My fish finder is the most important tool on my catfish boat. I rely on it more than anything else I use to be successful on the water catching fish and can’t imagine fishing without it.
This is true of most successful anglers regardless of what they fish for. You can “use your gut” to locate and catch catfish but once you learn to read a fish finder correctly and use it to find and catch fish you’ve opened your fishing world to a whole new level of success.
It will change your approach to fishing, where and how you fish, and in the end, the number of catfish you catch.
Unfortunately, many people jump in with their feet first purchasing a fish finder and have no idea what they’re buying, why they’re buying it, how to install it, or if it has been installed correctly or most important, how to actually set it up correctly and read it.
My electronics are such an important part of how I locate and catch fish yet I’ve not covered much information in the past on the topic so I’m working on providing more in-depth information and details on sonar fish finders, which technologies to use for catching catfish, how to set them up correctly and how to understand what you’re seeing on the screen.
Fish Finder Installation Is The Foundation To Success
Without proper installation, you’re not going to get good clean images from your sonar fish finder and in fact, you might even have the installation working against you keeping you from seeing fish.
Many people install their sonar units themselves or rely on others to install them for them and do so without a clear understanding of how important it is or how to do this correctly.
Here are some tips for making sure your fish finder technology is installed correctly and set up for success so you get the best performance possible.
1. Register Your Fish Finder
After unboxing your sonar unit, before you do anything else head over to the manufacturer’s website, register the product and make sure they have a valid email address to contact you so you’ve activated your warranty with the manufacturer and given them a way to contact you with updates and important alerts.
Here’s the link to create an account and register products at Humminbird or Lowrance.
2. Update Your Fishfinder Software
The technology used in today’s sonar fish finders is very advanced and the units are computers. Like any other computer, smartphone or other electronics things change quickly and are constantly being updated to improve performance and compatibility with other products.
Think of you’re computer or iPhone and the constant reminders you’re getting to update applications and software. Your marine electronics are no different and they’re devices that aren’t constantly connected to the internet with reminders popping up so you need to take matters into your own hands.
Before you work on any installation steps, check your software and make sure your software is up to date for any electronics you’ll be installing.
It’s likely even though you have a new product you’ll need to perform updates. This is also something you’ll want to keep tabs on and make sure you maintain over the life of the product.
I haven’t used any Lowrance products in quite some time but my My Humminbird account sends me an email every time a software update is released and lets me know and there are instructions provided with each update on how to perform the update on the sonar unit.
The MyHumminbird account allows me to log in and see all of my products and important information about each one as well as current software versions for each.
When installing software updates the process is painless for most units. You download the software to a blank SD card, insert the SD card in the unit, and power it up which then walks you through the installation.
Before doing this I always make sure to download my settings and GPS coordinates to an SD card to save them and more importantly make sure the unit is restored to the factory default settings.
Assuring that you’re running the latest software version will provide the best performance, compatibility and the cleanest and clearest images on the screen.
3. Power Importance and Interference
Make sure you’ve got good clean power to the sonar unit and that there’s a fuse between the power source and the unit.
The fuse is pretty self-explanatory but it amazes me how many people skip this step. You need a fuse between the power source the main unit to protect the unit. There’s a variety of ways to do this depending on the installation power source but the simplest way if you’re wiring directly to the battery is a waterproof inline fuse.
Next, make sure that you’ve got a good clean power source that will provide adequate power.
After years of running various marine electronics on a wide variety of catfish boats I’ve learned, there’s one thing that seems to always cause problems when it comes to power sources and that’s trolling motors.
Interference is a common issue that can come from a variety of sources:
- In the event you’re running a 12V trolling motor don’t run the fish finder on the same power source as the sonar unit.
- Any trolling motor wiring that is near the power supply for the fish finder or the transducer wiring is often an issue.
There’s much more to it than this but this is a good place to start.
Interference will present in a number of ways.
Long story short, if you power on your trolling motor and the image on the screen changes then you’ve got an issue to troubleshoot. There’s a variety of issues that can cause this but start by making sure you’ve got a good clean power source and then troubleshoot from there with the manufacturer or local dealer.
Installing a ferrite ring is one of the first steps that is suggested for resolving interference and many trolling motors come with these in the packaging and they can also be purchased independently online or through many retailers.
Installing a choke is also a common troubleshooting step.
There are also some great troubleshooting tips here.
In addition, many of the newer sonar units require a lot of power. I ran into this issue with my Humminbird Onix 10 on my SeaArk ProCat 240. I was getting trolling motor interference on my Humminbird 360 but also had an inadequate power supply to the Onix that was causing issues.
4. Transducer Mounting Board
Transducer installation is critical for all fish finders but it’s even more important when you’re using down imaging and side imaging sonar.
It amazes me how many people don’t do this, even boat and marine electronics dealers that are self-proclaimed “experts” on installations.
If you’ve installed a transom mount transducer without a transducer mounting board on your boat you’ve made a serious mistake.
If you’ve paid someone to install electronics and they’ve installed a transom mount transducer without one of these you’ve worked with an incompetent installer.
You should purchase a transducer mounting board, go back to the installer, and whack them across the head with it for their incompetence.
If you’re installing electronics, stop what you’re doing right now and order one of these.
If you’ve electronics installed already and don’t have one of these order one right now and put it on your boat.
You’ll also need a tube of 3M Adhesive Sealant so you can install it.
Seriously, I’ll wait for you to order the materials….
Just do it…
It’s that important…
The transducer mounting board is installed on the transom of the boat with two screws and these are the last two holes you’ll ever need to drill in the transom of your boat.
Installing this will save you a ton of headaches over the life of the boat and also help with assuring you’ve got good clean images on the screen.
If you ever have to move or replace a transducer, you’ll install it directly to the poly mounting board for the life of the boat meaning no more holes in the transom.
If you hit something and it rips the transducer off the back of the boat, it will pull from the transducer mounting board and won’t rip holes or do damage to the boat.
Keep reading the next tip for more explanation….
5. Transducer Location and Angle
Transducer installation location and angle are one of the most important parts (if not the most important) in assuring you’re getting the best performance from your fishfinder.
Without proper location and angle you’re not going to get good images, arches and what you’re seeing on the screen won’t be accurate (or clear).
Since I began running down imaging and side imaging I’ve never once had a transducer that I didn’t have to move from its original installation location. I moved the transducer on my ProCat 240 7 times before I finally got it right.
Had I not installed the transducer mounting board I’d have 14 holes in the transom of the boat. Not good.
There’s no “one way” to do this because every boat is different, so here’s what’s important when it comes to transducer location and angle based on the common transducers being used today that include 2D, down imaging, and side imaging.
- The transducer should be to be as close to the centerline of the boat on the transom as possible (the engine) but not so close that it’s constantly getting interference from cavitation.
- The location on the transom needs to be such that it can see on both sides of the boat without interference from the outboard motor, floatation pods, shallow water anchors or anything else that would interfere.
- The transducer needs to be in contact with the water at all times and where the transducer sits in the water makes a big difference. Often moving a transducer up or down even as much as one-half inch can have a big impact.
- The transducer needs to sit as close to level as possible when the boat is in the water and often requires adjustment. Take into consideration that the back of the boat usually sits lower in the water than it does on the trailer. In addition, when you have a boat loaded with people it will sit differently in the water. Adjust the angle of the transducer, check it in the water, and then adjust again as needed until it’s right.
If you want the best performance from your sonar fish finder it’s best to make sure you do it right upfront. If you’ve got an existing installation but aren’t getting the best images on the screen then go back and look at these common issues and you’ll likely improve the performance.
Once you’ve got the best performance, have your settings correct, and know how to interpret the images on the screen you’ll find that your electronics are a critical tool to help you locate and catch all species of catfish.
It doesn’t matter if you’re catching shad, drift fishing, catching channel catfish in the Summer, or chasing after shallow water blue catfish in the spring you’ll start catching more catfish!