3 people in fishing boat casting lines

The Benefits and Limits of Lowrance’s Active Target

I’ve had nearly a full season now of using Lowrance’s Active Target sonar.  This new forward-looking technology has resulted in many catches that would have gone unrealized.  I’m primarily a bass fisherman, but not only have I caught extra bass with it, but I have also caught many more walleyes and crappies.  In many ways, the technology makes a fisherman more efficient with their time on the water by speeding up the time it takes to eliminate water and find fish.  And when they are found, the technology can aid in directing more precise casts to them. Additionally, Active Target will reveal the fishes’ environment more than ever, allowing an angler to bear witness to things previously shrouded in uncertainty.   It will even leave a person in amazement, like the time I watched on the screen several smallmouth at once peel off the bottom signal (15 feet) and have a race to my topwater walking along the surface!  

First, let me explain what the technology is all about.  A transducer is attached to a bow-mounted trolling motor with it pointing in a forward direction.  The signal from the transducer then reads what is forward of the trolling motor, and is then transmitted to a bow-mounted graph for real-time viewing.  This allows an angler to “see” anything out in front of the trolling motor.  And because the transducer is on the trolling motor, the transducer can be pivoted to look in all directions.  But not only is it showing what is in front of the trolling motor, the signal is still able to read directly below the trolling motor.  So in other words, what an angler sees on the graph is a rectangular slice of water (from the bottom to the surface), beginning at the trolling motor and straight below it, out to a distance as determined by auto/manual settings on the graph.  A whole new perspective to angling and added efficiency is the result which of course yields more fish in the boat!

The exact components of Lowrance’s Active target are simple.  In the package, you get a transducer and a rectangular power box, along with the necessary cords to hook it up.  A Lowrancegraph capable of operating the Active Target is purchased separately.  A variety of recent models will work to support the Active Target, consult Lowrance’s website to see exactly which models are compatible.  

So let’s get into the benefits of this technology and how it assists anglers:

1) Brushpiles/stumps/big boulders are easily targeted.  An angler can spot these features before driving the boat over them, thereby avoiding the chance of putting any fish relating to these features on caution.  Plus, casting and hitting these features with a cast is now way easier because the direction and distance of the feature is displayed on the graph.
2) Weedlines are easily targeted.  If the fish are related to a weedline, a fisherman can more easily pinpoint a cast to this edge.
3) Fish can be seen and targeted.  Individual fish can be pinpointed and targeted with a cast.  Plus seeing fish affirms that the proper locations in a lake are being selected.  Not only that, but you have better estimates as to the number of fish on a spot.
4) An angler’s lure can be observed.  This benefit also helps to more accurately fish the features mentioned above.  For example, I can cast a jig to a submerged brushpile and watch the jig descend to it and judge the spatial relationship of the jig to the brushpile.  By observing the lure, an angler can also see fish approach and hit it.  Oftentimes they’ll approach it without striking, which may tip off an angler to make an adjustment in presentation.  In fact, my observations in clear waters have shown that of the bass that do approach a lure, most do not take it!

There are limitations to the technology which are useful to understand.  Knowing these allows an angler to better judge how the unit can help in various situations.

1) The forward-viewing distance is limited in shallow water, especially less than six feet.  In water shallower than this, objects can’t be seen until the boat is too close and the fish relating to whatever object may be spooked.  So in general, an angler will get greater, forward viewing distance as water depth increases.  Personally, if I am fishing shallow water, I don’t even turn the unit on.
2) Objects that are further away from the transducer will blend into the bottom signal.  This goes for fish hugging the bottom (suspended fish a couple feet off the bottom still register) and typical features like boulders, brushpiles, stumps and so on.  As the boat closes the distance with these objects, they will gradually come into more detail and better separate from the bottom. Fish close to the bottom are much better seen directly below the transducer.  At least now you know they are present, but unfortunately they may be on alert with the boat above them.
3) The transducer transmits a very narrow beam, almost like a laser, which has advantages and disadvantages.  I like the narrow beam because it absolutely pinpoints objects, thereby better assisting an angler in casting accuracy.  Plus better detail and definition is seen with a narrow beam.  For example, a fish suspended in the top branches of a brushpile will be more noticeable as a fish instead of just blending into the branches.  However on the down side, it makes it difficult to track a lure.  If the beam is off target of a lure by just a few degrees of rotation of the trolling motor, a lure will not be seen on the screen.  Note that bigger lures are easier to see as compared to smaller lures.  I can still detect tiny crappie jigs, but just not as easy as say a big crankbait.
4) Fish can be seen in sparse cover but not dense cover.  For example, a bass relating to weedy cover can be viewed if it is sparse and there are open areas.  Movement of the bass can help with detection.  But if a bass is buried up in a dense forest of weeds, an angler will not pick it out.  Only the wall of weeds will be seen.  The same principle applies to standing timber and brushpiles.  But remember, fish glued to the bottom always blend into the bottom signal at a distance.
5) It’s difficult to differentiate fish species and size.  I really don’t know if I’m casting to a bass, northern, walleye, or big crappie.  Sometimes the behavior or grouping can tip me off towards a likely candidate.  Regarding size, again this is troublesome.  If it’s a 30 pound carp, yes, I can tell it’s not a bass.  But I cannot tell the difference between a two-pound bass and a four-pound bass.
6) Earlier in this article, I used the term “real-time”, meaning what is seen on the graph corresponds directly to what is happening at that moment.  Well, this isn’t quite true because there is about a second delay.  For example, if I am lifting a jig off the bottom, the graph/monitor will display the lift one second after I actually do it.  Or what happens sometimes is I’ll see a fish rise to a crankbait, but I feel the strike on the rod before the fish on the monitor actually has made contact with the bait on the monitor.  Fortunately this delay is easy to adjust to and isn’t a problem.
7) Be careful, because this technology can trap a fisherman!  It will show you the fish, but a lot of time can be wasted on inactive fish.  I think this happens to everyone who purchases one of these.  Know when to move on!
8) These units are an additional power drain to everything else already hooked up to the boat’s battery.  If you are on the water for lengthy periods and operate several graphs, livewells, radios, etc, consider adding additional battery capacity to your boat.
9) A spot in the boat is needed to mount the power box.  Mine is mounted in the center, dry-storage compartment at the front of my Ranger Z520L.
10) Big waves cause a poor readout on the graph.  When the bow of the boat is bobbing up and down with wave action, what is seen on the graph can be difficult to interpret and follow.  For anyone just beginning with it, make sure the first few trips are in calm waters!
11) Other sonar can create extra noise/interference on the readout.  Myself and other anglers I know, just leave it off. You’ll discover that you don’t even need it when Active Target is on.

Like any tool, whether it’s a hammer or a cellphone or Lowrance’s Active Target, skill level with the use of that tool will improve over time.  Personally, I am much better now as compared to the beginning.  But not only have I improved my use of the technology, I have observed and learned things about fish and their environment that I didn’t know or understand. Some prior notions I’ve had confirmed, while others I’ve had to rethink.  Additionally, to fully benefit (catching more fish) from the technology, keep in mind that it is just as important to understand its limitations.  But even with these limits, the Lowrance Active Target is an awesome tool that can put more fish in the boat!

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