This has already become a long winter with occasional warming trends. Does this make you want to go fishing? Then go.
You can catch limits of crappie, walleye, bluegill and an occasional catfish by fishing over submerged winter cover. Here are a few electronic tips that will help you be a better winter fisherman:
I learned this graph tactic several years ago. The weather was not good and the wind pushed heavy waves and occasionally we were pelted by a chilling rain, meaning, the fish were not biting. At least 12 boat loads of experienced fishermen had caught very few fish to brag about or photograph.
I was fortunate to go out on the second morning with an expert on fishing graphics, the late Harry Padgett, once one of the fishing industry’s leading graphic professionals. He immediately started watching his graph and moving to likely spots, especially rocky points.
“Here is how we are going to approach this,” Padgett said. “We will start by finding the fish, marking their position, then using map feature on the screen of my Hummingbird 1197C GPS Fishing System to get on top of their position. Then we attach plastics on a drop-shot rig.”
Sonar for fishing has been around many years, but today’s technology has made these devices the best ever. I spent the next several minutes forgetting the fish and just watching the screen in total amazement.
Padgett used the down image/map page on split screen, a way to read images under the boat and split screen shows two images on the monitor, to look at how the fish were reacting to our lures, YUM-F2 Wooly Bugs, plastic crawfish imitations. He cut the Wooly Bug in half, removed the pincers and hooked the bug with flat side up. We vertically released the drop-shot rigs to the bottom and then turned our reel handles about three times to barely hold our lures off the bottom.
Sonar graphics showed the lure dropping and how fish reacted. I set back in amazement at the screen’s clarity. A bass moved toward my lure and I suddenly felt a bite. I set the hook and missed, but the fish turned and hit again. This time my hook found jaw and a 2-pound Kentucky bass was quickly in the boat.
I watched in amazement as images flashed on the screen. I wondered what fisherman from my youth would have thought of this advanced sonar and how many tournaments we would have won by adding this knowledge of bass behavior. We were catching fish while most were not.
Padgett suddenly muttered, “Graph screen.”
I looked over on the monitor to see a big walleye taking his lure. He set the hook and hung on for the next 10 minutes while the 10-pound walleye tried its best to escape. Padgett examined the beautiful fish before releasing the big female. He casually cast the lure back into the same spot without a word, like he had been there before. I found myself watching the screen more often while the other boats seldom caught a fish.
“Many are fishing rocky points without success,” Padgett said. “They are missing exactly where the bass are suspended and are not moving much during these horrible weather conditions. We are finding the fish suspended just off the points in about 25 feet of water and around structure or drop-offs. Most casts towards the points would be behind the fish.”
Farther down the shoreline Padgett found a large crappie bed on screen covered in fish, probably old Christmas trees wired together. The bed was in that magic 25-foot range of active fish, so we dropped white plastic jigs down and immediately felt light taps common in cold weather.
Again, we watched crappie move toward our lures and seem to bite, though we could not always feel a tap. The weather front had made them lethargic, but we caught several nice crappie on a day when fishermen with lesser graph systems would have likely failed.
“The key is to first find the fish on the graph’s side imaging, meaning images to the right or left of your boat, then mark their location on the GPS,” Padgett said. “Next use down imaging to show at what depth the fish are holding. Return to the waypoint feature using the map and down-image split screen. Then on the icon, we should see the fish below our boat. Zoom to 10 feet on map page and fish vertically. You might try backing off to throw across the waypoint and drag lures through the fish.”
The newest graphs take a lot of work out of scouting fish locations. Older units scouting a 3,000-foot wide lake with a 20-degree cone, meaning coverage of the area of sonar that will be seen on the screen under the transducer on the trolling motor or on the transom, would normally take 300 passes or about 38 hours. The new technology means scouting out a lake bottom with only 10 passes in less than two hours while marking selected productive spots. This data may be transferred to your home computer in a movie or still-shot format.
My old friend who knew bass habits during my youth could have found selected spots before leaving the house to try by using his knowledge of how bass respond to weather or other conditions, and you can too.
– Kenneth Kieser, a veteran outdoors writer and member of the Waterfowlers Hall of Fame and National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame, writes a weekly outdoors column for The Examiner. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.