PROS/JOES: Dial in your electronics to become a better winter bass angler

Technology has changed the game of bass fishing forever. Period.

If $500 nanosilica rods, $360 magnesium reels and $30 vacuum-metalized, 3D-etched baits aren’t proof enough that the catching of largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bath has advanced to a level of science that would confound Mr. Spock (the Vulcan, not the child psychologist), take a peek at the 9- and 12-inch sonar/GPS screens that are now adorning bass boats across the country.

Thanks to manufacturers like Lowrance and Humminbird, your on-board electronics can now tell you where you are in the world down to a few inches, shuffle your iTunes playlist, draw you a picture of a rusted-out car body that you used to think was a brush pile at the bottom of your local bass lake, and serve you a salami sandwich.

Maybe not the sandwich. But everything else on the list above (courtesy of GPS mapping, Sonic Hub, StructureScan and Side Imaging), is now part of the well-equipped bass angler’s electronics cluster. And all of that gadgetry and science can translate into one thing: your on-board computer systems can help you catch more fish.

Oh, how times have changed.

“Years ago when I put my first boat together, I had probably $1,200 worth of electronics total,” says Kent Brown of Ultimate Bass Radio in Sacramento ( “This year’s boat when it’s all together, it’s upwards of $5,000 of electronics, which is about half of what I paid for my first bass boat. Electronics have become a really, really big part of your boat, but there’s a reason for it. It just cuts the learning curve so much, it’s incredible. Simple as that.”

Brown is a shining example of the evolution of the modern-day bass fiend, and the necessary adaptation to/use of technology. While he still uses old-school Lowrance buoys to help mark his spots when he’s fishing deep structure, he’s also about as well-versed on the tweaking and functionality of the electronics on his new Triton as anybody in the West. He’s gone from paper and pencil notes to punch-of-the-button information storage, and he’s a better angler for it.

“Dude, I learned to run the Delta with a map folded between my legs,” he says. “That’s how all of us old farts learned it. Now, the GPS will give you a topographical reading – a perfect map of the Delta – tell you exactly where you are, tell you whether the tide is coming in or going out, how much it’s going to move that day. It’s all right there with the touch of a button. You’re getting information that you had to scratch for years to learn back in the day, and it’s making you a better angler, if you’re using it right. We have a distinct advantage that we’ve never had before. It’s not cheating, either: you still have to get the fish to bite.”

Seeing what’s down there: The best example of how profoundly a good set of electronics can influence your fish-finding ability crept up on Brown one afternoon as he was idling across a channel at his home lake, Folsom Lake near Sacramento. It’s a body of water that he’s been on hundreds upon hundreds of times and knows like his own back yard, but one cruise over a spot with a new array of Lowrance HDS electronics completely changed the way he’ll fish a certain area from now on.

“I was idling over a channel, talking on my cell phone and happened to look down at my screen the first year I had StructureScan,” Brown recounts. “I found an area that’s about 150, maybe 200 yards long where there’s a stretch of trees still standing in the main channel, about 60 feet down. When they cut the trees to make the reservoir, they just left those trees down there. I had no idea they were even there and I’ve been over that spot 500 times, but StructureScan drew me an absolutely perfect picture of what was down there. My first drag through there with a purple rubber worm and a jig, I caught one 5 pounds.”

Your first step: take your units out of automatic mode and ditch the basic, video-gamey fish-finder setting. Brown cranks the sensitivity as high as he can.

“I want to see everything that’s down there,” he says. “If I’m pre-fishing or on a new lake – of if I’m deep-structure fishing on Oroville or Shasta and I just want to see that darterhead working down there – I can pick up stuff that I couldn’t see otherwise.”

Finding new territory: Topographical mapping features are a godsend when fishing a new lake. SideScan and the like are fantastic detail-providers once you’ve identified a piece of structure, but smart use of a topo map is the first step in actually finding potentially fishy new areas.

“Once you understand how to read those maps – you know, the lines running real close together are a sharp break, the long lines represent a flat tapered area – it gives you the structure, and lets you expand on stuff you’re already fishing,” Brown says. “If you usually fish the end of a point, a topographical map might sow you that there’s really an even steeper break 75 yards away.”
Stay on your spots: While old-school sight triangulation and reading what your sonar is telling you are still functional ways to find your way back to your favorite ledge, brushpile or submerged roadbed, the simple touch of a button saves you time untold.

“When you find that rockpile, ledge or break that has fish on it, it’s ‘beep’ and it’s stored forever as a waypoint,” Brown ways. “The ability to store a waypoint it just awesome. You can leave a spot and go back 10 years from now, and be literally 3 feet from it.”