Utilising Your Chart Plotter

Chart plotters and sounders are an extremely useful tool to use in your boat. Dale Ward is a huge fan of using them to find fish and more importantly…..structure!

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The common fishing sounders and GPS units really have revolutionized the way we fish in this day of age. The humble 2D sonar charts and basic GPS navigation have come so far in the last fifty odd years. Some gear is more expensive and some are cheaper, some are for larger vessels than others and some have far better detail and greater settings, but one thing we all know for sure is that fact that they have changed the way we fish in the modern day.

Companies like Lowrance are always on top of the technology thus providing anglers with the latest and greatest in fishing sounders and chartplotters. I have had so many anglers say to me, “We didn’t have sounders in our day and we still caught fish’…. well that truth is factual, but there’s a couple of matters to consider that surround that statement. One of them is “You can tie some monofiliament line to a stick, use a rock for a sinker and make your own hooks and still catch fish too” so why do we use a graphite rod, carbon reels and braided line if you can catch fish on common sticks and rocks.

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A Sounder and a GPS chartplotter are tools just like your rod, reel, line and lure are a tool. Use them to your advantage and it’s a fact that you will not only find more fish, not only hold on top of more fish and not only catch more fish, but you will learn more about those fish that you are catching. You will learn as to why they hold in that part of the water, you will learn what temperatures these fish like to live in, what kind of structure they prefer etc… and that’s where your waypoints function will assist you. When you learn all these aspects of these fish you target you will also learn that these spots you end up conquering sometimes need to be documented for further trips so you can come straight back to these very locations and dominate them time and time again.

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Finding fish is time consuming and frustrating at times. Constantly scanning up, down and along the waterway, looking for that key structure and depth. As soon as you find some hit the waypoints button on your unit and save the location, name it whatever you like, its so easy with today’s technology, one button press and the positioning is saved for later dates as well as fishing now. I also use waypoint position saving for navigational safety hazards like fallen trees, shallow water and low knot zones. Use the waypoint button for plot coursing, following depth contours and creating trails for safer navigation through hazards. This gives so much more peace of mind while out fishing and boating and leaves more time focusing on the fishing as opposed to navigating with no confidence.

You can also manually put in the coordinates in the waypoint settings menu, maybe you have obtained some coordinates through fellow anglers, or maybe off the internet. It’s still so easy to save waypoints. Chartplotter technology really has revolutionized our fishing abilities especially for gaining knowledge on species habitats. How many times have you ever caught reef fish in locations that cannot be remembered just on sight alone? Marking fish locations with waypoints allows you to return back to that spot every time. There are reasons fish hold in these locations, either due to structure, depth or drop zones. It could be so many reasons and chances are you will catch these fish one after another in that exact area. So every time you come over good sonar fish marks or get reactions from fish in that area drop a waypoint on it, soon enough you will build a great database for future reference. Confidence comes from assurance and where some fish are not on the bite you can easily go straight to your option B waypoint that you previously saved and thus is where routes come into play.


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Routes can be utilized for many things while on the water, one of them like I’ve noted is for safe navigation paths, but the other is for location and waypoint hopping. If a route is saved as the fastest option between A and B, then the same path can be navigated time and time again, from one waypoint to the other. When you find obstacles such as fallen trees and rocks you can mark them with a waypoint and then you can go back to create a route to safely cruise through those obstacles, its not just common sense while trying to navigate with safety as many of the obstacles are unseen as they are under the waters surface, its a sure thing with a chartplotter.

In the summertime I do a lot of afternoon Bass trips on the river. Upon my return after my surface sessions it has become completely dark, so dark on the river you cannot see what is in front of you. Now night time navigation should not be your preferred way of boating as it can be very dangerous. I make the use of routes that I’ve previously saved while it was daytime to help me navigate back to the boat ramp in the dark. In no way am I saying to you to use your chartplotter to navigate you in the dark when you cannot see. I have driven on this stretch of river for quite some time and I know its bends and obstacles even in the dark, it’s just that my chartplotter routes give me more confidence to navigate on the water, I use it as a helpful tool, not as my only measure. It is always important to familiarize yourself with your system and its landmarks before even attempting to navigate it in the dark, use a big rock boulder, a bridge a bend or many other landmarks to mentally mark your surroundings as well as the use of your chartplotter and the route setting.


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Trail markings on a chartplotter is one of the greatest tools as it allows you to view where you have been on the water. I  find this function effective while drifting and working the banks, especially if your drift has given you great results and you have caught fish on that particular drift. You can then head straight back to the start of that drift line and with the use of your electric motor you can then take the same path following the trail markings on the chartplotter.

You can set your drift trail at anytime in the trails settings, its as easy as one button on the HDS gen 3 models located on the left hand side of the home screen. When I get to my location I’m going to fish, I generally start drifting without fishing, just to monitor the sounder first thing. Find out what way I’m going to drift, what the boat will do and looking for fish structure and arches to establish my drift lines and follow them in repeat. You will never get a perfect drift, conditions change and without motor control and trail lines it will be quite difficult to keep the same successful drift going, so I tend to use the trail function to my advantage. You can also use the trails function to see where you have been while recording sonar log maps for Insight genesis.

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If you’re a reef angler and you drift the inshore and offshore reefs then trails will assist you on so many levels, your results will be so much better if you learn how to control your drift. As you drift over shoals of bait or fish arches and have success on those markings, you will then learn that that drift you have successfully not only found the fish but you have had results on getting them on the bite, and catching them. So you can then repeat that drift until they become inactive again.

Sounder and chartplotter technologies really have changed our modern fishing world and given us anglers so many more options and learning knowledge. Sounders and chartplotters don’t actually catch the fish, but they do provide us with the tools to become better anglers and to familiarize ourselves as to why these places are successful in catching and also gives us the options to document that and return time after time.


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