Last week in this column I addressed the fundamentals of boat positioning, using sonar and your trolling motor in combination with one another to reliably return to fish or fish-holding cover. If you missed that, simply go to kdhnews.com, enter Bob Maindelle in the search tool, and look for the Aug. 8 article.
This week I expand on that topic and share how to more quickly and efficiently position your boat over fish you have found on sonar, thus minimizing the chances of the fish moving before you have an opportunity to present a bait to them.
Last week’s article addressed high-tech, mid-tech, and low-tech approaches.
TROLLING MOTOR PROACTIVELY DEPLOYED
Regardless of which approach you find yourself employing, one shortcut to quickly returning to the fish you have discovered on sonar is to already have your trolling motor deployed after you come off plane and slow down to search for fish.
Whether you have a self-stowing and deploying trolling motor like the Minn Kota Ulterra, or manually lower your trolling motor into the water, if you wait until you have found fish to perform this task, you are adding precious time to the total amount of time before you can get set up atop the fish you have found.
Additionally, some trolling motors make quite a thud when they come in contact with the bracket which secures them to the boat’s deck. Making this noise away from the fish you hope to present to is preferable to doing so when you are more near to them.
Obviously, the presence of water hazards like stumps will prevent such proactive deployment to some extent.
USE YOUR MAP’S BAR SCALE
If you use the “high-tech” approach to boat positioning with a system like the Minn Kota/Humminbird i-Pilot Link system, the system takes you automatically back to where you have placed your cursor on your sonar or chart screen. But what if you do not have such a system?
In this case, you will want to bring up a split screen on your sonar unit, with one half of the screen designated for your chart and the other half for your down-imaging.
The down-imaging will show you what is under your boat, and the chart will show you where you are on the water’s surface.
On the chart, look for the bar scale, either on the lower right corner of the map, or midway up the left margin. This will look like a thin, black staple-shape and will have a number appearing near that shape.
This bar scale’s length tells you what that distance is on the lake’s surface.
For example, if the bar scale is a half-inch long, and it is marked with “100 feet,” that means every half inch of distance on your map is equivalent to 100 feet on the lake’s surface. Thus, if your map is 5 inches wide, the actual distance on the lake’s surface would be equivalent to 1,000 feet.
Most anglers I conduct on-the-water sonar training with underestimate how far their boat travels after they mark a waypoint or toss a marker buoy. This will eliminate any guesswork. As you get closer to your target, especially in shallow water, you may be wise to shut down the outboard and use your trolling motor to close the final distance.
Casting rings are a tool found on some sonar brands which allow the angler to draw a ring of a set distance (let us use 50 feet for our example) around either the boat or around a waypoint.
On Humminbird Helix units, for example, a 50-foot ring drawn around a waypoint allows the angler to observe his or her boat’s icon on the map as it approaches the waypoint, but not get too close so as not to spook the fish actually at the waypoint. When the boat icon intersects with the 50-foot casting ring surrounding the waypoint, he or she is then 50 feet away from the actual waypoint. This is handy when fishing shallow water.
On the Humminbird Solix, things work a bit differently. On these units, the 50-foot ring is drawn around the boat instead, but still serves the same function.
On both models, the angler can select the ring distance. On Helix units, a double-press of the Menu key brings up the master tabbed menu. Go to the Nav tab, then scroll down to Casting Rings and use the left or right arrow button to decrease or increase the range.
On Solix models, start off by bringing up your chart page then press your Menu button. Scroll to “Chart Options”, then scroll to “Overlays,” then to “Range Rings.” Slide the Range Rings selector switch to “On,” then choose how many rings you want to encircle your boat, and their distances.
USE YOUR REMOTE CONTROL
Using one of the techniques above, let us now assume you have accurately made your way back to your waypoint and down-imaging verifies the presence of the fish you were pursuing.
By having your hand-held remote in your hand with your thumb on the Spot-Lock button (for Minn Kota models) you can instantly send a wireless signal to your trolling motor (which, remember, you have already deployed) so it stops you at that critical location.
Most anglers I conduct on-the-water sonar training with do not think ahead on these steps and wait to shut off their outboard only after seeing their desired target has been reached. Only then do they turn off the outboard, then walk to the bow, then drop their trolling motor, then engage the GPS system.
Unfortunately, by this time the boat will be several boat lengths away from the intended target as the boat’s forward momentum continues to carry it in the direction it was going before the outboard was shut off.
NOW STAY PUT
Once your boat is successfully positioned atop your desired target, you will now want to make sure it stays there. Two simple disciplines here will pay dividends over time. First, leave your outboard motor down. Many anglers are in the habit of trimming their outboard motor up out of the water when fishing. The outboard acts as a keel and keeps the boat tracking straight ahead as the trolling motor pulls from the front. If the outboard is trimmed up and out of the water, the rear end of the boat can skate freely left and right, adding unwanted boat movement.
Next, be sure your outboard motor is steered straight ahead. If the outboard is cocked even slightly left or right, it will act as a rudder instead of a keel. As your trolling motor pulls from the front of the boat with the Spot-Lock function engaged, the outboard will cause a slight spin in the direction it is steered.
When the trolling motor senses this, it will counteract the spin by pulsing in the opposite direction, attempting to get back to its designated location. This battle will go on and on as your boat wags left, then right, then left again, thus imparting unnecessary movement and burning up unnecessary battery power.
If you have not been doing some or all of these things, but begin to put them into practice, you will notice that they become second nature in a very short span of time.
There is perhaps nothing more frustrating in the fishing realm than not being able to find fish. It would be a shame to find fish, then lose them again all because boat positioning fundamentals were not observed.