A bass anglers approach to electronics

Modern-day fishing electronics have become a major conduit to a livewell of big bass for serious anglers.

That doesn’t mean you have to have sophisticated sonar, GPS, or mapping systems to catch fish, but top pros believe it certainly helps.

Bass spend a lot of time shallow around cover, so you can beat the banks most of the time and still scratch out a decent limit. But if you want a more direct route to finding and catching bigger bass consistently, today’s technology gives you better options than yesteryear’s electronics that only displayed depth, structure, and an occasional fish.

However, bolting the latest and greatest gadgets to your boat doesn’t provide instant success. You still have to learn how to implement and use their multi-faceted features effectively.

Veteran tournament champion Kevin VanDam says today’s electronics not only save him time locating bass and their hideouts, but they also assist him in making precise presentations to those areas.

His boat looks like the cockpit of a 747. He has two wide-screen Humminbird graphs at the console and at the bow, all of which deliver GPS/mapping and offer down and side-imaging sonar and are interconnected via an Ethernet cable.

Transducers and GPS antennas mounted at the bow and the transom provide a more accurate and thorough view of his surroundings.

In addition, his front units are wired into a 360 imaging unit mounted on the trolling motor shaft that provides a view around the boat, with the emphasis on the area ahead.

Many other top brands of fishing electronics offer similar features and provide equally valuable benefits.

Having two graphs at the front may seem like overkill, but VanDam says that the more information he has, the more easily he can refine and spot details of what’s beneath and around him.
One of the bow screens displays 360 imaging while the other offers mapping and sonar simultaneously. The 360 allows him to see fish and cover ahead of the boat.

“I don’t have to be on top of the structure to see it when employing 360 and side-imaging,” he said. “I can see what’s around me while casting without disturbing potential areas holding fish.”

One console unit is programmed with split-screen viewing of three sonar views – down-imaging, two-dimensional, and side-imaging – while another screen displays a topographical map of the area.

That doesn’t mean paper maps are obsolete. Before he gets to a lake, VanDam studies a map for potential areas that match the seasonal pattern.

“You get a broader view of a lake with the paper map and immediately recognize where streams and rivers come into it,” he said. “Once on the water, the electronic mapping chips (inserted into a graph) allow me to zoom in and out on a spot and get a feel of what’s around the boat.”

Once he’s in a potential area, he zig-zags near structure looking for subtleties, such as isolated weedbeds away from a major weedline, logs/stumps, or small rock piles – all of which can hold bass that get overlooked by most anglers.

If its springtime and he’s probing a spawning flat, he will use side-imaging in the same manner, watching for fish-holding cover and depth or composition changes that lie away from the boat.

“Most anglers overlook the importance of changes in bottom composition,” he said. “An area where two different bottom types (sand to rock, soft to hard) come together can be a fish magnet, especially for smallmouths. And with the different color schemes offered on a graph, these changes become quite noticeable.”

When he sees something noteworthy, he’ll move the cursor on the graph on top of the spot and save a waypoint.

“Again, I don’t have to drive on top of it and disturb whatever fish may be lurking there,” he said. “GPS is so precise now and you’ll know the exact distance and direction it is from the boat.”

Down-imaging comes into play in deep water for summer and winter fishing. It gives a clearer view of individual fish and a more detailed picture than 2D sonar. In most cases, VanDam will run a split screen with down-imaging on one side and 2D on the other.

“It’s great for drop-shotting because you’ll see fish that don’t always show up on 2D sonar. However, there are things I don’t see on down-imaging that I see on 2D, such as sand grass or cover close to the bottom.”

Although some veteran anglers insist they can distinguish bass from other fish species on their graphs, VanDam says you’re never fully sure without fishing them.

“But we know bass like to school close to structure, so that’s always a good clue. If I see balls of bait and ‘streaks’ through them from larger marks, that’s an indication of bass feeding.”

The key to getting the most from your electronics is spending time on the water, experimenting with the various views, and learning what you see on the screens.

“Once you become familiar with the functions and capabilities of a unit and maximize its potential, you’ll discover more bass hot spots.”

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