Use your elec­tron­ics to their full po­ten­tial while off­shore


If you’ve ever asked a bass fish­er­man for ad­vice, their an­swer usu­ally sounds some­thing like, “You gotta use a Bug Whacker buzzbait on 14-pound fluoro­car­bon and crank it with a Winch­mas­ter 7 to get the ideal re­trieve rate.” It takes just a se­cond or two be­fore you re­al­ize that you got mar­ket­ing-speak, not pure fish­ing ad­vice.

But when I di­aled up jack­pot-win­ning bill­fish cap­tains who com­pete for tens of thou­sands, some­times even mil­lions, of dol­lars and asked them for some sonar tricks to find more fish, I came away think­ing they might have just helped me be­come a bet­ter fish­er­man. And I be­lieve their gen­eros­ity will ben­e­fit each of us in this tell-all un­mask­ing of top sonar tac­tics.


Mi­ami, Flor­ida ELEC­TRON­ICS: Ray­ma­rine e-Se­ries, Air­mar B275LHW

When chas­ing sail­fish and dol­lar bills in South Flor­ida tour­na­ments, Capt. Ray Rosher needs al­ti­tude. “I like the el­e­va­tion, to see the fish and get set up for them,” he says. “That means I’m spend­ing a lot of time up in the tower. My dis­plays have to be bright.”

In 80 feet or more of wa­ter, the sail­fish he’s tar­get­ing are al­most al­ways swim­ming right into the cur­rent, not to the right or left but straight into it. Once they are spot­ted, Rosher keeps an eye on the GPS and sonar.

“I don’t want to lose them, so I need a bright dis­play so I can see GPS co­or­di­nates at a glance. I’m also look­ing at the sonar to tell me the depth and what’s hold­ing the fish there — bait or struc­ture — and I also want to see any bait in bold tar­gets. You can’t take your eyes off the fish for long or you’ll lose them,” he says. He sets his sonar to the white back­ground to max­i­mize con­trast “so, in an in­stant, I can reg­is­ter depth and note the GPS co­or­di­nates.

“I do a lot of live-bait­ing, so I don’t move as much, and mark­ing bait is pri­mary. That’s where the chirp sonar comes in: de­tail. Threadfin her­ring don’t al­ways make a heavy mark. They’re not very dense. Cigar min­nows don’t make such a bold tar­get either, in spite of their

bulk. Sar­dines are denser though.”

Rosher says it’s not a hard-and-fast rule, and at a re­cent tour­na­ment, threadfin her­ring were show­ing up like huge fire­balls on his sonar. But the bot­tom line is that more con­trast and de­tail on a bright screen makes tar­gets eas­ier to iden­tify.

And then, Rosher says, there’s the easy-to-use Light­house 3 graphic in­ter­face. “I never needed a man­ual with my Ray­ma­rine e-Se­ries,” he says. “It’s very sim­ple to nav­i­gate through the con­trols.” And in tour­na­ment fish­ing, you need both ac­cu­racy and speed.


Stu­art, Flor­ida

EQUIP­MENT: Sim­rad NSS evo2, chirp, Struc­tureS­can and 3D sonar

There’s a bit of re­sis­tance to side scan­ning and the so-called 3D sonar sys­tems among bill­fish­er­men, but Ja­son Roberts doesn’t fol­low the pack: His sport-fisher has both.

“It works best in wa­ter un­der 300 feet, but deeper than that, struc­ture def­i­ni­tion be­gins to di­min­ish,” he says of Sim­rad’s Struc­tureS­can 3D. But he uses it any­way, and for a par­tic­u­lar pur­pose: Struc­tureS­can 3D can read side­ways out to 600 feet and mark fish at long range. “If you’re run­ning in the op­po­site di­rec­tion to the fish, it will show up as a red dot,” he says. “If you’re trav­el­ing par­al­lel in the same di­rec­tion, there’s more sonar on the tar­get and it will show up as a streak.

“I usu­ally run the sys­tem on auto mode for this. But, ther­mo­clines show up well on 3D,” says Roberts. “When you see a gi­ant line of ‘star­dust,’ that’s the ther­mo­cline. Fish tend to hang around it.” Roberts sorts out the fish by turn­ing up the gain and noise-sup­pres­sion set­tings.

“If you see a red dot [rep­re­sent­ing a fish] un­der the boat, you can ro­tate the 3D im­age to look at the tar­get above, be­low or side­ways,” says Roberts. That gives you a great feel for a tar­get’s po­si­tion in the wa­ter col­umn, and that tells you how to present the baits.”

Roberts gets the best im­age from sides­can­ning and 3D sonar sys­tems in depths un­der 600 feet. The rea­son is the echo takes a rel­a­tively long time to re­turn from the widest scan ranges. Struc­tureS­can 3D can also paint bot­tom struc­ture down to 600 feet, and to get the best im­age, he likes to run the scroll speed up to about 50 per­cent. For wreck-fish­ing, the 2D view is the next best thing to drop­ping a Go­Pro down there.


Is­lam­orada, Flor­ida

EQUIP­MENT: Sim­rad NSS evo3, Air­mar R599, Struc­tureS­can

Greg Eklund likes the Air­mar R599LH trans­ducer for its wide-an­gle scan cone — up to 23 de­grees in low-fre­quency range — and its abil­ity to op­er­ate on two fre­quency ranges si­mul­ta­ne­ously. With a low-kilo­hertz chirp fre­quency on one win­dow, he can look deep and spot in­di­vid­ual baits at great depth. He splits the screen to show the high-fre­quency chirp chan­nel next to it. “This setup re­ally works for me when I find bait on the Air­mar R599LH. The high-fre­quency chirp mode of 130 to 210 KHZ cov­ers 1,500 feet of bot­tom in 210 feet of wa­ter. Low chirp goes deeper and still gives per­spec­tive on bait be­tween 300 and 500 feet. I can work a sin­gle sword­fish in bait with that setup,” he says. Eklund’s NSS evo3s are all net­worked to­gether, so he can see the same in­for­ma­tion whether at the bridge or in the tower.

Eklund finds Struc­tureS­can’s wide beam is most ef­fi­cient out to 300 feet wide and down to 200 feet. “With it, you can track bait­balls and see where the fish are on it, and cir­cle them like you’re tied to them on a string,” he says.


Is­lam­orada, Flor­ida

EQUIP­MENT: Sim­rad NSS evo2,

Air­mar 599 3 Kw

As one of the top sword­fish cap­tains in the Flor­ida Keys, Nick Stanczyk de­pends on low-fre­quency chirp to find bait and quarry. “It’s kind of cool to mark a sword­fish in 1,500 feet or more,” he says. “I turn the gain and sen­si­tiv­ity up as high as pos­si­ble with­out in­ter­fer­ence and clut­ter — and set my scroll speed to medium. I’ll turn up time-vari­able gain too.” Auto mode? “I don’t use it,” he adds. “And when I’m mark­ing clut­ter, I dial it down.”

Aes­thet­i­cally, he likes a blue back­ground on sonar and thinks the new screens are plenty bright to carry it off, but like most cap­tains, he prefers a white back­ground screen for con­trast.

I’m spend­ing a lot of time up in the tower. My dis­plays have to be bright. —CAPT. RAY ROSHER

While the new dis­plays are bright enough that a blue sonar back­ground reg­is­ters well in sun­light, many cap­tains pre­fer the white back­ground for con­trast in any light­ing.

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