One of the biggest keys to tournament fishing success-especially if you are fishing lakes you have no experience on-is knowing how to break down a body of water to find fish quickly. That being said, knowing how to use maps to their greatest potential is of utmost importance.
Paper Maps- Nowadays with such great mapping softwear, like Google earth and Navionics, paper maps have lost their popularity, except with the top professionals who know better than to throw them away. Though paper maps may not hold the detail that a Navionics map has, or allow you to find small "sleeper" areas that aerial photographs can show you, cross refferencing different paper maps with other paper maps, or with mapping software can help you find some key structure and cover that you would never know was there by just looking at one source. I guarantee that if you looked at three different maps of the same lake you can find at least one key piece of structure or information that is unique to each map. Also, paper maps are good to have when technology unexprectedly fails for whatever reason, and you can take all kinds of notes on them too!!
Navionics Mapping- Though I have an affinity for "old school" maps, Navionics mapping software has done more to transform my fishing than any other kind of map or aerial photos. This is, after all, the age of technology, and with smartphones, iPads, laptops and the incredable GPS and sonar technology, you can really get your money's worth from mapping software. Most everyone knows about Navionics and their incredible mapping chips that you put in yourgps/fishfinder to get an unparalled view of the lake bottom. However, not everyone knows about their PC App and their iPad and smartphone apps as well that allow you to have the same technology on your phones. This technology has been so important for my lake research process because I can now research the lake with the best topographic maps without having to go out to my boat and turning on my Humminbird, but rather instead I can turn on my computer, plot dailing routes, make waypoints, calculate running distances and so much more- and it is all consistent with the maps that I use on the water, which allows me to know what Im looking at without having to switch gears. Another reason Navionics apps and chips are so cool is because with their Freshest Data, you can always download the newest maps to keep you on top of your game. For example, I recently helped Navionics get some contour mapping of the Alabama River, and though this was a blind-spot in the past, with Freshest Data you will soon be able to update your chips and apps to include this new information. For more information about this technology go to: www.Navionics.com
Aerial Photographs- I'd have to say, that being a shallow water angler, aerial photographs on many bodies of water can be your greatest tool for finding the winning area. The best thing about photographs like those on Google Earth is that you can use them to find all kinds of things, from a certain type of vegetation to a hidden backwater or even a certain water color. Another REALLY cool aspect of Google Earth is that you can time travel! If you click on the clock icon you can choose what year you want your photographs from, but also what time of year, which can help you find offshore structure in winter draw-down areas or in times of drought. For example, I once was researching Lake Okeechobee before a tournament, looking for a new area I had not found yet. The water was around 12-feet above sea level, which was higher than it had been, but still a bit low, so I knew I wanted to find deeper water with shallow water around it. After looking on Google Earth and turning back time to a year when the lake was extremely low, I found a perfectly round black hole in the middle of nowhere on a large flat-It was a 4-foot depression- and I ended up catching two toads out of it.
There is way too many great features of each of these sources to mention, but I hope that you take my advice and invest some time, and a little money, to get the best of all worlds of mapping. I really think it will help you as it has me!