Electronics, Bad Weather, and Big Winter Fish

Electronics, Bad Weather, and Big Winter Fish Capt. Lynn Waddell with a 30 1/4 inch 9.5 pound speck that was released to fight another day.

Okay gang - who else besides me wants to get the weatherman some medicine to treat multiple personality disorder, Holy Cow has this been crazy or what? A few weeks ago we saw snow and then 70 degree temps within 36 hours. The weather vane just continues to spin in 360 degree fashion, never staying in any one direction for very long. I guess overall we would have to say that the winter, if you can call it that, has been for the most part mild and relatively accommodating to the fisherman. We have only had a handful of days where the mercury dropped below freezing and the prospect of a major freeze seems to be an afterthought. The small fronts that pass through only serve as a day of rest for the diehard fishermen as they enjoy the excellent winter fishing following the post-front warm up.

During the month of January I had a chance to talk to several folks at various shows and it was interesting to get their perspective on the winter months and how it affected their fishing. One of my good friends, Capt. Lynn Waddell of Galveston, could not have been more excited about the cold weather fishing. "We catch our biggest fish of the year during the late winter and early spring" said Waddell. "Once we find fish in an area this time of the year we usually find a group of them relating to the same structure, they will literally get stacked up and you can't believe the numbers of fish that will come from one small area," he added. Like many other big fish hunters Waddell has spent countless hours without a bite probing shorelines looking for that one perfect spot where everything comes together. Spots like that are golden and don't come around often, so when you find one enjoy it because you could be in for a memorable trip.

Now we all know there are spots we like to fish that have produced in the past and we hope nobody else knows about them. In all reality that just isn't the case, though. In this age of technology you can almost kiss that idea goodbye. Fishermen today are incredibly resourceful and, if you are not careful, it doesn't take long for the rest of the world to find what you thought was a secret.

The tool that enables fishermen to locate new places to fish and then return to them is the Global Positioning System or GPS. Now the GPS is not new, but the technology has evolved tremendously. All the big manufacturers now have electronic mapping features available that are as good as anything you could get at home on your computer, it's "spooky" good to say the least.

Most of these maps and images are provided by mapping chips or software made by Navionics, the largest privately owned cartographic database in the world. Navionics regional representative Art Wright ran down a list of mapping options available for the different models and manufacturers for me and it was impressive. Their software is compatible with almost all the major brands of electronics and their maps and charts are the most current and up to date on the market.

"Imagine being able to go to a body of water that you never fished before and have as much or more information about it as someone who fished their all their life; it's incredible" said Wright. "We have been in some marshes during redfish tournaments that we never in a million years would have found without local knowledge or countless hours of scouting, there is almost no place we can't find" he added.

Navionics is compatible with all major brands of electronics which makes it much easier to select a new GPS or chart plotter for your boat. According to Wright one of the best things you can do is go to a big store where more than one brand is sold and compare the units side by side. The side-by-side comparison helps you find the brand and model you will be most comfortable using among the array of systems and menus available. Operating systems range from simple to complex; don't just buy one and take it home thinking, "Oh I'll learn it eventually." Get the one that fits you best.

Once you have armed yourself with the new technology you can go about the business of finding new places to chase that fish of a lifetime. I can't tell you how frustrating it is not to be able to go back to an exact spot that you know is holding fish. On Sabine we don't have much in the way of structure but what we do have is worth its weight in gold if you can find it. A quality GPS is invaluable when the spot you are searching for is no bigger than your boat, trust me.

Another word to the wise about GPS coordinates; take the time to back them up on your home computer so if your GPS hiccups you won't lose all that valuable information. I had one stolen out of my truck with about 6 years worth of coordinates stored in it from Sabine and Calcasieu; talk about sick to your stomach. I kept saying, "I'll do it later," and never downloaded them to my computer, live and learn.

Another piece of advice, especially during winter, is to be sure all your safety gear is in good order and USE those life jackets. Cold water is no place to be when there are few people out there to assist during an emergency. Today's PFDs are more comfortable than ever and there is no excuse for not wearing one, even if you are wading.

I know you are asking, "Wear a life jacket while wading, how crazy is that?" Just a little food for thought right here and I will leave it alone; a friend of mine was wading and had a kidney stone act up on him and made him double over in pain, tough to do in chest deep water. Another friend had a mild heart attack while wading, what do you think he did? Things can happen out there that you need to be prepared for, use that PFD and don't take chances.