Electronics Power UpElectronics Power Up Don’t let price or technophobia keep you from updating or adding to the electronics on your boat. Invest in a modern unit, you’ll be paid back in more bass.
By Pete M. Anderson
There was a time, not that long ago, when bass anglers felt empowered with a fish-finder on the bow and one at the console of their boat. The depth, bottom contour, fish and water temperature they reported were enough to effectively catch bass. Then things started to change.
Anglers began carrying pH meters, Color-C-Lectors and other auxiliary electronic devices that measured environmental conditions and kept track of the moon phase. Some even used Loran navigation units. The precursor of today’s GPS units, they triangulated position using towers and radio signals. The late 1990s brought a revolution in fishing electronics. Graphs began incorporating color. GPS, which traded Loran’s hit-or-miss towers for super-accurate satellites, was taking anglers from dock to spot, over and over again. Then in the 2000s, top tournament anglers started rigging their boat with four units, which featured larger screens — some a foot or more across — that simultaneously show more sonar and mapping information.
The race for larger, more powerful and increasingly intricate fishing electronics isn’t slowing down. Lowrance, Garmin, Humminbird and other manufacturers unveiled more technology at the 2016 ICAST trade show in Orlando, Fla.
Lowrance, for example, offered up its Elite 7-Ti, which incorporates many of the features on its higher-priced units into a more affordable package. Then there was Garmin’s GPSMAP 8624. Its 24-inch display is one of the bells and whistles it packs, along with an equally large manufacturer’s suggested retail price — $11,999.
Today’s fishing electronics technology is impressive, no doubt, but you’ll have to open your wallet and spend some time learning to use it in order to utilize all of its benefits. And those might come from adding additional units or ones with newly developed features. That has left some bass anglers asking if the investment can be recouped with more bass. Paul Mueller has a simple answer to that question, and it is a resounding yes.
The Naugatuck, Conn., angler, who caught the heaviest five-bass limit in Bassmaster Classic history — 32 pounds and 3 ounces at Lake Guntersville in 2014 — is fishing his second Bassmaster Elite Series season in 2016. That requires him to travel the country and fish waters that are different than those in his home state. Many times, he only has a few days to scout them before the tournament begins. That makes his electronics even more important.
Mueller said his electronics help him find and catch bass consistently. That’s because they reveal structure, cover and other data, such as water temperature, that help him understand how bass are reacting to their environment at that moment. In fact, during practice, he spends more time watching his electronics than putting a line in the water. He estimates it’s a 60 percent to 40 percent ratio.
Mueller has a lot to look at. Today’s electronics offer many different ways to see the underwater world. Almost every unit includes traditional sonar, which with color has become easier to read. Down scan gives you a detailed view of bass-holding structure and cover; trees look like trees and individual fish can be discerned from a school. Side scan lets you see the bottom along the sides of your boat. It lets you cover more water with each pass, because you aren’t relying on just one transducer cone, and orients structure and cover. Humminbird even offers a 360-degree view, which allows you to see around your boat without moving it.
Mueller’s Ranger Z521C is rigged with four units. They are Garmin’s top-end units: three 7612xsv units, which have 12-inch screens, and one 7610xsv, which has a 10-inch screen. They have plenty of features: touch-screen menus, down scan, side scan, GPS and mapping. He runs two of the 12-inch units on the boat’s console, and the remaining 12-inch one and the 10-inch one are on the bow. The larger screens and multiple units let him easily see all the different functions at one time and in greater detail.
Let’s say he is idling river ledges on a Southern impoundment. Across the two units, he can open windows with traditional sonar and down scan to get two pictures of what is under his boat. He also can pull up side scan to widen his perspective and the GPS and maps to see the exact location of where he is on the lake. The windows are large, so he can zoom in for detail and still see enough to keep things in context, especially on his maps, which use 1-foot contours. That level of detail reveals not only spots on spots, but the spot on the spot on the spot.
The same strategy holds true when Mueller’s at the front of his boat. He can pull up the sonar and down scan to watch bass react to his lures and the GPS to make sure he is approaching a particular piece of underwater structure at the perfect angle. But why does he need the unit with the smaller screen? It’s dedicated to a relatively new technology that he said is completely changing the way he fishes.
In mid-May, the 2016 Bassmaster Elite Series stopped at 185,000-acre Toledo Bend Reservoir, which straddles the Louisiana-Texas line. It’s known for schools of big bass and acres of heavy cover. During practice, Mueller discovered that in the morning, when the wind was up and the amount of light was down, he could catch bass on a variety of deep-diving crankbaits, including Strike King’s giant 10XD. But in the afternoon, when the wind slowed, the water flattened and the bass turned lethargic, he had to switch tactics to keep getting bites. So he picked up his drop-shot rod and turned on the smaller unit at his feet.
Mueller uses it to display Panoptix, the forward-looking, real-time sonar developed by Garmin. The transducer is mounted on the trolling motor. “It’s looking wherever the [trolling motor’s directional] arrow is pointed,” he said. It shows baitfish, bass, drop offs and other pieces of structure and cover. It can see those at any depth up to about 50 feet from the boat. Knowing what’s in the water in front of him is important because it helps him make more precise presentations. “It’s a game changer,” he said. “If you don’t see it, you don’t know it’s there. It’s something that helped me at Toledo Bend.”
As Mueller crossed that lake’s expansive flats, which sat in 15 to 25 feet of water, his Panoptix pointed out high spots and the wood that was scattered on them. He couldn’t quickly cover water with the drop shot, so he motored between the spots his electronics found. They produced some key bites and helped him to a fifth place finish with 81 pounds and 12 ounces.
Mueller said Panoptix does more than find small pieces of cover scattered across large flats. He also uses it while fishing rip-rap banks. Not only does it show where larger rocks and points are, he said it shows his lure and any bass that are following it. That gives him fair warnings, letting him stop his boat and not spook bass.
That’s how Scott Martin used his Panoptix at the FLW Tour event on Lake Champlain in June 2016. It allowed him to stay back from submerged vegetation and rocks and know exactly where to cast to them. He caught 74 pounds and 10 ounces, which was enough for his third win on the natural lake that stretches more than 100 miles along the New York-Vermont line.
All this new technology can be intimidating, especially for bass anglers that remember when having a flasher was a big deal. However, Mueller advised anglers not to worry. Many of the touch-screen units, regardless of manufacturer, operate like a smartphone. It just takes a little time to master them. “It took me about a day to get familiar with it, navigating the unit and using all that the units offer,” he said.
What will the next generation of fishing electronics offer? That’s anyone’s guess. Based on what’s been rolled out already, nothing is too extreme. Garmin engineers, for example, have already created an app that can record images on units and send them to a smartphone. And Mueller said the 7600 series units he runs can connect to Garmin’s VIRB cameras. But there’s always room for more.
For example, take Garmin’s Nautix product. The small, wireless device attaches to the temple piece of your sunglasses and projects vital data from your electronics, such as water temperature, depth and speed over ground, into a corner of your view. Think of it as a heads-up display fighter pilots use but with less data. How could that be useful? Imagine the spawning season, when you are running the back of bays or coves searching for beds. You can keep scanning for beds while knowing which corner of the bay has the warmest water and how deep bass are spawning, all without looking down at your unit.
Whichever direction fishing electronics go, they’ll plug you into more fishing success. But the key is taking the time to understand how these items function and how to apply the information to the fishing situation you are facing at the moment.
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