Probing the Depths

Focusing your efforts on specific points of structure makes all of the difference when attempting to minimize fuel consumption and put fish on ice. This fact is especially true across the vast Gulf of Mexico, where anglers traverse many miles of desolate bottom terrain to reach relatively small honey holes. Even the most prepared anglers have a hard time scoring on open bottom void of life, whereas a novice on his very first outing can likely limit out on a sharp limestone ledge, submerged offshore spring, or deteriorated wreckage. But where and how does one go about zeroing in on these secret hot-spots when productive GPS numbers are often highly guarded secrets?


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Giant AJ are just one of the many species that relate to broken bottom. Photo: FSF Mag

Fortunately, today’s modern fishing machines are well equipped with advanced navigation and fish finding technology. Even bay boats are routinely outfitted with sophisticated multifunction displays, providing helmsman with a plethora of key data. In fact, without an advanced chart plotter, sonar and transducer, west coast sinker bouncers might as well never leave the dock. This is exactly where success starts, but anglers also need a thorough understanding of how to accurately enter and label specific waypoints, how to navigate to each of these waypoints, and how to properly decipher sonar readings once on scene. Technology is a huge benefit to the modern day angler, so learn how to use it!

Remember that successful sinker bouncing is not only about how far you go. It is more about where you go and what you do when you get there.

While you need to be aware of all the capabilities of your electronics, you should start by looking at published artificial reef coordinates like those found at I recommend loading coordinates for natural and artificial reef locations in your county and the surrounding counties you may venture into when scouring the Gulf. Next, get your hands on a number of different paper charts for your particular region. Waterproof Charts and Captain Segull’s Charts are excellent choices. Paper charts clearly reveal contour lines and help anglers get a better overview of their surroundings with slight variations in bathymetry that may lead the way to impressive catches. Do yourself a favor and load as many of these spots as you can in various depths and distances from port. As you investigate and fish these spots in the future you can designate certain icons to symbolize particular types of structure, predominant species, or most productive time of the year.

Of course, public numbers see a tremendous amount of pressure, so you will have to find secret day-saving spots on your own. This is where investing some time and fuel enters the equation. If you are serious about increasing your consistency factor, you need to head offshore to investigate. As you run from spot to spot keep one eye glued to your sounder. If you notice even a minor change in bottom contour while running on plane, pull back the throttle, make a quick u-turn and investigate the area in greater detail. Constantly stopping to check the bottom might take away from fishing time, but you will eventually find a diamond in the rough. When you approach a promising area a figure eight pattern or widening circle around the original coordinates will help you canvas the area quickly and efficiently. Keep in mind that there are always new spots to find as the Gulf floor is constantly changing. Plus, something as minimal as a single boulder is all it takes to hold a few quality grouper.

Once on site, it’s important you use your electronics to their maximum capabilities. Unfortunately, most anglers don’t have the necessary time to understand and interpret all of the complex functions and features our fish finders and chart plotters can perform, but that’s okay. With a basic understanding you’ll be able to decipher detailed sonar returns and find fish like a pro.

While the navigation of data and approach to tune a fish finder vary depending on manufacturer and how new the unit is, the principles remain the same. Learn how to use your sounder by first reading the manual and playing with the functions out of auto mode. With traditional sonar units you must choose from a single frequency, while the newest CHIRP sends a continuous sweep of frequencies ranging from low to high for impressive returns and target discrimination. CHIRP also returns images at faster boat speeds so you can see more on the run. Gain and range are two important aspects you must learn to control and adjust, but remember that turbulence, transducer mounting and power, and more will determine how the signal penetrates through the water column.

No matter what, you’ll need to learn how to adjust the gain, or sensitivity. It allows the unit to be tuned to hear weaker signals. When you are on the water practice adjusting your sounder. Go to an area where you know the bottom contour and makeup and you’ll then be able to interpret and adjust your sounder to its maximum capabilities.

Remember that successful sinker bouncing is not only about how far you go. It is more about where you go and what you do when you get there. Once on scene the pros start by determining their exact speed and direction of drift and then reposition the boat appropriately before wetting the first line. Anchoring is considered when a group of quality fish have been located. The pros also never clean out a spot. They’ll typically bag a few and move on. Tight lines!