Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Fish Finder - Part 2

How To Use a Fish Finder

Last time I talked about choosing the best fish finder. So today I'm going to help you learn how to use your fish finder.

I'll never forget when I was starting out as a young bass fishermen; I had never even heard of a fish finder. Until I saw a guy on tv with this new contraption that looked like a small TV which allowed him to actually see the fish under the the water. I was absolutely fascinated! I was sure that if I only had one of these, I could catch all the bass I wanted. All I would have to do is ride around until I saw a bunch of fish under the boat and catch them. It seemed like this fish finder thing would make catching fish a snap.

Well, needless to say, it didn't work quite that way. Although, after a few years of experimenting with, and using fish finders, I did come to realize that they are an extremely valuable and almost essential tool for catching bass in deep water.

Fish Finder Settings

In order to get a clear accurate reading on a fish finder, it's extremely important to set it up correctly. Settings and functions vary depending on the brand and type of fish finder you have; if you have a new 3D unit, I'm sorry, but I have no experience with those; settings may or may not be the same. Most units however will allow you to set the following.

For settings I'm going to start with the depth scale. In Part 1 of this post I touched on the depth scale. I believe it's essential that any fish finder have a manual mode function for the depth scale. This is even more important if you're learning to use a fish finder.

The automatic depth scale allows the unit to show bottom depth in different scales. For example if your boat is in 10 ft of water the side scale on the screen will be showing 0 to 10 ft then you come over a spot where the bottom drops off to 20 ft, the scale will change automatically from 0 to 10 ft to 0 to 20 ft.

The default depth scale setting for most fish finders out of the box is set on automatic. I recommend changing the setting to manual. Running the automatic scale takes away from the power and can become confusing if it's constantly changing scales as you move over bottom changes. If you're not interested in anything that's more than 40 ft deep, manually set the scale at 0 to 40 and leave it. You can change it anytime if need arises.

Next is the digital depth setting. If your unit allows, turn it off. This function is another power sucker and you can use the side scale to read depth.

Sensitivity, The sensitivity basically turns the units power up or down. For the maximum clarity and detailed readings you will want to run the the sensitivity as high as possible without getting noise or static on your screen. This setting will often need to be re adjusted to compensate for water conditions. For example if you're in muddy or dirty water and are getting static on your screen turn the sensitivity down just enough to get rid of the interference.

Grey Line. The grey line represents the bottom on your fish finders screen. This function can give you much much more information than just the depth and contour of the bottom. I'm going to talk more about grey line in a moment but for the settings you'll want it just dark enough to give good contrast in the lower and upper.

Chart Speed, Chart speed controls the speed that the chart scrolls across the screen. This setting should be set at maximum speed
The only time it should be set slower is for extreme depths such as 100 ft or more which never comes into play in bass fishing.

That has your main settings ready. I recommend you turn off any and all bells and whistles such as alarms etc. These things can be fun to play with and useful in certain situations but if you're learning to use your fish finder they're just a distraction. Most are simply put in units as a selling point. The only exception to these is the chart cursor. The chart cursor is a very useful function for pinpointing the exact depth of fish or other objects. You should keep this function turned on.

How To Read Your Fish Finder

A fish finder does find fish; but not always in the way you may think. After a few years of experience with my fish finder, I realized that it is much more valuable for finding the places fish live or the schools of bait that they feed on than for seeing the actual fish themselves.
This is especially true with bass. Bass are very cover oriented. When they get inside thick cover such as weeds or brush, you may see the cover on your graph but not the fish. If you do see fish around the cover it's a plus. But NEVER EVER let not marking any fish on your fish finder when you run over a good piece of cover or structure be a reason for not fishing it. I can't tell you how many times I've caught limits of nice bass off a spot that I graphed with my electronics and never saw a single fish.

There is no magic article or book that can instantly teach you to read your fish finder . However, with experience you will eventually be able to read your graph well enough to know what you're seeing on the screen at all times. Once you become experienced with this tool, you will be amazed how much information the fish finder can give you about whats under the surface of the water.
Just for example, a couple things that you may not know the fish finder can tell you: 1 the grey line which represents bottom can tell you the bottoms composition. A wide darker, or double grey line represents hard bottom and a narrow or weak gray line represents soft bottom. 2. A darker band on the screen between the bottom and surface is usually a thermocline. A thermocline is the depth where water temperature changes. This will normally come into play in summer when the upper layer of water is warmer than the deeper water. Bass like to be near the thermocline when water surface temps are very warm.

For those of you who have never used a fish finder at all, here are a couple good videos that should help give an idea of what fish, schools of bait and different types of structure and cover look like on a fish finder. fish finder Video 1 fish finder video 2

How to know where objects or fish are in relation to the boat.

The transducers cone angle determines how large the area you view on your fish finder. To give a more detailed explanation, the signal leaves the transducer and spreads wider as it travels down, hence the term cone angle.

I briefly touched on transducers and cone angle in the last post. I recommended that beginners use a standard 20 degree cone angle transducer which is commonly included with most fish finders. Without getting too technical, just to give you an example of the size of the area you'll be viewing on your graph: With a 20 degree cone angle transducer over a 20 foot deep bottom, you will be viewing a 15 foot radius of the bottom. Basically when you are traveling at idle speed, as soon as an object comes on to your screen the object or fish is directly under the boat. Once the fish or object is in the center of your screen it is behind you.

If you have your units settings correct. Arch shaped lines will indicate fish. However unlike the simulations you see on fish finder ads, you will seldom see complete arches. The reason for this is, the fish must be directly under the center of the transducer to get a complete arch. Normally fish will be to the sides causing your reading to be half arches or if the fish are moving, you will see a continuous long line; sometimes all the way across your screen.

Fish Finder Tips

Always check the fish finder transducer before putting your boat in the water. Make sure the transducer is level and not pointing back or forward.

Most fish finders have a simulation mode. You can use this to practice with your unit before you even put it into use on the water. It will also help you learn to identify what you're seeing on the screen once you get on the water.

Use a buoy marker on deep water structure or cover. When you see fish or structure that you want to try on your fish finder, drop the marker to mark the location. Keep in mind that the actual spot will be behind you when you drop the buoy.

Mount a fish finder on front of your boat and the transducer on bottom of your trolling motor. With your sensitivity setting turned up, you can actually see your lure on the screen and its location in relation to the fish or cover. Many time you can see the fish move up and strike your lure.

Once you are experienced with your fish finder, you will realize just how valuable this tool is for catching bass. There's a lot to learn about using electronics in bass fishing. I know I have not addressed every question that you may have on the subject. So feel free to use the comments below to ask any questions you may have on how to use a your fish finder; I'll be happy to answer all questions as best as I can.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Fish Finder - Part 1

 Tips to help you choose the best fish finder for your bass fishing needs.

Whether you're going after Fall bass, Winter bass or getting ready for Spring, a good fish finder is a tool that every bass fisherman should consider seriously. Your fishfinder / depth finder is your eyes under the surface of the water.

Since marine electronics can be a sizable investment, you should make sure you don't spend more than you need to; and get a unit that fits your needs.

The fact is, most people who own a boat with a fish finder never learn to use it correctly. It's easy to find information on the internet on how to use a fish finder. The problem is, it's mostly geared to promote a particular brand or sales there of. And most give you nothing really useful. So this will be a 2 part post. Today I'm going to help you decide what unit would be best for you. Later I'm going to have another post on how to use a fish finder. There is a lot to learn on both these subjects; so get a cup of coffee and get ready to learn about fish finders.

Fish Finder Power

The power or wattage of a fish finder is most important for deeper water aplications. If you fish mostly visible cover in extremely shallow water (2 to 4 ft) and never fish deep water structure, you may only need something to tell you how deep the water is and show you whats on bottom . In this case most any cheap unit on the market will give you an accurate depth reading and will work just fine for you.

On the other hand If you fish deep water structure at all (deeper than 6ft) Your needs are going to be met best by a unit with at least 3000 watts peak to peak power. The more power the better readings / detail you will get.

Fish finder Pixel

Pixel as in power is also the more the better. The picture you get on the screen of your fish LCD is made up of individual pixels. Simply put the more pixels the unit has per vertical line, the more clear and distinguishable the readings will be. Pixels also play a huge role in giving you detailed readings are vital for distinguishing fish from other objects. If you fish deep water at all, a minimum of 640 vertical pixels is going to meet your needs best.

Fish Finder Transducers

Basically fish finders are under water sonar. The transducer is the component which mounts on or inside the boats hull. It sends down a signal which bounces off the bottom back to the transducer which sends the information back through the transducers cable to your screen translated into a picture of whats under the water. I Know, it's amazing isn't it?

As complicated as it may sound, transducers are fairly simple when it comes to choosing one. Most fish finders come with 1 basic, standard 20 degree cone angle transducer and a bracket which mounts the transducer to the outside Bottom of the boat. This transducer will work just fine.

Because it's Important and relates to learning to use your fish finder, (Which I'll be focusing on in the next post) I'm going to elaborate a little more on the transducer.

If you've read my blog in the past you know that I believe in keeping my tackle choices simple; and the same is true when it comes to electronics used for fishing. If you've been looking at electronics recently, you probably know that today's fish finders are very advanced and most include a wide variety of bells and whistles such as gps, side finder, and color view capabilities just to name a few.
All these features are great; but can make things very complicated for you if your just learning to use a fish finder. So I recommend starting with a good simple unit with adequate power, pixel and a standard 20 degree cone angle transducer. Unless you fish extremely shallow water as I mentioned above in this case it's fine to go with a wider cone angle transducer. You'll understand my reasoning for this when we get into learning to use your fish finder.

Fish Finder Brands And Prices


Before I talk about brands, just for the record, I am not affiliated with or sponsored by any of the companies that I may mention. Any recommendations or reviews I give are strictly based on my personal experience with the product.

There are lots of good fish finders on the market. And you don't have to spend your kids college fund or your own retirement to get a decent unit that will meet your needs.

Some of the best cheaper units that I've used are sold by Eagle Electronics. If you don't mind spending a little more for your fish finder Lowrance is the parent company of Eagle and makes what I believe to be the best. I've used Lowrance units on my own boat for 25 years. They have always been very dependable and I've never had any reason to change.
Another good brand that I've used on occasion is Garmin . I have lot's of friends who use Garmin consistently and I have not heard any complaints about their product. Hummingbird also makes a good fish finder. However it has been my experience that some of their cheaper units don't have a manual depth scale, which I consider a very important feature.

Whether you choose a bare bones cheaper unit or a top of the line with all the bells and whistles, there is one very important feature that your fish finder should have. That feature is a manual depth scale mode. This allows you to set the depth scale at the depths you desire and stops the scale (which is usually in automatic mode as the default setting on most units) from changing automatically. A constantly changing depth scale can become confusing; especially for an angler who is learning. Also the automatic depth scale setting takes away from the power of the unit and can sometimes cause distorted or false readings. I consider a manual depth scale mode feature to be a must on any LCD fish finder. I will also elaborate on this in the next post.

Hopefully what I've talked about so far will help those of you who have not gotten a fish finder yet choose one. For those who already have one, I'll be talking about learning to use a fish finder next time.

I know there are lots of questions you may have on this subject. Please feel free to use the comments to ask any questions you may have about fish finders.