Remember those old ads in your diary, boys life, or the back cover of certain men’s magazines begging you to buy a special lure you’ve never heard of? “Better than live bait!” they yelled, or even the more hyperbolic “Already banned in six states!”
That’s the same kind of hype we hear about head-on sonar these days and it’s amplified by the megaphone of social media. “It should be banned!” a corner screams. “It’s the best thing since sliced bread,” shouts the other side.
The bass drum of the forward looking sonar
Somewhere in the middle there is a voice of reason claiming that it is a valuable tool, but only if you know how to use it. And no, it’s not 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 some fish, but it also gave me a sore neck from staring at the screen too long when I should have been casting to break fish.
Yes, forward-looking sonar can be a valuable tool if used properly and judiciously, but according to two veteran professionals, the whole argument misses the point. When you use it, you effectively have a scalpel in your hand, a tool to excise whatever mass you’ve spent countless hours trying to find. Heavy work is done with chainsaws and the like. Sure you can chop down a redwood with the same surgical scalpel, but it will take a lot longer than with something more powerful.
Veteran Louisiana pro Clark Reehm puts it more succinctly in fishing terms: “Everyone wants to find that needle in a haystack,” he said. “But how big is a bass? A 4-pounder might be 20 inches long. You go to a new lake and there are many acres of water to hide those 20 inches of fish. The goal of the technology is to remove dead water. The broader technology is your mapping, which tells you where to go. If you don’t know where to stop the ship, everything else is a waste of time. Now in the field, the side images help you find the haystack. 2D sonar and descending images help you navigate the haystack to find the needle. Then forward-looking sonar helps you thread that needle.”
The biggest leap, therefore, is to go from mapping to sideview, with sideview making the big cuts like a chainsaw, removing acres and acres of water by simply idling.
Texas pro Keith Combs is a big fan of forward-looking sonar, and yet he agrees with Reehm: “You can look forward all you want in a bad area and you won’t catch anything.”
Combs went through a period of his career from 2012 to 2016 in which he won multiple tournaments on multiple circuits, with multiple six-figure paychecks, and it’s no coincidence that such dominance coincided with the rise of lateral imaging sonar. He got it on an older version of Humminbird technology 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,” he said. “There were guys sponsored by other (sonar) brands who bought them out of their own pocket and hid them under the dash.” He spent hundreds of hours behind the wheel of his boat looking for haystacks and needles and finding plenty of both. “The light bulb really went off for me at a tournament in Lake Texoma. It is a place with very little cover, so if you find something off the shore, it tends to contain fish, and that is essential. I didn’t win, but I did lead (I think I finished second or third) and all the fish I caught came from side pictures.”
But while today’s units, whether you’re using Lowrance like the Reehm, Humminbird like the Combs, or Garmin, are more or less “set it and forget it,” you need to adhere to certain ground rules if you want to get the most out of your tech. . Reehm, who teaches sonar classes 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 makes you think the newest technology will help you? “He said that anyone from the average weekend angler to the tour-level pro will get more from marking on their side image than from any other endeavor. He and Combs agree on certain basic principles.
lower your cane
The first is that you need to spend more time looking at a screen and less time with a rod in hand, at least when you’re exploring. Combs once drove 1,100 miles from his home in Texas to Michigan, charted for four days without opening his locker, and went 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 practice leading up to one of his main events, if he knows he’s likely to win offshore, he’ll spend 80-90% of his time looking at the chart, a stick in his hand.
“When people play golf, they know they can’t get a hole in one if they don’t know where the hole is,” he said. “On that same line, if you don’t know where the rim is, you can’t make a basket. I’m just trying to find the hoop.”
Find out what you’re looking at
The second step is to spend time learning what you are seeing. Go over the structure and deck you’re intimately aware of and see what it looks like, then take that knowledge to new places.
In little more than a decade, technology has advanced to the point where it’s easy to tell not only that a bright spot is a fish, but also what type or size of fish, but you can’t discern those differences until you have a frame of reference. reference. .
Find the needle, not just the haystack
Next, would-be side-picture acolytes will want to find out how to find the real needles, not just haystacks. Reehm said that starts with looking for “texture.” It could be the pits in a clay bottom or the uneven surface of a rock pile. How do they look on the water? How does that translate to what you see on your screen?
Combs likes the Humminbird’s amber and blue patterns, which he said allow him to see structure, fish, and shadows, too. Unlike Reehm, he makes constant adjustments to sensitivity, contrast, and sharpness throughout the day. “I think a lot of people want to know what you set yours on and forget about it,” he said. “But to get the most out of it, you have to pay attention and make small adjustments until you get to the point where you can tell something is a fish before you even catch it. That’s money. He said its range is typically 70 to 100 feet, and that he can use it in water as shallow as 2 feet deep. It doesn’t do well in thick vegetation, but when placed correctly, it’s deadly at finding grass edges.
Experiment with the settings
Finally, you should experiment with the settings to find out what works best for you, at the depths you fish and the conditions you face.
Reehm said that in 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 then you have to constantly make adjustments. In water less than 15 feet deep, it will set its range to 120 to 140 feet. In water 6 to 15 feet deep, it will keep it at 100 feet. Between 15 and 20 will mix it. Prefer Lowrance’s grayscale palette for maximum visibility at maximum range.
set up for success
Both professionals also emphasized that for maximum clarity and accuracy, transducer placement and leveling is critical. Combs tried to place them on the jack plate to the side, but found they were easy to damage. Mounted along the centerline on the Humminbird mount, “if you hit a stump or something, it’ll slide to the side instead of going down the ‘V’ and that way you won’t hurt yourself.”
Reehm added that “clean energy” is also critical to propagating proper pixels. “A lot of older boats use smaller gauge wire,” he said. “And that can be fine, but if you want to maximize image quality and get a really clear image, you need dedicated heavy-gauge cabling.” Some anglers now use a separate battery with heavy gauge wiring just for the electronics. Even if that’s not feasible given your budget or space limitations, make sure your cable is strong and sturdy enough.
Regardless of whether forward-looking sonar is ethical or fair in competition, or likely to be banned (hint: it won’t), the fact remains that the playing field has changed. Electronics that were top of the line a decade ago are now substantially less expensive and arguably more powerful. “Anyone can find a brush pile now,” Reehm said. “I’m trying to find the gallows off to the side, or the isolated scarecrow out there.”
That requires a lot of idling, covering not just acres but miles of water, finding little dots and understanding what they are. That brings you to the point of needing the “scalpel”.
“The old saying is that 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 much less than 10%.”