COLUMN: Gather all your intel before fishing new waters

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A few columns back, I wrote about why I conduct seminars and how lucky we are in the Flathead Valley to have so many experienced anglers, guides and charter captains who are willing to give their time and share their experiences to help make you and I better anglers.

One of my newer seminars deals with traveling to new lakes and waters and doing a large amount of scouting from home before you even arrive at the lake. This info is valuable whether you are traveling for vacation, scouting for a tournament or just learning new waters at home. I originally developed this seminar for the traveling tournament ice angler, but it has become an excellent resource for all types of fishing.

Among the main tools anglers have been using for years are the bathymetric maps that are available from fish and game agencies. Particularly in Montana, many of these maps date back to the 1950s, but they do give us some base info on any given lake. In some states, paper maps of varying detail are widely available for thousands of lakes, while in other states the process can be frustrating.

Electronic maps are becoming more and more available, whether they came pre-installed on your sonar/GPS combo on your boat, on a map chip purchased from Navionis, Lakemaster or others, or by using a “snipping tool” and copying maps from natural resource agency web pages, local chambers of commerce etc. Maps of lakes can be found from many resources; one just needs to do some creative searching.

Spend some time on the internet forums and chat rooms for the particular lake you are fishing.

Review not just the current discussions, but dig back into the archives for some historical perspective as well. For almost any given coverage of any area on Google Earth, you can select from images taken over several decades, matching current conditions for the time of year you plan to visit (low water, high water etc.). YouTube videos can also be very helpful: Look for landmarks or other identifying giveaways in these videos. (Hint: They don’t have to be purely fishing videos, but you may see folks fishing in the background).

Gathering as much of this intel as possible before your trip allows you time to study this info and prepare a game plan. Then, when you arrive at your destination, the ground work begins. Make a visit to all of the local tackle shops and study the shelves. Look for the empty pegs, since they will tell you what lures the locals are buying. Pick the brains of the employees a little; spending some money will certainly up your odds of getting the right info.

Make small talk at the boat ramp and try to blend in and look like a local. Showing up in all your “pro gear” looking like you are KVD may not be the best approach. Ask generic questions such as “Do you fish this lake much?” Or even better, “Man, where does a new guy even begin to fish a lake this size?” Don’t drill for info but rather strike up a conversation and see where it leads. The guys or gals with the “hot stick” will almost always tell you, but let it be their move.

Lastly, get out there and verify your information. Hit those three to four real likely spots you feel good about, but once you verify that info, move on to the next spot, unless it is a one-day-and-gone deal. Otherwise, you now have a grasp on that fishery, with more opportunities to explore based on what you have learned. I’ll see you on the water!

Howe runs Howes Fishing/A Able Charters. Contact him at or 257-5214 or by emailing

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