There was a time when a GPS unit was considered a luxury item on a bass boat. Early models were expensive, difficult to use and their accuracy was suspect at times. All of that has changed today. GPS (Global Positioning System) technology has improved, and its use with fishing electronics has grown immensely.
Manufacturers have refined features to make them more user-friendly. If you can operate a personal computer, you can find your way around the keypad of a GPS.
They’re more affordable, too. You can buy a color-mapping unit with sonar capabilities today for less money than a black-and-white stand-alone unit cost when GPS first became part of fishing electronics.
Since the implementation of WAAS (Wide Area Augmentation System) that uses satellite and ground tower signals, the accuracy is astounding. I used to pride myself in being able to remember precise locations of channel ledges, stump rows and underwater points, but GPS has become so much more efficient and helpful that I can’t imagine fishing without it.
Basically, GPS pinpoints your location and allows you to save it as a “way-point,” which is stored in its memory. Depending upon the quality of the unit, you can literally save hundreds of waypoints from one or several lakes you fish.
Some electronics even allow you to remove the GPS from the boat, take it into the home, plug into an AC outlet and review the places you fished that day.
Let’s say I’m fishing a lake for the first time, searching for key spots and patterns. That night, I’ll examine all the places I fished and eliminate the unnecessary waypoints I saved during the day.
That’s important. If you use a GPS as much as I do, your waypoint listing gets cluttered with unnecessary spots that can be confusing later.
If I save 15 or 20 waypoints on a given day, the unit automatically assigns them numbers. That night, I’ll eliminate the insignificant waypoints and change the important ones from the assigned numbers to descriptive names that mean something to me. I also can prioritize them in a numerical manner, which helps me set up my next day on the water.
Advanced units come with card readers that enable anglers to download topographic maps into the memory. When you get to the lake and go to the mapping page, the lake you’re on will appear with your precise location, pertinent landmarks and structure/depth features.
Furthermore, your waypoints for that lake will be displayed, making it easier for you to get there and see the kind of structure you were fishing. If you denote waypoints where you caught fish, it’s possible that you can recognize a specific pattern by examining the topographic layout of the lake bottom.
There are other benefits, too. When I was filming near Thousand Islands, N.Y., my producer hurt his back. The next day I wanted to fish a specific creek, but I was afraid the rough boat ride in the wind to the creek would be uncomfortable for him.
I recalled from previous fishing trips that there was a marina in that creek, and I was certain it had a boat ramp. However, when I studied the large navigational map book I had of the area, I couldn’t find the marina.
I turned on my GPS, zoomed in on the area of the mapping program and there it was. I moved the screen cursor onto a nearby highway, and it told me the name. We drove right to the marina where we could launch and fish nearby without putting my producer through a painful boat ride.
My GPS experiences have taught me how valuable these electronics can be. If you fish without one, you’re short-changing yourself. If you get one, buy one with numerous capabilities and use it to your advantage. It will save you time and make you a more efficient angler.