Create A Complete Picture With Your ElectronicsCreate A Complete Picture With Your Electronics Fishing electronics are full of functions — traditional sonar, scanning sonar, side imaging and mapping. Bassmaster Elite Series angler Josh Bertrand explains how to harness the collective power of these functions to catch more bass.
By Pete M. Anderson
Lake Pleasant, a 10,000-acre reservoir outside Phoenix, is a popular fishing spot for Arizona bass anglers, including Bassmaster Elite Series angler Josh Bertrand. He was there not too long ago, practicing for a local tournament and packing a fish finder that featured some new technology.
Instead of looking down, Garmin’s Panoptix transducer, which is mounted to the trolling motor, looks forward, searching wherever you point it. The marks on its screen represent what’s happening in real time, Bertrand said, whether that’s the fluid motion of a baitfish school or a bass reacting to your lure.
It was December, and Bertrand was fishing a group of submerged trees standing near a creek channel in about 25 feet of water. He was watching the Panoptix while retrieving his umbrella rig and noticed something during a cast. “You could see [on the screen] a little blob swim out of the tree, look at my umbrella rig and swim back in,” he said. So when his umbrella rig reached the boat, he picked up a drop shot and cast it to where the bass had showed itself. This time, he hooked it.
That sold Bertrand on the power of Panoptix. Without it, he wouldn’t have known that bass was there, and when you are casting for cash, you can’t afford to leave any behind. “You’ll catch extra fish every day because of [electronics],” he said. And that holds true for each function — mapping, traditional sonar, scanning sonar, side scanning. They are even more powerful when combined.
Together the functions create a detailed look at what’s happening under and around your boat. To make that happen, you need to learn when each shines and how they support each other. It’s only then that you’ll get the clearest picture.
Bertrand took an intensive three-day class with Garmin engineers, who explained every in and out of his units. But that’s not an option for most anglers. “Everyone wants to learn how to utilize their electronics better,” he said. “I want to learn more. I get the most messages on Facebook about electronics.” So last winter during the Elite Series’ offseason, he offered instructional guide trips on the lakes around his Gilbert, Ariz., home. Demand has him scheduling more for this winter.
Bertrand’s students were most interested in becoming better at two things: identifying bass on their electronics and which adjustments make them appear clearer. He said you’re off to a great start if you’re using the default settings, but a little knowledge will bring more into focus.
If you run a color sonar, you’ll need to know what a hard echo — the representation of something in the water such as a bass — looks like with the color palette that’s selected on your unit. For example, if the bottom is yellow, a strong echo, which could be a large fish or one that’s directly under the transducer, also will be yellow. If you see a blue blob under this scenario, chances are it’s a small fish or one that’s on the edge of the transducer’s signal.
Bertrand runs four units — two Garmin 7612s, which have 12-inch screens, and two 7610s, which have 10-inch screens — on his Nitro bass boat. “It’s a lot of screen,” he said. But he dedicates each unit to multiple tasks. The screen of the 7612 at the console is filled three-quarters with mapping and one-quarter traditional sonar. The ratio is the same on the adjacent 7610, which shows more side scanning than ClearVu, Garmin’s scanning sonar. He splits the screen of the 7612 on the bow with mapping and traditional sonar. The accompanying 7610 is the only specialist. It’s dedicated to Panoptix.
The units provide a steady and large stream of information, including environmental details such as water temperature. Gathering and interpreting it is Bertrand’s main mission before a tournament begins. “In practice, I do a lot more looking,” he said. Bass hooked then don’t count toward his final total, so in that aspect they aren’t helpful. But watching them can reveal a lot.
The farther from the bottom that bass suspend the harder they are to catch. Bertrand said active bass appear as a strong echo about 2 to 3 feet off the bottom. Whenever his electronics show one of those, he quickly reels in his lure, no matter how far it’s from the boat, picks up his drop shot and sends it down.
Bertrand receives a lot of information from the traditional sonar function. It has been a standby for decades, and he believes there are several reasons while it will continue to play an important fish-fishing role for many more years. The different colors, for example, make it easy to distinguish marks, especially size of fish and their proximity to the bottom. It also is easier to read and quicker to decipher when the boat is moving at higher speeds.
The ClearVu function on Bertrand’s units — DownScan for Lowrance or Down Imaging on Humminbird — offers a more life-like view, he said. If there is a big sunken brush pile, for example, it can differentiate between its branches and the bass swimming among them. Traditional sonar, on the other hand, struggles with that level of detail, and it would most likely show everything as one mass. That’s why he runs them side by side at the console while he is fishing. If he sees something interesting on traditional sonar, he slows down — 6 mph or less — and studies the ClearVu’s more detailed representation.
Bertrand doesn’t look at everything his traditional and scanning sonars are capable of showing. It’s highly unlikely bass will be suspended in open water, and they would be almost impossible to catch if they did. So he zooms into the bottom half of the water column. That also gives him a more detailed view.
Sonar played a big role in Bertrand’s sixth place finish at the Bassmaster Elite Series tournament on Tennessee’s Lake Cherokee in early February 2017. He concentrated on bass relating to schools of shad in 18 to 30 feet of water, catching 64 pounds and 14 ounces during the four-day event. “Every fish I caught I saw on the graph first,” he said. “The big key there was finding the schools of shad.”
After catching a couple bass, Bertrand said the shad school would scatter and disappear from sonar. In the past, he would have to maneuver his boat, either with trolling motor or outboard, until he relocated it. But here he used his Panoptix, simply turning the trolling motor to scan the surrounding water until he found the shad. And being back away meant he didn’t have to worry about spooking them, at least until he started catching bass again.
Bertrand’s electronics help him find bass, but using them also can spook bass at times. If a spot is less than 18 to 20 feet deep, he’ll fish it before idling over it with his electronics. And once he’s made a few casts and caught what was swimming there, he’ll go over it with his electronics to search out what exactly is holding bass there. He feels spots deeper than that are OK to idle over anytime, including during tournaments.
While sonar is shooting from the stern to give a look under the boat and Panoptix is searching in front of the bow, Bertrand relies on side imaging to cover water on his port and starboard. It can find bass, structure and cover up to 100 feet away on each side. That wide swath cuts the time it takes for him to search an area. Where with traditional sonar he might have to make four or five passes to completely view a deep flat, side scan cuts that in at least half. And he can always go to something specific with his sonars to take a closer look.
Bertrand said side imaging is important on the expansive Great Lakes. Take Lake Erie for example. The smallmouth powerhouse is like a giant shallow bowl. But scattered on its expansive flats are small irregularities such as strips of exposed rock. Those congregate schools of big smallmouth and are easily seen on side imaging. He said if your side imaging is set up properly, it will show you the bottom while your boat is on plane.
Nearly all of today’s units come with one more function that anglers find vital, and that’s mapping. It helps you understand how to approach spots from farther away. If you’re fishing a river channel, for example, you can follow the drop on the map, using the icon representing your boat, making sure you make every turn. And with waypoints and tracks, it documents where you catch bass. It also helps you navigate between spots quickly and safely.
The second 2017 Bassmaster Central Open tournament was held on the Sabine River, which helps separate Texas and Louisiana, in mid-June. It’s a shallow water tidal fishery, and Bertrand’s electronics played an important role in catching 29 pounds and 14 ounces over the three days, which put him in seventh place. But he didn’t use them to look down.
Mapping was critical on the Sabine’s mix of backwaters and channels. Bertrand’s units allow him to import Google Earth satellite images, creating a custom map. That let him see the outside edges of aquatic vegetation, including some that was submerged. It grew to the channels, revealing where he could run and potential hotspots.
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