Electronics: Learn, Trust Them

Bobby Padgett (left) and the author show off the kind of bass that Lake Eufala produced in offshore spots where understanding and using your electronics are vital.

The best deep-water bass fishermen have always been great with their depth finders. Copy them.

I was in Columbus, Ga, in late May to see my oldest son, Parker, get his captain’s bars at Fort Benning. And to make a great trip even greater, I had a chance to fish Lake Eufaula on the Georgia-Alabama border with the fishermen who is generally considered that lake’s best, and one of the best offshore bass fishermen ever.

Bobby Padgett lives in LaGrange, Ga,. where he runs Country’s Barbecue. But he probably spends as much time on Lake Eufaula as he does in the barbecue pit. He won a Bassmaster tournament on Lake Eufaula back in 1996. He just dominated it, beating some awfully good offshore fishermen. And Eufaula means a lot to me; I won my first Bassmaster tournament there in 1994. And I came within three ounces of winning again in 2002, but that was the tournament when I clinched my second Angler of the Year.

I expected great things when I fished with Bobby — I was really excited — because I knew he was a great offshore fisherman. But when you get in the boat with him for a full day, from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., well, there’s nothing like what you can learn being in the boat with someone that good. It was a joy to see somebody who has mastered the game the way he has.

We fished from my boat. I’ve got four Humminbird Helix 10s with 360 imaging and Lake Master maps. But it was obvious that he learned that lake without the technological advances we have now in electronics. He is one of the best ledge fishermen I know. He used a paper graph when most of us were using flasher units.

Electronics Vital

What I’d like to emphasize is, electronics mean so much to us these days. That’s especially true in the dead of winter and the dead of summer. All the great offshore fishermen I’ve ever known, guys like David Fritts, Bobby Padgett and Rick Clunn, they are all really great with their electronics, no matter what brand they were using, or whether or not they used a flasher or a paper graph.

They are special individuals who, back in the day, could get it done with what we had available. It was like they could pull up to a spot and know what the bottom looked like while the rest of us were looking at the surface. That had a natural, God-given talent to be able to fish offshore.

Now, with all the advances we’ve had, from the 1980s to the 90s and the 2000s and now almost the 2020s, if you’re going to fish off the bank, you need to use your electronics. If you’re going to fish in the dead of winter or dead of summer, you really need to rely on your electronics. Now, we have things like mega-imaging and side-imaging and down-imaging and GPS. And you have to master them to be competitive if you’re fishing any tournaments.

When I fished with Bobby Padgett, we fished ledges a lot of different ways, finding a spot, setting up on it, casting, knowing the fish were on it. There were some places we fished that I always fish at Eufaula. Places where we caught fish and didn’t have to mark them. But electronics are so good, if you see fish there, you know they’re there.

A Matter of Trust

If you know your electronics and trust them, you know what’s down there. You might move around and cast from different angles to make sure you brought that DT-14 or DT-16 back across the spot just right. Bobby did one thing I really paid attention to. We went across the tip of a point, and he turned around 180 degrees and threw back the other way. He was fishing the front edge of it after we’d fished it from the other direction.

You have to learn your electronics. They are so advanced, they can do so much for you, you can’t afford not to master them. What I would suggest for a fisherman who wants to learn about his electronics — or has just gotten some new electronics — is to go to a place you know well. You know what is down there from experience. You want to see what it looks like on your electronics.

Your electronics are not going to lie to you you. So many fishermen see something on their electronics and think, “That can’t be there. There can’t be that many fish there,” but there are.

Pick a Known Spot

Another thing to do is ride past the end of a boat ramp, ride under a bridge. You can see the concrete ramp, the pilings, on your electronics; you will know what they look like, how your unit shows a hard bottom. The next thing you know, you can locate hard bottoms with rock or shell, places that will hold fish. You start to trust your electronics, and you’re on your way.

It is easier now, because there are hundreds of kinds of units. And with all the modern stuff, your learning curve is much lower than it was for people like Bobby Padgett and David Fritts when they were coming along 30 years ago. I am just amazed at how aware Bobby Padgett was, how he learned Lake Eufaula with something like an X-16 paper graph.

There are a lot of good electronics out there; you spend time with them, learn how to use them, learn to trust them, and you can become a good, deep-water fisherman.

Click here to see that electronics can also help with catching other species than just bass.