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How to Use a Fish Finder Effectively to Catch More Fish

And how this separates good fishermen from great fishermen?

Over many years I have devoted a lot of time and research into what separates the consistently successful fishermen from the not so successful. One factor that pops up time and again is curiosity.

All the great fishermen I know have an insatiable curiosity about things fishy.

These fishermen have learned that taking things at face value will not provide answers to fishing’s many questions. Perhaps a pertinent illustration of this is the widespread misuse of fish-finders (a.k.a sounders).

Sounders are one technological advance that can help clear the watery fog that separates man from fish. We now have a device that can feed our curiosity about what is going on below us.

But too often sounders are used in ways that do little to increase the chances of catching fish. In fact very often they may even restrict the time and chances available to find fish.

Just motoring around any old where with the sounder turned on is a waste of time and effort. Sure you might luck-out and find a pod of fish or some structure that may hold fish, but this is Lotto fishing.

If you have not explored the charts of your fishing area to determine likely fish holding structure before turning on the sounder you are often just burning petrol and minimizing productive fishing time.

Obvious stuff, maybe, because it is not just what happens when a piece of structure is found in a likely area that separates the great from the good.

A small story to light the way ahead. I was on a trip with Bruce Smith on ‘Striker’ out of the Bay of Islands some years ago. We had been searching for some kingis (yellowtail kingfish) with little success, when Bruce decided to have a look at an area that some reports indicated held fish.

As we neared the area we were not too hopeful - the bottom remained flat and featureless, and nothing on the charts indicated anything worth a peek. We were beginning to suspect that the reports were a hoax.

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Then we began to notice the bottom gradually inclining upward and some signs of rock and weed. Still there were no sharp rises that would indicate anything that might hold concentrations of fish.

Suddenly the sounder line arched upwards from the bottom 60 metres below to just 30 metres below the boat. As suddenly as it rose it fell away again. A pinnacle that was the stuff of fishing dreams.

We were all ready to back track, drop the anchor, and get into them. Not Bruce. Despite our grumbling he motored around the area and made a couple of passes near the first found pinnacle from different angles, concentrating intently on the image on the sounder screen.

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It was then we learned our lesson.

On one of the different-angled approaches we saw that we had only shaved the side of the structure and in fact the reef rose to 20 metres below the surface. The area around this higher point was covered in fish. Now we could set about determining the best drift angle to take advantage of what Bruce had found. We caught fish.

The lesson we learned from Bruce was simple; what you see on a sounder is not necessarily what there is to see.

We may well have fished over the first seen point and may even have caught some fish, but for the sake of a wee bit more exploration, and a large dollop of curiosity, we would have missed the real action.

The lesson did not stop there.

When we finished fishing, Bruce made three or four big sweeps around the area in ever increasing circles. It is unusual to find pinnacles and steep reefs apparently in the middle of nowhere without these pinnacles and reefs forming part of a wider overall structure.

These sweeps confirmed that indeed the pinnacles we found were part of a wider system. I know that Bruce explored the area more thoroughly on subsequent trips.

In the illustrations that accompany this article I have attempted to show what can be revealed when a few passes from different directions are made.

The left illustration shows the bottom topography. The illustrations to the right show the resultant graph you should see on the sounder crossing the structure in the direction of the various arrows. I hope this will show that just one pass over a piece of new territory may give a false picture of the actual shape of the structure.

Not only is it a false picture, but also it is a picture that may disguise the true potential of an area.

In fact looking at the different charts separately could convince you that these were not graphs from the same piece of reef.

Sometimes there can be a problem in relocating the reef, especially if there is a wind or strong current. If you can afford a GPS a quick tap on the event or mark button will get you back where you were.

So will one of the new marker buoys that you drop over the side as you pass over likely territory. A sheet of newspaper dropped on the water works as an efficient marker, as does a squirt of vegetable oil.

Because once you have identified the prime spot to fish, setting up a good drift line or dropping the anchor in the right spot is the next problem.

But that feels like another article coming on.

Fishing Even Smarter Book Cover and Link

This article, and the follow up article on anchoring once you have found the right spot, is adapted from Tony's book, ‘Fishing Even Smarter’.

Over many years I have devoted a lot of time and research into what separates the consistently successful fishermen from the not so successful. One factor that pops up time and again is curiosity.

All the great fishermen I know have an insatiable curiosity about things fishy.

These fishermen have learned that taking things at face value will not provide answers to fishing’s many questions. Perhaps a pertinent illustration of this is the widespread misuse of fish-finders (a.k.a sounders).

Sounders are one technological advance that can help clear the watery fog that separates man from fish. We now have a device that can feed our curiosity about what is going on below us.

But too often sounders are used in ways that do little to increase the chances of catching fish. In fact very often they may even restrict the time and chances available to find fish.

Just motoring around any old where with the sounder turned on is a waste of time and effort. Sure you might luck-out and find a pod of fish or some structure that may hold fish, but this is Lotto fishing.

If you have not explored the charts of your fishing area to determine likely fish holding structure before turning on the sounder you are often just burning petrol and productive fishing time.

Obvious stuff, maybe, because it is not just what happens when a piece of structure is found in a likely area that separates the great from the good.

A small story to light the way ahead. I was on a trip with Bruce Smith on ‘Striker’ out of the Bay of Islands some years ago. We had been searching for some kingis (yellowtail kingfish) with little success, when Bruce decided to have a look at an area that some reports indicated held fish.

As we neared the area we were not too hopeful - the bottom remained flat a featureless, and nothing on the charts indicated anything worth a peek. We were beginning to suspect that the reports were a hoax.

Then we began to notice the bottom gradually inclining upward and some signs of rock and weed. Still there were no sharp rises that would indicate anything that might hold concentrations of fish.

Suddenly the sounder line arched upwards from the bottom 60 metres below to just 30 metres below the boat. As suddenly as it rose it fell away again. A pinnacle that was the stuff of fishing dreams.

We were all ready to back track, drop the anchor, and get into them. Not Bruce. Despite our grumbling he motored around the area and made a couple of passes near the first found pinnacle from different angles, concentrating intently on the image on the sounder screen.

It was then we learned our lesson.

On one of the different-angled approaches we saw that we had only shaved the side of the structure and in fact the reef rose to 20 metres below the surface. The area around this higher point was covered in fish. Now we could set about determining the best drift angle to take advantage of what Bruce had found. We caught fish.

The lesson we learned from Bruce was simple; what you see on a sounder is not necessarily what there is to see.

We may well have fished over the first seen point and may even have caught some fish, but for the sake of a wee bit more exploration, and a large dollop of curiosity, we would have missed the real action.

The lesson did not stop there.

When we finished fishing, Bruce made three or four big sweeps around the area in ever increasing circles. It is unusual to find pinnacles and steep reefs apparently in the middle of nowhere without these pinnacles and reefs forming part of a wider overall structure.

These sweeps confirmed that indeed the pinnacles we found were part of a wider system. I know that Bruce explored the area more thoroughly on subsequent trips.

In the illustrations that accompany this article I have attempted to show what can be revealed when a few passes from different directions are made.

The left illustration shows the bottom topography. The illustrations to the right show the resultant graph you should see on the sounder crossing the structure in the direction of the various arrows. I hope this will show that just one pass over a piece of new territory may give a false picture of the actual shape of the structure.

Not only is it a false picture, but also it is a picture that may disguise the true potential of an area.

In fact looking at the different charts separately could convince you that these were not graphs from the same piece of reef.

Sometimes there can be a problem in relocating the reef, especially if there is a wind or strong current. If you can afford a GPS a quick tap on the event or mark button will get you back where you were.

So will one of the new marker buoys that you drop over the side as you pass over likely territory. A sheet of newspaper dropped on the water works as an efficient marker, as does a squirt of vegetable oil.

Because once you have identified the prime spot to fish, setting up a good drift line or dropping the anchor in the right spot is the next problem.

But that feels like another article coming on.

Fishing Even Smarter Book Cover and Link

This article, and the follow up article on anchoring once you have found the right spot, is adapted from Tony's book, ‘Fishing Even Smarter’.


John Dory


Article written by Tony Bishop


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