Bassmaster.com recently posted a photo gallery of my Toyota truck. In that gallery was a photo of a stack of paper maps saying they never go out of style. I couldn’t have said it better myself.
Let’s start this discussion by saying that a map is part science and part art. No matter how much work goes into one, it’s never perfect. Some things will be on it that aren’t on any other map of the same area, and some things won’t be on it that are on other maps.
That’s why I have several of every body of water I fish. I’ve collected them over the years, and I never go into a tackle shop without checking to see if they have a paper map I don’t have. It’s a lifelong project.
I’m especially fond of the old reservoir maps. They often show things that the newer maps don’t. I think that’s because they were made closer to the time when the reservoir was made and flooded. I’m always amazed to look at one and see old house foundations, roads and even railroads that are not shown on my newer versions.
Those places might be silted in or covered over but parts of them are still there — usually, anyway. You can find those parts with your Lowrance electronics if you take the time.
That’s why I carry lots and lots of paper maps. It isn’t that I don’t have confidence in the newer preloaded or Navionics digital maps. I do. It’s just that more information is better. You need to be able to find stuff that the other guys don’t find if you expect to catch more fish than they do.
The only way I know to do that is to get several maps of the same reservoir, lake or river. Put them on the kitchen table and compare them side by side. Once you’ve done that, you can compare your finding with your electronic maps, mark waypoints and plan your attack.
I know this is a lot of work. It’s more fun to be out on the water actually fishing. But it’s also more fun to come to the dock in the afternoon with a heavy sack of bass. What I’m talking about is a good first step towards doing that. And it really doesn’t matter at what level you’re fishing.
If you’re looking toward big tournaments and maybe a professional career, multiple map study and comparison is a must. I promise you the other guys you’re fishing against are doing it, the ones at the top of the standings, anyway. You have no other option.
Even if you’re a recreational angler, though, map study is critical. Mostly you’re fishing the same places. The more detailed your knowledge of those places is the better you can fish them, especially of Saturday and Sunday when every angler and boater on the planet is running over “your” spot.
A word of warning: Be careful of marked depths. They’re almost always measured at normal pool. If the water’s down, you can get into trouble in a hurry.