Sight Fishing is basically what you and I can see with the naked eye, be it structure such as points, humps or steep cliffs, cover such as weed lines, timber, rocks or man-made cover such as bridges, fences, jetties and last but not least, fish, especially in the spawn. When sight fishing your electronics are merely doing two basic tasks, giving you depth (so you don't knock your trolling motor) and water temperature.

This is the most common form of bass fishing, at all levels, from first timers to World Champions (as seen recently on the Vaal River). Most of us went fishing with a friend the first time, and the first thing they would have told you, is "Cast to the bank by the weeds (cover), that is where the bass are"

Now here is a strange thing when it comes to sight fishing - when I started fishing the Albert Falls Tournament, and the water level was low, you would usually find a large percentage of the fleet around Centre Trees and Tim's Trees due to the timber sticking out the water, and very often the best fish came from here. The following year, the dam would be at 100% and all of a sudden there are just a handful of boats around the few tree tips still visible. Did the fish move away from this key cover because the dam is high and only a few tips are sticking out? No, the visual attraction was lost to the anglers and therefore they moved to what they are comfortable with, often a terrible mistake.

Chart Fishing on the other hand, is when the only information you have is what is on your charts, be it contours, sediment (survey charts of before the dam wall was built), satellite (imagery of when the dam was low), sidescan mosaics such as StructureMap or our Mosaic and more recently UltraHF, drone imagery which is 20 times the resolution of satellite known as AerialHD on our charts, or the latest in technology, Elevation which is derived from the extremely high resolution data from the drone to create a type of 3D contour chart but with 50 times the detail one would get from sonar when creating a contour chart. The more information you have from your charts, the more confident you will be as an angler to stick to one spot more than another, very much like sight fishing along a bank. Think about that for a minute or two.

If Charts were Compared to an 'Eye Test'

0/20 Vision

Imagine if the cover along a shoreline was merely seen as blank screen (your chart plotter with no charts loaded), and your sonar was merely telling you how far you were from the bank, this is what it must be like for a blind person trying to cast to cover in a bass tournament. Try this next time you are on the water, place your buff over your eyes blocking your vision 100%, spin around three times, then ask your fishing partner to tell you how far the bank is from you, but that is all, they cannot give you any other information, not even direction to the bank. When you have done this for 10 minutes, think about how you felt from a confidence perspective ... zero right? This is what you are doing fishing offshore structure and cover with no charts.

1/20 Vision

Waypoints are gathered over time from areas where you either caught a fish, someone told you they caught a fish there, something you spotted on your SideScan while idling along someday, or something you saw when the dam level was low. While some of these waypoints will remain crystal clear in your memory, others will fade and eventually become a mere 'dot on a wall'. Now take one of your key shoreline visible spots on your local dam (your 'secret spot'), and picture it in your mind, e.g - that little piece of timber to the right of the bigger rock on the steep side of the point ... the first thing you will do without thinking about it, is to position the boat just right before making that first perfect cast. When it comes to fishing offshore with a single waypoint, however, you simply don't have enough information to first position the boat and secondly know where exactly to cast on that waypoint, especially when you have a lot of waypoints, and the more waypoints you have, the 'duller' your memory will become, basically taking you back to 0/20 vision.

5/20 Vision

Contour Charts are extremely powerful as you will know exactly what type of structure you are fishing at all times, that is if you understand how contours work, you will be surprised to know how many don't understand the basic principles of contours. As valuable as this information is, just imagine for a second what that visible key 'secret spot' we mentioned earlier would look like on a contour chart - you would see the point perfectly, even down to the steep side of the point due to the contour intervals reducing rapidly, but cover such as the smaller rocks and piece of timer ... nothing! This would force you to make multiple casts until hopefully hitting it, or otherwise known as the 'hit & miss' technique.

10/20 Vision

SideScan Mosaics and 360 Sonar are a massive technological leap in providing information of what otherwise would not be visible to the naked eye around you, especially when the water is not clear. To compare this technology to normal sight fishing, we will start with SideScan mosaics such as StructureMap and my old mosaic charts (before UltraHF). Unfortunately, these are not that clear, often only highlighting the big stuff while the detail is lost. To simulate this, next time you are at the dam targeting visual cover, breathe heavily on your polaroid lenses and look at the bank. You will have an idea of what is there, but the finer detail is lost. The other issue with traditional sidescan mosaic is the loss of detail on the shore side, or steep side of the scan, it is usually blown out like looking into a bright light at night. The same with 360 sonar, dip your finger in something oily, then smear small circles on your polaroid lenses, and if the water is not perfectly flat and calm, take a koki pen and draw multiple lines from the centre out on your lenses, basically rendering the technology useless, at least mosaics are visible regardless of the conditions because they were captured in perfect conditions.

19/20 Vision

The new UltraHF (Ultra High Frequency) mosaic on our latest FishTec HD Fishing Charts offers us detail that is so close to real life, that it is very much like fishing visual cover along a shoreline, even at depths up to 50ft. Due to the concentration of the beam, we have even been able to not only match the slope side detail on the shore side, or steep side, but make it even better and sharper than the deep or slope side of the mosaic. Starting with a left and right scan, then 'tiling' the mosaic to the right only making the sonic shadows all face the same way for each pass thereafter, allowing quicker identification and improved confidence for the angler.

20/20 Vision

AerialHD is drone imagery captured when the dam is low, using a very high definition camera and converting it to a satellite-like chart, but with 20 times the resolution. This option will not always be found on all areas of a dam, but key areas where contour data and even UltraHF mosaics are not enough. The detail from this imagery is so high, that a form of LiDaR (light distance ranging) has given us the opportunity to create a 3D like ultra-contour chart with shaded relief in the Elevation view. This is extremely valuable as it is nearly impossible to tell how high one rock for example is when compared to others around it from the AerialHD image, but with Elevation view, this task is made super simple as a colour and shade change will be noticed easily.

Panoramic Image

Panoramic Image is a unique feature to FishTec charts where you can access georeferenced HD photos directly off the chart plotter by simply tapping on the photo number. Then, from the menu, selecting GoTo, which allows MotorGuideXi5 owners with Gateway Link to instruct the trolling motor to go to the exact location where the photo was taken from, then spot-lock in that position. The view option allows you to zoom and pan around the image. A second display at the bow is a big advantage here so you can view the charts and depth on the one unit, and the Panoramic Image on the other, at the same time.

Charts and the Shoreline

While fishing a shoreline, anything above the water is obviously going to offer you a 20/20 vision of the structure and cover, but what happens when the water quality deteriorates, and clues as to what lies below are lost ... you have just dropped from 20/20 to as low as 0/20 depending on the water. Now you are back to a 'hit and miss' style of fishing.

When I first started bass fishing from a boat, I remember my fishing buddy saying - "If it starts to get quiet along the bank, turn around and take a few random casts into the deep". I always remembered this because later that same day I did exactly that and hooked a pretty decent bass. Unfortunately, I had no idea what I was casting to as my 'sight fishing advantage' was lost.

This is where charts become extremely valuable while fishing the bank. You will know exactly what is approaching at all times and how far it is from you allowing you to make very accurate casts to points of interest around you as they come into range. Just recently while I was at the 13th Black Bass World Championships held here in South Africa on the Vaal River, I remember seeing a number of teams pounding the visible shoreline cover, and so often I would look down at my chart, and in relation to where a boat would be fishing, there would be some prime key structure either directly beneath them or behind them, and they never even knew it was there. What a terrible missed opportunity to come so far and at such expense not to have the best chart data available. Read any article on fishing tournaments on a foreign body of water, and they will all say the same thing - "Speak to the locals at the local bait shops to find out what's biting, and get the best charts you can get your hands on."

If you have dual units on the bow while sight fishing to the shore, you can still have up to four charts automatically feeding you information without having to touch a single button, and now with the latest Heat Overlay function you can track your thermal trend right there on your chart. This is what you have always wanted your 'fishfinder' to do, but never could, until now.

SideScan Sonar

The first time I saw the Humminbird 997SI I could not believe what I was seeing, from traditional abstract-like arches of what was directly beneath the boat only, to hundreds of feet of life-like imagery of structure, cover, bottom hardness, fish ... it was just mind-blowing. I went on a waypoint marking mission of every little thing I saw, the result, a cluttered chart plotter and very little memory of what it was other than the icon as a clue. Not to mention the massive amount of fuel I was ripping through on my old Mercury 150 BlackMax idling around. Over the following months, my fishing actually took a major nosedive as all I was doing was driving around looking at pretty pictures.