Mapping It Out

Fish aren't really that hard to catch, they're sometimes just hard to find.

I don't know about anyone else, but I wouldn't try to take a trip a thousand miles from my home and navigate through several major metropolitan areas without first consulting a map.

It's important to know where you're going on the water, too.

For me, that process starts before I ever hook up the boat. Thanks to Navionics cartography, I can put together a game plan based on what I see and what I know from experience.

The detail in today's Navionics mapping and technology is incredible. One-foot contours and exceptional structure definition and substrate identification are featured on most bodies of water. That list is growing, too, through the use of sonar logs provided by individual users as part of Navionics' SonarCharts program. Which can be used on any device.

So, when I am planning a trip for recreational or competitive fishing, I can consult a hard copy of a map for that body of water, take my sonar unit into the house and plug it in or just climb in the boat for an in-depth look.

The time of year and approximate water temperature give me a good idea where to begin. Then it's just a matter of finding those areas on the map.

Let's say it's early spring when walleyes tend to relate to the northernmost sand flats near incoming creeks or rivers. They are there because that's where the water warms fastest due to southern exposure from the sun and the stained water from the incoming tributaries.

Maybe it's mid-summer. Then I'm looking for deep weed edges close to sharp breaklines. If it's late summer, I'll be looking for areas that might hold suspended fish, often foraging in deep, open water in the vicinity of long points or deep structure.

Once I've settled on a few general areas, I can hone in on some specifics. One thing I've learned over the years is that identifying a specific depth the fish are feeding at can make the difference between catching a limit of walleyes or showing back up at the boat ramp empty handed.

I try to determine what might be the "spots" on the spots. It might be a subtle point along an otherwise unremarkable shoreline, a spot where the breakline is sharper than elsewhere, a flat or shelf that looks ideal for feeding fish or a cup or point along a weed edge or contour. Typically, I'm looking for something irregular within that general area I've identified for that particular time of year.

By entering waypoints on my GPS from home, I can set up a trolling pass between those spots or go straight to an individual spot when I get on the water.

The cartography will put me in the right place. Then it's up to me to put together the right presentation and determine what the specific feature of the day might be from those cups, points, contour changes, etc., that I've identified.

It's amazing what we can do with the help of today's technology. Mobile apps take it even further by allowing me to look at the same map on my phone that's in my boat.

It reminds me of that old quip about even a blind walleye finding a minnow once in awhile. That walleye would eat well with the help of today's cartography.

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