Dialing in electronics

Using today’s high-tech electronics makes it easy to locate the textbook offshore habitat favored by largemouth on current-driven fisheries during the hot summer months.

Irregularities in the bottom contours—known as current breaks to anglers—are used by the bass as ambush points for feeding on passing baitfish. That scenario occurs when the bass stack up on those standout bottom features when lake managers generate water for electricity. When the weather gets hot so does the bite on offshore ledges, channel bends and anything else that offers reprise from the current.

Nowhere else does such a scenario play a key role in tournaments than in the South, where lakes were created for turning water into electricity. On Tennessee Valley Authority lakes, the current-powered fishing is legendary.

That scenario is the name of the game this week on Lake Chickamauga at the Basspro.com Bassmaster Eastern Open. The postspawn bass population is migrating toward the riverine impoundment’s signature offshore ledges lining the main river channel. Some already are there and more are on the way.

In the tournament are 221 boats and all of them are rigged with the latest electronics that display those prime spots with pinpoint accuracy in high-definition clarity. Using the default settings, and even on a strange lake, just about everyone can locate the basic offshore areas where the bass stack up. Some areas are well-known and will receive a lot of fishing pressure.

That makes finding the needle in the haystack, or irregularities within the irregularities, the key to winning the tournament. While everyone else is hammering the obvious places, the smart angler chooses to get away from the crowds, and the angling pressure.

The average angler stands to gain much from the insights learned by the anglers this week on the Tennessee River. Here is how you can dial into the bite using electronics, while everyone else piles up on the obvious areas. It takes hard work but the payback is finding unpressured water and fish more willing to bite.  

Brandon Lester: Finding the needle in the haystack
“Leave your rods at home. That’s the best way to do it. During practice I spent 12 hours a day on the water and idled for about seven of those daily hours. It gets monotonous but you need to dedicate yourself to finding what everyone else misses, or even better, outwork everyone else to find that needle in a haystack. We all have the same mapping systems and those just get better. What I look for are areas that don’t stand out on the mapping. Just the tiniest irregularity can pay off more than the obvious areas found by everyone else. I found one of those today. It’s just a little rock pile about the size of my boat that is on an otherwise nothing flat. I can catch three or four good quality fish, leave it alone, let it reload and go back and repeat. Leave the obvious areas to the crowd. When you find an off-the-wall place, no matter how small it might be, the fish will be on it. Best of all, you will have it to yourself and the fish won’t react to being pressured.” (Lester caught 16 pounds from such a tiny, obscure spot on Day 1 of the tournament.)

Patrick Walters: Find the irregularities within irregularities
“Everyone has the same level of accuracy with the electronics. In a tournament like this that doesn’t give anyone an edge. What does though, is looking for irregularities. That means paying attention to the smallest detail that stands out. Everyone might be focused on a textbook river ledge that will get so hammered the fish won’t bite. On the inside of that same river ledge might be a single rockpile or something else that stands out. That is what I call the irregularity within the irregularity. Finding those areas takes time. During practice I was on the water for 12 hours each day and only fished for two hours during the day. Go look for places that are not so easy to find and the fish will be there.”

David Kilgore: Off the wall presentations
“You must dedicate yourself to doing what is not the most fun part of the sport. That is keeping the rods in the locker. You won’t get to fish much is the bottom line. The mapping systems leave no secrets, and everyone can find the textbook areas. Some guys might want to spend more time looking for the less obvious. Sometimes that’s what it takes. But if you don’ have the time to spend searching for those areas, it’s not a bad thing to fish those obvious areas that will get pressured. I make up the difference in the lure choice and presentation. I try to catch them doing something just a little different than everyone else. Something off the wall nearly always works.”

Chad Smith: Slow down, fish smarter
“When idling around I think I move a little slower than a lot of people. What that does is allow the electronics to pick up even more of the bottom details to mark. Also, if I see some fish I will idle at different angles. Sometimes if you get directly over them it will light up your graph even more. You can put in a lot of time idling and find what you are looking for and then save time in the end. In practice everyone is tempted to cover as much water as possible. When it comes to dialing into offshore fish using electronics it pays to slow down. You can thoroughly cover a lot more water.”

Buddy Gross: Electronics and bait presentations
“There will be days without power generation. I rely on my side imaging to find shadows, whether those are fish or structure shadows. The fish will be scattered and the side imaging can help you find out where they are in the water column. When the current is running the fish will get right on top of the cover to get at the bait coming down the river. For that situation it’s just as much about finding how and where the fish are relating to the cover. They can shift around just a bit depending on the current. When they do, lure presentation is more important. They won’t move as far off the cover to hit the bait, so you need to know exactly where they are on it. That’s where electronics can help.”

Carl Jocumsen: All about the maps
“It is all about the mapping. It doesn’t matter how good you can read the electronics. If you are not on top of where the fish are then you cannot see them. All of that has to do with your choice of mapping. The Humminbird LakeMaster mapping shows the finest details on highly pressured lakes like Chickamauga. I’ve looked at other maps, and where the contours go straight the LakeMaster makes a tiny little notch. Those areas might only be 10 feet in size, but that small spot is where the fish are stacked up. That’s the needle in the haystack that gets less attention and pressure. Find the mapping system that works best for you. Study it, practice with it, and it can be your underwater eyes.”