Over the last decade, most tournament pros and other experienced anglers have made the switch in depthfinders from the humble flasher unit to a detailed liquid-crystal display. But many weekend anglers aren’t utilizing LCD technology to its fullest potential. Some even claim that the flasher units of yesteryear offered superior performance; others may go so far as to search long and hard to purchase an old relic from the past, as most manufacturers no longer make them.
The fact is that flasher units have gone the way of the carrier pigeon, and the day will soon come when they are truly obsolete. The change to liquid-crystal methodology requires a re-education of sorts, and once anglers realize how to get the most out of LCD units, there shouldn’t be any lamenting at the passing of the flasher unit.
“I can name you 10 advantages liquid-crystal graphs have over the old flashers,” says Texas pro Bruce Benedict, “ranging from quickly identifying depth ranges in water as shallow as 1 foot to clearly identifying bottom contours, even under thick hydrilla.”
Today, Benedict says the liquid crystal graphs often receive a bad rap because of problems caused by poor installation, as well as uneducated efforts in the initial set-up stage of the unit as the fishing day begins. He says the biggest mistake anglers make is simply turning the unit on and going fishing.
“You just can't set them on automatic and expect to get the best out of that unit,” Benedict explains. “Don't get me wrong, the automatic features are built in for the average guy who doesn't want to take time to really dissect the cover, the depth, the food (sources) that are in an area. Under the automatic operation, it will show you how deep it is and things that look like they may be grass or wood or shad. But if you leave it on automatic, you are not going to know for sure how much grass or wood or shad is down there. You lose some detail on automatic.”
Rather than relying on the automatic setting, Benedict recommends switching to manual mode. While this may create a mental block for some—thinking they have to keep tinkering with various settings to get accurate readings—the truth is that little modification is required after the first go-round, as long as fishing conditions remain somewhat the same. When conditions change, simple and quick adjustments are all that’s required, and the resulting information will be well worth the effort.
Benedict outlines the most important features on a liquid-crystal depthfinder and how to set them and use them in simplistic terms.
Pros like Shaw Grigsby manually set sensitivity and depth scale to get more accurate LCD readouts.
The sensitivity level is one of the most crucial adjustments for optimal LCD performance, according to Benedict. When fishing in water less than 10 feet deep, he sets the sensitivity in the 60- to 70-percent range. Any percentage level above that will create too much interference at that depth and deliver skewed data to the screen. In contrast, when fishing a brush pile in 40 feet of water in Georgia's Lake Lanier, Benedict cranks the sensitivity level to 80 to 100 percent.
A good rule to remember is that the deeper the water, the higher the sensitivity level needs to be; the shallower the water, the lower it should be.
Depth scale is the other most crucial element to adjust for peak LCD performance. Fine-tuning the depth scale is one trick that separates the pros from the amateurs in depthfinder interpretation.
“I prefer a unit that allows you to select your depth scale in increments of 1 foot,” the Texas pro says. “Let's say you are fishing a breakline where it drops off at 18 feet. You can set your lower limit (of the scale) to read only at 18 feet so that if you glance down at your unit, as long as it is showing the bottom, you know you are at about the right depth. If you glance down and there is no bottom showing, you instantly know that you've gotten a little bit deeper.”
Benedict emphasizes the importance of using the smallest scale possible to magnify the picture of the lake bottom. When fishing in 10 feet of water, he sets the depth scale at 11 or 12 feet to get the maximum detailed look at the bottom structure on the screen. In contrast, reading 5 feet of water at the 20-foot scale robs the fisherman of significant detail.
“In a tournament on Lake Guntersville years ago, I was fishing a submerged point that had patches of milfoil that were only about 6 inches high,” he says. “Without that liquid-crystal unit set on the 5-foot scale to magnify the bottom, I would have never been able to see that 6-inch high grass. So it's important to use the smallest possible range and still be able to see the bottom.”
The chart cursor is a horizontal line across the screen that indicates a depth and is adjustable in 1/10ths of a foot. It provides a reference point that can help focus your efforts in the right spot. For example, when fishing a submerged grassline, Benedict will use the chart cursor to mark the depth where the grass is likely to peak. It provides a guideline that helps you more accurately follow the grass edge.
Keep Your Eyes On The Screen
To find suspended fish like this one, your electronics must have pinpoint accuracy. (Photo courtesy of Pradco)
Even a finely tuned LCD won’t benefit an angler if he or she isn’t regularly monitoring the screen. Getting the most complete picture requires quick but frequent glances at the unit—sometimes more than one unit—even while retrieving a lure. This can be difficult and inconvenient if the screen(s) aren’t within eyeshot.
One rigging trick that Benedict raves about is the use of three Johnny Ray swivel mounts for his two depthfinders. One mount is positioned on each side of the bow of his boat, while the third is on the console. The bow mounts allow Benedict to quickly move the depthfinder from one side of the boat to the other and eliminates any neck-craning to read its screen.
“Wind, current, sun and the cover —among other things—dictate which side of the boat you have to fish from,” he says. “With these mounts, you can constantly watch (the depthfinder) to keep on top of the cover. And when you go around the next bend and, say, the laydown logs are now on the opposite side of the boat, you can quickly switch the unit to the other side of the bow.”
Benedict also turns the console-mounted unit around to face the bow so that he can interpret the readings of the transducer mounted in the rear of his boat. This can come in handy when searching for a small, deep-water brush pile, for example. In many situations, the front transducer will miss the structure, but the rear unit will detect it.
It's all a part of the brave new technological world of depthfinding, where those taking advantage of these detailed underwater pictures are destined to be the successful generation.