Topic of the Day 4

Maybe Not for Me

Today I want to revisit a product that has evolved so fast that average consumers are being left behind.  Not only the race for technological supremacy, but the elevating costs that come with the new technology.

I come from an age where we started and learned our fishing skills by intuition, feel and repetition.  Once in a while, we would touch on a book or two like Buck Perry’s Structure Fishing and then attempt to imitate his experience.

From there we were introduced to rudimentary sonars and flashers.  These units sent signals to the bottom and bounced them back to a receiver that started to interpret depth and bottom content.  Later we realized that all the marks that crossed the screen were not fish but weeds, air bubbles and interference.

But the race was on.  Lowrance, Humminbird, Pin Point, BottomLine, Garmin and many more companies got into the race.  This was a race for a piece of the average anglers fishing budget.  This was not designed for the commercial fisherman.  They already had superb units on their boats with much larger screens and clarity.

Short story

I can remember years ago when there was a push to sell the first Humminbird Fishin Buddy.  That was the unit you could clamp on the side of a boat or canoe.  I believe it only had 100 – 160 vertical pixels which is something I will touch on later.

About the time this “fish finder” was being introduced, I was on a west coast troller owned by a very good friend. We were out to catch a few winter springs for the smoker.  After putting gear in the water my friend watched his sonar screen which at that time was about 20″ x 20″inches wide and three inches deep.  Lo and behold he called me to look at his screen.  He pointed out the line on the screen where his line to the cannonball was, the location of his cannonball and the lead to his plug.

A visible line came up from the bottom, got behind his lure and went back down.  As soon as my friend saw this, he brought his cannonball up with his gurdy and removed the plug, replacing it with a different color.  Not ten minutes elapsed and there was another tell-tale line off bottom.  A spring salmon had come up to look at his lure and then the solid line off bottom remained with the plug.  The fish was on the hook and caught.

Computerization, miniaturization and digital advancements

I realize now that the commercial equipment was bulky because the technology did not allow for small screens or transducers, but the quality was there.  These units still used bulky tubes and diodes to convert sonar signals we have become accustomed too.  Way too bulky for small fishing craft.

Consumer demands

Anglers followed the progress of fishing sonars that the commercial fleet used and demanded similar tools for their small craft. Rudimentary “fish finders” remain as entry level units but the consumer is very discerning and unforgiving. When anglers discovered that they were not getting reliable sonar information, they drove industry for change.

Those who provided the improvements won more and more converts and those who fell behind never caught up. No longer were we talking fish finders.  Now anglers were talking sonar peak to peak power, watts, sonar signals, pixel count, colour and GPS mapping to mention a few improvements.

Manufacturers keep driving improvements and the consumers like myself just got on the band wagon and paid for the ride.

To a Point of no return

This was good and bad.  The more we relied on the information provided by the advanced sonar units, the instincts and intuition of the original angler fell behind to progress.

Once we got into the digital age, anglers soon learned that a sonar screen is similar to a television or computer screen.  The more vertical pixels on your screen the greater clarity and target definition.  From there, we went to larger and larger screens which allowed more and more information to be available to the angler. Today we can equate a lot of the top end sonar units to the very best high definition television or computer screens one can buy and better.  And like the commercial fleet, we can see fish to the sides, ahead, behind and beneath the boat.

Micro computer technology and the digital revolution continue to revolutionize sonar capabilities but this has outpaced the wallets of many anglers.  This story is for the average angler who does not have the budget or the time on the water to warrant such an expensive purchase.

Know your quarry

An average angler with an average budget can definitely get into sonar units that will leave very little to the guess work of locating fish.  You do not need anything greater than 480 vertical pixels. With this definition, the angler will be able to determine depth, bottom content and fish over 2 1/2″ thickness and stay within a reasonable budget.


Best of all, anglers still need to know their quarry and their habits.  Unless you are fishing with a camera, a sonar unit does not tell you specie of fish.  But an educated angler understands the nuances of his desired catch and will implement this information with the added set of under water eyes.

Try not to be the angler that purchases a new unit, puts it on a boat and expects to catch fish.  There is a small learning curve that will pay huge dividends in the future.

Here are some tips from an old guy:

1-Read about the body of water you plan to fish and the species most sought after in that body of water.

2- Read the manual thoroughly before setting out with your new unit.  Even middle of the road sonars have multiple pages of information available.  Not knowing your unit intimately will create delays in finding the page and information you seek.  Like many computers today, we often do not utilize all the programs or available information thus only getting a small percentage of the units capabilities.

3- Allow a half a day to know your unit on the water and start slow!  Find an area where you can see bottom or are familiar with.  Set the boat at anchor and turn your unit on.  Get the unit off the factory default setting first and then look at the screen.  Is this your preferred screen or do you want to look at split screen, magnification, colour palette , etc.  This is where you do the adjusting and not while you are moving and distracted by fishing or other passengers.

4- Look at your sonar screen.  Remember what the bottom was supposed to be.  Sand, gravel or rock?  Maybe you are over a mud bottom with weed growth.  How does your sonar interpret the signal?  Is the line flat, bright and narrow indicating a hard bottom or is it thick and percolated with bubbles from a weak return signal?  This would indicate a soft muddy bottom or it could be somewhere in between.  Watch your screen as the boat lifts and drops with the waves or boat wakes.  The bottom line starts to move up and down like you were crossing a bed of rocks.  But at anchor, you know the smooth bottom did not suddenly change to rock.  These are just simple tips to get you to understand your sonar unit.

5- Take this basic knowledge with confidence as you move on to your desired fishing spot. Take mental notes as you begin fishing and crisscross your favorite point or break line and see how your unit interprets the changes in depth and bottom content.

6- You are almost ready to fish.  Take a heavy jig or a light bell sinker and tie it on to your fishing rod.  Drop it over the side of the boat and let it hit bottom.  Watch your sonar screen and interpret the bottom content with your weight.  Gently lift and drop your weight to understand the feel of packed sand, the snaggy feel of rocks or clams and the sucking feel of a soft bottom.  Intuition and feel are still very important to a good angler.

7- Finally, apply your knowledge of the fish specie you wish to catch.  In the case of walleye, you know they generally do not like soft bottom areas.  When you see your bottom line start getting wide and percolated, turn your boat shoreward and find the hard bottom.  The area of hard to soft bottom is a great place to start fishing for walleye.

Average anglers can purchase the best equipment and fish or purchase good equipment and fish with the best.  This story is for you.