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For years I kayak fished without a sounder. I did quite well but it was somewhat random as there are few apparent features where I fish. I progressed to a black and white which helped the focus then moved to colour. I spend at least 50% of my on water time looking at the sounder particularly around my GPS marks. Having a sounder is one thing but being physically able to see the detail is another. Mine is right at my side. I cannot see the smaller stuff with a sounder at my knees or feet.

Now the years without a sounder helped hone all the other fish finding skills. We know them all as they are well written about. I still use all these skills and leads that nature provides but try and do it in conjunction with the picture I see below the surface. For example, when I come across a bunch of Slimies frollicking on the surface as they often do at high or low tide. The sounder allows me to see if this is just the pinnacle of a much larger mass. I have options then : do I want to upgrade my bait with the jig or are there predators (or both)? The sounder gives me my trolling perameters and also may let me know what else is below. Again, it has been well documented re behaviours of bait under siege. Basically looking for tightly packed bait, holes through the middle, the wall of death or very thin tall schooling. Remember that bait may not show on the surface so finding these schools relies on the sounder--BUT birds may give the first clue (often the Mutton birds just sit on the surface when the bait is deep) as does the water surface. If you look very carefully you can see that the dapples on the water are different according to the type of bait fish just sub surface. These patches are easily identifiable once you get good at it. This is how the Mullet spotters work and they can differentiate several different types of fish. I might mark these groups of bait and return or fish it for hours. Stuff like this is worth investigating.
When using the sounder to identify particular species or individual fish, it is not done in isolation. I also factor in things like: water temperature as this will determine much of what is present ;eg large bottom marks in hot water are unlikely to be snapper even if sitting near the sea bed.
:current as some species suit current and some sit off it. I often sight Mackeral sitting stacked where the flow is.
:water colour and quality as some species prefer blue v's green and some do not care. Includes sparklers and bluebottles
:underwater structure as some fish appear to sit up stream of structure possibly riding on a pressure wave. All fish visit structure.
:hotspots which occur as warmer variations in the ocean. Some of these hotspots are the size of a football field. I have a couple of areas that seem to regularly attract hotspots so I pay regular attention to my temp readout. This gets squewed as the sun soaks into the hull but is still relative and goes that little bit higher still when the water is warmer. I can pick it with a hand dip as well
:what others have been catching-from internet reports, other boaties or the local fish Co-op as these give me an idea as to what might be about so that I pay more attention to/for their specific characteristics.
:at the start of each session I can often get an idea of how the day will be. I like to think I see a shopping mall down below. Fish sitting, ducking and diving, bottom level and upstairs. It is a good, busy look. High energy with everything out and about. If I start off jigging baby flathead on the sabiki then that means that there is probably not much competition around thus little underwater energy and thus a slow day. Same with Rock cod when Snapper fishing I guess. If the sluggards repeatedly get the bait then it must be quiet down there.
:depth as this changes some species. I sometimes fish a 12m deep bay and mark longish thin fish pre dawn. These are unlikely to be Wahoo, too thin for sharks so I think large, shallow water Spaniards. In 12m they are no longer a thin line of pixels. The ones that I have hooked are certainly Spaniards.

Thus. If the water temp is 23 plus, current running, bait around then billfish are an option. I can focus on them or be less specific but ready to go. Now, billfish are very easy to ID as they look a bit like a lightening bolt or a long, vertical thin line of pixels. The "bolt" shots are thick and red telling me that there is a solid fish below not that they stay still but what I am seeing is a quick shot of a fish zipping through the water. No arch but a narrow to fat to narrow picture. Bait is close by
Wahoo sometimes school up and sleep(?)at 10=15 mtrs (the ones I have seen anyway).Because of their girth, they come up looking like large coloured cigars. Current required. Bigger ones are usually solo marks
Mackeral look like a 1+ cm line of wavy dots as they do not have a lot of width. Remember that all of this needs to be considered in conjunction with water temp, season, etc. Often Mackeral will stack as I have said esp near bait. Soon as I see these wavy lines I wireup and fish appropriately but remember that the chances of a strike reduce as the water drops below 21 deg. Spaniards seem to be more tolerant than Spotties to cooling water. As the day progresses these fish go deeper.
Cobia can be at any depth but they like reef with sand nearby so that might give a clue as to what the arch might be. They often lie stationary on the bottom probably hoping for Flathead, Stingrays or Crabs. Thus they can be targeted. Often they are in groups
Tuna are often near bait and are just a bunch of crazy lines as they zip about.
Snapper like reef, bait,and cooler water-what else big on the screen might be sitting down there, probably not much. Possibly Tragalin if smaller marks. Often I see Snapper swimming mid water as lines and dashes especially after a period of rough weather when they have come in close and are competing for food.
Bonito around bait schools are also distinctive as they group up and run bunches of coloured wavy lines close together.
Sometimes in shallow water I run over large fish perhaps 2-3 meters long. I guess Sharks here.
I have certainly found that the winter picture is much different to the summer views that I am used to.

So these are some of my ideas. Much of what shows on the screen relates to fish bulk and "reflection" Now it is easy to take a guess at fish type but the proof is in the catching and catching needs to be done to hone the sounder skills and give confidence. So when I see a particular species I like to make sure my technique targets that fish then once caught I remember the screen shot.

Finally, I do not catch all the fish I see nor do I see all the fish I catch as fish are highly mobile and can take the hook from any angle. Types of fish seem to associate with each other. I have found that if there are several Mackeral marked then Marlin are more scarce. The common denominator though is water temp,bait and current which is what is needed for the fish to go to the mall.

Thus, sometimes I fish but often I hunt. Hope you can something useful from this.

Grant
 

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Thanks Grant - that's excellent info. Down south we rarely get to see the tropical speedsters, so it's good to know what to watch for on the rare occasions we head north.
 

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That is excellent Grant. That sort of knowledge can only be gained from the amount of time you have spent on the water and fishing mainly in one area.
I know what kingfish look like and I know the difference between them feeding and not feeding, feeding kingfish look similar to tuna by the sound of it.

I have caught too many flathead on my bait jigs at SWR.
The sad thing is that I am now thinking I may not have seen any of these fish :)
 

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Grant, thank you very much for putting this together.

I'm in the position of not having taken the plunge and bought a sounder yet. The more I learn, the more I see the value they bring.

Thanks again, I think I'll bookmark this one and come back to it again once I have the sounder setup sorted.

Cheers,

Joel
 
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