Updated: Nov 28, 2019
Full disclosure: I make no claims of being the next Kevin Van Dam. Over the years through trips, kayaking and camping I have had the opportunity and challenge of fishing a brand new lake. Over time I have figured out a few things that help me focus my efforts that I wanted to share.
Time of Year + Target Species
The first thing I think about when fishing a new lake is the time of year. Specifically all things being equal where would the fish I want to catch be located. Sometimes I am relying on past experiences to help me pinpoint these locations, to help with this I always try to write down what was happening on any given day after fishing. Some people keep a journal, others use apps or their phone, personally I send myself an email. Other times I will google; smallmouth bass in September and see what comes up. I also use Pinterest a lot, there are so many great links to articles or videos about fishing. You can follow my fishing board here: Andrew's Fishing Board. I would also highly recommend the In Fisherman Series of books - they are old but in terms of understanding fish behaviour and how to locate fish they are awesome - you can find them on amazon etc.
Once I have got a few places where I think I will start its time to start looking at the lake itself. Google Maps, Anglers Atlas are my first stops. Basically I will start to scan the lake and look for any area's I have determined are a good starting point. For example in late June, early July I have had a lot of success catching smallmouth on the inside edge of weedbeds. Using google earth I can see (depending on when the satellite image was taken) if there are any weedy area's or sometimes you can notice bull rush covered shorelines. Nothing beats a good depth map - again I am looking for area's where I think fish will be. Anglers Atlas and Fish Online are good places to find free maps.
Once again google (or Bing et al) is your friend. The internet is full of fishing forums, blogs (like this awesome one) and online communities where people talk about fishing. A few favourites: OFN Walleye Central Canada Board Canadian Fishing Guide Ontario Out of Doors Fishing I do want to highlight that it is against most forum rules and considered bad etiquette to ask for or share specific spots but they are a great source of general information. If you are respectful and asking for general tips you would be surprised how much help people are willing to give.
My thoughts here may differ from conventional wisdom. When I target a new lake I will always start with the lure I have the most confidence in. I am going with what has worked the best for me in the past - ideally aligned with the structure I am fishing (I don't like peeling weeds off my lure). Prior to fishing a new lake I like to put together a tackle tray or bag together featuring the lures I believe will be key for the day. I may have a few backups as well but I want to be ready from when I launch and starting with those confidence baits
So get on out there and try a new lake. Personally one of the biggest joys I get from fishing is in the "figuring it out". The satisfaction of catching a fish on a new lake is something that is just so satisfying.