By Luke Clayton, Daily Light contributor

LAKE FORK — Back in the day, the drill for a crappie fishing trip went something like this: Pull up to a tree with limbs above the water, secure the boat, drop minnows down through the limbs and either catch crappie or spend 30 minutes trying and then move on to the next likely spot. Those days are long gone for Lake Fork guide Seth Vanover and other anglers savvy in the use of their “Livescope”, the latest innovation for seeing what’s below the surface of the water.

This past week, my friend Phil Zimmerman and I joined Seth and his son Evan for a few hours of catching crappie in a manner that, just a few years ago, most fishermen would have thought magic.

“The basics of crappie fishing such as water depth, structure to fish, etc. have not changed. I still focus on seasonal patterns, fishing shallow during the spawn and following the fish out to deeper structure with the onset of summer. What has changed is how I actually locate them. I ‘m fishing the same type structures as I did years ago, at the same times of year, but now with the use of my Livescope, I can actually see below the surface of the water; I can actually see individual fish and drop my baits right on the nose of the fish I am targeting.” says Vanover.

Seth studied a waypoint he had marked on GPS and as the boat approached the submerged brush pile, he began studying the screen of the Livescope.

“This brush is literally covered up with crappie, look at those two big ones hanging just about that limb that is 16 feet deep and 7 feet out from the nose of the boat. Let’s see if one of these gals might be hungry. “

Watching the screen, we could see Seth’s one-eight ounce blue and white jig falling vertically toward the fish. Keeping close eye on the jig and the targeted fish on the screen, he paused the jig a foot above the two big crappie and then dropped it down right in front of the nose of one of them.

It was a whole new experience to watch a fish actually strike a bait below the surface via the screen, rather than watch the rod tip. The big crappie, probably weighing 2 pounds, grabbed the bait and was jerking the rod tip down, all it occured faster than my mind could comprehend. The entire event was crystal clear, in real time on the screen. Seth, who has witnessed this occurrence thousands of times, popped the rod tip up and was hooked solidly to a fish he had targeted on sonar.

During the course of the morning, this scenario played out many times and I won’t kid you, It took me a fish or two to get my brain and hook set working together, if this makes any sense to you!

After I learned how to put the bait right in front of the fishes nose, I became become totally absorbed in what was occurring on the screen, forgetting I held in my hands, the key to actually catching the fish, the rod. Rather than waiting for that twitch on the rod when the fish actually struck the jig, I made the mistake of attempting to make the hook set the instance I saw the fish moving to my bait. Seth, who has introduced many to just how lethal the Livescope is in catching crappie, says this is a common mistake with folks learning the new technology.

“The screen will tell you when the fish is making a move on the bait and, when it actually picks it up. When you see this, forget the screen and become tuned in to what you feel on the rod. The bite usually occurs in mock speed, when a fish actually grabs your bait, and if you don’t pull back the instant he pulls down, you probably won’t catch it.”

A sensitive rod that will tell-tell the sometime subtle bite of a crappie is a must. We were using two rods of two different lengths, both Wally Marshall Pro Series. The 12 foot model worked best when precisely dropping the bait to a particular fish being targeted and the 5 foot model for casting. The added length of the 12 footer made it much easier to maneuver the jig so that it would fall vertically, which helps to avoid hang ups. The shorter rod was used when we were pitching jigs to fish a bit farther out but still visible on the Livescope’s screen.

Yes, technology has taken catching fish to a whole new level. I remember well years ago using an old iron window weight and a rope marked with electrical tape in one foot increments to determine dept,and then the flasher units, paper graphs, LCD graphs, etc. When each of the new advancements in sonar came out, I thought, ‘It just can’t get any better than this”. Well, with the Livescope, it just got better, a whole lot better. What could possibly be better than actually watching a fish take your bait below the water’s surface. Give the engineers a couple more years, we will see!

Contact guide Seth Vanover online at or 903-736-4557.

Contact outdoors writer Luke Clayton at