Technology has invaded every aspect of our lives.
We can’t be without our smart phones, tablets or laptops. We often wonder how we ever survived without them.
Fishing is no exception to the technology invasion. Space-age materials in boat hulls, high output engines, and the latest advances in electronics adorn the modern bass boat. Outside the general boat and outboard engine, electronics have become a necessity for most bass anglers, especially the pros.
When referring to electronics on a bass boat, the term is all-inclusive for GPS and sonar units. Today, the screen on an electronic unit for the average bass rig is larger than the first TV I received as a wedding gift. However, a quality piece of electronic gear is as important as a trolling motor and rods and reels.
Advances in the electronic sonar units is changing the face of fishing for a majority of anglers. This is particularly true in the summer months when bass and other species move offshore to deeper haunts. Top-notch sonar and GPS gear is a must to locate schools of fish.
One of the most underutilized tools on boats to day is the fish locator. Current electronic sonar units offer many features that anglers and boaters do not use to their fullest potential. Basic systems offer plenty of features if boaters would only take the time to learn what they are and how they work.
The word sonar is an acronym for sound navigation and ranging. Sonar uses sound waves and various frequencies transmitted through the water to determine the depth an object that lies beneath the surface. When the sound wave strikes the bottom and is returned to the receiver the unit calculates the total time and indicates the water’s depth.
During the late 1920s the U.S. Navy began using sonar to locate submarines under the vast oceans. In the 1959, Lowrance Electronics produced the affordable sonar unit for the average fisherman. A few years later Eufaula-based Techsonic Industries introduced the Humminbird. Both units were flasher type devices.
Later developments in sonar technology led to a paper graph type units and then on to liquid crystal display (LCD) screens. The paper graphs did show good detail but were expensive to operate continuously while on the water. Early LCD units did not have the detail of some of the paper graphs, but they did offer an economical and compact unit for operation in any type of weather condition.
Enhancements in the sonar/GPS combo units offer a multitude of features. Under the GPS side waypoints or locations can be saved and boaters can return to the same spot on a later date. Trails can be stored and used to backtrack assist anglers from getting lost on any lake. On the sonar side, detailed images of the lake bottom, structure and fish can be easily deciphered.
“Some anglers do not take the time to learn about all of the features available on their sonar unit,” said 2013 B.A.S.S. Angler of the Year, Aaron Martens of Leeds. “Most all of the newer units have an automatic mode so all you have to do is turn it on and start fishing.”
Waypoints can be saved during practice days and stored in the unit. When tournament time arrives, the waypoints or fishing spots can be retrieved and Martens can navigate his boat back to the exact spot. He can add notes and develop a plan of attack for the tournament. This helps him manage his time in the areas he wants to fish.
Martens prefers his electronics on the front of his boat in the center, right in front of the trolling motor. He fishes from both sides of the boat and wants to be able to see the unit equally well from either side.
“I like the largest screen available,” Martens said. “This helps me to see more detail. Electronics are crucial to my fishing and need to be perfect.”
In the details
Sonar units on the market today can show very fine detail. Under water objects and structures are separated and easily deciphered on the screen.
With practice, anglers can learn which returns are fish. Also, certain species of fish can be identified based on the sonar return.
Catfish generally show up close to the bottom. Scattered or single returns are usually bass, especially if they are oriented around some type of cover. A school of gizzard shad will show up as a ball of baitfish but are loosely oriented.
“The length of an arch on the sonar screen has nothing to do with the fishes size,” said Wilson Frazier, longtime pro staffer with Lowrance. “Length is determined how long it took the transducer to move towards, over and past the object.”
Frazier suggest anglers look at the center or top portion of the arch. A wider center portion indicates a larger fish. While a narrow section of the arch is smaller fish. He also states the arch is not always a fish. It could be a stick or a submerged jug or can.
The sonar screen appears to in motion. When actually the screen pixels are turning off and on rapidly to indicate movement. The information to the extremes right of the sonar screen is the most accurate. Information in the center if the screen is already behind the boat.
Certain models from different manufacturers offer special operations. Side scan or side imaging was introduced a few years ago and allows sonar users to see to either side of the boat. The sonar signal is transmitted to either or both sides of the boat. Objects under piers, stumps, brush tops and other structure along with fish can be indicated on the screen.
Martens said the side imaging allows him to see what is under a pier or dock that can hold fish. Also, it allows him to see the bottom underneath his boat and either side at the same time. He recommends anglers learn how to tweak and adjust their sonar units to provide the optimum performance.
Both Lowrance and Humminbird have introduced touch screen GPS/sonar units. The units incorporate technology that allows clear viewing of the screen in bright sunlight. Zooming in or out is as easy as closing or expanding your finger on the screen.
Special mapping cards can be loaded into the units to provide detailed lake bottom topography. This is a useful feature to assist anglers in locating creek channels, ledges, humps and other features that will hold fish. Also, buoys, danger areas and fishing hot spots are available on most mapping software.
One of the most recent features is active mapping on some of the units using the latest technology.
Anglers can drive their boat over an area and the sonar/GPS unit will draw a map of the bottom. The data are displayed instantly and can be overlayed on current maps. Detailed contours up to one foot increments is possible.
While the latest and greatest GPS/sonar units seem to be changing the face of fishing, they do help anglers find the fish. But anglers still have to figure out how to catch them.