By Darl Black
Fish-finding electronics have reached a level of sophistication that likely could not have been imagined by Carl Lowrance back in the late 1950s when he introduced the “Little Green Box” for freshwater fishing. But with more ways to view sonar signals than ever before, the everyday crappie angler is still looking for an answer to the question “How do I know if it is a crappie I’m looking at?”
Today, whether you are viewing an original flasher circular display, a pixel screen of down-looking color sonar, shades of gray side-scan pictures, or the latest 360-degree imaging – the sonar operational principle remains the same. High-frequently sound waves are transmitted by the sending unit through the water until they strike an object. Rebounding vibrations are reflected back to the receiver and the signals are displayed on a viewing screen in one of the ways described above. However, the interpretation of those signals is up to the angler.
With the exception of the old-style flasher display, which was a matter of line thickness and separation, I’ve always marveled at the clarity of images on fishfinder screens appearing in manufacturers’ ads and catalogs, making it appear there is no ambiguity in interpreting the signals of their particular unit. While I do not doubt the capability of a particular unit to perform in the way shown in a print ad or on an internet video, I realized a long time ago that these sample images of structure and fish were arrived at under ideal settings of speed and resolution under the direction of an individual extremely well versed in the unit’s operation.
But for real-life fishing situations with an ordinary angler (unless an electronic techy), those clear pictures rarely materialize. Of course guides and tournament anglers will take the time required to learn all the nuances of the fishfinder in order to create the best image because, after all, that’s part of their job.
But does the average fisherman need to shell out $3,400.00 for the latest combination unit with all the various scans and imaging simply to catch some crappies? I don’t think so – not when excellent basic fishfinders can be purchased for between $300 and $800.
Norman Brakeman – nickname “Hooker” – is a former tournament bass angler turned crappie fisherman who now calls 16,000-acre Pymatuning Lake on the Pennsylvania and Ohio border his home water. “When crappies are shallow in the spring, it’s a see it – fish it kind of deal. I look for selected visible cover in particular bays to find prespawn, spawn and immediate post-spawn crappies,” explains Hooker. “But as crappies filter from the shallows to deeper water for the summer and fall, the use of sonar becomes paramount.”
“Presently, I run a Humminbird 898c with side imaging capability – from my bass boat days,” explains Hooker. “When searching new territory for crappies in deeper water, I start off following a breakline at a particular depth. I’ll have the down-view color sonar on one screen, and side scan on another screen. The side scan will hopefully show critical pieces of cover away from the breakline. On the down-looking sonar, I am particularly interested in slight elevation changes as well as bottom composition changes. Offshore hard-bottom areas on flats with quick access to deep water are magnets for crappies on this lake – especially if there are some chunk rocks, couple stumps or man-made brushpiles/cribs to create a sweet spot to hold crappies.”
Hooker admits that he may not be able to positively identify the objects on the bottom but that fact that an object is there is enough, pointing out that a hard bottom rise without that attractive stump, rock or crib will likely be a fishless piece of real estate.
“You can get a general idea of the size of fish down there by looking at the marks, but you are only guessing at the species until you hook and land one of those fish. However in deep water, crappies often stack up in a formation that looks like Christmas tree on sonar. In this case, you can be fairly sure these are crappies. I’ve found the smaller crappies are typically near the top of the stack and the large crappies near the bottom.”
Hooker says as the water temperature gets cooler further into fall, crappies will move deeper on points. “This is an excellent time for vertical fishing. You can watch your jig on the sonar screen as you dance it right in front of bottom-holding crappies. It’s like playing a video game!”
To read how the host of G3 Sportsman television shows, Scott Turnage, uses his electronics; and to read more articles about using sonar to find crappie, go to the October edition of CrappieNow on-line magazine.