Remember those old ads in your daily newspaper, boys life, or the back of some men’s magazine imploring you to buy a special lure you’ve never heard of? “Better than live bait!” they shouted, or even the most hyperbolic “Already banned in six states!”
It’s the same kind of hype we hear about forward-looking sonar these days and it’s amplified by the social media bullhorn. “It should be forbidden !” a corner screams. “It’s the best thing since sliced bread,” shouts the other side.
The Hype of Forward Facing Sonar
Somewhere in between, there’s a voice of reason that it’s a valuable tool, but only if you know how to use it. And no, it’s no better than chartreuse dynamite. In the interest of full disclosure, I will reveal that I have a Livescope system on my new boat and my results are mixed. It helped me find and catch fish, but it also hurt my neck from staring too long at the screen when I should have been throwing broken fish.
Yes, forward-looking sonar can be a valuable tool if used correctly and wisely, but according to two veteran pros, the whole argument misses the point. When you use it, you effectively have a scalpel in your hand, a tool to excise the lump you’ve spent countless hours trying to find. Most of the work is done by chainsaws and the like. Sure, you can chop down a redwood with that same surgical scalpel, but it will take you a lot longer than with something more powerful.
Clark Reehm, a veteran pro from Louisiana, sums it up more succinctly in fishing terms: “Everybody wants to find that needle in a haystack,” he said. “But how big is a bass? A 4-pounder can be 20 inches long. You go to a new lake and there are plenty of acres of water to hide those 20 inches of fish. The purpose of the technology is to remove dead water. The broader technology is your map, which tells you where to go. If you don’t know where to stop the boat, everything else is a waste of time. Now in the field, Side Imaging helps you find the haystack. Two-Dimensional Sonar and Downward Imaging help you navigate the haystack to find the needle. Then the prospective sonar helps you thread that needle.
So the biggest leap is from mapping to Side Imaging, with Side Imaging making the big chainsaw-like cuts, eliminating acres and acres of water via simple idling.
Texas pro Keith Combs is a big fan of forward-looking sonar and nevertheless agrees with Reehm: “You can go all the way forward in a bad area and you won’t catch anything.
Combs went through a period in his career from 2012 to 2016 when he won several tournaments on several circuits, with many six-figure paychecks, and it is no coincidence that such dominance coincided with the rise side imaging sonar power. He got it on an early version of Humminbird tech and took it to the bank.
“I remember receiving it and from the first time I saw it I knew that in the future you wouldn’t be able to compete if you didn’t have it,” said he declared. “There were guys sponsored by other (sonar) brands who bought them out of their own pockets and hid them under the dash.” He spent hundreds of hours behind the wheel of his boat searching for haystacks and needles and finding plenty of both. “The light bulb really went out for me at a tournament at Lake Texoma. It’s a place with very little cover, so if you find anything off shore it tends to have fish in it. , and that’s key. I didn’t win, but I led (I think I finished second or third) and every fish I caught came through side-imaging.
But while today’s units – whether you use Lowrance like Reehm, Humminbird like Combs or Garmin – are more or less “set ’em and forget ’em”, there are some basic rules you need to follow if you want to shoot the get the most out of your technology. . Reehm, who teaches sonar lessons between tournaments, said “everyone thinks they need the latest and greatest, but if you don’t know how to use what you already have, what what makes you think the new technology will help you?” He said that anyone from the average weekend angler to the tour-level pro will get more out of their side-imaging composition than any other effort. He and Combs agree on some basic principles.
Put down your rod
The first is that you should spend more time staring at a screen and less time with a cane in your hand, at least when you’re scouting. Combs once rode 1,100 miles from his Texas home to Michigan, charted for four days without opening his rod locker, and returned home to prepare for a tournament in a month. The fish would be changed by the time the derby started, but the structural elements of the lake would not. Reehm said that even during the two and a half days of official training before one of his big meetings, if he knows he is likely to be won off, he will spend 80 to 90% of the time staring at the chart, without a cane in hand.
“When people play golf, they know they can’t hit a hole-in-one if they don’t know where the hole is,” he said. “Similarly, if you don’t know where the hoop is, you can’t make a basket. I’m just trying to find the hoop.
Determine what you watch
The second step is to spend time learning what you are watching. Review the structure and cover you are intimately aware of and see what it looks like, then take that knowledge to new places.
In just over a decade, technology has advanced to the point that it’s easy to not only tell a bright spot is a fish, but actually what type or size of fish, but you can’t discern those differences until you have a frame of reference. .
Find the needle, not just the haystack
Next, aspiring side-imaging sidekicks will want to find out how to find real needles, not just haystacks. Reehm said it starts with looking for “textures.” These may be pits in a clay bottom or the uneven surface of a pile of stones. What do they look like above water? How does this translate into what you see on your screen?
Combs likes the amber and blue patterns of Humminbird, which he says allow him to see structure, fish, and also shadows. Unlike Reehm, it makes constant adjustments to sensitivity, contrast, and sharpness throughout the day. “I think a lot of people want to know what you’ve set your mind on and forget about it,” he said. “But to get the most out of it, you have to be careful and make small adjustments until you get to the point where you can tell something is a fish before you even fish for it. It’s money. He said its range is usually 70 to 100 feet and he can use it in water as shallow as 2 feet deep. It doesn’t do well amidst thick vegetation but when properly set up is deadly at finding the edges of grass.
Experiment with the settings
Finally, you should experiment with the settings to determine what works best for you, at the depths you fish and in the conditions you face.
Reehm said that on his units, “The default is as good as you’ll find. The only thing I tweak is my range, because if you start tweaking other things, you constantly have to make adjustments. In water less than 15 feet deep, it will adjust its range between 120 and 140 feet. In water 6 to 15 feet deep, it will maintain it at 100 feet. Between 15 and 20, it will mix. It prefers Lowrance’s grayscale palette for maximum visibility at maximum range.
Prepare for success
The two pros also pointed out that to achieve maximum clarity and accuracy, transducer placement and leveling are key. Combs tried rigging them on the jackplate on the side, but found it easy to get damaged. Rigged along the center line on Humminbird’s backing, “if you hit a stump or something, you’ll slide sideways instead of down the ‘V’, and that way you won’t hurt it.”
Reehm added that “clean power” is also essential to propagate the proper pixels. “A lot of older boats use smaller gauge wire,” he said. “And that may be OK, but if you want to maximize image quality and get a really clear picture, you need heavy-gauge dedicated cabling.” Some anglers now use a separate battery with heavy gauge wiring just for the electronics. Even if that’s not possible given your budget or space limitations, make sure your wire is strong enough and uncompromising.
Regardless of whether forward-looking sonar is ethical or fair in competition, or likely to be banned (hint: it won’t), the fact is that the playing field has changed. Electronics that were top of the line ten years ago are now much cheaper and possibly more powerful. “Anyone can find a brush pile now,” Reehm said. “I’m trying to find the pitchfork on the side, or the lone scarecrow over there.”
It requires a lot of slow motion, covering not just acres but miles of water, finding little dots and figuring out what they are. This gets you to the point of needing the “scalpel”.
“The old adage says 90% of the fish are in 10% of the water,” Reehm concluded. “But when you really start to use your electronics properly, you realize it’s a lot less than 10 percent.”