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Making better use of your GPS
By Barry Featheringill


Most anglers who have GPS are using them to mark spots while on the lake for reference when they return at a later date. This is probably the number one reason behind increased sales of satellite navigation products to the angler.

I want to take this to the next level to help you get the most out of your GPS. Before we get technical let’s review some of the basics to help with understanding what the terms ‘waypoint’, ‘route’, and ‘track’ and how they can help you with your day on the lake.

The GPS unit (handheld or console mounted) have the ability to store waypoints which are the latitude/longitude coordinates for a certain spot. Waypoints are points that you can create or may have been created by someone else with a GPS device. Information recorded includes time and date which can be useful and allows you to designate a custom symbol (i.e. brushpile, marina, fishing spot, etc) as well as create a special name that you can designate for a specific lake.

The primary thing about waypoints is that you can use them to navigate to them. Simply by selecting the “Go To” feature of the GPS, the GPS will tell you such things as how far away the waypoint is from your current location along with telling you which direction to travel. There are also other features that are helpful when “navigating” : ETE (estimated time enroute) and or ETA (estimated time of arrival)  

A route is simply a group of waypoints listed in order of travel. These are for the device to ‘navigate ’to.  

Just as you can not go in a straight line from home to the lake in most cases, when you create a route it is broken down into “legs’ which is the line between waypoints. Therefore you need to create a waypoint at each spot where it is important to change direction.

Another good feature about routes is that you can run them forward or reverse. As in the case you are fishing a new area and you want to get back to where you started if you created a route you have a route that you can follow back to the ramp.

Your GPS device has the ability to save “tracks” showing where you have been. Creating a track can be based on time interval or distance traveled.  This results in a line (usually not straight) showing the actual path you traveled. Many devices will allow you to save more than one track. (Note here that in saving a track it will normally compress the data and some of the detail maybe lost.)

You can not navigate to tracks like you can a waypoint and they are only visible on the map display of the device.

Okay where to from here??
Now that we have covered the basics of the device let’s see how we can get to that honey hole and have the boat positioned just right. In doing this imagine that you are fishing vertically on a particular structure and want to be directly on top.

We all know that we can get close by visual means with landmarks, but to really get right on top of the structure we can accomplish this with either a route or a simple ‘go to’ waypoint. When you are navigating to a waypoint the gps will display the distance and bearing (direction) to the waypoint.  This will get you within a few feet of your destination.

Using the map display of the GPS you will be able to do much better at getting on top of the structure. The map display feature is a graphical presentation of your location in relation to your destination.  Normally there is a symbol representing the waypoint, a symbol representing your position, and most likely a line that was created when you initiated the ‘go to’ navigation.

Keep in mind that when using the ‘map display’ you need to understand the orientation of North on the display. There are normally three options: Track up, North up, or Course up. Personally I prefer the North up mainly but will on occasion use Track up. To me Course up is very confusing.

Track up is probably the easiest to understand as it displays your location as  if showing where you are headed. Simply put it is displaying the direction you are going.

North up simply means that North is always at the top of your display. An example would be if you are heading east the display would how you moving from left to right.

If you have a digital map of the lake on your unit it will show the contour lines just like a paper map. The digital display will show your position in relationship to contour lines. If you have marked a brush pile that is at the top of a ledge you will be able to see where the brush pile is with out having to make multiple passes over the area and throw out a marker buoy.

Most GPS manufactures have an accessory set of maps that include lake maps with a lot of detail. There are also a few websites that have digital maps of lakes available. The one I’m most familiar with is outdoor contours ( They will take the data you collect and create a digital map of the area. Then with a program similar to oziexplorer ( a track or simply waypoints can be marked and uploaded to the GPS unit.

Now you’re ready to hit the lake with the knowledge that with the help of your GPS unit you will be able to go to that favorite fishing hole and not have to spend time trying to find a particular spot that will hopefully produce that lunker that will win the tournament or just look good with a picture of you holding it.