Using Live Sonar To Catch Cod

Words: Kosta Linardos Images: Thomas Pinter

The evolution of live sonar has without doubt forever changed fishing and the way we find fish. For those of you unaware of what live sonar is, it’s essentially as described – sonar that you’re seeing in real time. When anglers first started using it and making YouTube videos showing how well it worked, it certainly caused its fair share of online controversies. In one camp, some anglers claimed it was cheating, and why would you want to look at a screen all day. I believe that 98% of these anglers can’t afford it and the other 2% can’t be bothered learning how to use it.

These arguments aren’t unique to live sonar – when sonar units moved from paper to digital there was the same argument and with side and down scan, again the same arguments. You’ll always have your naysayers and negative comments when new technologies come along. However, it can’t be denied how amazing live sonar is, or that in 10 years it will be as common as 2D and we’ll laugh at the current technology on offer, which at the moment is pretty bloody good.

One area of fishing where live sonar has really had an impact is in the fresh, and in particular targeting Murray cod in dams. Many stocked impoundments have large volumes of water and this is what makes them so difficult to fish – you could be casting at nothing for hours on end.

An angler who is well known thanks to his many videos showcasing its use and great results is Thomas Pinter. Thomas has shown in real time how amazing his Lowrance ActiveTarget set-up is, so we thought we should catch up with him to learn more about he uses it.

First off, we thought readers would be interested in how Thomas sets everything up, as he has refined this over the past few years.

“On the bow I run a 16in Lowrance HDS that’s dedicated to ActiveTarget, and below that I run an HDS 12, which I use for SideScan, DownScan and mapping, where I run a Chartered Waters mapping card. I run a Lowrance Ghost off a dedicated 24v lithium battery and the ActiveTarget is powered by its own 12v lithium battery, which is separate from the house battery. Switching to this lithium system provides cleaner power and therefore no interference from the electric motor to the ActiveTarget, giving me cleaner readings,” he says.

Thomas has opted to not mount the ActiveTarget transducer on his Ghost and uses a Gfab Active Target pole, which takes up some extra real estate on his casting deck when not in use but he explained its merits.

“Having the transducer on the Gfab pole allows me greater control of where I position the transducer, whether that be up and down or left and right,” he says. “It allows me to point the transducer away from the direction the boat or current may be moving, giving me cleaner readings. It’s a smooth pole to operate and really easy to use.”

Like any new technology in fishing, when anglers first acquire it, they can tend to overuse it, or not know how and when to maximise its full potential. Thomas gave me some great insight on how he uses ActiveTarget.

“When I first got ActiveTarget I had just come off a 13-trip hot streak where I hadn’t missed and hadn’t caught a fish under 70cm,” he says. “I got ActiveTarget and did five donuts – it could have been a coincidence but I think I was spending a lot of time learning how to use it and there weren’t many people that had it, or Australian YouTube videos providing guidance, but once I worked it all out it changed my fishing completely and my success rate. Some of the key things I learned that anglers new to it should keep in mind is the deeper the water, the further you can send the signal, but in shallow water where there is more noise, you can’t project as far due to the noise from structure and the bottom. In shallow water I often switch to Scout Mode, which gives me a wide and ultra-wide view of what’s ahead and really indicates good structure I can target. In deeper water I use Forward mode to scout and Down mode once I’ve locked on to something below me.”

Thomas’s Lowrance HDS units also feature traditional 2D, DownScan and SideScan, so I was curious as to how often he uses these features, and I wasn’t surprised to learn they now take a back seat to his ActiveTarget.

“It’s always in the water, whether I launch in the dark, first light or the middle of the day,” he says. “You obviously need an understanding of the fish and the system you’re fishing, so I maybe start by heading to a section of the system where I caught fish the previous year at the same time and start scanning. If I don’t find bait or fish, rather than endlessly cast like I used to, I move to another area until I find bait, fish or underwater structure. Structure in places like Lake Eildon and Mulwala can be really thick and I use both Forward and Down mode to find underwater structure and spend time casting at it and getting a fish to reveal itself. There have been many times I’ve watched metre-long cod appear out of thick structure following my lure. This aspect of live view sonar has really taught me a lot about fish behaviour and lure action and how fish respond.”

Aside from simply seeing fish in a live view setting, the ability to get an insight into how they are responding to lure size, shape, colour and action is an exciting aspect of live sonar, so I pressed Thomas for more information on what he has learned.

“It’s amazing some of the things ActiveTarget has showed me,” he says. “I’ve seen fish come up from 8 metres to follow a surface lure and watched them swim under it at 2 metres without ever breaking the surface. Prior to ActiveTarget I never would have known that fish was there and I might have moved on, but now I can see the fish following the lure so I persevere and the fish will strike on the third or fourth retrieve. Sometimes it won’t strike after cast number 8 so you switch to a different lure or change the retrieve and see how the fish responds. I recall one fish that was following my 8in Magdraft – it wouldn’t strike so I switched to a 15in Gotcha Max and it nailed it.”

ActiveTarget must also provide insight on fish movement and behaviour and Thomas explained he had learned a lot, and had many misconceptions of fish behaviour busted, through what ActiveTarget has revealed.

“There are so many things I’ve seen that you wouldn’t ever know without ActiveTarget. One that really sticks out is seeing four meteries all schooled up together – I managed to capture two of them so I know they were all over a metre. There’s always been a thought that cod are highly territorial but I’ve seen time and again across different systems that this isn’t always the case”

To finish up I asked Thomas if he had any parting advice for angler about to start using ActiveTarget.

“There’s no substitute for basic fishing knowledge,” he says. “You still need to be able to understand where the fish might be based on conditions and what to offer them and how to present it, so it’s not a magical pass to consistent fish. However, if you have those basics and you spend a bit of time getting it set up correctly and learning how to use it, it’s pretty amazing. It’s really fun to use and has improved my catch rate significantly.”

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