Fishing & Boating News

Advancement as an Angler

One of the best in the business credits continuing education

by: Joe Balog,

Brent Ehrler blends intuitive angling skill and technical know-how. He says electronics have played a vital part in his success.
Brent Ehrler utilizes Humminbird HELIX 12 CHIRP units with flexible split-screen viewing of LakeMaster mapping, 2D sonar, Side Imaging and Down Imaging to find key spots.
(Apr 25, 2016 - )

“Electronics always play a huge role, at every tournament.” Brent Ehrler was trying to convince me that, despite spending the entire first day of the 2016 Bassmaster fishing shallow, visible targets, electronics were vital to his approach.
 
Ehrler had just completed a fairly tough day of competition; one in which I was his press observer, perched the entire time on the back deck of his Ranger, watching his every move. At first glance, it appeared his approach was somewhat random as he covered massive amounts of shallow water on Oklahoma’s Grand Lake. Ehrler’s focus was on docks and brushpiles; some on points, others in pockets.
 
I quizzed him about his practice strategy, and found his Humminbird Helix 12 units indeed played a key role, despite my initial impressions otherwise. Ehrler, a dominant player on the FLW Tour before moving last year to BASS, is a matter-of-fact type of guy, as his answers reflected.
 
 
The very first step in Ehrler’s practice period was to power on his Hummimbird Helix 12 CHIRP units and check Grand Lake’s water temperature. Before tying on lures - even before opening his rod locker or dropping the Minn Kota - Ehrler was developing strategy for the tournament using his Helix. Water temps were in the mid-40s, dictating his next move.
 
The cold, stained water of spring made things easy for the superstar. As he scrolled around on his Lakemaster chart of Grand Lake, Ehrler first made note of areas in the mid-sections of tributaries where creek channels entered and exited. If such occurred around a section of docks, great.
 
It’s these “bluff ends” that Ehrler is drawn to each spring, regardless of the body of water. The reason: if a tributary, cove or pocket has deep water entering it, such naturally funnels bass from the main lake area as they move to their spawning grounds. Where these deep water haunts intersect shallow areas are key spots to concentrate fishing efforts, as the transition often temporarily stops the bass in their migration.
 
This scenario has presented itself time and again for Ehrler, all over the country. Whether it’s a clear, highland reservoir in the Ozarks, or a muddy reservoir in the deep South, the subtle contour changes, where creek channels intersect shallow areas, are his f
 
To find such, spot-on cartography is just as important as the chartplotter running it. There, Ehrler’s Helix 12 CHIRP units again are vital, as they display the most accurate, up-to-date mapping software available today: Lakemaster.
 
Lakemaster charts were invaluable for the initial stages of Ehrler’s Classic search. “I haven’t bought a paper map in years” the former Forrest Wood Cup champ said. “Wherever the tournament trail takes me, I just scroll around looking at my Lakemaster (chart), and develop my strategy before I launch the boat.”
 
Once on the water, Ehrler travels to his chosen locales via GPS navigation, again on his Helix units, and finds key spots through 2D sonar, Side Imaging and Down Imaging. And, while mapping systems once gave “relative” positions of key lake characteristics and depths just a few years ago, today’s Lakemaster charts are exact, every time.
 
Even if conditions change, the maps now adapt. The Lake Level Offset feature allows users to instantly update Lakemaster charts, given fluctuations in water level.
 

A recent trip on Florida’s St John’s River was a case in point. Heavy summer rains rose the water level four feet, flooding major tracts of lowlands near the river bank. Bass, always ready to take advantage of a feeding situation, flooded the newly impoundment backwoods in their search for insects, frogs and anything else they could gulp up. A quick Lake Level Offset - adding four feet of water to the map - showed newly flooded areas with massive backwater pools. These became key to finding ultra-shallow bass.
 
Ehrler agrees, noting that he has followed the same steps throughout his home state of California, where massive water-level fluctuations due to drought conditions make ordinary maps useless. Through Lake Level Offset, he’s been able to reduce the amount of charted water in many western waters, thus immediately bringing his search for fish up-to-date.
 
Once a recognizable pattern has been revealed, duplicating the scenario often leads to success. Tournament champions like Ehrler match the given set of circumstances relatively easily, leaning on decades of experience, as well as raw talent. For the rest of us, however, recognizing key characteristics is often a bit of guesswork.
 
Humminbird SmartStrike is literally a fisherman’s search engine, combing through Lakemaster charts to develop a daily fishing pattern. The SD-card based program is compatible with ONIX and HELIX 9, 10, and 12 CHIRP units.
 
Seeing this need for advancement, Lakemaster introduced SmartStrike for the Humminbird ONIX, ION and HELIX units. SmartStrike is literally a fisherman’s search engine, combing through Lakemaster charts to help recognize and develop a daily fishing pattern. By entering search parameters such as season, time of day, temperature and fish species, SmartStrike combs map data and reveals likely productive areas before an angler even wets a line. Once a pattern begins to become evident throughout the fishing day, the SmartStrike search can be tweaked to become even more specific. Parameters like exposure to sunlight, currents and bottom substrate - factors often overlooked by anglers - are quickly taken into account. Immediately, the Humminbird fish-finder becomes a computer capable of directing our next move, not unlike many in the every-day world. It’s as simple as highlighting the area where a fish was caught, and allowing the software to find more hot spots.
 
Originally offered as an “add-on” to existing Lakemaster cartography by using a second card, SmartStrike is now built in to lake maps in many regions of the country.  Nearly all Humminbird units are compatible, regardless of price range. The technology is actually derived from Humminbird’s breakthrough Contour Elite PC software. This program allows even further tweaking by combining waypoints from map study with those from real-life encounters, in essence “patterning” an entire lake from home, and then revising the pattern through each days’ fishing experiences.
 
Considering the development of SmartStrike software, Side-, Down- and 360 Imaging, combined with adaptable cartography, perhaps no other facet of fishing has advanced more in recent years. Ehrler is quick to point out that his intimate knowledge of depthfinder technology was vital to his success in the early part of his career, and his continuing study of these new advancements have been crucial in recent years.
 
It’s been noted that competition on the major bass tournament trails is now tougher than ever. Ehrler lives this progression, and relies on the most innovative technologies available to continue to dominate the pro tournament scene.


The split-screen combination of Humminbird Side Imaging and LakeMaster mapping is an efficient way to survey main creek channel areas, bottom transitions and changing depth contours for bait and bass.
Ehrler boxes another fish during the 2016 Bassmaster Classic.