How to Read Topo Maps by Don Siefert, Western Bass Magazine Fall, 1976.

A couple weeks ago we posted a piece on the Alexandria Drafting Company and their Structure Atlases.  That post made me think of the old-school maps, like the ones printed in the ADC Atlases.  Back before 1995, topographic maps were the only game in town to understand the bottom topography of a lake.  With today’s mapping technology and GPS, the old paper maps have been rendered obsolete for the most part.  Have the new mapping capabilities rendered the past technology a lost art. I don’t think so.

I’ve been unpacking boxes that have been sealed for years after several moves.  In one of these boxes were a number of old topographic maps I’ve collected over my years of bass fishing, and they brought back a flood of memories.  Lakes I grew up fishing, tournament prep and the comradery of fishing the club I belonged to as a kid in 1978. All good.

Today’s electronic mapping provides a lot of plusses compared to the old-school way.  Most new electronic mapping has one-foot intervals, the ability to look at a body of water with the lake elevation adjusted for high or low water, the ability to pin a waypoint in an exact position, and it makes it magnitudes of order easier to find and relocate offshore structure.  There’s no doubt that it is superior to the paper maps of days long past.

Topo map image from Don Siefert's How to Read a Topo Map, Western Bass magazine Fall 1976.

But to me, there’s a downside to the electronic mapping.  That downside is it’s difficult to look at your graph when you’re in the house preparing for your trip and unless you have a 40-inch computer screen, it’s difficult to get a look at an entire lake or river on your computer. A topo map allows you to see it all.

After posting the piece on Alexandria Drafting Company, I remembered seeing an article written by Don Siefert in the Fall 1976 issue of Western Bass magazine. The title of the article was “How to Read Topo Maps.” I remember first reading this article in 1976, before I even had a flasher, and it started me on my quest to understand what was below the water.

Don Siefert's How to Read Topo Maps, Western Bass Magazine, Fall 1976 Part Two.

For those of you outside southern California and younger than 45, Don’s name probably doesn’t mean anything to you at all. But for those of us in our 50s who fished the area back then, Don was a genius at deep-water angling and even more so at the use of depth finders. He was on the Lowrance pro staff in the 70s, 80s and maybe even into the 90s. He could do things with a paper graph and flasher that would impress even Darrell Lowrance.

Anyway, I reread the article and the information in it holds as true today as it did way back in the 70s. Unfortunately, I don’t think anyone even prints material like this anymore – even with respect to electronic mapping. When was the last time you saw an article in a magazine that showed a topo map, paper or electronic, and described how to use it to find fish? The young folks out there wanting to learn how to find and catch fish need this information.

Because of that, I felt it would be good to scan the entire article and post it here (Retro ads included at no cost) for you to check out – See below for readable pictures of the article. Maybe I’m wrong, maybe the young crowd still uses topo maps, but the layer of dust you see on paper maps at any tackle store surely seems to point in another direction.

In the meantime, I’m studying new old-school maps I’ve attained of eastern Tennessee impoundments that are now called home.  Over time I expect I’ll fill them in with pencil and pen marks denoting good areas, just like on the maps I recently dug out of my archives.

Is the past technology a lost art? Give me your opinion on the subject.