Troubleshooting electronics

There's one good thing you can say about old flasher sonars - they didn't require a computer technician to solve a problem.

If one didn't turn on, the battery was dead, a fuse was burnt or the power connector had jarred loose. If it ran but didn't light, the bulb needed to be replaced. And if there wasn't a bottom reading, the transducer was mispositioned, the plug was loose, or a varmint had gnawed through the coaxial cable (which happened to me twice).

Simplicity can be a wonderful thing, unless you want to see vivid images scrolling across a screen or a plethora of other data that today's wonderful electronics can provide.

Of course, operating and interpreting those features requires more time with the owner's manual than most fuddy-duddies like me are willing to spend. We flip to auto and let them run.

Or we call the company. That's when we talk to guys like Luke Morris, a customer service technical coordinator with Lowrance.

Morris says that many electronic problems are the result of angler misunderstandings rather than bad equipment.

You can save yourself headaches - and a phone call to guys like Morris - by heeding this advice:

Do your homework: Don't buy a unit on one person's recommendation. Ask around, get good technical information and don't be misled by glitzy advertising claims.

For example, there's much ballyhoo concerning dual frequency (200 kHz and 50 kHz) transducers. Two frequencies are better than one, right?

"Not really," says Morris. "They're great for coastal saltwater or Great Lakes anglers. Bass anglers are better served with a single 200 kHz frequency transducer, which is different from the 200 kHz on dual frequency models. It produces better detail in water less than 100 feet deep, so you see things more clearly."

Vertical pixel count is equally important. Higher vertical pixel counts deliver more displayed information and better separation between fish and bottom objects.

Install transducer properly: Bolting a transducer to the transom may provide the best signal, but on high performance bass boats that run in excess of 70 mph, you may not be happy.

Morris says that rigging a transducer in the bilge area and shooting through the hull poses fewer problems. Whatever you decide, follow manufacturer's instructions to the letter.

Also, before securing the transducer permanently, test it. The signal you get at high speed can be substantially different from what you see while sitting still.

Overcoming interference: Trolling motor companies have eliminated most of the interference that once plagued bow-mounted graphs. If you're having problems, make sure electrical connections are grounded properly and never power sonar with the same battery that runs the electric motor.

Cross-talking - or signal interference from other sonars - is another correctable issue. This occurs when two graphs are operated in the boat simultaneously or when you're fishing close to other anglers. You can remedy that by adjusting the ping rate so the signals aren't in synch.

Adjust sensitivity: Auto mode usually does a fine job of making adjustments in sensitivity or depth settings. However, if shallow fishing produces a lot of surface clutter, switch from auto to manual mode and lower the sensitivity. The screen should clear.

Also, when bottom depth changes abruptly, the unit may become confused and cause digital depth to fluctuate wildly. Again, manually set the maximum depth to a level appropriate to the water you're fishing.

"Don't be afraid to make manual adjustments," says Morris. "It's easy, and you can always switch back to auto mode."