- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 10, 2002

HILLTOP, Md. Oh, the fun I've had over the past two weeks playing with an electronic depth sounder, hunting down sometimes irritatingly elusive fish. The liquid crystal display unit that is mounted on the side of my bass boat's console a wonderful depth finder/GPS combination made by BottomLine saved the day for me time and again.
Although I'm not in the business of selling depth locators (sometimes referred to as fish finders), when the day comes that you find yourself buying and outfitting a boat of any size, make an LCD unit your top priority right after choosing the proper outboard motor. You pick the brand name of the depth sounder. The vast majority that are sold in the United States will do a fine job.
It all began when my friend Bob Rice recently visited and we launched our boat in a tidal Charles County tributary to the Potomac River. Within an hour we believed that if the fish were biting, they were biting each other certainly not our lures. Then we started paying close attention to the depth finder, slowly moving the boat at idle speed from creek side to creek side, attempting to get a close look at as much varied bottom terrain as possible.
Then it happened. "What are those markings down there on the right side of the screen?" asked Rice, a lifelong, all-around fisherman and hunter.
"Could be perch the way they're balled up on the edge of that bottom decline," I told him, although there was no proof of that.
We shut down the engine, slipped a quiet electric trolling motor over the bow to keep us in position and soon dropped 2-inch-long chartreuse, plastic grubs or fringed tubes into water that fell from three and four feet to as much as 20.
Instead of the perch I hoped would snatch up the soft, scented "baits," Rice pulled in a largemouth bass of about 21/2 or three pounds. I picked up a handful of muddy bottom weeds. However, on a subsequent cast into the area I believed the fish to be stationed in, a fat yellow perch attached itself to the curly tailed grub that I chose for this particular task.
So it went. Over and over, Rice and I would spot telltale black markings on the BottomLine's screen, often closely grouped together in water that always seemed to fall sharply away from the creek's marshy shore. Invariably, we would hook a yellow perch or a bass. I'm not saying that we had non-stop action, but the wind was kind, and we hooked enough fish to keep us smiling.
On a subsequent outing with Richard Fox, a friend who lives in Front Royal, Va., much the same electronic wizardry occurred, only with different results.
In one instance, Fox, who was able to watch the screen of my console-mounted unit as he sat on the rear deck chair, said, "Wait, something large appears to be under us right now. I see a big blip and a bunch of little ones along the edges."
I was mumbling something about it probably being a fat gizzard shad and some little creek minnows when Fox shouted, "Got him. Whatever it is, it's a heavyweight."
Fox's rod doubled over, line shot from the reel, but the Virginia fisherman soon subdued the fish enough to bring it alongside the boat. It was a fat, powerful carp that mercifully straightened the grub's single hook and disappeared with a huge swirl. The carp apparently gained new strength when it saw the side of the boat, so it wanted no part of us.
Along a straight marsh bank that most boaters ignore as they prefer to look for visible structure that bass might hide in, Fox again cautioned that we had passed over several fish, judging by the strong, dark markings that hovered close to the 9-foot-deep creek bottom.
Fox and I promptly followed up the depth finder "sighting" with four or five bass, all of which apparently lay in ambush during a receding tide, waiting for small baitfish to flee erstwhile flooded marshes that now were about to lose their life-supporting water. Just like the bass, the area also held resident yellow perch some of them heavy with row.
"People think it's easy to find and hook fish with the help of a depth finder," Fox said, "but all it does is quickly eliminate a lot of useless water. One thing these electronic machines have yet to learn is to coax the fish into biting or tell us exactly what species of fish we're looking at when we see a black dot on a screen."
Fox is wise beyond his years; that much is obvious.

Look for Gene Mueller's Outdoors column every Sunday and Wednesday, and his Fishing Report every Friday, only in The Washington Times. E-mail: [email protected]

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