by Jeff Samsel
Folks love to look longingly back at the good old days, and in some areas of life, yesterday probably was better than today. Not so with crappie fishing. Crappie NOW, simply put, is better than crappie then. Whether you’re talking about crappie management, angler understanding of crappie behavior, or crappie fishing equipment, things are better than they ever have been, and that’s especially true in the realm of electronics used to find and effectively target crappie.
Splitting screens allows anglers to see a tremendous amount of information at the same time. The Garmin can be split into four views.
Technologies for sonar, GPS and mapping continue to develop, painting more detailed pictures and accurate maps than ever before. Meanwhile, manufactures continue to make units more user-friendly with intuitive menus and features like touch-screen controls and wifi information sharing, and countless applications of technologies that fishermen can use in practical ways.
Dan Dannenmueller, a two-time Crappie Masters Angler of the Year team winner and the publisher of CrappieNOW, understands how to utilize sonar and mapping as well as any crappie angler you’ll ever meet. The Garmin GSMAP 1040 at Dannenmueller’s console and 7612 touch-screen on his front deck provide all the cutting-edge tools needed to find and catch crappie throughout the year.
Extra valuable for Dannenmueller and new to his toolbox is Panoptix, Garmin’s real-time, 3D sonar technology, which offers multiple view options and paints a better-than-ever picture of structure and effectively shows how fish are positioned around or beneath the boat. Panoptix even shows movement of lures and fish in real time, so Dannenmueller can see how crappie respond to specific lure presentations.
“Panoptix is ideal for trolling because I can see exactly how the deep the fish are holding and where they are, left to right, and I can be extremely precise with my presentations,” Dannenmueller said.
Finding & Patterning Crappie
When Dannenmueller fishes a new lake or prepares for a tournament on waters he hasn’t fished recently, his research begins at home. He’ll spend significant time studying maps and scouring the internet in order to identify areas to look at on the water.
For less familiar waters, he begins with basic things about the lake’s character: average depth, shoreline make-up, cover types, forage sources, normal water color. For any lake, he learns all he can about current conditions, including water temperature and color, types of areas fish have been using, patterns that have prevailed the same time of year, whether water has been rising or falling, seasonal aspects like whether a lake has turned over in the fall.
The list could go on and on. The point is that he gathers a bunch of information to get a working picture of the waterway, conditions and likely fish behavior. That allows him to maximize efficiency once he gets to the lake and goes to work searching with his electronics.
One the water Dannenmueller almost always begins his searching with no lines down, operating the big motor and watching the Garmin unit that is console mounted. For a major tournament, he might spend hours just looking. For a day of casual fishing on more familiar waters, that part could be quite quick.
“I’ve learned that I need to take that time and use the motor to my advantage to look at a more area,” Dannenmueller said. “I want to get a feel for things like the depths the crappie are using, whether they are suspended and how they are relating to the baitfish.”
Dannenmueller generally does his initial searching with the screen divided into quadrants with views that show him a map, traditional sonar, DownVu and SideVu. The DownVu and SideVu collectively provide a very complete look at the bottom, allowing him to find both natural and manmade cover and to see how the crappie are relating to the cover and to the bait.
At the Crappie Masters National Championship, which was held in late September at Kentucky Lake, Dannenmueller found a tremendous amount of cover, mostly in the form of stakebeds, that in years prior to the development of side-scanning technologies would have remained hidden from most anglers unless they just happened to go right over the top of one. He also could see which stakebeds held fish. Some did. Many did not.
“A lot of the fish weren’t relating to cover at all, Dannenmueller said. “They were suspended, following baitfish, and away from any stakebeds or brush.”
Only after spending time searching with his big motor does Dan Dannenmueller move to the front deck, where he typically begins searching with electronics and baits at the same time.
When Dannenmueller sees cover that’s loaded with fish or maybe some interesting structural feature, he can navigate a curser to the spot on the appropriate screen and make a very precise waypoint. He can also code the waypoint and type in any notes that he wants to remember about that specific spot. Dannenmueller’s units are networked, meaning they share information, so when he creates a waypoint with his console, the waypoint and any corresponding descriptions automatically go to the front unit as well.
Once Dannemueller has learned enough (an amount that cannot be quantified because it varies so much by situation) he returns to potentially productive spots and switches his point of operation to the front deck. In some case he’ll search spots more thoroughly with electronics. More often, he’ll start searching with baits and with electronics. Things Dannenmueller has learned already help him to know the best the strategy. His mapping and sonar help him execute a plan and to continue to learn.
“That’s where the Panoptix really becomes valuable,” he said. “I can see exactly how the fish are relating to the cover and the bottom and how they are moving, and I can even see my baits in some cases and watch how the fish respond.”
Garmin Panoptix is compatible with 21 different GPSMAP or echoMAP fishfinder/chartplotter units, including the new GPSMAP 7400 and 7600 touchscreen series. To learn more, visit garmin.com
New for Humminbird is the Helix 7 series, which was introduced at the ICAST show and won best of show in the electronics category of the New Product Showcase. The most touted feature of this line of 7-inch color units, which range from a straight sonar unit to an option-loaded sonar/chartplotter combo, is a virtually glare-free backlit readout that is exceptionally clear. With prices ranging from $399.99 to $699.99, these units put an extraordinary amount of functionality within reasonable reach of a lot of anglers. For information, visit hummingbird.com.
ICAST introductions from Lowrance included StructureScan 3D, which provides a 180-degree 3-dimentional view, showing what is in front of the boat, on both sides and beneath in a single easy-to-read view. StructureScan 3D, which can be added to any Lowrance HDS Gen 3 unit with a special transducer and module, reaches as far as 600 feet from side to side. From a practical crappie fishing standpoint, StructureScan 3D allows an angler to view the actual contours or a hump or ditch, and the view can be turned to get a better look at how some piece of structure runs. Fish show up a different color than structure and cover, making them easy to pick out. For information, visit lowrance.com
Castable, smartphone-matched fishfinders like the new iBobber, provide another cool option, especially for shoreline fishing. These devices use Bluetooth or wifi technology to transmit a signal from castable transducer-equipped unit to a smartphone or tablet app, so you can check things like bottom depth and temperature on your phone and look for structure and fish a cast’s distance away. The iBobber, which is a pretty affordable tool for most anglers at $99, also lets you search and map out a line by casting and then reeling slowly. The app also lets you journal catches by location via the phone’s GPS and is equipped with social media sharing functionality. For information, visit reelsonar.com
Navionics, meanwhile, continues to expand the realm of personal mapping with SonarChart Live. When linked with compatible devices via a wifi connection, SonarChart Live creates and updates customized maps on the Navionics Boating app. Compatible sounders/plotters include some by Vexilar, Raymarine and Lowrance. For information, visit navionics.com.