I don’t know who said it first, but there is a lot of truth to it: “You’ll always get what you’ve always gotten, if you always do as you’ve always done.”
In the year ahead, you can be assured that you will not improve as an angler (or parent, or employee, or congregant or anything else) if you are not intentional about improving. Intentionality involves making a plan, sticking to the plan and then monitoring the results which that plan brings to fruition.
Although given the New Year’s Day ahead of us, I’m calling these resolutions, these several key elements to angling improvement would fit well into any serious angler’s intentional plan to improve, no matter when the start point.
Resolution No. 1 — Adjust, use and be confident with your sonar.
The absolute most foundational step you can take in improving in the use of your sonar equipment is to take the time to level your transducer. This means to ensure that when your boat is moving forward at the lowest speed at which your outboard pushes your boat forward, your transducer is angled such that it is travelling perfectly parallel to the lake’s bottom.
Next, with just one fishing rod on the boat, and only a ¾-oz. weight tied to it, go out on the lake, hold still in about 25 feet of water using your trolling motor, and simply play with your 2D sonar’s adjustments as you keep that ¾-oz. weight in the sound cone of your colored 2D sonar.
Observe when and where your rod tip must be held to keep your weight showing up on the screen.
Once you find that sweet spot, experiment with your 2D sensitivity adjustment as you attempt to keep the weight showing on the screen 100% of the time.
Unfortunately, some modern anglers have begun to dismiss 2D sonar, instead preferring to rely upon side-imaging and down-imaging. These latter two technologies function best when the boat is moving slowly and in a straight line. However, their performance is significantly degraded when a boat comes to rest (as is the case when holding in position with your trolling motor in order to fish an area).
This is where colored sonar shines. Investing time in this tried and true technology will pay dividends.
You may or may not choose to go so far as to do an on-the-water sonar training session with me, but you can at least acknowledge those in your circle of friends who are good with sonar and pick their brains a good bit about questions you have about your unit. Don’t forget that free technical support comes with the purchase of your sonar unit. The major players — Garmin, Lowrance and Humminbird — all have worked to reduce their phone wait times and to provide quick, accurate solutions to your sonar challenges.
YouTube is another source for information, but you can’t really ask YouTube questions. And there is no quality control on what goes on YouTube. Unfortunately, there is a good bit of sonar-related guidance on YouTube which is simply wrong.
Resolution No. 2 — Become a better scout.
I observe a lot of anglers “scouting” or “pre-fishing”, when all they are really doing is getting in a little extra fishing time which will not in any appreciable way help them in the future, nor in their next tournament.
Time well-invested in scouting will involve formulating a plan to fish multiple locations covering multiple depths and in a multitude of forms of cover, and fishing a given area just long enough to establish that fish are or are not present, then moving on to the next planned location to check it out in like manner.
Most seasoned anglers acknowledge that fish have “windows” of time in which they feed. Spending all of your allotted fishing time fishing one location during an active window means that you did not visit several other areas where biting fish could have been detected, thus allowing you to add an extra stop or two or three to your “milk run” of fishing areas you have confidence in.
Create a waypoint on your sonar unit when you contact fish so you can return to fish this area with GPS precision.
Be careful about making broad assumptions before you plan your scouting. An assumption like, “It is December and the water is pretty cold, so the fish are all going to be deep,” can be a dangerous assumption which can cause you not to scout shallow, fish-holding water.
Resolution No. 3 — Keep a log of your efforts.
Many of you know I keep a blog as part of my Holding the Line Guide Service web site. After every single fishing trip I make, I enter a log entry into this blog and then cut-and-paste that over to Facebook as well. Although I do try to make these entertaining narratives, there is a block of information at the bottom of each entry which many people never take the time to look at. This block of information includes the following entries: trip start time, trip end time, air temperature, lake elevation, water surface temperature, wind speed and direction, sky conditions and waypoint designations of areas producing fish.
From looking critically over the 28 years’ worth of data in my logs, trends emerge about fish behavior from season to season and even during anomalous events like floods, freezes, hurricanes, fires in Mexico which obscured the summer sun, solar and lunar eclipses and more.
This has become an invaluable reference for me to look back on as a reminder of what I was doing to be successful under a given set of conditions and in a given season. Lessons can be hard and expensive to learn. There is no need to learn them more than once.