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Location, Location, Location!

April 2, 2011
By John Csizmadia
Location, location, location… it’s a phrase commonly used when discussing real estate. The success or failure of a business often depends on its location, and location is a critical aspect of your potential for success on the water. Only 10% of the total amount of water in most types of lakes and rivers will hold fish and it’s even less in large bodies of water like the great lakes. You can’t catch a fish if you don’t wet a line, and you can’t catch a fish if you’re fishing where they are not!

Walleye, or any fish for that matter, have only a few basic needs: To reproduce (spawn), to eat (forage), and to have a location suitable to these two key factors of their survival. So how do you eliminate the unproductive water and fish where the fish are? There are several factors that must be considered to determine fish location in a given natural lake, river, or reservoir, and there’s some great recent technology that can help.

The first factor to consider is the type of lake, impoundment, or river you’ll be fishing. The lake classification system developed and popularized by Al and Ron Linder can help you define the personality of the water you fish. Will you be fishing a natural lake, river or manmade reservoir? How old is it? If it’s a natural lake is it a young lake that is deep and clear, or an older body of water that is shallower and fertile with darker water and significant weed growth? Is the river you’ll be fishing an adult river with fair populations of walleye or middle –aged and full of ‘hawgs’. What are the characteristics of the land area surrounding your favorite reservoir? Is it a flatland impoundment with little or no structure and expansive flats, or a hill-land reservoir with extensive small humps, some flats, and pronounced main lake points? The characteristics of the water you fish will help guide you to where the fish will most likely be located, but you must also consider another important factor: The Calendar Period.

The calendar period defines the seasonal pattern that fish will be responding to in a given body of water. Is it pre-spawn, spawn, post-spawn, or late fall on the water you’re fishing? It’s an obvious question that helps determine fish location in any lake, river or reservoir. During the post-spawn period walleyes may be located near suitable spawning habitat that has available forage (food), or they may be transitioning towards their summer pattern, again following their primary forage base. During late fall they will most likely be located near steep breaks and river channel bends with access to forage. Don’t get caught fishing “memories”. You may have made limit catches of fish on your favorite shallow water rock hump during pre-spawn, but fishing that same spot during late fall will most likely have poor results. Hopefully you noticed a key factor to fish location in the above scenarios: Forage!

Forage will further dictate where Mr. or Mrs. Walleye will be located. Not just the location of forage, but the type of forage itself. Understanding the primary and secondary forage base of the water you’ll be fishing will help you determine fish holding locations. Are shad the primary forage base of your favorite reservoir, or are you fishing a natural lake where the walleye relate to weed growth and feed on the perch that also inhabit the weeds? Are there mud flats where the fish will be feeding on a secondary forage base of emerging insects like mayfly? It’s important to consider forage in relation to the type of water and time of year that you’ll be fishing. A great looking point, river channel, or hump without the presence or nearby availability of forage will likely bring disappointing results.

Okay, so you have classified the water you’ll be fishing and have a fair idea where the fish should be located considering the time of year and the type of forage they should be feeding on. How do you pinpoint some promising locations to have a great day on the water? Break out the maps. Topographic maps, hydrographic maps, electronic maps and GPS/Sonar units can help you break down the water you intend to fish. You can review these maps and look for flats, rock humps, main lake points and other promising spots. They’ll help you understand the depths and variety of structure contained in the body of water they represent. They’re also a good thing to have on hand when visiting local bait shops or talking with other anglers so they can help you pinpoint some hot spots.

Here’s where some of the technology available to today’s angler can reap huge benefits. I call it virtual pre-fishing. It involves the use of mapping software in conjunction with a GPS/Sonar unit to allow you to view the water you intend to fish on a personal computer and to plot waypoints, trails and routes which can be saved to a memory card. This memory card can then be used to load these waypoints into your GPS unit and presto, you have your locations ready to go before you even hit the water. Mapping software programs like Navionics Hot Maps Explorer, Fugawi Marine ENC and others can be powerful tools in your angling arsenal. They are relatively easy to use and are reasonably priced considering the features they offer. Besides their sonar/fish finding capabilities, some electronics manufacturers like Humminbird, include PC mapping and waypoint cataloging software that works in conjunction with their units built-in maps and compatible mapping cards from Navionics, Lake Master and others. All of these programs will allow you to view maps, and plot waypoints, routes and trails just as you would on your hardware GPS unit, all from the comfort of your home or office via a personal computer. Navionics Hot Maps Explorer features the same maps as their popular Hot Maps pre-programmed map cards. It’s a real bargain at around $30. Fugawi’s Marine ENC will allow you to upload free charts from NOAA and view Navionics and other manufactures pre-programmed map and chart cards on your PC. Then at the end of your day of fishing, you can store any additional waypoints you may have plotted while on the water to a memory card from your GPS and load them back into your chosen software for future reference. All of these programs have a litany of features to allow you to catalog and organize your waypoints with detailed notes like date, time, water temperature etc. They are today’s electronic version of the paper based fisherman’s log book, with the additional benefit of the detailed maps they contain and the precise accuracy of GPS technology. While it can be a bit of extra work, the benefits this technology can provide are well worth the effort. Now is the perfect time to get busy before the open water season gets into full swing!

So there you have it: Lake Classification, Calendar Period, Forage, Maps, Virtual Pre-Fishing… it all boils down to three very important words in fishing: Location, location, location. And once you find them, remember this: You can’t catch a fish if you don’t wet a line!

Fact Box

Topographic maps, hydrographic maps, electronic maps and GPS/Sonar units can help you break down the water you intend to fish.



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