When Bruce “Doc” Samson hits the water for the Wal-Mart RCL walleye tournament scheduled to begin soon, he’ll be at the helm of a boat with a control panel that resembles the Starship Enterprise.
An impressive array of electronics – everything from a laptop computer and wireless monitor, to color sonar and GPS technology – covers the dashboard of Samson’s 20-foot Crestliner walleye fishing machine. As technological trappings go, not even Mr. Spock or Capt. James T. Kirk could claim bragging rights over Samson, a retired physician from Minnetrista, Minn., who left the medical field to concentrate on competitive walleye fishing.
The same could be said for the 150-plus walleye pros competing against Samson this week on Devils Lake. While GPS technology, which relies on satellites to pinpoint specific locations, is a common tool in competitive walleye fishing, few walleye pros have blended the technology with aerial photos, satellite elevation charts and custom-designed contour maps, Samson says.
Samson says his customized maps are a perfect fit with his “Three Fs” approach to fishing: “Find the fish. Fish the fish. And find your way back.”
Samson’s foray into this latest high-tech offering resulted from a posting he saw on the walleyecentral.com Web site. Warren Parsons, who runs a small mapping company in Forest Lake, Minn., was advertising his ability to customize maps using anything from aerial photos and contour maps, to specific routes anglers plot with their GPS and sonar units.
Parsons purchased a series of government aerial photos and topographical maps, which showed the Devils Lake area before the lake’s rise. He then married the photos and contour elevations, storing the information on a computer chip that Samson was able to load into his sonar and read with the on-board mapping software in his laptop computer.
The result, Parsons says, was like peeling away the water, mapping all of the structure and reflooding the lake.
It’s a time consuming process, he says, that involves dividing a lake into grids and recording the depth at intervals of 50 meters or less. He says his custom maps, meanwhile, can be adapted for a variety of outdoors uses such as deer hunting and navigating lakes or rivers. The maps come in a variety of formats, including laminated paper or tiny computer chips.
Joined by Parsons, Samson had his first chance to put the customized Devils Lake maps to use while fishing a part of the lake that didn’t exist just a few years ago. By following a blinking icon on the laptop screen, which represented his real-time location in relation to an old aerial photo, Samson found inundated roadbeds, stock ponds and shelterbelts. The sonar readings from his Lowrance LCX-104C, a $2,300 unit that combines navigation and sonar capabilities, confirmed the changes in depth and the identity of the structure below the water.
Coming up to an old road on the aerial photo, Samson watched the depth on his sonar rise from 14 feet in the ditches to 8 feet on the top of the road. The road showed up as a pronounced hump on the sonar. On several occasions, he easily found small piles of field rock at the corners of farm fields that now are submerged.
As fisheries managers across the country struggle to cope with the impact of technology on fish populations, Samson says he doesn’t see this latest mapping capability as a threat. It’s just a tool, he says, to make his time on the water more efficient.