Tweak Your Sonar For Crappie Fishing

Tweak Your Sonar For Crappie Fishing
Tournament angler Todd Huckabee changes a few factory settings when he gets a new unit. Auto depth range and grayline are the first to go. Photo by Brad Wiegmann.

Finding big schools of large crappie early in the year can be challenging for any angler. The key to cutting down time spent fishing unproductive water is using your sonar units to find where these crappie are. Once located, you can see how they are positioned on cover or structure and catch them.

Crappie fishing guide and successful professional crappie tournament angler Todd Huckabee begins looking for crappie in the spring on the break lines. A break line is where the depth changes, like the edge of a creek channel.


When he gets a new unit, Huckabee right away changes a few manufacturer's settings.

"One setting on the sonar unit I will change from the factory preset on the unit is grayline," he said. "I have my sonar unit set on 80 percent."

But depending on the sonar unit you have, it may be better on a different setting.

"Normally, I won't mess with the sonar unit after its set correctly," said Huckabee.

Another setting that gets junked is the auto depth range. Huckabee will generally keep the boat in 10- to 11-feet of water in the early spring. But that can cause the sonar unit to shift screens from the 10-foot range to 20-foot range.

"It's really hard to watch the screen for crappie bouncing back and forth," said.

To fix this problem and get a better image, Huckabee switches the unit off auto depth range to the manual setting and selects the 15-foot range.

Usually, he leaves the unit on to show a full sonar screen without any other windows opened. True sonar shows more detail in that mode. He also likes having a colored sonar unit because it's a little easier to see.

"In brush piles you can see the number of fish in it," said Huckabee.


Professional crappie tournament angler Dan Dannenmueller relies on his sonar unit especially in the spring to find schools of crappie staging up before moving to the bank to spawn.

"I idle around with my sonar unit on in productive looking feeder creeks or coves looking for underwater brush piles, stump fields, or schools of shad with crappie around them," Dannenmueller said. "My sonar unit with down-imaging allows me to see exactly what's underneath me and how the crappie are positioned on cover or bait."

Dannenmueller looks for a distinct footprint that schools of crappie leave on his sonar.

"You can't guarantee that its crappie showing up on the sonar screen, but crappie make a distinct footprint compared to a catfish or other fish," he said. A "footprint" will appear as multiple bright white images around cover or structure. Often these schools of crappie will be relating to cover, structure, or nomadic schools of shad.

When idling, Dannenmueller will have three separate windows showing on his sonar unit's screen.

"I like to have the down-image screen in the upper left-hand corner, color sonar on the bottom left-hand corner, and side imaging on the right-hand side. This allows me to see everything off to the sides and straight down in one glance," said Dannenmueller who is the 2011 Crappie Masters AOY angler.

Humminbird calls the features Down Imaging and Side Imaging. Lowrance calls their version DownScan and SideScan.

Side imaging, or SideScan, helps find fish around boat docks, in standing timber, or around brush piles even when you are not over them. The benefits are tremendous. For example, before side imaging, anglers could only assume that certain docks had brush piles under them. Now, anglers can turn on their sonar with side imaging and check every dock in a cove and find the one most likely to hold fish.


The Master AOY angler has three presets that he uses when crappie fishing:

  • When he is driving around on plane, his sonar unit will be full screen color sonar. That's because his transducer for the side imaging and down imaging is out of the water so no signal can be seen in that feature.
  • When searching for crappie, Dannemueller will switch the unit to show only side imaging, ranging out to 160 feet.
  • Once Dannenmueller has found a school of crappie, he'll switch over to a split screen between down-imaging and colored sonar. "The larger cone of sonar helps me see more, but down imaging will show me exactly what depth the crappie are at," said Dannenmueller.


Sonar units come in a variety of models that may include color, side imaging, down imaging and GPS. All of these features can help you catch fish, but the GPS is vital for finding break lines on lakes you have never been before.

Both Huckabee and Dannenmueller agree that sonar units are the key to their angling success.

"It's the only reason I am catching so many crappie," said Huckabee. "You can see them suspended on the break line, cast a lure and be successful catching them."

Another key to catching more crappie by utilizing your sonar unit begins with studying the manual that came with it.

If you don't like reading manuals some sonar unit manufactures have online product simulator or built in emulator to learn how to operate the sonar functions. And there's always

Get Your Fish On.

Plan your next fishing and boating adventure here.

Recommended for You


Get Ready for Summer with Cordova Coolers

May 23, 2019

Memorial Day sale offers 15 percent off everything website-wide.


State Records Reported in Maryland, Michigan

G&F Online Staff - May 23, 2019

It must be time for summer fishing because records are falling everywhere.

Fishing How-To

Why You'll Lose Your Next Big Bass

Larry Larsen

Now that you know you might screw it up the next time a big fish bites, let's fix it.

See More Recommendations

Popular Videos

MLF BPT angler and former Classic champ Casey Ashley has been with Costa del Mar sunglasses his whole career. At ICAST 2019, he shows OSG writer Lynn Burkhead some new products and talks how to pick the right lens color for the water.

Mustad's Inkvader Octopus Live Jig

From big fish to small, just about any saltwater game fish out there will love the new Mustad Inkvader Octopus Live Jig that Mustad's Russ Whisler shows to OSG's Lynn Burkhead.

Mustad's New Tungsten Weights

Long known as one of the world's premiere hook makers, Mustad's Reid McKinstry shows OSG's Lynn Burkhead that the company is now one of the leaders in making tungsten terminal tackle products for anglers.

See more Popular Videos

Trending Stories

Other Freshwater

6 Tips for Nighttime Crappie

Keith Sutton - June 19, 2017

Fishing for nighttime crappie gets you out of the summer heat and puts more fish in the...


12 Great Catfish Baits

Jeff Samsel

Dozens of different bait types are commonly used for catfish, including these great options.

Wild Game

10 Memorial Day Recipes for Your Outdoor BBQ Staff

Celebrate the start of summer with great food for your backyard BBQ or picnic with these...

See More Stories

More Walleye

Conservation & Politics

Michigan: Dozens of Walleye Confiscated After Anonymous Tip

G&F Staff

When asked how many walleye they had in the vehicle, the driver said, "Too many.”


Gear 2018: Great New Walleye Rods and Reels

Dan Johnson - July 02, 2018

 Game & Fish Editors look at new walleye rods and reels for 2018. Is it...


How to Hunt Giant Fall Walleyes

Dan Johnson - October 26, 2018

From live bait rigging on breaks and points to jigging river channels and plying shallow water...

See More Walleye

GET THE MAGAZINE Subscribe & Save

Temporary Price Reduction


Give a Gift   |   Subscriber Services


GET THE NEWSLETTER Join the List and Never Miss a Thing.