By Tim Huffman
Public-marked structures, or fish shelters, are often scoffed as being the community hole, quick-stop shop, and other less than flattering titles. Because of the pressure applied to some of these, the names can be appropriate. However, not all are created equal nor do they each have overwhelming pressure. It depends upon the lake and season you are fishing.
The mapping screen shows a LakeMaster chip marked Corp of Engineer brush pile (shown as a rectangle) and is the same one marked by the sign on the tree in the other photo. The sonar confirms the cover.
Finding Marked Spots
State game and fish departments around the state have worked to create more fish habitat locations on many waters. Numbers of these have been in cooperation with the Corp of Engineers on their lakes. The result is more and better places for fish to call home. This will help survival rates and increase overall populations.
For example, in Southeast Missouri, two Corp lakes have a program where they cut and placed small trees for fish shelters. Many covers have been dropped. Maps are available with some of these locations marked. They also mark them with signs on shore. However, to give the fish an advantage, many were not marked. Their project helped lakes for the fishermen and fish.
A recent trip to Norfork Lake, Arkansas, revealed a similar situation. I asked Chad Morgenthaler to give us some tips for fishing these. This Bassmaster Elite Series fisherman won the Wildcard event on Lake Okeechobee last December and has qualified for several bass Classics. And yes, he likes to crappie fish, too.
“I learned how to use electronics by structure fishing for crappie,” says Morgenthaler. “I went to lakes and worked to catch crappie and learn everything I could. My electronics showed me that lakes I thought I was familiar with had all kinds of structure I didn’t know was there. I liked to find the structure and vertical fish for the crappie. My favorite was always the 15 foot depth range or deeper. This allowed me to get over the fish and drop a jig in vertical using light line and a long pole.”
“Today I do the same thing when I have the time. The electronics are so good you can watch the bait go down, get in and around the limbs with hanging up often and usually see the fish come up to take the jig. You can maximize fishing with a minimum of hang-ups and have fun catching more crappie. I’m a big fan.”
What About Marked Spots?
“The neat thing about the Corp of Engineers,” says Morgenthaler, “is that most of them put out brush piles. You can buy a map with coordinates. However, if you have a LakeMaster mapping chip it will mark those brush piles for you. What happens is the icons mark the brush piles so you can navigate right to them.”
His tools may be more advanced, but you don’t have to own a television-sized locator to use mapping. The smallest screen unit with mapping included will work. All the larger units do is make everything easier to read and allow split-screen viewing. Searches for fish are quicker. But you can do the same thing with a smaller unit.
“I use a Hummingbird 1198c,” says Morgenthaler. “I can split the screen with the map on one side and Side Imaging, or sonar, on the other. The map lets you watch contours for depths and shows the path of the boat. It’s not difficult to quickly scan all the bottom.”
Morgenthaler says only by looking with your electronics and test-fishing will you know for sure if active crappie are in the covers. He says the real key to catching numbers of fish is to form a pattern. Once you learn crappie are holding at a certain depth, says 12 feet, in 14 to 18 feet of water, you can look for other similar areas and expect the same results. By fishing only the high-percentage areas, you’re likely to nab more crappie during your trip.
The ultimate setup…two 1198 Humminbirds at the console with a matching unit in front. This isn’t a practical, economical reality for most fishermen, but when you make your living fishing like Elite bass fisherman, Chad Morgenthaler, electronic units are tools for making money. And yes, he does enjoy catching crappie.
Marked Spots Tips
We learned that not all areas with cover are created equally. We found one with almost no cover on it. Another one had cover but it was scattered sparsely over a wide area.
Don’t expect cover to always be at a sign or fish shelter buoy. Scan around the area to make sure you are not missing cover and fish.
“If these marked area are relatively close, I recommend leaving your electronics on and idle from one to the other. You’re likely to find more cover usually placed by fishermen.
When you find a productive spot place a GPS marker on it so you can find it quickly next time.
Side Imaging Tips
Morgenthaler, like many other young, serious fishermen, is a master at operating and reading electronics. Here are a few of his ‘button control’ tips.
“I use the menu button often because it allows me to select whatever feature I want.
“Maybe the greatest thing about Humminbird is they put three quick-select buttons that act similar to your radio buttons in your car. You can set each one by holding it down for a second or two. From then on, all you have to do is hit the button and it returns to the screen setting you want. My first one is on my map and sonar; second one is Side Imaging, and third one is a full map.
“If you are using two Humminbird units, one front and back, be sure to keep the sonar on the one not in use turned off. You can do this by briefly pushing the Power button.
“Another magic setting is the Default. You don’t have to be worried or overwhelmed. You can always get back to the factory settings by going to default setting. You can’t mess it up. And, the default works great for most situation without a lot of other setup.”
Marked Spots –Yes or No
I’ve interviewed hundreds of fishermen throughout the years. Most agree that a marked spot will be fished more than non-marked structures. However, the spots are often good places to catch crappie. Since they are fished often, fish size will usually be smaller but that doesn’t mean the covers are not worth a try. You might be using a different bait, color or action, so your tactic might fool even heavily pressure crappie.