High-tech fishing

GREENVILLE, S.C. — Over the last three years, Mike McClelland has been asked this question several times. He'll be practicing for or competing in a Bassmasters Elite Series tournament when a local angler will motor near him and say, "Who in the world showed you this spot?"

 It's probably a place that took the local angler years of experimentation to pinpoint. But there's a lot quicker way to gain that knowledge now.

 "It's right there in front of you, if you've got your GPS on," said McClelland.

 Jeff Kriet has had the same experience: Kriet was fishing in a tournament at Texas' Choke Canyon when he was accused of convincing a local angler to tell him about some local honey holes.

 "Everybody was like, who helped you?" Kriet recalled. "How did you know that pond dam was down there?

 "I'm like, dude, there's about 20 of them down there. Look at my graph."

 The electronics on a bass boat have advanced so much in the past five years that today's Elite Series pros can't imagine life without them. McClelland said there's no way he would have won an Elite Series event each of the past two years, had he not gotten up to speed on the sonar and GPS devices available today.

 And this week's Classic on Lake Hartwell, which is 8 feet lower than its normal pool level, may be the ultimate example.

 "I really can't imagine not having it now," said Alton Jones, who was in 10th place Friday with a five-bass limit weighing 17 pounds, 5 ounces. "When you're fishing an area that doesn't have much submerged cover, your electronics become that much more important."

 Echoing Jones' statement was Kevin VanDam, who sat in third place with 20-3 after Day One.

 "It's a real big deal," VanDam said. "I'm fishing several different structural elements that are key. You just don't pull up to any old point and catch one, I'll tell you that. It's got to have the right ingredients.

 "If I had to go by just getting out a paper map and looking around, it would be really tough. Without sonar, I couldn't do what I'm doing."

 Scott Rook is in second place with 20-13. His electronics were crucial to his success, even if it was a commonly-installed temperature gauge that made the difference for him. Rook couldn't get a bite in places where he'd caught fish in practice, when the water temperature was 55 degrees in those spots. The rain that fell through 37-degree air Friday morning had a profound effect on the bass.

 "I went to my best area and the water temperature had dropped five to eight degrees," Rook said. "I just started moving. When it hit 48 degrees, boom, I caught 'em. Below 48, I never caught one.

 "Without that water temperature gauge, I wouldn't have known where to move."

 In retrospect, VanDam is shocked at how the electronics have changed the way he breaks down a body of water.

 "I would never have dreamed 10 years ago that I had to have a GPS unit on both the front and the back of my boat," VanDam said. "You just can't live without it. This year I put a bigger screen on the front. That's not the way it used to be."

 VanDam hasn't even added the latest advancement in sonar: the side viewer. Jones has been using a Humminbird side viewer for two years now, and has become highly reliant on it.

 "In traditional downward-looking sonar, you have to interpret what you see on the screen," Jones said. "But with side imaging, it draws you almost a digital picture of the bottom. It looks on the screen just like it would if you drained the lake and took a black-and-white picture of it. It's really simple to use."

 Jones said he still relies on downward-looking sonar about 75 percent of the time.

 "I really don't use the side-imaging until I figure out what [kind of structure] I'm looking for," Jones said. "Then I can make one swath through an area that has the potential to hold the fish I'm on, as opposed to just have to idle back and forth, zigzagging. I can see it all at once.

 It just shortens your search so much."

 Jones summed it up by saying, "It's just like real estate. They say the three most important things in bass fishing are location, location, location. Good electronics help me find the right location and make sure I'm spending my time in productive water."

 Bassmaster.com will provide unprecedented live video coverage of the Classic this week, Feb. 22-24. We'll have live "Hooked Up," daily launches at 7:15 a.m. ET and live weigh-ins and real-time leaderboards starting at 4:30 p.m. ET broadcast live from the Bi-Lo Center in Greenville, S.C.

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