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Cartography - The Art Of Paper Fishing According To Rolo


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A few weeks ago I dusted this off and included in another post in the southeast section. The more I read it the more I think it could benefit everyone.

A couple of years ago RoLo and I had a series of question and answer emails on how to effectively fish Florida natural lakes. This was his summary email that included all the topics we had previously discussed. The lake we were talking about is Kissimmee.

I don't think Roger would mind me posting this so read and reread and reread.


I rewrote the Chart Survey Lee, so this is the whole ball of wax. After years of writing, mostly for my own edification,

I've inherited a clinical style of journalism that you need to bear with :-)


Fishing for any freshwater or saltwater species can be broken down into three major divisions: “Where”, “When” & “How”

more properly dubbed: Location – Timing – Presentation. “Location” may then be subdivided into two major subdivisions:

“Chart Survey” & “Field Survey”.


The Chart Survey is an offsite appraisal performed in the comfort of your home using

computer-based cartography. The “top-view” of the shoreline promptly reveals all major bays, islands, narrows, tributary steams, etc. The top-view of the waterbody can be useful for isolating areas with greater or lesser water current. For example,

backwater bays are associated with slack current whereas narrows and streams are accompanied by increased water flow.

In addition to the top-view of the lake, the interrelationship between contour lines provides a “side-view” of the bottom terrain.

Disclosing the contour of the lake’s bottom is the single-most powerful revelation of the Chart Survey.

Widely spaced contour lines indicate areas of relatively “flat” bottom, while tightly crowded depth-lines indicate spots

with a fast sloping bottom. Some contour maps may also display the location of aquatic vegetation, but the pattern of plant growth

is unfortunately a moving target. The growth pattern of vegetation often changes naturally from year-to-year,

and in the wake of an herbicidal spraying, muck scraping or hurricane, the change can be dramatic. In any event,

areas of charted vegetation are not without value, because lake areas that support prolific vegetation are usually areas

of desirable bottom content. Still and all, “cover” is a component of the Field Survey, because you need to be

physically onsite to accurately evaluate the cover at each trial site, which again is a stable entity.

The goal of the Chart Survey is to preselect trial sites that offer “year-round” habitation based on bottom contour.

Although largemouth bass may be found throughout the entire body of water, there are “sweet spots” in every ecosystem

that enjoy superior population density and superior habitat for trophy fish. To support bass “year-round”, the best

holding sites afford a broad shallow flat adjacent to a steep slope into deeper water. A shallow flat is recognized by

diverging contour lines in shallow water, which provides the bedding flat, nursery ground and food shelf. A sharp slope

is identified by converging depth lines, which provides the shortest distance to deep water. Ironically, telemetry studies

have shown that largemouth bass living in natural lakes, rarely if ever exceed the depth of the outer weed-line.

It’s my opinion that the value of the slope beyond the outer weed-line is purely mechanical. That is to say,

the movement of bass on the food shelf is limited by the outside edge of deepest plant growth, causing a natural build-up

of game fish. The depth drop-off beyond the outer weed-line serves as a wedge that funnels forage from deeper water

onto the food shelf, giving game fish another reason to gravitate to the outer weed-line

The actual depth of the outer weed-line depends on the plant species, water clarity, soil content and available nutrition.

Crudely speaking, the key vegetation in northern Florida tends to be lily “pads”, in central Florida it’s “hydrilla”

and in southern Florida it’s “sawgrass & reeds”. The depth of the outer weed-line represents the pivot point

of the Chart Survey, but this presents a dilemma because the weed-line can only be confirmed onsite,

during the Field Survey. Until such time, it’ll have to be based on an educated guess or by phoning

area fish camps and sport shops. In a manmade reservoir, bass are forced to use water depth and manmade structures

as a substitute for suitable plant growth. Nevertheless, in natural lakes and manmade impoundments,

the steeper and deeper the drop-off beyond the outer weed-line the more promising the trial site.


Implementing the Field Survey will generally consume the better part of a day. The first step at each waypoint

is to evaluate the “cover”. Any trial site that lacks acceptable cover must be unceremoniously rejected.

For this reason, it’s wise to establish about two-dozen waypoints so you’ll end up with at least a dozen holding sites.

Of course, there’ll also be times when two-dozen trial sites will yield two-dozen holding sites. Once desirable cover

has been confirmed, the trial site becomes a “holding site”, even before the first fish is caught. Any spot endowed

with both favorable bottom contour and desirable cover is a “sweet spot”. Not every sweet spot is characterized by

a high catch-rate, especially those that are home to one or more trophy fish. On the downside, “bottom-up” angling

may not be the best approach for tournament fishing, where top-down angling (running-&-gunning) has proven its mettle.

On the upside, the best holding sites usually exhibit insatiable recruitment, where bass removed from the site,

create a vacuum that is subsequently reoccupied.

Bass undergo seasonal shifts in location, but on a year-round proper in a natural lake, this will only amount

to a minor lateral shift and minor depth change. The area involved in a self-sufficient holding site depends on

the distance between the nursery (depth zone between the shoreline and 2-foot contour line) and the outer weed-line

(can range between 4 and 16 feet). A drop-off that plummets into the abyss is not a necessity, but is certainly

a distinct enhancement. Though bass may never physically enter the deepest water, it may be indirectly responsible for

their presence a hundred yards away. This is especially true for feature-deprived, saucer-shaped natural lakes,

where deepwater forage may be confined to basin areas.

Reading the growth configurations of aquatic vegetation is an infinite learning process…the more I learn,

the stupider I was. A merger of different plants is a distinct asset, albeit well picked over.

Anglers seem most attracted to points of vegetation and points of land. Mechanically speaking though,

“points” tend to separate, while “pockets” tend to congregate. The same principle applies to contour analysis,

where contour lines that form a female pocket are generally more productive than contour lines forming a male point

(be they submergent or emergent). The exception is during windy conditions, when points of vegetation offer both

a windward and leeward edge, unless of course the wind is blowing directly at the apex. Dense cover produces dense shade,

which is a welcome asset during periods of high light-levels (e.g. cold-front, midday, midsummer).

Not without a glitch, dense cover also inhibits the field of view and maneuverability of bass.

For this reason, bass in solid dense weeds will rarely penetrate more than six feet behind the weed-line perimeter.

In stark contrast, pockets and alleys in the weeds are like bass magnets. Broken, patchy weed growth is more productive

than solid beds of dense weeds, wherever dense vegetation reaches the surface. Patches of dense cover provides a maze

of open pockets and alleys that offer bass a superior field of view and maneuverability. Additionally,

broken, irregular weed-beds constitute greater perimeter lineage than a single wall of weeds.

Vegetation that reaches or breaks the surface such as spatterdock, bulrushes and maidencane are usually most productive

with about 60% density (60 plant / 40 water), but like most fishing tenets, this certainly isn’t carved in stone.

Key vegetation varies from lake-to-lake and even from year-to-year on the same lake. As noted above, the transition

in plant growth may be greatly expedited by herbicidal sprayings, muck scrapings and hurricanes. On balance,

the key plant in Lake Monroe and the St Johns River is “eelgrass”; in Lake Walk-In-Water it’s “bulrushes”;

in Lake Hatchineha it’s “cattails” (now mostly gone); in middle Crooked Lake it’s “pondweed” (locally called peppergrass)

and in Rodman Reservoir and the Stick Marsh (both manmade impoundments) it’s “stumps”. In the shallow areas of Lake Kissimmee,

like Jacks Slough, the vegetation is dominated by spatterdock, lotus and waterlilies; in mid-depth areas it’s “maidencane”,

and in the deepest stretches it’s “hydrilla”.

After the cover has been evaluated at the waypoint, the next and final step is to pinpoint the steepest available gradient,

ideally adjoining the cover. Pinpointing the best declivity can be very time-consuming, but is time well spent.

It usually means snaking the contour lines and running parallel and perpendicular to them. In many cases,

you will find bold discrepancies between GPS cartography and the real world (from Florida to Canada).

While scrutinizing the sonar screen, we’re looking for any projection that reduces the depth and any depression

that increases the depth. It’s not important whether it’s a projection or a depression in the bottom; all that matters

is the “rate” and “range” of depth change. Sunken islands, ditches, bars, holes, ridges, channels and points may all

be treated the same. To appreciate that statement, visualize a symmetrical sawtooth bottom with alternating crests & troughs.

In this scenario, it would be impossible for a fish to know whether it was on the edge of a ridge or on the edge of a channel,

nor does it matter. In my view at least, game fish only relate to the “slope”, which is to say, rapid depth change.

In an idyllic situation, the break-line of the drop-off would coincide with the depth of the outer weed-line but this is certainly is not necessary.


A spot I dubbed “Grape Point”, lies in the south end of the lake just north of Grape Hammock.

Grape Cove>

The Navionics map differs enormously from the Garmin map; but we’ll refer to the US Recreational Lake, East v5,

so we’re both on the same page. This site is very deceiving because it’s pictured on the chart as a land-point,

but in the field it’s portrayed by a small cove. In the field, the outline of the lake is shrouded by vegetation,

which is commonplace in the Big-K. Nevertheless it’s the macro-view displayed on the GPS chart that initializes

the field survey. Indeed, contour analysis is not an exact science, but it doesn’t hurt to handle it as though it is.

Chart Survey

In Lake Kissimmee, the single-most powerful contour (structure) is the main river channel.

Only the last 1¼ miles of the channel is highly defined, as the definition to the north is significantly reduced.

Grape Point lies at the beginning of high-definition channel, the one feature best depicted by the Navionics map.

You’ll also notice that Grape Point on the west shore in conjunction with Two Palms Point on the east shore

appear like the flippers in a pinball machine. Together these points create the narrowest waist south of Brahma Island.

All things equal, a narrows enjoys slightly enhanced current. Lake Kissimmee is a saucer-shaped natural lake,

but you’ll notice that “Grape Point” offers the best compression in the area, between the 1 and 4-foot contour lines.

Since Grape Point also occurs smack dab in a narrows, and also lies adjacent to the main river channel,

it more than qualifies as a “trial site”.


Just a short distance inshore of the trial site we promptly encounter desirable cover. In addition to spatterdock,

Grape Point supports emergent cover in the form of hydrilla and Illinois pondweed (Potamogeton illinoensis).

When you sound out the slope that backs up the cover, you find some of the steepest gradient in the area,

we now have our smoking gun. Whether a bass is taken from this spot or not, it's abundantly clear

that it’s a year-round “holding site”.



Now read it again - this is GOLD.

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  • Super User

Solid Gold!

Digesting what Rolo is trying to explain, I can sit here with my eyes closed and see exactly what he is talking about on any of the many natural lakes I fish up here. The man has the gift.

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  • Super User

Roger's ability to analyze & compile data is a very special gift. Hopefully he will continue to share with us all.

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I may be interpreting wrong but he reinforced much of what I already do...and then some. I'm still refining my approach and this helped a lot.

A few side notes:

I've been in Kissimmee a LOT. While his thought process is sound on the area outside Grape Hammock I wouldn't expect to find much here on a typical day. They don't have the locks open with much water flow unless we've had a lot of rain. In the instance they do have them open there are many places to catch bass relating to current and I'll certainly keep this spot in mind but I'll also hit the entrances and exits of the main canals and even right in front of the dam. There's also not much in the way of gradient anywhere in the lake which highlights his point about bass not being out further than the grassline. During the summer your main gameplan is to flip the outside grassline...unless you know where some of the planted brushpiles are. You'll do much better with this approach than a 300 yard wide pinch point with a flat sandy bottom. Slowly we're getting more hydrilla outside of the grasslines and this is giving the bass (and anglers) more options.

Basically, you have to consider a few other factors to consider. The same pinch point between two midlake islands will see more regular current flow due to wind and should be a more regular hideout for bass.

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The article was about how to fish natural lakes.

The example just happened to be on Kissimmee which Roger has fished for around 30 years so I listen to him.

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Very good read! I have a question that may sound stupid but I offer it anyway. How different would it be on a man made reservior lake? I live in an urban area where most if not all of the lakes within 100 miles of me are manmade flood control/water storage lakes. How would the locations and seasonal movements of bass differ in these lakes than say a natural lake with similar topography? How do lakes with a thermocline impact this movement?

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  • Super User

Very good read! I have a question that may sound stupid but I offer it anyway. How different would it be on a man made reservior lake? I live in an urban area where most if not all of the lakes within 100 miles of me are manmade flood control/water storage lakes. How would the locations and seasonal movements of bass differ in these lakes than say a natural lake with similar topography? How do lakes with a thermocline impact this movement?

It is no different here in Va for me, I fish a man made lake A LOT, this artical points out so many things I found surprising about this lake verses the one in Florida, while the fish may travel a little differently, the artical is on the money.

Over the past ten years, I have kept records, the vegetation has changed, not too dramatically but enough to make note of and so have the seasonal patterns of the fish.

Very, Very good job !!!!!!!!!!

Thank you !!!!!!

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  • 4 years later...
  • BassResource.com Advertiser

I just re-read this again after posting it 5 years ago.  There are probably a few newbies here that could benefit from Rogers knowledge.

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  • Super User

I've often said if someone adept at computers would take the information contained within this website they could put together one heck of a book!


Merci Beaucoup Roger ;)

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  • 3 weeks later...
  • Global Moderator

I've said it before and I'll say it again...The Man knows Fla. waters more than anyone I've ever come across...What he wrote is really not exclusive to Kissimmee other than the obvious.


Well done my friend.


Thanks Daddy for re posting




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