In addition to conducting guided fishing trips, I also provide on-the-water sonar training for Lowrance and Humminbird sonar owners.
I provide this training on the sonar owner’s boat and we use their equipment so that when the instruction is complete, they have a well-tuned unit with appropriate settings, and more confidence in their own equipment.
In conducting such training, I often note that anglers are uncertain about how to go back to targets (either on bottom or suspended between the surface and the bottom) that their sonar units have revealed.
Below I describe, in order of increasing complexity, how to do just that.
The least technical way to mark fish or fish-holding cover is by manually tossing out a marker buoy.
My personal preference is for the H-shaped buoys as they tend to hold position better than the barbell-shaped buoys, and H-shaped buoys are faster to wind back up.
There are definitely some “tricks of the trade” even on this low-tech approach.
First, be sure to toss the buoy right where the transducer providing your sonar image is located, and, do not hesitate to toss the buoy out the instant that fish or fish-holding cover is being shown on sonar.
If you do not get the buoy out instantaneously, then toss the buoy some feet behind the boat, right in your prop wash so it begins to unspool right over your target.
You want your buoy as close to fish or fish-holding cover as possible so that when you turn off your outboard motor and circle back to the buoy, you are starting your search right where your target was just seconds ago.
One of the downsides to tossing a buoy is that it communicates to other anglers that you have found fish.
Unfortunately, inconsiderate anglers will try to horn in on your action instead of having enough confidence to go find fish on their own.
Therefore, especially on crowded weekends, marking fish other than by using a buoy is preferable.
Modern sonar units provide a “snail trail” or “breadcrumb trail” shown on the unit’s map screen.
These trails are an exact GPS trace of your boat’s path of travel.
Immediately marking targets with a waypoint when fish or fish-holding cover appearwill cause that waypoint to appear atop the colored trail mark.
A waypoint may be thought of as an invisible, electronic marker buoy seen only by the sonar user.
With the map screen set in either “course up” or “heading up” mode (and definitely not in “north up” mode), navigating back to the waypoint is quite simple.
This task is made even easier by going slowly and by zooming in on the map to the greatest extent possible.
Remember, waypoints that do not pan out can easily be erased so they do not clutter the screen in the future.
Likewise, waypoints that do producefish can be saved indefinitely and even named other than with the default chronological numbering assigned by the sonar unit.
Sonar and trolling motor manufacturers have begun to collaborate, resulting in technologies that allow sonar units and trolling motors to “talk” to one another.
One example of this is the i-Pilot Link technology which allows certain Minn Kota trolling motors to communicate with certain Humminbird sonar units.
I use such a setup on my guide boat with a Minn Kota Ulterra communicating with a HumminbirdSolixsonar unit.
From my console, as I watch sonar (including colored sonar, down-imaging, and side-imaging) and see a target of interest, I can simply touch the screen where that target appears, thus bring up a cross-hairs on the screen.
By pressing the “Go-To” button followed by the “Spot Lock” button on the screen, the sonar sends a command to the trolling motor to go to the exact GPS coordinates of the target I touched on the screen.
One big advantage this offers over the other two options is speed.
Not only are several steps skipped in the process of getting the boat to the target, but my clients and I also can use the time it takes for the boat to get to the marked target to get appropriate gear ready to use because I am not directly engaged in manipulating my outboard or my trolling motor.
Regardless of which approach you go with, also consider going at idle speed when searching for targets so you do not speed past something deserving of being marked.
Also, have your trolling motor already lowered into the water to avoid both losing time and creating unnecessary noise and commotion, especially in shallow water (under 12 feet).
With all of these options now available, “losing” fish that have been revealed on sonar should be a thing of the past.