• Published:March 7, 2018
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Few anglers fully utilize their marine electronics.

But if you want to go from hopeless to a high-liner, it's time to tune in and get an electronics tune-up. These 10 tips will help.
1. Zoom In! Zoom your chart plotter as tight as you can stand it. Your chart plotter is a major-league fish-finding tool because it lets you repeat trolling patterns and drifts in the exact same spot you hooked up. But many people aren’t nearly as accurate as they think they are when repositioning the boat or making another trolling pass because they leave the plotter on the same exact scale they use to navigate. As a result, it looks like the track line you’re following is dead-on when in fact you’re dozens or even hundreds of feet away from where you want to be. Zoom in tight, and what looks like a single path may be exposed as two paths that are quite far apart.

2. The Cloverleaf. Learn how to utilize the cloverleaf and spiral functions in your autopilot. The names for these functions may differ from manufacturer to manufacturer, but most autopilots allow you to press a button and put the boat into a cloverleaf pattern so you can pass over the exact spot you had a strike at again, while going to the east, west, north and south of that spot as you loop around. This is the best way, bar none, to reacquire a school of fish that’s moving erratically in no specific direction. If you complete the cloverleaf and don’t get another strike, then it’s best to go into spiral mode. The boat will then troll in ever-widening circles. Can you do this manually? Of course. But the autopilot can do it more accurately, while at the same time freeing your hands to prep another bait.

3. Get the FishTrack app. Yes, we know we’re biased when it comes to using our own services, but the fact remains: with access to SST on your cell phone, you’ll be able to get the latest data even while fishing. Check satellite imagery for water temps, color breaks, currents and more the night before a trip and save the imagery to your phone. As an dded bonus, the GPS on your phone will still work when you’re out of range so you can open the saved FishTrack imagery and see exactly where you are on the chart.

4. Track Temp Breaks. You can track temperature breaks with your chart plotter in real-time. Let’s say you’re out of communications range when you find that temp break you originally spotted on FishTrack, and you have had several knock-downs trolling across it. But after an hour or two, the break has moved and you lose track of it. If you choose an unusual icon on your chart plotter to make a mark each time you cross the break, you should have enough break marks on the screen to identify the speed and direction that the break is moving in after a couple of hours.

5. Anchor Alarm. When drift fishing, set an anchor alarm around the productive area. How many times have you looked up and suddenly realized you’ve been drifting in sterile water? Setting an anchor alarm will remind you to pull in the lines and reset.

6. Go Gyro. Stop depending on the radar to spot birds and get a good pair of gyro-binoculars. Yes, at certain times radar can be helpful for spotting birds but it’s not nearly as effective as a pair of gyroscopically-stabilized binoculars. Using a pair of 14X binoculars you can spot a couple of frigates from seven or eight miles away. Try doing that with radar and you’re likely to chase disappearing dots for half the day.

7. Thermocline. Watch your fish finder for thermoclines, and when you see one, try placing a bait at that depth. No, this won’t always be possible, most of us don’t have a way to troll a line 300 feet beneath the boat, if and when you see a thermocline that deep. But when chunking or drifting you can place a bait at that depth. And if you spot a thermocline at 50 feet or less a downrigger or planer can help you send a bait or lure to run just above or below it. The vast majority of the anglers out there run all of their lines at or near the surface, even though they know that fish will regularly relate to a thermocline like horizontal structure.

8. Focus Up Top. When you’re trolling off the edge, zoom in on the top 100 feet of the water column. For some reason, many people want to look at the bottom on their fish finder in 1,000 feet. As a result, when you pass over a patch of bait, it may appear as no more than a speck on the screen. Zoom in to the top 100 feet or so, however, and you may suddenly discover that this speck or that one is actually a ball of bait.

9. Focus Down Deep. When you’re deep-dropping, zoom in on the bottom 20 to 30 feet of the water column. Many people regularly fail to zoom all the way in on the bottom, when deep-dropping. Yet these same anglers will tell you that they don’t usually see tilefish on the screen. You’d have to go over a fish the size of a whale down 700 or 800 feet for it to be displayed in a noticeable manner. Zoom all the way in on the bottom, however, and you’ll those 30-pound tilefish.

10. Mix it Up. Use different chart plotter waypoint icons to keep track of where you caught different species. Yes, of course you’ll want to hit MOB the instant you get a strike so you know where the hotspot of the moment is at any given time, but when things calm down, take a moment to change the icon, and use different ones for yellowfin tuna, bigeye tuna, billfish and so on. This won’t have much of an impact during a day of fishing, but at the end of the season, it essentially acts like a logbook and can give you a lot of insight into which areas were hottest for a specific species. And after three or four seasons, you’ll start to discover patterns that provide even more insight as to where you’ll want to head when targeting a particular type of fish.

With these 10 tips in mind, you should be able to use those electronics to become a better angler. And if you think your electronics may be out of date and in need of an upgrade, don’t forget to read 10 Tips for Upgrading your Electronics.