Electronics take bass fishing to video game level
I've never been a big fan of video games. In my mind, punching buttons and chasing dancing figures around on a computer or television screen all in the name of running up a meaningless score has always seemed like a total waste of time.
Then along came Lowrance StructureScan, a high definition sonar imaging system that can help you learn things about a lake that you never knew and ultimately find and catch fish away from the bank like never before. I installed the system on my boat about a 1 1/2 years ago and I've been playing “Chase the Dots” ever since.
Well, not quite that long.
Like most new users, I cut my electronics teeth with basic 2D/GPS units and was somewhat intimidated by the thought of learning something totally different. So much that I was reluctant to get serious about learning the game for quite a while, even with pair of new state-of-the-art monitors staring me in the face as I motored down the lake and navigated the shallows with the trolling motor.
For months I kept running the same ol' water and fishing the same shallow spots I'd been hitting for years. My pro fishing buddies and others already familiar with technology kept telling me what I was missing by not getting off the bank and broadening my horizons.
Todd Driscoll was among them. Driscoll was a Lowrance tech at the time who has since made the switch to a different marine electronics company called Garmin. “Once you get your mind wrapped around this stuff it will change your fishing forever,” Driscoll said. “It will ruin you.”
In looking back, my friend was right on target. I finally got serious about learning to unlock the potential of StructureScan last fall and it has totally changed the way I fish. I'm hesitant to call myself an offshore junkie, but I'm pretty darned close.
StructureScan: What Is It?
Introduced several years ago by Oklahoma-based Lowrance, StructureScan is a cutting edge technology exclusive to company's HDS electronic units. In addition to traditional 2D sonar, the technology enables users to simultaneously view in extremely high detail a lake's a lake's bottom from three different viewpoints using its SideScan (left and right) and DownScan functions. Both functions operate using a special transducer that mounts to the boat's transom area or the outboard engine jackplate. The boat must be moving at idle speed of about 2-8 m.p.h. in order for both applications to work properly.
There is a ton to know and always more learn about these functions. But make no mistake about it. Once you grasp how they work together and learn how to put them to use in combination with an accompanying mapping technology, your fishing is sure to improve.
This holds especially true when it comes to fishing away from bank, where unmolested schools of largemouth bass, white bass and crappie can often be found hanging out in relation to offshore channel ledges or underwater points, humps, ridges and brush piles.
Bass tournament pro Mark Rose of Memphis, Arkansas, is an offshore expert who has won more than $2 million during his career, a high percentage of it coming by targeting isolated sweet spots he has found using his electronics. A Garmin guy since last year, Rose began his career with Lowrance.
I interviewed Rose for a story in 2014 and he credited StructureScan with every tournament win and every check that he had cashed since the technology was introduced around 2008.
Scott Suggs of Alexander, Arkansas, is another pro angler well known for his offshore prowess. He says StructureScan technology has helped him become a better angler largely because it allows him to utilize his fishing time more efficiently.
“Back in the old days you had to do a lot fishing just to find fish, but that's not the case with StructureScan,” said Suggs. “In the flasher days you had to interpret what was there, but with StructureScan you can actually see what is there in real time. I compare it to sitting in a classroom with a book or watching slideshow. In my opinion you can learn a heck of a lot more from the slideshow. When it comes to getting an education in offshore fishing, StructureScan blows everything else out of the water. I have a tremendous amount of trust in it - so much that if I don't see fish I won't even stop and make a cast.”
Randy Haynes of Counce, Tennessee, is another offshore stud who makes his living of bass he finds using his electronics. Now sponsored by Raymarine, Haynes built his reputation using StructureScan. He once told me that the technology eliminates a lot guesswork formerly associated with offshore fishing.
“It shows you stuff that you previously couldn't see,” he said. “It's like your boat is a high security building with cameras pointing out both sides and straight down to prevent anything from getting in. It takes some practice using it to really grasp it, but once you get it figured out it will definitely change your fishing. It has really sped up the offshore learning curve for a lot guys.”
Getting A Grip on SideScan
As earlier mentioned, the SideScan feature allows you scan the lake's bottom on both sides of the boat, often out to 100 feet more.
Used correctly, it will produce real-time images of fish, stumps, submerged bridges, brush piles and other stuff that you otherwise might not see unless the boat passes directly above them.
If you see something on the screen that looks interesting, you can navigate the cursor directly on top of that object and mark it on the mapping screen for closer observation. Anglers sometimes call this “popping a waypoint.”
While it's a great tool for searching water quickly along river ledges, flats, points and other offshore structure, SideScan also can provide a bird's eye view beneath boat docks, piers or around bridge pilings.
Suggs has also found SideScan to be extremely useful for locating isolated colonies of bream beds during the summer months on offshore ridges, humps and points.
“I use it a lot for that,” he said. “My wife and I like to fish for bream, but bream beds also will attract a lot big bass. Going into a tournament with 20-25 bream bed colonies marked can be like money in the bank.”
Suggs likes to search for bream beds away from the bank, because those are the ones that are most likely unmolested and he can usually have them to himself. When searching for beds, he will run parallel with the structure until he sees what he is looking for.
“They look just like the divots on a golf ball,” he said. “It's amazing how well they stand out.”
Matt Williams is a freelance writer based in Nacogdoches. He can be reached by e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org.