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Optimizing Your Electronics to Find Fish

Dial in Your Fishing Helm

Use all of your electronics to make the most of limited angling time.

Fishing electronics

Next time you’re fishing, pay attention to how much time you spend on the boat without a hook in the water. Not to put too fine a point on it, but you’re going to have a hard time achieving success if those curved pieces of metal are high and dry. That doesn’t say much for efficient use of time at sea.

Same goes for your electronics. Every minute you spend setting up and tuning them on a fishing excursion is time that they’re not helping you to find and catch fish. If you can get your settings in the ballpark of where you want them and then tweak for the conditions at hand, you can turn your attention to those hooks, and hopefully the fish nearby.

Nearly every electronic device on your helm can help you improve your fishing success rate. Take radar: Many anglers tune up their radar to find birds because they often point to surface activity. It’s also a good idea to use radar all the time for the simple fact that it’s a key system to keep you and your boat safe. Fishing time is an opportunity to dial in your radar use.

“Learn what targets look like in good weather so you can know what they’re going to look like when you can’t see them visually,” says Capt. Mark DeBlasio of Canyon Runner, a 60-foot Ritchie Howell out of Pt. Pleasant, New Jersey (, who uses Simrad systems ( “It’s always good to correlate what a small fiberglass boat looks like on your radar, what a large steel ship looks like, what a tug and tow looks like on your radar, when you can actually see those targets. So when you can’t see those targets you have a good idea what they’re going to look like on your screen.”

And it’s not just for long trips to distant fishing grounds, or even just for anglers. It makes sense for every boater. “Here in the Northeast, when that fog rolls in on you unexpectedly, you need to understand what that display is telling you,” says Capt. Tom Pitasi, a charter captain out of Waterford, Connecticut, ( who has two Raymarine MFDs ( “And you need to be able to interpret that data.” That comfort level with radar will allow you to fish with confidence in all manner of conditions. If radar makes reduced visibility from darkness, rain, or fog less of an issue, you can fish the tides and locations you want nearly any time, get there earlier, and stay there longer.

But where is the “there” you want to find? Your chartplotter and fishfinder both can help you figure that out. “Ideally you want to have bathymetric charts available on your chartplotter for fishing structure and ledges and canyons,” says DeBlasio. “Depending on where you’re fishing, the bathymetric charts show your contour lines in much greater detail than a regular navigation chart would.” Understanding the kind of bottom and underwater conditions your target species like is straightforward—just look at the fishing spots where you’ve found success in the past. Similar conditions in other locations could yield similar results if you’re careful to note factors such as water depth, current speed and direction, presence of bait, and water temperature.

Tuning your plotter to give you the kind of chart information you need is helpful too. “Raymarine has a setting called ‘safety depth,’” Pitasi says. “Basically it allows the cartography to optimize the level of shading that it provides at the different depths.” So if the unit comes set to a safety depth of 18 feet, an angler fishing inshore will only find the waters on his chart shaded in one or two colors. But if he changes that safety-depth setting to the maximum 66 feet, he’s going to get three to four levels of shading.

“Now you can navigate by color,” Pitasi says. “So if you look at different colors, you’ll see that they’re all associated with different depths, and you’ll know if you’re in the white area of the chart, you’re in the 100-percent safe water.” Being able to navigate safely at a glance means you can focus on rigging your lines and preparing to fish when you arrive. 

“As you get into shallower water, you get into the deeper- and darker-colored blues [in the screen shading],” Pitasi says. “You can see where the water is shallower and where those depth changes actually take place, and those are the areas that we want to target for fishing.” Other systems do the same thing.

Once you find the areas you want to target, the challenge becomes staying on that location. And that’s where the track line comes in. “When you find that sweet spot that particular day and you want to put yourself back over the fish in the same spot time and time again, a track line allows you to do that,” Pitasi says. “And as the day changes and the wind increases and current increases or decreases, just by adjusting that boat position at the top of the drift, you can put that boat back on the same drift.” 

Capt. George Mitchell takes it a step further on his Furuno-equipped 36-foot Yellowfin, Snake Dancer ( “I set my track to change color as the water temperature does, to the hundredth of a degree,” Mitchell says. “For some of the species that we target, especially pelagics, whether it be dolphin, sails, kingfish, wahoos, tunas, certain times of the year they’re going to be in certain water temperatures. And often times with cloud cover, we don’t see those temperature changes—that distinct color change.”

Mitchell also adjusts his strategy based on his track information. “When we get to the spot where we’re maybe out of the zone, maybe we’re not having bites anymore, now’s the time to look back on the track and see if there’s anything to steer to,” he says. “I also look at my set and drift.”

You’ve already done the hard part in finding the fish. Now the key to success is to exploit that investment of data, fuel, and time to make the most of the opportunity. And nothing tells that story like the fishfinder, provided it’s tuned properly. Most bottom machines come with automated settings and that may be fine for the kind of fishing you want to do. But many skippers tune their machines themselves. “Learning how to set up your fishfinder properly from the get-go will keep you from second-guessing yourself,” DeBlasio says. “When you’re out there fishing and you don’t have anything on your screen you start to second-guess: Is my sounder set up properly or am I just not seeing fish or bait because I don’t have the right settings?” (See “Set It Yourself”.)

Another factor in your fishfinder success happened in the boatyard where your transducer was installed. “As far as marking fish or reading bottom at speed, almost 100 percent of that is based on transducer location—where it’s mounted on the boat,” DeBlasio says. “Airmar, the company that makes transducers for all these different electronics manufacturers, has diagrams on its Web site [] about where to mount them to reduce the turbulence to a bare minimum to get really good performance.”

All that data is great to have, but it doesn’t do much good if you can’t see it easily. “Getting as much information in front of you on your chartplotter in your databars is important,” DeBlasio says. “Having your latitude and longitude, having your water temperature, having your pertinent information displayed in front of you at an easy glance as opposed to having to go into a menu to figure it out and see it. Optimize your display to give you the most information at an easy glance.” After all, you’re going to be too busy reeling in the fish.

This article originally appeared in the May 2013 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.