Past Technology – Lost Art

Topo Map CropI was at Walmart the other day to pick some stuff up and, as always, had to go by the fishing section to see if the Walmarts here in North Carolina are any better than the ones I used to frequent in Idaho. As I was looking at the Strike King KVD crankbaits and other paraphernalia I don’t need, I came across a couple pegs of topo maps – one of Shearon Harris and the other of Jordan, two lakes that are now only about 30 minutes from where I live.

As I was looking over them in the store, the thought occurred to me, “does anyone even buy these things anymore with all the electronics we have on our boats?” I bought the maps, went home and started looking at them in detail.

One good thing about technology is it makes it easier to do things. A good point is the mapping software that comes with graphs these days is loaded with waypoints and make it easy to pinpoint an exact spot you want to fish. The downside of that is it’s difficult to look at your graph when you’re in the house preparing for your trip and unless you have a 40-inch computer screen, it’s difficult to get a look at an entire lake on your computer (plus the wife probably isn’t too keen on the Sharpie marks you write on the TV either). A topo map allows you to see it all.

Then, having recently done a piece on George Kramer, I remembered seeing an article written by Don Siefert in the Fall 1976 issue of Western Bass magazine. The title of the article was “How to Read Topo Maps.” I remember first reading this article in 1976, before I even had a flasher, and it started me on my quest to understand what was below the water.

For those of you outside southern California and younger than 35, Don’s name probably doesn’t mean anything to you at all. But for those of us in our 40s who fished the area back then, Don was a genius at deep-water angling and even more so at the use of depth finders. He was on the Lowrance pro staff in the 70s, 80s and maybe even into the 90s. He could do things with a paper graph and flasher that would impress even Darrell Lowrance.

Anyway, I reread the article and the information in it holds as true today as it did way back in the 70s. Unfortunately, I don’t think anyone even prints material like this anymore – let alone pays much attention to it. When was the last time you saw an article in a magazine that showed a topo map and described how to use it to find fish? The young folks out there wanting to learn how to find and catch fish need this information.

Because of that thought, I scanned the entire article and have posted it here (Retro ads included at no cost) for you to check out. Maybe I’m wrong, maybe the young crowd still uses topo maps, but the layer of dust on the two maps I bought surely seems to point in another direction.

In the meantime, I’m studying my new maps. The contain no waypoints or any stamped “fish” that would allude to good fishing spots. They’re bare and the only thing that’ll fill them in will be me – by studying the lay of the lake and experience. I’m looking forward to see if any of my “old” ideas pan out.

So, do any of you still use topo maps?

Topo Comp 1-c Topo Comp 2-b


  • Jojo Norwood

    I have a map or 2 or 3 of most every lake I’ve ever fished….like a couple of years ago when I went to Guntersville….I had a paper map that I bought the first time I ever went into the Wall-Mart in Fort Payne AL. Which was a couple of years before I ever made it to the lake. I’m old school and programed to GET a MAP BEFORE I go to a new lake. I even have some “pre-impoundment” surveys maps of Hartwell and Russell….talk about detail large scale. I just have got a GPS for the boat….it’s nice but mine is small and B/W. Nice to be able to see the whole lake on one page…it loaded my “internal-GPS”….I’m lucky I habela topo maps….that and tie’n knots was what I got from my 1 year tour of duty w/ the Boy Scouts….LOL A 2K GPS can fail but a paper map will always work unless it blows out going down the lake…spend the extra money and buy waterproof..LOL

  • cc

    I fish southern California lakes and still use topo maps all the time. We had a guy out in the Riverside area named Maurice Holybee who, besides being a fabulous worm pourer, made great topo’s. The detai blew away Mert’s and Fishing Maps. Really good stuff.

    IMHO, topo’s go a long way toward understanding structure fishing – true structure fishing.

    A quick note on Don Siefert, he did a sonar video with Don Iovino – another pretty fair deep water structure fisherman – that is still available on Iovino’s web site and through Tacklewarhouse. It’s a superb video.