Sonar in the Spring
by Steve Scaramastro written May 2017
Most anglers forget their sonar in the spring. If I asked you to look at this picture and tell me where youíd fish in April, as a dedicated angler youíd probably say something like ďIíd keep my trolling motor on high and pitch to the bank all the way around the cove.Ē Youíd probably move from one visible target to the next. A stump here, a tree there, youíd throw at stuff you could see sticking up above the water along the shore, and pay special attention to the points. Itís a valid tactic, and many anglers know it can be highly productive. However, if youíre the angler who spent hundreds or maybe thousands of dollars on sonar for your boat, thereís another option available.
Today I want to describe what sonar did for me on a recent trip. The cove in the picture above is the actual cove I fished for this story. Itís springtime, the water temp ranged from 69 degrees at sunrise, to 73 degrees later in the day, and I had blue skies and sunshine for 4 days. Fishing reports were generally dismal. I spoke with a park ranger buddy and he said everyone was griping that the spawn was over, nothing was on the beds, and nobody could catch anything. Many of them had been fishing in a foot of water and caught nothing.
While those folks were suffering, and catching nothing in super shallow water, I was pulled back halfway out of the cove in 8 to 12 feet of water and doing well on every trip. It was a very nice change of pace to be the guy catching, while everyone else struggled. What was the difference?
To some extent they were simply trying to force a tactic upon the bass. You have every right to fish shallow when you think the spawn is on, and the bass have every right to not be there. They will be where ever their pea-sized fish-brains tell them to be. To get to the shallow water where they were striking out, those fishermen had to drive right past the deeper water that was so productive for me.
Why didnít they stop? I donít know. I canít tell you what they were thinking. I can however, tell you why I stopped. I stopped because my sonar told me to. If Iím looking for beds, Iím going to stop when I find them. Then Iím going to throw a lizard down there and see whoís home. If he gets beat up and has his lunch money taken, then Iíve found my spot. Itís really that simple. Anyone with a side-scan sonar could have found this spot. After I caught a few fish off this one I went to similar coves, idled around, and marked more beds to fish later.
Below is a picture from the back of the cove looking out toward the main river. The bank meanders back and forth from flower covered banks, to mud with timber, rock, and gravel. There is an abundance of very tempting targets dotting the bank for the spring angler. Most of the folks I saw looked to be throwing spinner baits and covering ground.
Remember Lord of the Rings? The movie where Frodo was trying to return the Ring of Power to the forge where it was made, to destroy it for all time and save the world? The ring had many powers. For one, it could make Frodo invisible anytime he put it on. However, and this is a big ďhoweverĒ, anytime he put the ring on, the Dark Lord Sauron could see him. No matter where he was, he could be seen. Once he was seen, they would come for him. It was a serious downside to the ring.
I use that example to say this: sonar makes YOU Sauron. The fish are wearing the ring all the time and think they are invisible in the lakeÖbut your sonar can see them. Just because itís spring time and they SHOULD be shallow, doesnít mean you canít get any use out of your sonar. The screenshot below is an excerpt from a sonar recording I made as I headed out of the cove. The northern bank of the cove is to my left. This is a section that was largely overlooked by anglers all weekend. It seems as though everyone went straight for the back of the cove. They were lured by shallow water and limbs sticking up. There were several times when I had three other boats in the cove with me and I was the only one catching fish.
Whatís most interesting to me is that the beds are all in the same general area. The beds were made in a softer, muddier bottom thatís about 1.5 feet deeper than the adjacent area. They start at the bottom of a 1.5 foot drop, and spread out to the bank and all the way to where the weeds start. Itís an intimate and cozy little spawning pocket. When there were no boats around, and the wind was calm it would get super quiet. If I listened hard enough I could swear I heard Marvin Gayís ďLetís get it onĒ softly playing a few feet under the boat. Itís the spawn and there was romance in the water. I was about to throw a lizard into a slow dance, a fight was surely in store. I saw nothing else like this in the entire cove, and this pocket produced every time I went to it.
Below is a picture of the bank in the area where these beds are. The bank here is steep and muddy. Adjacent areas are a bit shallower and rockier, with limbs and snags poking up above the surface. There isnít much in this picture to make you think ďThis place is full of bedding fish.Ē Itís 12 to 14 feet deep with a steep muddy bank and not much visible cover.
Aside from a few bits of timber dropping in from the bank thereís really not much to look at. Fifty yards behind me was a beautiful pea-gravel bank at the mouth of the creek that quickly dropped off into deep water. Itís one of those spots where you can demolish feeding bass with a crankbait when the time is right. Itís difficult to pass the spot without casting, no matter the circumstances. Itís one of those places where even if a giant squid were chasing you and had one arm on your outboard youíd think ďDang, I need to stop and make ONE CAST at that bank. Just in case!Ē
Another fifty yards ahead the bank was littered with shallow timber and limbs poking up. Guys dream about places like this for pitchiní and flippiní. Itís just the best stretch of bank you could dream up for those tactics.
But this stretch was almost nondescript. It was a steep dirt bank with a few pieces of timber. You could be forgiven for making just one or two casts as you burned by it with your trolling motor on high. Many guys probably bypass it altogether as they get fixated on the shallow timber just a few yards ahead. If I didnít have sonar I would have too. However, my side-scan told me to stop, and when I did, I caught good fish when everyone else was struggling.
Thatís how sonar helped me find and stay on fish during the spawn. Sometimes itís not as easy as just going as shallow as you can. On this particular lake the fish tend to spawn deeper and the guys who blindly went shallow struck out. When you have sonar on your boat, Frodo the Fish is wearing the ring all the timeÖhe cannot hide from you. You just have to learn to harness the power of your sonar to become the aquatic version of Sauron.