Bytes To Mega Bites

Angler goes online to map out tournament fishing strategy

Story and Photos by Craig Lamb

Jamey Caldwell holds down a regular job, although it’s not what you call routine. He is a Special Forces sergeant major of the Army stationed at Fort Bragg, N.C., home of the 82nd Airborne Division. Caldwell also is an avid tournament angler whose work hours prevent him from spending time on unfamiliar water ahead of the competition.

That’s a familiar scenario for many bass fishermen. Anyone short on fishing time can apply Caldwell’s process for finding bass on an unfamiliar lake. All that’s required is a computer, modern marine electronics and doing some homework.

“The benefit of what I do at home is save gas money and eliminate a lot of unproductive water before arriving at the lake,” he says.

Photo of Jamey Caldwell's computers

Caldwell begins by searching for websites offering maps with satellite views of a given lake. Variety is key. He looks for multiple aerial surveys of the same areas so comparisons can be made. The reason is map views vary depending on when the photographs were taken.

Government agencies also produce maps based on their needs, adding another layer to the end result. Caldwell’s sources include traditional mapping resources like Google Earth, Bing Maps, the USGS and NOAA.

Caldwell uses a shortcut to find and save all the collective maps, a website called Mapper (mappermaps.com). It allows the user to choose from a clickable menu of features, like contour lines and fishing structure, to create a custom map. The results are added to a satellite map to provide him the best views of potential fishing areas. The user also has the option of creating and saving different versions of maps for side-by-side comparison. That’s an option favored by Caldwell.

Photo of Jamey Caldwell researching his next fishing tournament sight

Liken Caldwell’s research to an online treasure hunt. Multiple views of the same area can sometimes reveal a golden nugget. Caldwell proved that point at the 2013 Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Open held on Oneida Lake, N.Y.

Weeks before the tournament he found a rogue shoal on a historical image not on more recent maps. The shoal appeared in a satellite photo taken when the water was clear enough to see some bottom features.

Caldwell fished the shoal in practice. It held enough fish over three days to produce a fourth-place finish. It wasn’t the first time he’s proven the technique works. Caldwell once spent down time while deployed in Iraq studying satellite maps for a competition around the globe. Seven days later he returned to the U.S. and won.

Online research of satellite images is only the start of Caldwell’s game-plan regime. Studying multiple maps is made easier with Caldwell’s home office setup. It features a laptop with 17-inch monitor and two 20-inch monitors. The screens allow for easier viewing of multiple maps opened simultaneously.

The cost of the setup is reasonable for laptop owners. And it’s here in his home office where Caldwell brings the lake to his fingertips.

“With a click and drag of the mouse, I can basically scroll around the lake, and it’s like the same thing as running the boat,” he says.
“The old school way is to find as many paper maps of a lake as you can. Today, most of them are in a digital format. It’s a much more effective way to manage the maps.”

His next step involves study prevailing patterns for the given time period of the tournament. He searches the internet for tournament results and reads online coverage.

 “Look for winning patterns that consistently repeat success in the same depth range,” he says. “Compile those reports into a folder on the computer for later reference.”

Caldwell then turns back to the map study. He searches for specific depth ranges applicable to winning patterns.

“It’s basically setting parameters on the maps for where you want to focus when you get to the lake for practice,” he says. “Set those boundaries and eliminate the remainder of the water.”

Caldwell begins finding specific areas in his preferred depth zone. He does that by using the Lakemaster Contour Elite software program on his laptop. The PC program lets him search and save duplicate areas by GPS coordinate. Now, he knows the depth range and where to find the areas.

Next, Caldwell creates waypoints on the Lakemaster charts. The saved maps are exported to an SD card and inserted into his Humminbird 1198c SI Combo units on his boat.

Beside them is an iPad mounted to the console. The three units work in concert to help Caldwell make his final choices at the lake.
Then, it’s time to launch the boat. The large-screen Humminbird units let Caldwell keep his eyes trained on what’s going on below. He also uses a liberal approach to setting waypoints on his fish finders.

“Waypoints are free,” he says. “Mark all the subtle points, like a break line on a shoal, or even a tree from the trunk to the end of the branches.”

The connect-the-dots approach, he believes, allows for more effective bait presentation.

“It’s the same old school idea behind dropping marker buoys to mark off a bottom feature,” he says. “You want to fill the entire screen with the side imaging. Or, I can run the other unit on down imaging while keeping the maps open on the iPad.

“The iPad is a big asset, especially for the radar coverage. I can also keep up with any changes in wind direction, velocity and anything else environmentally-related that might affect my game plan.”

The iPad is where all the homework gets vetted out for Caldwell’s final game plan. He does that by downloading a clean version of the lake map without the waypoints to the Lakemaster app on his iPad. His culled list of waypoints is added to the map.

“It’s what I rely on for my milk run,” he says. “It’s the same theory that football coaches use with the game plan they carry on the sideline.”

At night, he can remove the iPad from the boat and review the day from his hotel room.

Here’s where Caldwell’s high-tech approach gets put to the test by old-school ways. He goes fishing.

“The advantage of the side- and down-imaging is you can see fish, you can see the bottom composition like a firm or soft bottom,” he says. “Putting a bait in the water lets you actually feel what’s there and see if the fish will bite.”

If so, the game plan is complete and ready for action. If it needs fine tuning, then Caldwell has the technology on his boat to refine the plan.

Photo of Jamey Caldwell fishing using his computer research