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How To Scope Out Crappies

How To Scope Out Crappies

For Missouri bass pro Chad Morgenthaler, the best time to go crappie fishing is “whenever I can” but after chasing the paper mouthed panfish successfully for most of his 53 years, he’s gained new appreciation and a greater understanding of them over the past three. That’s because he’s taken the Garmin LiveScope technology that helped him qualify for this year’s Bassmaster Classic and used it to scratch a multispecies itch and to fill his freezer.

Traditional sonar shot a vertical “cone” down from a transducer. The relatively recent addition of side-imaging sonar allowed anglers to look out left or right. LiveScope, and its counterparts from other brands, are forward-facing. That means you don’t have to be on top of the fish or next to them to see them.

“We’re now able to fish the future rather than the past,” Morgenthaler said. “It brought attention to structure and cover that we were around but couldn’t really pinpoint, like an isolated tree with fish suspended on it. You can also use it to look under docks while you’re on the trolling motor fishing, which is a huge advantage.”

While fish may still be able to feel the sonar’s signal, by keeping them at arm’s length – or, more likely 75 to 80 feet away, the length of an average cast – you reduce the chances of spooking or scattering them. The forward-facing technology also allows an angler to target individual fish, almost more akin to chasing a big buck than taking a scattershot approach and waiting.

“I can now chase down singles and small groups,” he said. “On two-dimensional sonar, down-imaging or side-imaging, that’s not easy to do.”


It’s how fellow Elite Series pro Patrick Walters dominated the field in last year’s season-ending tournament on Lake Fork, and how anglers on O.H. Ivie, just a few hours across the Lone Star State, managed to catch one teen-class fish after another early this year. But a fish doesn’t need to be 10 pounds or more to show up distinctly on the screen.

Morgenthaler can not only distinguish individual rocks, but individual panfish as well. That gives him – along with those employing the same or similar technology – an edge, and if they take it one step further they can learn more about fish behavior, too.

“The patterns have changed,” he said. “It seems like the bigger crappies are more free roamers than they used to be. Our understanding of fish patterns has changed, too. The key thing is that we now have an ability to see how fish react. We’ll see if they’re following the bait but not committing. We can see if the bait has to be under them or over them to get them to bite.”

While some in the bass world might surmise that Morgenthaler’s erstwhile crappie addiction is a welcome respite from the intensity of the tournament trail, it’s hardly mindless. In fact, it has helped open his eyes to all the things that he previously didn’t know about both types of fishing.

“I’ve been surprised at the depth that various panfish live most of the year,” he explained. “Since getting LiveScope, I’ve caught more below 50-foot deep than above 50-foot deep. That certainly surprised me, especially when I saw how big many of them are.”

The lesson learned in regard to bass fishing?

“I need to look in different places than I’ve normally caught them.”


Fishing for different species has also helped him to understand what he’s seeing on the screen – not just what species they are and how they’re positioned, but whether they’re likely to bite. On his home lake of Table Rock, he’s finding both bass and crappies, plus the occasional other species, suspended in deep trees in 40 to 70 feet of water during the colder months. Since the visual images are so crisp, he’s less likely to fish for bass where crappies exist, or fish for crappies where bass reside, simply based on his screen time.

That’s the other thing about employing this new technology. While it has the potential to open up new worlds to the tech-savvy angler, and offers a reasonable amount of information straight out of the box, Morgenthaler said that just like any other technique time on the water is critical. It’s not “seat time” in the traditional sense, nor is it the “screen time” that helicopter parents seek to limit, but rather practice leading to efficiency.

“I get hired quite often by guide clients who want nothing more than for me to take them out and explain their electronics,” he said. “I explain what they’re looking at but even then, each rig and each lake requires different settings. Which color palette is best for you? What are your typical depths and targets? What rigs are you running and which trolling motor do you have? Once you figure out the perfect combination for your setup, that’s when you’ll be most efficient.”

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