Being able to find fish on a lake before you put the boat in the water is a great help to the start of a successful day on the water. Reading the bottom of the lake and finding the migration routes the fish will follow to and from the feeding grounds and where the feeding grounds are from a map is a huge key to success. This ensures time spent fishing will be in the more productive areas of the lake instead of casting blindly at some unproductive shoreline in the hope there may be a fish in the area that will bite.
A good contour map is worth its weight in gold if you have the knowledge to read it, and not worth the paper it’s printed on if you can’t. The lines represent the depth breaks. Each line shows changes in depth that graduate from shore to the deepest water in the lake. The value of the map is in the accuracy of the contour placements and changes. Most Government and geological survey maps are for the most part the most accurate. These agencies are a good source for maps as are any Aerospace contour map. Army Corps of Engineers is another good source. The tackle shop plastic maps are the most readily available but often lack true accuracy. These maps will get you in the right area and give you some good starting places; some even come with GPS reading of good fishing areas. The real key in catching fish is being in the area where the fish are. Good map reading can take you from one productive area in the lake to another just like it simply by looking on a map.
Finding the break or desired depth change on a map is the same as looking for it on the water. During the warm water seasons the fish will relate to a more gradual slope or break and during colder water seasons a sharper drop into deeper water will be their preferred choice. Once you’ve located the desired place on the map, finding the location on the water becomes the next challenging task. A GPS and a compass are needed tools and, for any structure fishing, a good depth finder is a must. Finding these places still requires time driving around on the water; good map studies just mean less wasted time. You can find the right areas with site and direction searches. A site and direction search starts with identifying two landmarks on the map and on the water. Take a bearing from one mark towards the other watching your depth finder. When you come to the desired depth throw a buoy marker. Marker buoys are a must to be able to picture what the area really looks like. Good map reading is one thing that separates the top anglers that win on a regular basis. By good map study, the areas of the lake that will be holding the most fish at a given seasonal period can be found days before ever seeing the water.
There are always changes to the bottom that are not on some maps and these places, if conditions are right, can be gold mines. Fewer people will know of these places and thus less pressure on the fish that live there. Other key pieces of structure and breaks to look for that are not on some maps are springs, wells, old house foundations and old pulp wood roads. Most of the newer reservoirs have maps showing all these details, but the older lake most of these details were not noted on maps before the lake was flooded. Sometimes fishermen will share good fishing areas on different bodies of water. Studying these areas and looking for similar areas can also increase the success of a fishing trip. I talked to a man at a Jiffy store on the way to a lake I was fishing miles away. He told me about a break in the river where a creek came into the channel. Sure enough that place was a great holding area but, after studying the map at the hotel, so were the next two creeks that entered on down river. Good patterns will reproduce themselves time and time again. Map study can just show you where.
God Bless, good fishing
Capt. John Leech