The Dallas Fire Fighters Bass Club was formed in the 1970s and as a casual angler just turned serious fisherman I was a charter member.
We held monthly tournaments, and the most successful competitor overall won the club’s coveted Angler of the Year trophy.
During the years I fished those tournaments seriously I didn’t exactly hog that trophy, but I never finished lower than third place in the annual standings.
I consistently finished ahead of anglers who were better with worms, crankbaits, spinnerbaits and topwaters than me, thanks to what I did before I hit the water each tournament.
Fishing success requires knowing what to cast and where to cast it. I studied the fishing reports in the Dallas Morning News, Dallas Times Herald and the Fort Worth Star Telegram, and called the short list of good fishermen I knew to glean all the information possible just before pulling the boat to a tournament.
I also stopped at marine dealers and tackle shops on the way to the tournament lake, looking for more information.
On my way to a night tournament on legendary Sam Rayburn Reservoir in Southeast Texas, I stopped at a Raycraft bass boat dealership in Lufkin. The owner kept a finger on the pulse of bass fishing all over East Texas, and he pointed that finger at a spot on the large map of Big Sam hanging on the showroom wall. There had been a tournament the previous weekend, and the winner had fished the Shirley Creek area with black plastic worms and lizards.
I won the tournament and my partner finished second fishing the stretch of shoreline the dealer pointed out.
Another practice that paid off for me was “camp scouring.” When I arrived at the headquarters campground or marina, I parked my rig and immediately wandered around talking to fishermen, hoping to turn up key information.
Shortly after arriving for a daytime tournament at Toledo Bend Reservoir on the Texas/Louisiana border I met an angler who was leaving after a week of great fishing. He revealed that he’d caught most of his fish in standing timber on surprisingly shallow shoreline flats.
He was fishing a weightless lizard over the weed beds that practically choked the lake’s shoreline back then. He had an hour before his group was leaving and suggested that we launch my boat so he could show me how and where he was fishing.
We stopped at a weed bed within sight of the launching ramp, and he showed me how he had been rigging a purple lizard. He sailed the bait out over the weeds and slowly crawled it back in, stopping at each clear hole in the weeds and twitching it.
The lizard disappeared with a swirl in one of the holes, and that technique locked itself into the first open memory cell cluster in my brain. It also won the tournament for me.
So,was this all just luck? I guess you could look at it that way but, if so it’s the kind of luck you can manufacture.
Anyone can develop a network of fellow fishermen, bait shops and marine dealers as information sources, and thanks to computers it is exponentially easier and more effective today than it was 40 years ago.
I just Googled “fishing report sam rayburn lake” and got 22,700 results in 0.35 seconds. There are always unrelated entries to weed out, but the first 20 actual, up-to-date fishing reports gave me more information than I ever got from a newspaper and more than enough to form a mental snapshot of the lake’s current state of fishing.
Some of the entries were from lake associations, chambers of commerce, and marine and tackle dealers just like those I used to spend hours visiting on the way to a tournament.
Once you get that information, it’s easier than ever to put it to use. Nearly all of today’s electronic lake maps show finer detail than the “state of the art” tear-resistant paper maps of the 1970s, and they are more accurate.
GPS didn’t exist back then, and paper maps often showed critical details like the convergence of a feeder creek with the main river channel to be a quarter of a mile from where they actually were. Many of today’s more accurate digital maps can even be corrected to the lake’s current water level.
Now networked fishing buddies can share their fishing spots as waypoints and zero in on them even in fog or darkness. You can record your plot trail during practice in a different color each day, and mark strikes with waypoints. Then when tournament day dawns you already know if the fish have been holding steady, trending deeper or shallower through your practice period, and you have a great idea where to start fishing.
Remember those great fishing spots I was told about? If I had fished those individual places out and needed to find similar spots, it might have taken days to find and put together a workable list. Humminbird has recently come out with a program called SmartStrike that can do this and much more for you.
The program comes on an SD card that plugs into new Humminbird ONIX and ION units. It works with Humminbird’s LakeMaster maps by applying search algorithms to the map data to help you pattern fish.
In either of the situations above you could simply select the area you fished out and then select “Find Similar Areas.” The program searches millions of data points — including those indicating depth range, aspect (northeast, northwest, south, etc.), type of structure, proximity to major types of structure — and highlights similar areas all over the lake.
The program can also give you a head start in guiding you to fish when your networked sources don’t come through. You input search parameters like fish species, season, time of day and weather conditions, and SmartStrike highlights areas of the lake where your prey is most likely to be found.
SmartStrike’s full search functionality is limited to LakeMaster high-definition waters included on the SD card. LakeMaster started out in the northern U.S. as one of the best mapping sources for northern walleye fishermen. It was acquired by Humminbird’s parent company, Johnson Outdoors, and has been expanded to aid lake and coastal fishermen in 31 states with more on the way.
To find out if a LakeMaster map of your favorite fresh or saltwater fishing area exists, visit www.lakemap.com and click on Find a Lake. There is also a place to suggest new fishing waters for mapping.
By the way, LakeMaster has Sam Rayburn and Toledo Bend covered in high definition — ready to help you manufacture some luck.