect to catch the following during your lake fishing trip:

Crappie: Sport fishermen enjoy crappie fishing since these fish put up a fight despite their small size. You, too, can catch crappie for sport or their excellent taste. 

Salmon: Many lakes, including the Great Lakes, are home to salmon species. You can land a King salmon, a Sockeye, or a Coho Salmon. 

Trout: Trout are also common in lake fishing and are popular for their mild flavor and aggressive nature when caught. Rainbow, brown, brook, and lake trout are more popular. But despite their name, lake trout belong to the char family, making them a bit misleading. 

Bass: Smallmouth bass and largemouth bass might be the first few fish you bag. They are easy to catch with light tackle and different fishing techniques.

Walleye: Catching a walleye is challenging, even for an experienced angler. These fish prefer deeper water and have varying movement patterns.

Catfish: The most common catfish species are channel catfish, blue catfish, and flathead catfish. They live in shallow waters when spawning and in deep water for the rest of the seasons. 

Bluegill: These fish like shallow waters of ponds, lakes, rivers, and streams. 

Northern Pike: These voracious eaters dwell in shallow areas with thick vegetation or rocky waters to easily ambush prey. 

But how do you find these fish in lakes? Here are two lake fishing tips: Identify how different seasons affect the behavior of your target species and what locations they prefer. 

During the cold spells of winter, fish move to the warmest water spots. The best places to start fishing are the deep holes found where a river or stream drains its water. These drop-offs hold high numbers of fish, and they only get out of this zone to feed. 

You can also pursue ice fishing during winter. With the lake frozen, you will need cold weather gear to drill holes to sink your lure. Despite this extra work, you will still be as glad to land the fish as you would when doing regular fishing. 

Spring is the best fishing season because most fish are spawning. The fish move from deeper waters to shallow water, making it easier to fish from the shore. This is the best time to plan your bluegill and bass fishing trip, and you can try fly fishing while at it. 

During the warm summer months, fish hide in deeper waters or seek refuge in spots with lily pads, rock piles, docks, or any structure that provides cover. To improve your chances of catching fish, get in the water early morning or late afternoon. You can also look for more fish at drop-offs as the baitfish rely on the falling water to hide from prey. 

Unfortunately, fall is the slowest time to get fish to strike. Fish have different migration movements that can be difficult to track as the temperatures fall. In addition, the cold temperatures push the fish further into the deep water columns. Fortunately, catching fish is fairly easy when you find a wintering hole since the fish are usually in a feeding frenzy to pack more pounds for winter. 

Additional Lake Fishing Tips For Beginners

  1. Determine if it is a Natural Lake or Man-Made Lake: Natural lakes result from plate tectonics, melted glaciers, or inactive volcanoes, while mining activities or damming purposes create man-made lakes. The best fishing spots in a natural lake are areas with vegetation, while ledges and drop-offs hold more fish in a man-made lake. 
  2. Look for Fish: The common tell-tale signs for fish include activity on the water’s surface and birds flying around a particular area. Also, you can purchase a fishfinder for a small boat to help you find bait balls and predator fish in natural lakes.  
  3. Get a License: You will need a fishing license when fishing in natural lakes. While at it, learn the state’s lake fishing rules and regulations. 
  4. Fish around Inlets and Outlets: Did you know that lake inlets and outlets have cooler temperatures that fish like? These are excellent fishing spots for small and big fish.