It didn’t take Brad Wiegmann long to demonstrate that a depth finder is a valuable tool for catching fish at Beaver Lake.
Wiegmann is a fishing guide at the lake and frequently relies on his depth finder to locate fish for his customers — fish he otherwise would never know were under his boat. Part of his business is teaching anglers how to use their own depth finders by going out on the lake for a few hours of instruction.
The units go by other names, such as fish finders, fish locators and sonar. Here was Wiegmann, who lives near Springdale, on one of his depth-finder teaching trips when he happened to stop his boat at the mouth of Pine Creek on the upstream end of Beaver Lake. He stopped only to show some features of his own depth finder when the guide’s eyes lit up. The screen showed a ton of fish right under the boat.
“Oh man, look at that!,” Wiegmann piped. He picked up a rod with a jigging spoon on the line and lowered the spoon over the side of his bass boat. The metal lure was barely in the water when a white bass nabbed it.
While Wiegmann unhooked that fish, a striped bass swirled 10 yards beyond the boat’s left gunwale. He launched the spoon toward the swirl and in a blink it was man versus striper.
The depth finder screen showed a large school of bait fish (almost always threadfin shad at Beaver Lake) and game fish all around the bait. The shad school looked like a cloud on the screen. The white bass and stripers appeared as arcs in and around the cloud.
Wiegmann wrestled the 12-pounder into his net.
A depth finder “basically tells you where fish are and gives you a clue how to catch them,” he said. “Beaver Lake changes all the time. A lot of people will fish today where they caught fish yesterday and that doesn’t always work. With a depth finder, you’re fishing the moment. You’re not fishing history.”
If an angler can see the fish on a depth finder, it’s a matter of using what they’ll bite, he coached. If fish are near the bottom, that calls for a lure that bumps the bottom, such as a jigging spoon, jig and pig or plastic worm. If fish are suspended, say, 10 feet deep over 40 feet of water, a swimming lure or surface lure is a good choice.
These particular fish Wiegmann was catching were 15 feet deep in 30 feet of water.
The basic depth finder not only tells how deep the water is, it tells the temperature. That’s valuable information as a lake warms. Certain lures work well in cold water, and others do well in warm water.
A depth finder also shows submerged timber, rocks and other cover that fish like to hang around. Higher dollar units have GPS and show boat speed. Some have as many features as a smart phone.
Wiegmann’s depth finder is top of the line, one that costs four figures. Clarity on the screen is comparable to high definition TV. On this trip the screen showed a bridge 23 feet deep. The picture was so clear one could see the bridge’s guard rails.
“If there’s a tree that’s holding crappie, you can actually count the number of crappie in that tree,” Wiegmann said.
“For trout fishermen, a depth finder tells where the holes and ledges are that might hold trout. For walleye fishing, it shows drop-offs and humps.”
A depth finder is a fisherman’s eyes into the underwater world, said Chris Johnson of Lincoln. He’s a top bass tournament angler at Beaver Lake and has worked in the retail fishing industry for years.
Depth finders are like most items — you get what you pay for. Generally, higher priced units have higher resolution and more features, Johnson said.
“You can get a good quality depth finder starting around $400. Less than that will get you an OK depth finder,” Johnson noted. “A lot of times a guy will spend $200 and after he’s had it awhile, he’ll wish he’d spent a little more to get GPS” and other features of higher priced units.
Johnson’s advice is to get a unit with the highest resolution an angler can afford. A unit that displays in color is good. Peak to peak power is important, Johnson said. That’s the intensity of the signal being sent into the water to show what’s under the boat.
Even expensive depth finders are easy to install on a boat. There’s a transducer to mount that sends the signal into the water and the unit itself to mount in the boat.
“The hardest part of the whole thing might be running the wire from the transducer to the depth finder,” Johnson said.
It’s easy to learn the basic operation of a depth finder, he added. Learning everything a unit can do requires more study.
Johnson said he doesn’t use his depth finder as much in the spring as during summer. He’s a bass fanatic and this time of year black bass are moving into shallow water. During summer when they’re deep, his unit helps locate them.
There’s one thing no depth finder can do. That’s get the fish to bite.
Flip Putthoff can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @NWAFlip.
Sports on 04/04/2017