This column begins a two-part series on how to analyze the water you fish even if you've never laid eyes on it. The skills can make you a better angler whether you apply it to new water or your favorite fishing hole.
They also work whether you consider yourself a beginner or an advanced fisherman like Hook, Line & Sinker friend Mike Gofron of Antioch. Gofron is the reigning 2005 Professional Walleye Trail Angler-of-the-Year.
There was a time in his life when the nation's best walleye waters were nothing more than names. He'd never even seen any of them.
But since Gofron, 41, began his tournament career with the Masters Walleye Circuit in 1988, he's developed a method to cut even the biggest lakes, reservoirs and rivers down to size. He applies the process mostly to find walleyes. But it works for every ambush predator that swims.
w Start with a map of the lake, river or reservoir. Note feeder rivers and creeks. Next, note major structures, such as points and midlake humps nearest deep water. Draw circles around structures to check out.
w Seek out fishermen who've been there and pump them for whatever information they have. When were they there? Where did they fish? What tactics did they use? Were they successful?
w Ask Department of Natural Resources biologists who work the area for data that could be of help. For example, where do they electroshock or net fish? What are the average sizes? Is the population excellent, good, fair or poor?
w Check Web sites for information on water levels when targeting reservoirs and rivers. Fish move shallow into newly submerged vegetation and other cover when water rises. They move deeper when it falls.
w As Gofron drives to the water, he pays attention to the type of terrain that surrounds it. Is it flat? Does it feature hills? The land around the water gives a strong hint as to what structure you can expect to lie underwater.
w Visit bait shops. Buy another map and have the attendant mark productive spots. Ask for the latest information on the depth fish are holding and what tactics are working.
w Once on the water, head to the structures most likely to produce at that time of year. In springtime, Gofron is looking for structures near the rivers and creeks walleyes may use to spawn. He also looks for dark-bottom bays on the north side of the lake that may harbor warmer water. He likes to stay on the main lake if he can where fish aren't moving as much as they do in rivers. In summer, look for midlake structures and points that run to deep water.
w Pay attention to environmental factors. For example, wind blowing toward a structure elevates its importance.
w Gofron keeps an eye on the split-screen of his sonar. One side shows the bottom, the other his GPS location on an electronic map of the area. He can see forage and game fish and tell how fish are relating to structure. He also notes important details that may not have been on the maps, such as weed patches and rocks, fallen trees and stumps.
Notice something? Gofron has been on the water some time now and he hasn't begun to fish, which is far too slow a method to learn a new body of water, he said. When the time does arrive, he sometimes trolls breaks at the depths where he saw forage fish to find out if they hold fish. He'll also continue discovering features not on a map. He adds those on the paper, too. His favorite bait is a jig, which not only catches fish, but helps him find even more weeds and rocks or timber where fish may hide.
When he catches a fish, he asks himself: Why was that fish there? Are there others?
If you follow his plan, you can go from not knowing a thing about a spot to knowing every detail.
Next week: Illinois is a state of reservoirs. Fishing educator Jim Crowley talks about how to dissect them to locate bass.
w The Lake Shelbyville Muskie Club hosts Lake Shelbyville guide and muskie tournament angler Andrew Veach, who will speak on "Finding and Catching Lake Shelbyville Muskies";at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Eagle Creek Resort. Toby Shafer from Toby's Reel Repair in Sullivan;will speak to the club at 7 p.m. March 7.;Feel free to bring your reels to the meeting to drop them off for cleaning and repair;or just;to have them inspected.
w Mike Steffa of the Comlara Park staff will talk about the park and Evergreen Lake at the PrairieLand Anglers meeting at 7 p.m. Feb. 9 at Lincoln Leisure Center in Bloomington. Free and open to the public.
Scott Richardson is Pantagraph outdoor editor. Phone (309) 820-3227 or e-mail srichardsonyayaypantagraph .