by Daniel Kiazyk

Just last year, I started to imagine what it must have been like to fish the Red and Winnipeg rivers for "greenbacks" without the help of a depth finder. If you didn't have the time to explore you'd merely follow the crowds to have some success or sometimes no success at all. Following a herd of "Lemmings" doesn't necessarily end in success!

However, with the introduction of the depth finder, new locations and strategies were devised. Learning about where fish were being caught meant that a pattern could more easily be established. Often I've wondered what being able to see in the Red would be like… but unfortunately that is impossible given the merkiness of its depths.

What have I learned using electronics over the past few years paying close attention to my electronics while fishing these waters might be summed up in the following.

A) The Red & Winnipeg have definite structural character which attracts and holds fish.

B) Electronics are limited when fishing up shallow. Your electronic vision is reduced the shallower you go.

C) It's best to take your depth finder "off" of its automatic settings and to adjust it manually to find "arcs" or "smudges" on or near the bottom.

D) The Red River can suspend enough particulate, especially during draw down to effect a previous setting

E) Every year, I'll discover something about a river I've fished for many years that I never knew existed before.

A) Definite structure

Both the Red and Winnipeg rivers have loads of structure. A lot of it is what has been described as "classic". In general, getting to these areas means you're going to contact more fish or at least you'll be in those areas where you'll have the best chance at a good'un

Yet a bit further on this point is the experience of finding the "point" on a point or a "rubble/rock pile" on a flat with rubble/rock piles", or the "tail out on the end of a run" that is special. Last year, it was the rubble pile and the tail out that were best, but even that changes from year to year. Why? I don't really know. Factors do change from year to year making one area more attractive than others for any particular species. The challenge is to eliminate the unproductive and to capitalize on the productive.

B) Shallow limitations

Despite everything I've read one area tends to frustrate those who depend upon their electronics to a great degree – the shallows. There are days when fish will invade the shallows and the main purpose of the depth finder will be to serve as a means of knowing when to lift the motor. In another situation, I've seen often people surprised at how their electronics couldn't pick up the onslaught of marauding walleye in shallow water. The answer here is obvious in that the cone of our electronics in shallow water is relatively small leaving us with only momentary blips before a bite. Very few walleye it seems will come in slowly and will play with you're offering. Even side-finders are limited in shallow water although they are a bit more effective than a view to only the bottom.

Perhaps the important point made her is that on some occasions, electronics will better serve in a "bottom finding" capacity than they will serve as a "fish finders" especially in shallow water.

C) Automatic "off"

Fishing the Red and Winnipeg over the years with electronics has led me to the realization that "automatic" settings are misleading or even erroneous. I've seen even the most expensive "finders" misleading their owners with their automatic setting….. Turning the automatic off and by increasing/decreasing sensitivity and by doing the same with chart speed, gray line etc, I'll get a better idea of what's going on below. Bait fish for example often show up as "fish" when the depth finder is set on automatic. Turning your depth finder to "off" and to manual allows you to see a whole new world. I heard Mark Martin describe it as the "real" world without distractions. A neat way indeed of describing how much information you can glean from a manual signal (supposing you can do this!).

As a first suggestion, I'll often ask clients if they have read their unit's instructions manual. 90% admit to never having spent more than ten minutes with it to get the simplest directions. Secondly I'll suggest that people push their unit to its extremes. Doing this you'll get an idea of where the limits and the peak performance settings are for a given body of water. Sound simple…. Yes, but hard to understand or visualize. My only suggestion to learn more about your unit would be to dive and see what it sees or to use another tool/instrument such as an aqua-vue (both are not feasible in the fall on the Red and Winnipeg rivers due to clarity and water temperatures). However time spent learning what your finder does see in the summer will be time well spent when it comes to working the prior rivers in the Fall.

For those who don't believe what I'm saying, I've only got one story to tell. A good friend of mine whose Bottom Line HR was set to automatic was left on after a day's fishing was showing "fish" on a gravel launch with the boat/transducer about 2 ½ feet above land. When they looked below we saw some larger pebbles and some tuffs of grass! With regards to the latter I've often noticed more interference on the screen when they're making power at Pine Falls or when they're drawing water down on the Red! What are those guys seeing?

D) Adjusting For Suspending Info

The Red can and does on occasion suspend enough particulate to throw off a setting that was good the day or week before. Be prepared to adjust you're electronics on a day-to-day basis for greater accuracy. Both Rivers as I just mentioned carry a lot of trash/suspended particulate/twigs/trees etc. in them. As a result, you can avoid a lot of confusion by realizing that what you see may not always be fish or that your electronics may need to be tweaked to give you the best information.

E) Discoveries

Discoveries happen everyday, but some are more important than others. Using your depth finder on both the Red & Winnipeg Rivers in a logical fashion will up your odds. Continuing to "hypothesize" and "name the unknown" will generally push the prior even further to giving you success. But, it's that rock on a rock or hump on the hump that we'll all find now and again that makes fishing all that much more fun. I'll never forget the day I was getting these great big long arcs beneath my boat and I lowered a jig to see what it was…..well after being nearly spooled many times by many gigantic carp I realized that there are different kinds of "gold" plying the waters of our great rivers

There are lessons to be learned from using your electronics properly anywhere anytime. The Red and Winnipeg rivers are no different than any other waters. They do however call from the user more than just using the automatic setting if you're to really make then work for you.. Getting to know your unit a little more this year might put you on that fish of a lifetime!