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September 07, 2010

Find More Fish With Chart Plotters

Tracks, waypoints and routes can turn an angler's chart plotter into more than just a navigation aid

During spring when tripletail gather off our shores here in Georgia, we spend hours idling over expansive shallow flats. At low and high tides, we search for these peculiar fish, which float at the surface, waiting to ambush prey - odd behavior for the usually structureoriented tripletail.

As we search, we lay down tracks on our plotter - black lines that show the exact path we take. When we catch a fish, we drop a waypoint. Over time, these tracks resemble a Rorschach test, but they show key information that can help us find more tripletail.

Tracks, waypoints and routes can turn an angler's chart plotter into more than just a navigation aid. In fact, several plotter manufacturers have recently improved or plan to improve these tools. Some now make it easier to transfer tracks, waypoints and routes to home computers, where anglers can more efficiently type and log information.

The Right Track
"When I'm offshore, whether I'm bottomfishing, flounder or striper fishing, whatever, I always run a track," says Capt. Steve Bent, who uses Raymarine C and E Wide (hybrid touch-screen) units with Navionics Platinum Plus cartography aboard his 34-foot custom sport-fisherman ( out of Egg Harbor Township, New Jersey. "A track allows me to get back to structure. If a fish strikes, I hit a waypoint immediately. ... It gives me a reference point as the tide and drift change."

Bent also says he sets his plotter to lay track points every five seconds versus letting it run on auto. That lets him see better how the boat is moving. When bottomfishing, he runs the plotter with "north up" and "true motion" settings. That means north remains at the top of the screen and the boat icon moves while the chart remains still. When trolling offshore, he runs in "course up" and "relative motion," which allows him to see more of what's in front of him.

Capt. Ed Dwyer, who fishes a 62-foot Paul Spencer out of Cape Canaveral, Florida, color-codes the tracks on his Furuno NavNet 3D unit with C-Map cartography. For blue marlin or tuna, he uses blue tracks; for bottomfishing, yellow; and for diving, pink. When Dwyer overlays multiple tracks onto his plotter, the different colors tell him at a glance the path he wants. (Note: Most units can overlay all tracks at once, display one track at a time or allow for ­selective overlays by color or category.)

Dwyer then labels waypoints he dropped along the track with fish icons corresponding to what he caught. When he inputs the waypoint information, he names the spot something like "200pound blue marlin." At the end of the fishing day, he logs everything on paper and includes lengthy descriptions.

What's in Store
The number of tracks you can store on a plotter varies with the model. But in most cases, you can download tracks to an SD card for safekeeping. If you take a trip to the Florida Keys, for instance, and store tracks for that trip, you can save them to an SD card. The next time you visit that location, plug the card into your plotter and retrace your steps.

Humminbird allows anglers to save up to 50 tracks with 20,000 track points on its plotters. The company also redesigned its waypoint management system for 2011, so anglers will be able to store and search their information more quickly. The new system will offer a folder and subfolder setup similar to what's on personal computers.

Humminbird also plans to roll out its Humminbird PC program next year - software that allows anglers to download waypoints, tracks and routes to their computers, change and sort files, plus overlay waypoints on Google Earth so they can see sandbars and other structure near those points.

Similar software from other plotter manufacturers and third parties - Garmin, Furuno, Raymarine, Fugawi - currently exists for a variety of prices. Because these programs are made for home computers that come with keyboards for easy typing, they allow anglers to quickly review what their plotters stored - which may include latitude and longitude, water temperature, depth, date, time of day, track and hookups (waypoints). Anglers may then separately log and store other information such as current speed, weather conditions, bait notes, etc. Plotters lack keyboards, thus limiting anglers to what they can enter with knobs, wheels and buttons.

Follow the Route
Anglers typically use routes more for navigation than fishing. But routes become crucial in areas such as the Bahamas where boaters must dodge barely submerged coral heads. Bent lays down a track on his Raymarine plotter as he runs a difficult or hazardous area. Once he safely navigates through the danger, he saves the track as a route. He stores routes in categories such as inlets, rocks and canals.

If the route somehow changes because of shifting sands or debris, he can put his cursor on the route and move a waypoint left or right to adjust the path. Bent also shared a trick about storing waypoints: Each year he chooses a different icon for his waypoints - a fish, a buoy, etc. That helps him know how long ago he saved that spot without having to call up the data page. For a captain with 986 stored waypoints, that saves valuable fishing time.

Bent backs up his stored waypoints every few weeks. Over time, plotter information becomes like gold - it appreciates because it's proven knowledge over a long time and a wide range of conditions. And that's the ­ultimate secret to catching more fish.