"Watch your rods," I called. Almost instantly the two side lines went off.
"Fish on!" cried someone, and by the time fishermen got to the rods and started bringing the fish in, two rods in the stern rod-holders arched as chubby 2-pound bluefish tried to separate me from my lures.
I eased my Catherine M into the deeper water off Love Point as the fishermen fought the fish to the fish box. We reset the lines and I headed the boat back toward the fish.
One of the party came into the cabin and asked how I knew the fish were going to bite. "Simple," says I, "I could see them."
The gentleman took a look at the array of marine electronics I have on my -- and wasn't exactly sure what he was looking for.
"See this thin black line?" I said. "See it go up? Now watch how the area beneath the line turns gray. That means the bottom is hard. And that black blob on the bottom is a school of bluefish."
"Here they come again!" I shouted to the rest of the party just before the rods arched. My pupil didn't wait for more instruction, but ran to a rod and began cranking.
The most important tool we fishermen have is a depth- or fish-finder.
It's our eyes; without it we are blind. However, the best depth-finder is useless if you do not know how to read it, and a poor depth-finder is like wearing a pair of dirty glasses.
For years we were limited to the flasher-type units, which flash a light on a dial if a fish is detected in the sonar signal. The problem with flasher units is that you must watch them all the time and must be able to determine what all the flashes mean.
After a fisherman or charter captain stares into a flasher for six to 10 hours a day for a couple of years, he or she can pretty well figure out what the unit is saying.
But you get out maybe two or three times a month, so you need a unit that is easy to read and understand. I believe I have found such a unit.
The Lowrance X-60 is just about idiot-proof for the electronic klutz who has a problem turning on a light bulb. But it also has a set of sophisticated bells and whistles for anglers who wants to get the most for their electronic buck.
The X-60 has a liquid crystal screen with 200 vertical pixels, giving you a very clear picture. The presentation is graph-like, so you need not stare at the unit constantly to see what is happening. The display is easy to read, so that an angler will know where to drop his or her hook with minimum experience.
Punch the "on" button and the X-60 takes over. The automatic mode tracks from the surface to the bottom regardless of the depth. The depth is displayed in the top left corner, the window spread -- for example, 0 to 60 feet -- is on the right side of the screen with zero at the top and 60 at the bottom. The window changes automatically, depending on the depth.
While in the automatic mode you may zoom in on any portion of the window you wish to examine more closely.
In the manual mode you have the opportunity of setting the range or window, the sensitivity, the zoom, the chart speed and just about any other parameter. You can tailor the presentation.
During our recent abbreviated rockfish season, the X-60 became a most valuable tool to help pick out rockfish hugging the bottom. The unit has the capability to separate two targets 1 inches apart or a fish 1 inches above the bottom; instead of a blob you see individual targets.
The X-60 will also display the water temperature, boat speed and log if you purchase those modules.
One X-60 feature did not excite me, but it is cute. The Fish ID mode identifies reflections that meet certain conditions as fish. It will show little fish, medium-size fish and large fish with symbols that actually look like little fish. As I said, it's cute, but in our Chesapeake -- which is cluttered with bait fish -- it is better to understand what is down there and not what some computer thinks is down there.
I found the X-60 to be reliable, accurate and ready to fish whenever I was. It gives the angler the capability to see and, after a little experience, to understand what is down there. No unit will put the fish on the hook, but the Lowrance X-60 will tell you where to drop yours.
Bob Spore is a Coast Guard-licensed charter boat captain from Pasadena.
His Outdoors column appears every Friday and Sunday in The Anne Arundel County Sun.