Finding Your Spot Before GPS

Triangulation Illustration from the 1971 Cordell Tackle/Bill Dance book.

Terry posted a great piece on the birth of liquid crystal graphs the week before, and how they ultimately replaced the old paper graphs. Another small part of that story would be how that same technology ultimately lead to incorporating GPS and mapping into these LCR units, probably a post in its own right down the road. However, the question immediately preceeding that post would have to be how guys ever found and returned to spots out in the middle of the lake in the first place, without that technology available.

One could argue that there was a reason early “structure” fishermen made their mark on this sport, almost seeming to possess a sixth sense for finding and fishing these open water schools of fish. Beside having an ability to think in terms of a 3-dimensional picture of the lake at all times, as well as a great sense of “place”, there was the technique called ‘triangulation’.

Seeing as how Bill Dance made a huge mark on the sport of bass fishing in his early career, I went back to one of, if not his first book. “Bill Dance, the Bass Champ! Techniques of Bass Fishing” was published in 1971 by Cordell Tackle, Inc. It covers a variety of the top tactics, baits and equipment Bill used at the time to be one of the leading pros on the still developing Bassmaster circuit. I’ll cover those in another post  a bit later, but one of the pages in this short book is devoted to “triangulation and contour fishing”.

Starting with a map of the lake, all of them being made of paper at the time, Bill details the correct procedure:

“The correct procedure is to line up two objects in the same direction from the spot you’re at on the lake. Then line up two other objects either to the right or the left of you, but never behind you…Locate these objects on your map and draw two straight lines from them to your position until the lines CROSS each other. Where the lines cross indicates where you are on the lake.”

Bill goes on to mention that for every bass he catches off a shoreline, he catches nine from out in the lake behind most guys. The key is in being able to get back to those spots time and again, and triangulation is the way to do it. The more objects on the lakes shoreline and in the horizon, the easier this technique was to use. Finding permanent fixtures to use like water or fire towers were ideal, as were things like houses. A little less reliable were various trees and bushes, because over time they might blow over or grow in a way that made it difficult to remember which tree you were lining up on. Same with using “dips” in a far off treeline.

Another key was using two lineups as close to 90 degrees apart as possible. You need one to accurately set your forward-backward location, and another to get your left-right lineup. In an ideal situation, one could easily pull up within casting distance of a known hole with regularity. In less than ideal settings, you’d get close, but would have to use your depthfinder (usually a flasher at the time) to try and fine tune your exact location.

I still know “old timers” who have spots found and regularly use triangulation to fish them. I even remember a few of my old holes, and will frequently use the technique for just slightly off-shore spots where a move in toward the nearest bank on a certain lineup will guarantee I hit the spot. It’s an old, even crude, but effective technique that still works to this day.