I’ve had a great past two weeks fishing the Chesapeake. Nice rockfish to 34 inches were in multiple small mobs, hanging in 20 to 30 feet of water. When I located one on the finder, they promptly attacked any jigs or baits we dropped on them. A number of friends had the same experience.
Yet later this week, I heard from anglers who had cruised the same waters and hadn’t been able to catch anything. What’s more, they told me, they generally had trouble catching rockfish, despite serious effort.
Digging deeper I ferreted out a common denominator. All had electronic fish finders on their craft but weren’t up to speed on using them. Depth was about all they understood.
It’s a dictum of fishing the salt that 90 percent of the task is locating the fish. The single most effective tool in finding fish on large bodies of water, like the Chesapeake, is the electronic fish finder.
Locating fish with the finder does not guarantee that you will catch them. But it is impossible to catch fish that aren’t there, no matter how hard you try.
Today’s fish finders are able instruments with multiple options to tailor them to your unique marine environment and detect just about anything underwater you’d care to find. Based to a certain extent on anti-submarine technology, these babies are so technically sophisticated that they remain illegal for export to foreign countries.
But a few days ago I was reminded of just how daunting dealing with these instruments can be. My unit hiccupped during booting and failed to load. When I turned it off and back on again to reboot, I saw that most of my settings had been lost and the unit’s displays were unrecognizable.
It had been years since I set the machine up and fine-tuned it, so I had no memory of how I did it. With multiple screen menus each with many options, I had to go back to the manual and start over.
Turning on my unit with my boat on its trailer beside my house, I had no distractions. With the manual in my lap, I went through the setup again. A basic menu option on any recently manufactured unit is a reset to original manufacturer defaults. That’s where I started.
If you are unfamiliar or uncomfortable with electronics, I recommend you begin there as well. There is little intuitive about setting up a fish finder, but most manuals are fairly helpful.
If the original manual for your machine cannot be located, most manufacturers offer them on their websites. As a last resort, you can call the manufacturer and order a copy.
Do not attempt to set up or review your settings while fishing; There are just too many distractions.
Once you’ve entered your initial settings, take a short cruise (with the manual and without your tackle) to fine-tune them.
Repeat, trying different options and watching your screen to observe the effects. If your choices end in confusion, reset to the default settings and start over.
A well-tuned instrument will become a customized tool that meets your requirements, eye and angling techniques. The reward will come in terms of more fish in the boat and more confidence in your approach.