Lakes are one of the top locations to catch fish since they offer plenty of natural coverings and food sources. Although bass and trout are typically the most sought-after fish, several varieties thrive in both natural and man-made lakes.
In this guide, you’ll learn the complete ins and outs of lake fishing, including all the equipment you’ll need, how to identify great fishing spots, and tips to catch trout, bass, catfish, and more.
The Basics of Lake Fishing
Although any body of water surrounded by land is a lake, there are vast differences in size, ecosystem, and the species of fish you might find in any given lake system.
Are Natural Lakes Better for Fishing Than Man-Made Lakes?
The best spot for lake fishing really depends on what you hope to catch. Find a lake with the ecosystem your fish of choice would likely prefer. Vegetation, water clarity and quality, and lake contour all play important roles, regardless of how the lake was initially formed.
What Equipment & Tackle Do I Need for Lake Fishing?
Lake rod and reel setup
For lake fishing, the proper rod and reel setup is crucial. A rod should be large and thick enough for the fish you’re targeting, while still being comfortable to handle. You’ll most likely want a spinning reel over a casting reel, also called a baitcaster.
Spinning reels are much better for anyone new to lake fishing, since casting reels often experience backlashes—when the line gets tangled in its spool.
Lake fishing baits and artificial lures
The best bait for fishing in a lake is usually live bait, such as minnows or worms. Chances are good that your target fish already eat what you’re casting into the water. However, artificial lures like crankbaits or jigging lures can also be useful.
Hook, line, and sinker
Overall, the kind of hook you choose will depend on local fishing laws. Generally speaking, however, you’ll want a hook that’s the right size and strength for your chosen variety of fish.
Monofilament fishing line is generally a good go-to, and can always be switched if you find it’s not to your liking.
Lastly, choose a good sinker for lake fishing. It must adhere to your state's fishing regulations while still providing the right depth and lure angling.
A great tackle box will help keep your fishing gear organized. Don’t let the name fool you: tackle bags and fishing backpacks exist, too! All these options provide space-saving, easy-to-carry containers for all your lures, hooks, weights, and extra line.
Best Places to Find Fish in Lakes
When lake fishing, look for areas where fish are most likely to congregate, then cast as close to those spots as possible without compromising your line.
Some great spots to locate fish in lakes include:
Beginner Lake Fishing Tips: How to Catch Different Species
The lures or techniques that work for one fish might not even earn a glance from another. To maximize your time on the water, it’s wise to learn which setups and conditions are ideal for your preferred fish type.
How to Catch Trout in a Lake
If you’re hoping to catch trout while lake fishing, you’ll want to start by staking out some cooler water that isn’t too popular.
Live bait is preferable over lures. Larger trout will often ignore insects but will adore shrimp, small fish, or even worms. If you wish to use an artificial lure, try to find one that mimics what lake trout naturally eat. Some good examples are swimbaits or crankbaits.
Early spring is the best time of year to catch lake trout, although cooler periods in the summer—just before dusk—can yield great catches, as well. You’ll likely want to rig your line with a sinking bait, since trout tend to feed towards the bottom of lakes.
Lake Bass Fishing Tips
Bass love covered locations, such as docks or boats, so sometimes dropping your line right where you’re standing can lure these ambush predators out of their hiding spots. Spring and summer are the best time of year to go bass fishing since they prefer water temps between 60 and 80 degrees.
Shad or bluegill are excellent live baitfish for bass, but a topwater lure can work well too. Minnows are also popular for foraging bass, depending on your location.
How to Fish for Catfish in a Lake
Catfish use their “whiskers” to sense vibrations along the bottom of a lake. Wriggling, frantic live bait will catch their attention quickly. They also follow food scents, though, so stinkbaits such as dog kibble or chicken liver can lure them in and sometimes work better than live bait.
Late spring or early summer are the most ideal times of year to fish for catfish. You can land one in any season, however.
How to Fish for Perch in a Lake
Worms are the best bait for catching perch in a lake, although minnows or maggots can work wonderfully, as well. Warmer months will be the best time of year to catch perch, especially near docks or weeds.
Tips for Catching Bluegill in a Lake
The best time of year to catch bluegill while lake fishing is in late summer, since they roam open waters more freely. Artificial lures like spinnerbaits can come in handy when fishing for bluegill, since they primarily eat insects.
10 Most Popular US Lakes for Fishing
1. Fishing at Calaveras Lake
This reservoir near San Antonia, Texas, is popular among anglers for its red drum, bass, and catfish stocks. May is considered peak season for freshwater fishing, so plan your fishing trip at Calaveras Lake accordingly.
2. Fishing at Cass Lake
Located in Minnesota and sourced from the Mississippi, Cass Lake draws many anglers seeking jumbo yellow perch, bluegill, and bass across its thousands of acres.
3. Fishing at Utah Lake
When fishing Utah Lake, you’ll find an abundance of perch, catfish, and walleye. Once a much larger lake from the Pleistocene era, Utah Lake continues to harbor rich biodiversity and boasts an average depth of around nine feet.
4. Fishing at Blue Ridge Lake
In the state of Georgia, you’ll find Blue Ridge Lake, a reservoir spanning over 3,000 acres. Various bass and bluegill are just some of the fish you can catch in this scenic lake.
5. Fishing at Lake Fork
Another large reservoir, Lake Fork in Texas, harbors many fallen trees and brushy areas where fish, particularly black crappie, love to hide. Other fish in Lake Fork include both largemouth and spotted bass, as well as several subspecies of catfish.
6. Fishing at Lake Keowee
This man-made lake is located in South Carolina. Lake Keowee is a popular fishing site due to its clear waters, lower traffic and activity (from humans, anyway), and a thriving population of spotted bass. Additionally, you’ll find plenty of yellow perch and crappie.
7. Fishing at Lake of the Ozarks
In central Missouri, anglers at Lake of the Ozarks will encounter plenty of walleye, carp, catfish, and sunfish such as bluegill. This is both a popular fishing spot and vacation destination, which makes it ideal for fishing trips with the family. With that in mind, large pontoons or speedboats might disturb your catch, so try to get out early and find a nice, secluded fishing spot at Lake of the Ozarks.
8. Fishing at Lake Raven
Lake Raven in Texas is semi-famous for big largemouth bass, often exceeding 10 pounds. Bluegill are also abundant. However, be aware that you’ll need to release any grass carp you catch, per the state park’s fishing guidelines.
9. Fishing at Sebago Lake
The deepest lake in Maine at a max depth of over 300 feet, Sebago Lake is well-known for brook trout, lake trout, and rainbow trout. You’ll also encounter bass, perch, salmon, and more.
10. Fishing at Twin Lakes
In the Piedmont region of Virginia, anglers visiting Twin Lakes can cast their lines in picturesque seclusion and reel in sunfish, catfish, and especially bass. Largemouth are common, although on the smaller side compared to fishing at other prominent lakes.
People Also Ask (FAQs)
When is the best time to catch fish in a lake?
While it depends on the kind of fish you’re after, early morning is generally regarded as the best time to go lake fishing. The water is still cool from the nighttime, but fish are out looking for food. What’s more, crowds and boating activity are low, so your prospective catch won’t be spooked.
Does noise or talking scare fish in the lake?
Talking or even shouting will rarely reach fish, since sounds in the air don’t travel very far underwater. Sounds that do happen in contact with water, however, will scare fish—including stomping in a boat, loud engines, or swimmers.
Is it better to fish in a lake at night?
Night-fishing allows for fewer interruptions and more solitude, which means more fish all to yourself. A tricky component, though, is that fish become more reliant on their sonar to detect obstacles and food.
You’ll need to keep your lure moving and frequently check the status of your live bait. Bass and other ambush predator fish have weak sonar, so you’ll likely catch an abundance of perch or other schooling fish.
For equipment, you might want to use night-fishing lights: shine them at the water to attract bugs and smaller fish, which can then draw larger fish closer. Be sure to pack a life preserver and headlamp, along with survivalist gear like water, batteries, and first aid supplies.
Fishing in a lake can be challenging for new and experienced anglers alike, but the right tips, equipment, and knowledge of the area go a long way in catching fish. Whether you’re after perch, bass, trout, catfish, or whatever decides to bite that line, understanding the behavior of lake fish will ensure a productive and fun fishing trip!