All fish finders are definitely not created equal. In fact, many of the nation's top bass anglers refer to a great deal of the monitors as "junk."
"A bunch of them are junk. They don't have enough power or pixels," said Gary Dobyns, the all-time leading money winner in the West. Dobyns has used fish finders to earn more than $2 million catching bass.
"If they don't have enough power or pixels they'll give you false readings. The crappy ones will tell you that there's fish everywhere when you turn them on. And guess what? there aren't. Not all fish finders are equal."
Many fish finders will give false readings. Try focusing on models from well-known companies to ensure quality. The difference between a quality fish finder and a low-end unit is like the difference between sharp hooks and dull hooks: The high-end unit won't catch you more bass, but it will put you in a position to succeed.
"The model needs to have enough pixels in the screen where you can really distinguish what's there," said Dobyns, who recommends that anglers purchase a unit with at least a pixel count of 480x480.
In early spring when bass are shallow and spawning, fish finders aren't as imperative as they are during postspawn, but pros like Dobyns vow to never leave the dock without a quality fish finder on their boat.
"Skipping out on a good fish finder isn't a good deal," he said.
"Make sure you purchase a powerful unit. The good units have at least 3,000 watts. The more power the unit has, the faster the reading will be and the more accurate it will be."
Should dumping money into a fish finder be a priority? Few will argue against it.
"It's as simple as being able to have a unit that will give you the clearest and most precise picture of the underwater world that you're trying to catch fish in. It can increase your ability to catch fish," said Jack Findleton, a Lowrance pro staffer who also gives interactive hands-on workshops throughout the West on using sonar and GPS with Lowrance products.
"Being able to find products that meet those criteria is very critical. The easiest part of getting a fish finder is buying it. Learning how to use it is another story."
Maximizing the data your unit feeds you can greatly increase your ability to locate bass. Fish finders have several features that enable anglers to gain success. Those include the ability to key in on structure that may hold bass, locate thermoclines, schools of baitfish and actively feeding fish.
"The most obvious feature that stands out for bass anglers is the color line and gray line," said Jeff Boyer a Lowrance pro staffer and three-time CITGO Bassmaster Classic qualifier.
"That's the feature that allows the unit to display density. It shows bottom composition, structure, rock piles, a sunken boat or anything else on the bottom. Without it you don't have the ability to separate the bottom from structure or the bottom from a fish sitting on the bottom. That feature comes in all Lowrance and Eagle units. It's always been a feature of Lowrance product through the years."
For bass anglers specifically, targeting structure year-round is a sure way to success. High-powered finders increase your chances of pinpointing the structure.
"Bass fishing is structure fishing, and if you can't tell what kind of structure's around, you're in trouble. It's a big deal. The gray line or color line allows bass anglers the ability to find that stuff," said Boyer.
With post spawn almost here, anglers should be learning how to get the most out of their fish finders and setting them according to the waters they're going to be targeting.
"When bass go into postspawn they'll start moving out on structure, and once they leave the bank the meter becomes a tool again," said Dobyns.
"It's a tool. You can't rely on a fish finder to catch fish. It's a tool to find structure. No fish finder will pick up a fish that's hunkered right on the bottom, but if it's slightly off the bottom it will pick them up if it's a good meter, which is why it's important to buy a powerful unit."
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