When you pull up to lake you’re not 100 percent familiar with, how on earth is it possible to identify water where the bass may be biting? Think about it. Many of Central Florida’s best bass lakes have miles upon miles of water. Where do you start?
I’m faced with this situation at least a few times a year. What I’ve learned is you have to do your homework. Days or weeks before the trip, I’ll pull a satellite view of the lake up on my computer (Google Maps makes it easy). This shows me what the lay of the lake is from a top view, and I can get as tight and detailed as I want to. I have literally seen satellite images where boats are actually out on the lake fishing.
This view also shows me where any rivers or tributaries intersect the lake and lets me identify points that jut out farther into the water. Some of these things you simply can’t see from inside the boat. You can look out over the lake and not really identify a point or how far it juts out into the lake.
I have also done satellite reconnaissance on lakes that I am familiar with. I still see things that I don’t catch when I’m riding around in the boat. The view from above gives me a great visual that I then take one step farther.
Depth charts are available for the larger lakes. I’ll be honest — I have not used a lake chart for quite some time. But they can be very beneficial. The only reason I don’t use them is that I’ve become very familiar with the depths of most of the lakes I fish.
Try cross-referencing your charts and satellite images. If you can locate those spots you saw on the satellite, you can then look at a chart and see what kind of depth you have. For instance, you see that big point jutting out into the lake. Does it have a good depth of water under it, or is it so shallow you can’t get close to it? That’s what a good contour map will tell you.
I have charts of all of the major lakes in Florida. When water depths change significantly due to hurricanes, El Niño rainfalls or droughts, I still refer to my charts periodically just to make sure I’m not running into trouble.
All your homework will pay off when you get into the boat and ride out to see these spots in person. I used to do this when fishing Okeechobee because it’s just so darn big. I found a couple of small inlets on the satellite pics. When I went to the spot, I discovered a good depth change just outside of the inlets. I can’t tell you how many bass we caught at that one spot. That little bit of deeper water was holding a ton of bass.
And it’s a spot I would have never located without the use of the satellite photos. That one spot was an absolutely awesome find and allowed me to have a fantastic day on the lake. And to think, all it took was bringing the lake up on Google Maps and doing a little “fly-over” to see things that I couldn’t see from the boat.
I remember back to my early days of fishing in Florida. I didn’t know anything about the lakes down here, and besides Lake Michigan, I had never seen the size lakes that Florida has. It was like relearning bass fishing all over again. There was no way I could go out and just start catching bass. I tried to, but failed miserably.
Now, a little time and effort sitting at the computer makes me feel so much more confident and has actually put me on spots that have worked out great. Plus, do you know how much money I save in gas knowing where I am going compared to just driving around? Me neither, but it’s a lot.
If you are trying new lakes, start by giving the old internet a try. I’m here to tell you that it can really pay off.
Greg Bartz is a tournament bass fisherman based in Lakeland. Greg fishes lakes throughout Florida’s Heartland with his wife and tournament partner, Missy. Contact him at Greg.Bartz@SummitHoldings.com.