There is no short cut to getting to know a water above and below the water, the only way is to spend as much time as possible down there. It is the close season so this means we need access to the water when no one is fishing. On some waters there is no problem to this and walking round waters in the close season is quite acceptable. However now we have actually parted with our money to join the club, we do not want to jeopardise our membership before we have even wet a line. Therefore make sure that it is okay to visit our water in the close season and more important, to take a plumbing rod down. A lot of clubs state in their rules etc that no one is allowed access to the waters in the close season, however if we really want to get the best from the water there is no other way. Therefore go to the work parties organised in the close season and get talking to the right people on the committee.

Say you are a new member and put your cards on the table. Say you want to visit the lake to get to know it's features and that it would be better if you did this in the close season rather than when the season started that would in turn upset other members fishing. I have yet to be refused permission ever and I have been using this tactic for 20 odd years on many new waters.

So we have access to the water any time we like and now we have about a month to get to know the water like the back of our hands. May is a good time to do plumbing, as the weed will only just be coming up thus the type of bottom will be easy to maintain without weed affecting it and also, any lily pads and reeds will be starting to grow and these will be visible.

A plumbing rod should be around 12 foot long and of a fairly stiff test curve, my one is three and a quarter pound test curve. A reel with a free spool facility is best, the reel should be loaded with 100 yards of braided mainline so we can feel every bump and lump on the lake bed.

What we need to know about the lake is any feature that may be of interest to the fish. Gravel bars or humps, changes in depth, depths of water right up against islands etc and also in all those spots what the bottom is made of, whether clean gravel, sand, mud or thick silt. The only way we can do all this from the bank is with the following set-up. We need a large visible very buoyant float with a swivel attached to the bottom, a heavy lead with a swivel with a large hole, at least 2 ounces, preferably more and a large bore bead. Thread the line through the swivel on the lead; follow that with the bead and then tie on the float. Then when we cast out, the lead will take it all to the bottom but by feeding line off the reel, the float will rise to the surface with the line passing through the large swivel on the lead. If this is done in a controlled manner then we can measure the amount of line fed out and thus find out the depth of water.

Okay now let's start. First of all, choose a likely swim that covers plenty of water and make the first cast. After the lead hits the water, feel it go down using the rod and a tight line, and we should feel the lead hit the bottom with some sort of thud. This already has given us some sort of idea of the bottom, a firm thud is hard bottom and a dull thud is silt or light weed. Nothing at all is heavy weed but hopefully by doing this in May the weed should not be too bad. Now the lead has landed, tighten up the line so the float is tight to the lead. Now, by feeding the line off the reel using the free spool facility a foot or two at a time, the float rises until it breaks surface. By counting the amount of line let out we know the depth at that point. Now wind in again so the float is tight to the lead. Now by pulling the rod to your side we can see the action of the rod tip as the lead moves across the bottom. The slower we do this the better we can tell the composition of the bottom. If the lead comes in smooth then the bottom is silt or mud, if the rod tip taps or jerks as the lad moves then it is gravel or stones. When this is felt it is worth testing the depth again by carrying out the procedure above. We may have well have found the back of a gravel bar and by testing the depth we can see if the water is now shallower. If it is, then again wind down to the lead and slowly pull the lead a bit more. At the top of the bar there will be a smoother area, when this is felt, test the depth again. Then winding down again, pull across the top of the bar until the line goes slack or you feel jerks again. Now we know how wide the bar is, also if the line went slack quickly we know the side of the bar is steep, as the lead has fallen quickly down the front of the bar.

The process can now be completed pulling the lead towards you to see if there are other features of interest nearer the bank. Of course patches of gravel might not be bars they may be just broken ground with the same depth as surrounding water, still good features though. Make three or four casts in each swim searching the water in front of you and move on around the lake. Remember to have a look around islands and also in the margins if the bottom cannot be seen.

The whole process will probably take several visits depending on the size of your water. Of course if the water is huge then it is sensible to just explore one area of the lake. Get to know that and fish there for the first few sessions before searching another area of the lake after the season has started if no action is received. Remember also to look for areas of snags, fallen trees etc, and also overgrown areas of bank that are not easy to fish. As you go around, mark every feature you find on a large sketch map of the water. Mark the distance each feature is from the bank and also mark significant features on the far bank that can be used as a casting direction aid from the swim for when you actually start fishing to ensure the feature is located easily again.

Once we have done all this we should feel we know the water very well and should feel very confident about fishing the water. Without doing all this it will be very difficult to get this information after the season starts and a whole season could be wasted fishing in the wrong areas. I know it is a lot of work but it is the only way to get the results we all want. In the final part next week I will talk about pre-baiting using the features we have just found to ensure the fish are feeding on the spots we intend to fish.

Have fun!