How To Install And Use Your Fish Locator
By Carlton "Doc" Holliday
As you are probably aware, the device we are talking about is not a fish locator but rather, a depth locator. Most fisherman use a fish locator but most fisherman do not use it properly and can not interpret what they are seeing on the screen.
Most bass boats utilize two fish locators: One mounted in the dash, usually a flasher unit, and another mounted on the trolling motor. The majority of us fishermen utilize the flasher when running new water or low water conditions on a known lake. If this sounds familiar, well you are missing out on a lot of information. I did not learn this trick until a few years ago. If you turn your flasher unit on while you are running to your favorite fishing hole, you may be in for a surprise. If you are comfortable setting the sensitivity on your unit, you can get a real time view of the bottom, find humps and submerged moss beds you did not know existed. If you have a high speed flasher unit and get the sensitivity adjusted right, you can also see what depth the majority of the fish are located. This little trick has allowed me to find several humps I had not known existed on Lake Ouachita and give me more possible places to fish.
TIP: If you find a new hump, you can, if you are financially challenged and can not afford a GPS Plotter, take a hand-held GPS unit and get the coordinates and record the coordinates on your lake map. This way you can take the hand-held unit and find the hump any time.
It all starts with proper installation of your unit(s). If you have an in-dash flasher unit, it was probably installed by the boat manufacturer or the boat dealer. That installation should be OK. If you bought a LCD unit to install on your trolling motor, that is the unit we will discuss.
Let us start with a quick check-up of your existing unit. If you have an in-dash unit installed, the first thing to check is the installation. Where is your transducer located? Is it in the bilge area and shooting through the hull? Is it mounted on the transom? Check the transducer to see if the mounting is still tight and your cable is still in good shape. No nicks, scrapes or rubbing on any metal which could fray or sever the wire over a period of time. Is the transducer still tightly glued to the floor of the boat for thru hull installations? For a transducer on the outside of the boat on the transom, check the mount for loose screws, missing screws, is it perpendicular to the hull. It is very important to have the transducer perfectly straight up and down or your signals will not be accurate. The preference for this type of installation is a puck type transducer for thru-hull units and a bullet style transducer for transom mounts.
TIP: If the transducer mounted on the transom is a gimble type mount, after each trip check the transducer to make sure it is pointed straight up and down. These type of mounts are designed to "kick up" if you hit or run something.
A puck style transducer is the most used for trolling motor applications. It has a slim size and is easily mounted with a large hose clamp. The advantage to this transducer is the small size puts the transducer behind the skeg on the trolling motor thus protecting it from contact with underwater objects. The most important thing in mounting this transducer is to make sure it is perpendicular to the centerline of the trolling motor body. Once you have the transducer mounted, it is simple to take some wire ties and attach the cable to the steering cable encasement into the boat. This prevents the transducer cable from being entangled in vegetation or ripped loose by limbs or stumps. Try to mount your locator and cable hook-ups as far away from trolling motor battery wires or outboard engine wires as possible to minimize electronic/electrical interference with the locator. Some interference is inevitable but in a good setup it is minimized. In-line fuses will also minimize interference.
TIP: Remember to add the distance from the surface to the transducer to your locator readings to have accurate depth readings.
When you have installed your locators, the first thing you need to do is READ the instruction manual. This will familiarize you with the various features and buttons on the locator. Pay particular attention to the sensitivity, menu, auto, and zoom buttons. Learn how to adjust and turn these features on and off. Become familiar with the examples shown in the instruction manual. Once you have become familiar with the features and operation of your locator, it is time to try it out.
Let us continue the discussion about fish locators about the interpretation of the images you are seeing on your screen and how to utilize these images to catch fish.
Most newer fish locators are operated much like a computer. You have a MENU button through which you can control the various features available on your locator. If you just press the ON button, your locator will start functioning in the AUTO mode. The sensitivity, surface clutter, fish icons and other factory pre-settings are already programmed into your unit. Read your owners manual to determine what all of the pre-set settings are for your unit. By doing and familiarizing yourself with these settings, you can turn off the AUTO mode and customize your locator.
Turn off the AUTO mode and turn off the FISH ID. They look good but chances are they are only confusing the real picture especially if you are a new user.
Let us discuss the transducer. Resolution is the name of the game. The greater the resolution the better the true picture of what is down there will be. In AUTO mode the resolution might be 6 inches between fish where, with the MANUAL mode you can get resolution of ¼ to ½ inch between fish. A rule of thumb mathematic formula is depth divided by vertical pixel unit equals resolution. Example: 50 foot of depth divided by 240 pixels = ¼ or separation of ¼ inch. As you can see, this type of resolution will allow you to see much more detail.
As a general rule, you probably will not be fishing for bass, crappie, bream or catfish over 30 to 35 feet deep. Go to MANUAL mode and set the upper limit to 0 and the lower limit to 30 feet. Turn the sensitivity up to a level that does not pick up too much surface clutter or distortion. Remember that the smaller the window, the better the resolution. Another feature to turn on is the GRAYLINE or GRAYSCALE. This feature measures the density of objects and the bottom being scanned. The more pronounced the bottom line appears, the harder the bottom surface. This feature is especially helpful when looking for particular bottom composition.
In the spring and early summer, most species are going to be relatively shallow thus your locator is not going to be used as much. A typical post spawn situation develops in the summer when the fish move out to deeper water and underwater structure. This is when the locator plays a major role in locating the underwater structure to fish. A typical summer scenario: You are fishing points and looking for underwater brush piles. When I am looking for brush piles I am going to concentrate my search in depths close to the thermocline. The thermocline shows on the locator to be a faint gray line usually between 18 and 24 feet deep. This water will be a little richer in oxygen and cooler than the water above it thus more comfortable for the fish.
TIP: Make a mental note or write a reminder to yourself at what depth the thermocline is on this particular lake at this time of the year. Will pay off by less searching next year.
A brush pile will show up on a locator as a 3 to 6 foot lump on the bottom with a black line on the exterior and a fairly solid gray filling for dense brush piles like cedar or pin oak piles. Many times you will see small black specs, marks, squiggles above the brush pile. These may be crappie, bream or baitfish. If the brush pile is old, it will show up as less gray filling and more like a blob on the bottom.
TIP: When you find a brush pile be sure and mark the location on your lake map. Put as much information as you have on the notation. If you have a GPS, note the coordinates.
Brush piles are not created equal. Some brush piles will hold fish consistently while others will not. To determine which piles are holding fish, you will have to fish them. The ones that are not holding fish can be omitted from your notes because they have degraded or for some other reason, just do not hold fish.
As the year wears on and you get into late fall, most fish leave the brush piles and begin to follow schools of bait fish. Here you will use your locator a bit differently. Turn your FISH ID on and look for large gray haystacks of baitfish. With your FISH ID on, you will see the baitfish and the bass, crappie, stripers or perch as well.
If the bait fish appear as a large gray haystack, chances are these are inactive and not worth a lot of effort. If you find your screen filled with scattered and broken up baitfish, you have probably found feeding fish. Concentrate your fishing efforts around these schools of baitfish. Bass will appear as medium sized marks usually in random patterns, crappie or perch will appear as small marks usually in a vertical formation. Stripers appear as the largest and deepest marks on the screen and will generally leave quickly.
As you become more experienced with finding and observing these baitfish balls, you will be able to predict when the baitfish are being driven to the surface or if they are returning to the lower depths. Most of this activity will happen about halfway into a pocket off the main lake in water 10 to 18 feet deep. As fall progresses, the baitfish will move further back into the pockets. As winter arrives, the baitfish will move back out to the main lake and deeper water.
I hope this article has been helpful and hope you keep a tight line.
Carlton "Doc" Holliday and his wife, Darlene "Dee" Holliday only tournament fished together for 5 years. In early 1992, Carlton and his wife were practicing for a tournament the following weekend when the wife got a call from home. She promptly went home and when she got back that evening, informed Carlton that we had inherited a grandson. Later that year, Carlton had a heart attack thus the early retirement ended along with the professional fishing career.
All told, both individually and as a team, Doc and Dee won over 30 bass tournaments and placed in the top 5 in over 70 bass tournaments. The last 3 years of their career as a professional bass fishermen were spent winning the Arkansas Guys and Gals Championship in 1991, Doc finishing seventh overall in the Arkie Division of the Redman Circuit in 1991 and becoming eligible to fish the Redman Regional Tournament in Columbus Mississippi where he finished 20th. Also in 1990, Doc fished in the Mr. Bass of Arkansas Championship on Lake Ouachita and finished third. Career winnings estimated over $85,000.00, but remember, bass tournaments did not pay the big bucks back then that they pay now.
Carlton "Doc" Holliday and his wife, Darlene "Dee" Holliday are both retired and live at Joplin, Arkansas two minutes from Lake Ouachita near Hot Springs, Arkansas. Visit us at http://www.bassfishinglakeouachita.com or email us at email@example.com