Sonar and electronic mapping have done more to improve angling success than any other modern innovation. Their incredibly accurate depictions of the lake bottom make it easy for anglers to identify high-potential areas, and to zero in on the day’s most productive hotspots. And though the technology has evolved from simple ﬂashers to sophisticated side-viewing displays, there’s never been an easy way to capture all the information that’s collected during a day on the water and use it to improve future trips.
Unless an angler diligently hand-records pertinent weather, depth and location information into a trip log, he’s usually left with nothing more than a handful of icons on the sonar screen that are of limited value on subsequent trips.
That was the problem Matt Johnson and Mike Lauenstein set out to remedy when they quit their day jobs (as a lawyer and a Microsoft software developer) to spend a couple of years in Lauenstein’s Minneapolis, Minnesota, basement creating Contour Innovations. What emerged is a data-processing system that uses the Internet to store, combine and organize sonar and GPS information, along with details on wind, barometric pressure, air temperature and other weather data—and display it in ways that are useful to ﬁshermen as they plan their next trip.
“It allows ﬁshermen to build their own custom and private, highly-detailed lake maps,” Johnson says. “It also automatically compiles in-depth trip logs that will help them more accurately predict ﬁsh location on future trips—all on their personal computer.”
Electronic Daily Log
The system, called CI Angler, is due to be unveiled this month as a subscription-based add-on service for Lowrance HDS and HDS Gen2 sonar/chartplotter units. To get dialed into the system, a ﬁsherman will simply need a personal account on the system’s website, CIAngler.com, and an empty SD memory card.
The card goes into the sonar unit’s slot (HDS and Gen2 10 and 8 models have two slots; models 7 and 5 have one each), and the unit set to “record” mode. On the water, depth data from the sonar, boat location information from the GPS, water temperature, and waypoints entered by the angler are captured in an SLG ﬁ le on the card.
Back home after the trip, the ﬁ sherman transfers the memory card from his HDS unit to the card reader on his home PC or laptop, logs into his personal CI Angler account and starts an automatic upload process.
Powerful computers at the other end of the connection use the datestamped GPS signals to pinpoint when and where the ﬁshing information was recorded, then add wind and weather data from that area and day to the mix.
The information recorded by the sonar/GPS unit becomes an electronictrip log entry, complete with weather data and a custom bottom contour map that accurately depicts everything the transducer picked up. It’s all stored as an individual ﬁle in the ﬁsherman’s personal CI Angler account. He also has the option to type in additional trip notes—water clarity, stages of vegetation, presentations that worked well, size of ﬁsh caught, and anything else that will help him make decisions the next time he ﬁshes that body of water.
It all means that each time the angler fishes a particular lake, his personal database grows; it contains more information on weather/water conditions, ﬁsh location,successful presentations, as well as a more accurate lake map.
As he plans for an upcoming trip, he can plug in the calendar date, as well as the environmental conditions he expects to encounter during the future trip, into the system. It then pours through all of the trip logs the ﬁsherman has on ﬁle for that body of water and displays those that were recorded on days that closely match the anticipated weather and water conditions.
“Each trip log is stored on the system as a separate private ﬁle,” explains Johnson, “so every time an angler uploads information from a fishing trip, he’s adding to his personal stock of information he can use to identify trends based on season, water temperature, wind direction and other factors. He can readily determine hotspots and tell which lures and presentations worked best in certain situations.”
To get an overall view of a speciﬁc lake, adds Johnson, the ﬁsherman can also merge all personal trip logs from that water body. The processing system retains each individual log, but melds copies of them together into a single ﬁle that includes a contour map based on sonar readings from every trip log.
With enough depth data from individual trips, the custom map will begin to show even more lake-bottom detail—such as small humps and depressions, isolated rockpiles and subtle breaklines—than what’s available on commercial electronic maps.
“The system couldn’t be simpler to use,” says Johnnie Candle, North Dakota ﬁshing guide and former Cabela’s MWC World Walleye Champion. Candle was among a number of top-tier fishermen who field tested the CI Angler system through its developmental stages.
As the owner of Devils Lake Guide Service,he spends countless hours exploring his home waters in North Dakota. And as a competitive angler, he ﬁshes wherever the tournament circuits take him. The only real difference between his prototype version and the ﬁnal product is how raw, on-the-water information was collected. He used a specially-designed device that gathered data by tapping into the sonar/GPS system between the transducer and LCD display unit.
Other than the normal tweaks and improvements made to the software during the testing phase, the system he used is identical to the current version.
“I made it part of my routine,” he says. “After a trip, when I ﬁnished cleaning up the boat, I logged on and connected the data collection device to my computer. When I checked back a couple of hours later, there was an email message telling me the map had been built and was ready for me to view.”
The thing for ﬁshermen to remember, according to Candle, is that repeated use makes the system more valuable.
“The more times you ﬁsh (and make an electronic record of) a spot, the better it is. Pretty soon, you’re going to have a very detailed map.
“I think that ﬁshermen with intermediate skills and above will get the most out of it, though. If a beginner is at the stage where he’s trying to decide whether to ﬁsh the sand or weeds, it could be sensory overload.”
Bob Maindelle, owner of Holding the Line Guide Service out of Salado, Texas, also tested the CI Angler system during its development. Headquartered east of Texas’ Hill Country, Stillhouse Hollow Reservoir and Belton Lake are among Maindelle’s home waters.
“These limestone lakes are deep, clear, fairly infertile and hold little vegetation,” he says,“and the white bass and hybrid striped bass we typically target are almost always on the move looking for shad. Therefore, good electronics and the ability to interpret what they show me are critical.”
Like Candle, he says being able to accurately map deep structure is one way the system provides him an edge. “I can do it two ways,” he says.
“I can go out on the lake and let the Lowrance record data as I ﬁsh, or I can intentionally map an area—say, run a serpentine route up a cove and back. Either way, if you spend four hours collecting data, the map you generate is far more accurate than any other map you can get.
It’s a real-time view of the bottom that helps you ferret out those ‘spotson-the-spot.’ Whether it’s a small hump, or a subtle point that juts out 20 feet from a breakline, you’ve got a place you can return to for a lifetime.”
For even the most diehard weekend anglers, however, the system’s trip log function is even more important.
“I tell clients all the time that the fastest way to become a better ﬁsherman is to learn the lake. That means ﬁshing the same body of water many times under a variety of conditions—and making a record of those trips.
“Wind direction and speed, air temperature and pressure, cloud cover—they all cause the ﬁsh to behave in different ways. Keeping a log that tracks those changes is invaluable. And for the guy who’s limited to occasional ﬁshing trips, knowing where he was successful under similar conditions last week or last year—that’s just going to save him a lot of time.”