Sunday, April 14, 2013

Using Google Earth to catch more fish! 

 Okay, some of you fish more in a week than I do in a month. And the fish I pulled out of the ice this winter all came from my freezer.  But I’ll bet I AM generally cleverer than most of the club when it comes to scouting and fishing new water.  And I’ll show you how and why:  by taking advantage of new internet technology – especially Google Earth, Bing Maps, another web tool called Angling Technologies that costs a little, and some related new Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife software.

In recent months the competition is leading both outfits update with aerial and satellite photos of much higher resolution, taken by NASA, the Department of Agriculture and others.  The most current version of Google Earth has high resolution photos of northern Colorado taken on Aug. 18, 2012, even more useful because that was a time of low water levels.  And incredibly, you can zoom down to where one inch of photo represents about 10 feet, and go back in time to look at the lake when it’s at different water levels.  To get really good at using the technology gets a bit complicated – but you can learn a LOT by just logging on and looking around the lakes, ponds, streams and hunting grounds in Colorado – or South Dakota, Nebraska or Florida.

Google Earth is the gold standard for the free stuff.  With it you can look over your favorite lake, pond or stream, or search for new ones.  Just fill in the name in Google Earth’s search engine, or “fly” to the location.  But until recently, around northern Colorado anyway, Google Earth photos were pretty dated, and not particularly high resolution.  You looked up a photo of your house, and never thought about it anymore. Then Microsoft came in with Bing Maps and a whole new generation of photos.  

Here’s what you need to get started:
ü  A PC made within the last four years or so. And it works better with a mouse.  We’ve run into problems using it on older devices.  If you don’t have one, use one at the library.
ü  Download Google Earth,  (I don’t think you can that at the library.  It’s free, though, and easy to use. Patty has added for us to the new smart podium we use for meetings.)
ü  Try Bing Maps.  You don’t need to download anything, just go to the Website,  It’s also free.  The downside is, some of their photos aren’t as high a quality.  And unless I’m missing something, you can’t do things like pinpoint likely fishing spots or identify GPS latitude and longtitude.
ü  If you’re a hunter, get acquainted with the Division of Wildlife’s newly improved Hunting Atlas,
Frankly, Hunting is way ahead of the state’s fisheries management folks with their technology, though a new fishing atlas is under development.  (see link below) With the atlas, you can zero in on the Game Management Unit  you plan to hunt, zooming in on an aerial photo or a topographic map, so you can spot where an elk might be hiding behind a rabbit bush.  And you can mark it with  the coordinates on your GPS.  And you can print your own customized map on 8x10, 11x14 or even 17 by 22 inch paper.  They also have a set off videos on how to use the atlas.  You can look at DOW records of big game concentrations and game management units superimposed on aerial photos and USGS topographic maps. 
ü  The point is, each one has a different setup, with different aerial or satellite photos taken at different times. 
ü  If you get into this with enthusiasm and want to take it a little further, I recommend Angling Technologies,  It costs $14.99 a year but allows you to toggle back and forth between Google Earth and Bing Maps satellite photos, and then take a look at a topo map with your hunting or fishing placemarkers intact.  And you can download GPS coordinates to your handheld GPS or depth finder.  You can do that with Google Earth too, but it takes some extra effort.

Why bother?  I’ll let you decide for yourself whether it’s worth it.  But if we spend half an hour together looking at a PC screen, I could find you at least one spot on a lake that someone else considers a closely guarded secret, and that someone would probably get ticked at me for telling you all this.  Google Earth and Bing provide an incredible collection of photos being used for a wide range of sometimes scary purposes, a sanitized version of what the DOD uses to plot the course of Predator Drones and cruise missiles.  You can get as paranoid as you want, and still use it yourself as a powerful tool to improve your knowledge of local and distant water and hunting grounds.  I’ve already used it to identify a host of new locations where I’m likely to catch fish.  It’s an incredible piece of technology.  And did I mention, it’s free?

Think  about one of your favorite places to fish.  Boyd for example.  Like most of the bathtubs we call lakes around here, it has only a handful of reliable spots, and most are hardly secret.  Everyone on the lake can watch you drop anchor and toss out your worm.  But with Google Earth you can precisely mark the big dredged out water company ditch off the east bank where Tom Miller caught a couple nine pound catfish a few years ago, and the exact point where the Greeley water company ditch on the south end reverts into a meandering old stream bed.  (When water levels are higher, it’s a good crappie spawning bed and a magnet for big carp).  And you can probably pinpoint the narrow, sandy trench north of the swim beach that is one of spring’s more reliable spawning beds for largemouth.
In some regions of the country, particularly offshore areas on both coasts and the big impoundments of the Midwest and southeast, private firms are already building customized maps that reveal this kind of stuff for anglers, for a fee. Colorado and surrounding states are pretty much untouched, for now, except for major trout streams.

With Google Earth, you're looking down on the earth, and if you can zoom in on a likely fishing hole or hunting ground. So if you zoom into a place like Boyd, you can first look at all of Loveland, the neighborhood around Boyd, and then use your mouse cursor to fly over the lake. 
What you can do:

·         Pinpoint the good stuff.  Google Earth comes with bright yellow electronic push pins called “Placeholders.” You find a place on a satellite photo or topographical map that you like and insert a placeholder to mark anything from where to get a bite to eat to where to find a highway. We need to use it mark potential and known fishing spots.
·         Create a Path. Paths you create let you estimate – almost to the inch – how far your boat is going to go, from the moment you launch until you stop at spots along the way.
·         You can also mark an area with a Polygon. This is going to be good for sharing broad spots with friends, like a known bluegill spawning bed on Dixon or a deep water hump on Horsetooth you found on a photo taken when the water levels were way down. 
·         Save the maps you create, print them out and even e-mail it to a buddy.
·         Those maps and the GPS coordinates you mark with placeholders are compatible with GPS, iPads and smart phones. And they can be shared.
·         Look at the same information with the lake at different water levels.  You can also look at a lake from space during a low-water time, like the current photos taken Aug. 18, 2012, lay down your Placeholders, along with information like what you caught there, when and how, and transfer the  coordinates to your GPS. And then you can toggle back to a photo taken earlier, like April 17, 2012 to find new information like weedlines.  Your placeholders, paths and polygons still mark drop-offs, trolling paths and other information on a lake that is now full of water.
Here are the links you need to get started.
 I’d start with Google Earth, and then see how you like it compared with Bing Maps.
ü  Bing Maps,
ü  Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s much improved Hunting Atlas, Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s much improved Hunting Atlas,
Colorado Parks and Wildlife's brand-new Fishing Atlas,
ü   Printable maps of major streams at
ü  Angling Technologies,  Again, costs $14.99 a year.
Some suggested places to “fly to” first:

Using Satellite Photos
Boyd Lake
Lon Hagler
Lake McConaughey
Blue Mesa
Lake Grandby
Dixon Lake
Lake Francis Case, SD
Glendo Reservoir
River’s Edge Loveland
St. Vrain State Park
Cache la Poudre

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