Spring Sonar Magic, Zero-In on Hot Fishing Spots

“How-To” Insights from BASS Elite Pro Matt Herren

Herren runs LakeMaster PLUS mapping on HELIX10 units to dial in early-season bass. He’s also been making some of his own maps with AutoChart Live, which is built into HELIX 9, 10, 12 and ONIX

Spring is in the air and with it comes the most enjoyable season for fishing.  As everything comes alive, hungry fish of all species begin to prowl the shallows in preparation for their annual spawn.  Step one on their list is to eat everything in sight and where regulations allow, anglers have a distinct advantage for catching many fish and big fish too.  Bass, crappie, walleye and so many other species are all on the move, depending on water temperature.  Modern sonar units provide temperature, a very useful feature for spring fishing.

Understanding the habits and preferred water temperatures for each species is all that is needed to know when to start, but after that, finding those key locations on any lake sector is not as easy as you might think in spring.  This is especially true on lakes with harsh winter conditions and heavy spring winds that often change the lake bottom composition.

Many top anglers like Matt Herren, a bass tournament champion with a history of big time scoring all across the country, narrows his search of any waterway with a method that helps him zero in on the action.  To start, Herren studies the map and selects areas somewhat protected from current: ledges downstream from major points or other structural elements or on inside turns of the main channel. However, a quick look at any LakeMaster chip often reveals dozens of areas that match this criteria. How then, is Herren able to isolate the protective spots?

The key is the efficient use of electronics. In today’s age of depth finders that look down, out and all around the boat, Herren has found it necessary to get intimately familiar with such technology in order to stay one step ahead of his competition.

The first and most important step, he says, is to locate areas with hard bottoms. Herren does so by selecting several intermediate ledges that fit his criteria based on lake level, water color, temperature and graphing with the Side-Imaging feature on his Humminbird ONIX. But, rather than do so utilizing the factory default setting, Herren first makes one small, but important, display change. “I always set my unit on Amber 1 color mode” he says. Doing so allows hard-bottomed areas to brightly glow on the screen, easily revealing key spots.

Humminbird Side Imaging allows quick identification of lighter-colored hard bottom areas from darker, soft-bottomed areas.

Herren’s user-customization doesn’t end with a quick display change. “I also play with frequency changes (on his depth finder) a bunch” he points out. Herren has found that the best 2D SONAR frequency setting on his ONIX often changes as he moves from lake to lake. Whether such an oddity is the result of a chemical change in the water, or the amount of small particles floating within, is not totally understood by Herren; he just knows that changing frequency (say, from 83 to 200 kHz) often reveals the best set-up on a day-by-day basis.

Once hard-bottomed areas are located, Herren keeps a careful eye on his water temperature read-out, knowing such plays a major factor in the stage of the bass spawn. With water temps in the mid-fifties, bass often group up and stage; spawning beginning when the thermometer passes sixty. Herren notes that bass utilizing main lake areas for spawning often do so several weeks after those in protected bays, lengthening the springtime bonanza associated with this season.

Whereas summertime fish will often school on a bare-spot, like a small shell bed, Herren finds springtime fish prefer objects, likely due to these spawning tendencies. “They want to protect their blindside.” Herren mentions of the tendency of spawning bass to nest up against and object like a stump or seawall. This behavior applies to open-water areas as much or more to those near the shoreline, as a bit of cover helps bass guard against nest predators.

When a potentially productive area is located through Side Imaging, Herren scrolls across the ONIX screen and marks each with a waypoint. Then, he deploys his trolling motor and utilizes a different electronic approach to investigate the spot, using both 360 Imaging® and Down Imaging.

Herren says 360 Imaging® has helped him find “new, key areas in spots he’s fished for decades.”

First, it’s important to understand Herren’s view on each of Humminbird’s technologies. “360 Imaging is a fishing application, not a search tool,” he says. By this, Herren means that he utilizes 360 only when on the bow and casting, not for idling purposes, as the 360 sweep time is most conducive as a fishing application. In addition, Herren often isolates the sweep of 360 to reveal objects directly in front of him, within casting distance, making the update time on his screen display much quicker. As credit to the effectiveness of this technology, Herren noted that he’s often found new, key areas in spots he’s fished for decades by utilizing 360, opening his eyes to a vast new world.

Side Imaging is Herren’s bread and butter for fine tuning a spot. While he uses the new Humminbird HELIX units primarily for mapping, Herren sticks with ONIX for depthfinding, especially Side Imaging. “There’s nothing like it” he states, adding “I’ve seen things with that unit that I’d never see with any other.”

As Herren fine-tunes a chosen spot on the trolling motor, he’s constantly continuing his search for small, hard-bottomed areas, or isolated objects that could yield a big bass or two. Herren mentions that he often finds fish on the exact same spot, year after year, during the spring season.

Once “on the juice” Herren’s approach to fishing is fairly basic, using an arrangement of tried-and-true springtime lures. “I like a rattlebait a lot, as well as a chatterbait or spinnerbait.” After getting dialed-in to specific pieces of cover, Herren often wields his trademark Santone Jig to mop up on the competition.

Matt Herren, photo courtesy of B.A.S.S.

But just what makes a good spot great? “It’s a combination of things. Bottom type and cover matter, but maybe so do things like unknown current patterns,” says Herren. It’s a mystery that Herren admits to constantly trying to understand better. Perhaps we’ll never solve the case, but with advancements each year in technology, we’re drastically closer all the time.

About Johnson Outdoors Marine Electronics, Inc.

Johnson Outdoors Marine Electronics, Inc. is a wholly owned subsidiary of Johnson Outdoors  and consists of the Humminbird®, Minn Kota® and Cannon® brands. Humminbird® is a leading global innovator and manufacturer of marine electronics products including fishfinders, multifunction displays, autopilots, ice flashers, and premium cartography products. Minn Kota® is the world’s leading manufacturer of electric trolling motors, as well as offers a complete line of shallow water anchors, battery chargers and marine accessories. Cannon® is the leader in controlled-depth fishing and includes a full line of downrigger products and accessories.