I created this article to share my GPS knowledge I use to safely navigate the marsh. This ability has made me successful as an inshore angler because I am able to safely venture into and out of unknown territory.
Most mapping products out there are generic and may be good for freshwater lakes but are not versatile enough to be reliable in the marshes of Louisiana.
For starters, the marsh is huge and very easy to get lost in.
Many areas we fish do not have cell phone coverage, so using your phone to see where you are on a map is not reliable.
Secondly, the Louisiana marsh is always changing. Land is created and lost, making previous routes unnavigable.
Yes, there are excellent mapping chips on the market, but they only work for certain name-brand GPS’s and are expensive.
The Louisiana marsh is endless and very uniform. It is crucial to have a dependable ability to navigate this expanse where everything looks the same.
You don’t want to get stranded!
In this article I show you how to create those custom routes and waypoints using Google Earth, create a GPS file containing those items and then load the GPS file onto your GPS unit.
The GPS I’m using is a Lowrance 332C, but the method and tools used are good for any GPS.
The biggest problem we will run into is conversion issues, which will be handled on a case-by-case basis outside the scope of this article.
By “conversion issues” I mean converting from Google Earth’s Keyhole Markup Language (*.kml) to whatever format your GPS uses. In the context of this article, that is the Lowrance *.usr.
If you find yourself needing help after reading this entire article, you can post in our GPS, Safe Routes and Navigation forum at Louisiana Fishing Reports. Chances are another angler can help you.
Google Earth is a digital map of the entire world, represented in a small-scale, three dimensional model on your computer.
Here is a picture to show you what I am talking about. At any time you can click/tap a picture to enlarge it.
Google Earth uses latitude and longitude coordinates (lat/longs), but it also recognizes Military Grid Reference System and other formats.
I will use lat/longs in the format of DD° MM’ SS.SS”.
Google Earth has features like Street View that will let you see what an area looks like from a particular location on a street in a 360° panoramic.
This is especially useful for bank fishing or learning where marina parking is without ever having been there!
When you open Google Earth, you will see a tool that looks like a ruler in the top bar of the window pane.
Click on it. You will see a box pop up with two tabs.
One will say “Line” and another will say “Path”.
The Line tab is used to measure distances. The Path tab is used to create routes.
If you look at the window pane on the left, you will see a bar titled “Places”.
If it is not expanded, go ahead and expand it.
When you create a route or waypoint, it will be created not only on the map, but also in this pane.
Go ahead and play with these tools in order to learn their full functionality and become comfortable with Google Earth.
If I wanted to create a route from Hopedale Marina to the intersection of Bayous LaLoutre and St. Malo, I would press the ruler button and select the Path tab.
For instructional purposes, the starting point is located at:
29°49′ 7.10″ N 89°36′ 42.36″ W
and ends at
29°50′ 19.21″ N 89°32′ 51.06″ W
Zooming in on Hopedale Marina, I would start my route there and trace it across the MRGO (the big canal) and down Bayou LaLoutre to my destination.
Use the one most comfortable for you.
Once I have completed my route, I hit the “Save” button which will cause another box to pop up.
From this box, I can view and edit all properties of this route, to include the route’s distance under the “Measurements” tab.
For now, I will name the route “Stallion One”.
If you look at the Places window pane, you will see your route, Stallion One.
From here, you can right-click on it and hit “Save Place As”.
I named it “Stallion One” and, most importantly, I saved it as a Keyhole Markup Language file or .kml file and not a .kmz file.
This is important for conversion purposes because .kmz files usually cannot be converted to popular formats for use in a GPS.
As one last detail, I saved Stallion One.kml to the desktop, so it’s easy to find.
It is important to change the file format of your saved route.
Your GPS cannot understand the .kml file format, so it must be converted to one that can be understood and used.
Think of this process as translating instructions from one language to another, so the person speaking a different language can understand.
Different name-brand GPS units use different file formats.
Opening GPS Babel you will see two sections, an Input and Output section.
For the input section, I click on “File Name” and browse to the desktop, where I find the route “Stallion One” saved.
I select it.
Then for output I go to the “Format” drop down menu and select the type for my boat’s Lowrance 332C, which is the .usr file format.
Next, I click on “File Name” and save the file where ever I want to save it on my computer.
I like to store them in a folder named “GPS Stuff”, so I will always have a backup after I upload the file to my GPS.
Once I have completed these steps, I hit the “Apply” button at the bottom of the application.
This changes the format of the route from a Google Earth .kml file to a Lowrance .usr file.
Now all I have to do is put the file onto an SD card, insert the SD card into my GPS and then follow the steps on my GPS’s manual to load the file for use.
It seems like a lot of work, but it’s really not. With enough practice, you can throw a route together in no time at all.
If your GPS does not use an SD card, then you will need the appropriate accompanying software and USB cable.
The knowledge and skills in my articles are good, but they are only part of the puzzle. You want the other pieces, too.
No BS. Just stuff that works. Let's do this!