I’m not one for being inside. Never have been, really, kind of always preferred time outside doing almost anything over time inside. Yet here, in the icy and dark days of mid-winter, I’m relegated to a higher percentage of my time indoors than during any other month. It’s a situation known to other outdoorsy types as well and the name for the condition is commonly known as cabin fever. For the record, I prefer the term shack nasties.

My best answer to the situation is to travel. Yep, hop a plane to my beloved Florida, tackle in tow and work on procuring some fresh redfish to be blackened and enjoyed with a tasty rum treat. Alas, that is not always a possibility though and this winter is one of those years.

The next best answer is to work on tackle. Given that we run a guide business and film multi-species fishing, my tackle room – known as La Cueva del Fishful – is jammed full of a wide range of gear. There is always something to be done in there, but by this late in the winter most of the heavy lifting has been handled. Typically the new gear we’ll use for the year has been procured, sorted and given a home. Old gear has been serviced and all the gillions of lures and flies have been inspected, tuned, sorted and stowed. Now we more just sit around and fondle tackle, dreaming of the coming open water season. Happily, it’s only about 60 days away.

Of course we do a little ice fishing, some predator hunting and occasionally visit a tailwater stream to scratch the itch, but by and large, I’m relegated to life indoors. So, in an effort to make the next open water season better than the previous, I’ll invest this inside time sitting by the fire and studying.

I’m a firm believer in being a true student of the outdoors. This could range anywhere from studying the biology, physiology or ecology of fish or game, to pouring over maps, aerial photos, Google Earth or whatever system is applicable to locate actual fish in a body of water you know or entirely new places to fish. This second point is commonly how we decide where to film Fishful Thinker TV; pick a spot we know nothing about and figure it out in a single outing. These are some of my favorite shows to film.

One great way to study the sport is to look at what aspect of your game has the most room for improvement. Or, look at areas you may be good at, but that being better at will yield big results. This year, for my personal angling, I decided that merely having high-end electronics in my boats and understanding the fundamentals of using them, is not good enough. Nope, I want to be the master of my electronics because I know unequivocally that it will lead to more fish in my boat. And – this is a big “and” when you fish “on the clock” like we most commonly do – it will allow me to fish more efficiently. We’ll spend less time looking for fish and more time catching them. That sounds pretty good, right?

I’ve run Lowrance sonar and GPS units all my angling life. I know the fundamentals and basic settings and I’m familiar with the menus. Having said that, the units launched in the last couple of years are light years more capable and complex. In that same time, I’ve taken a lax approach to mastering the new technology, mostly taking a “good enough” attitude. I shouldn’t have to tell you that good enough is never a way to excel.

So, while suffering through the throws of winter, I’m studying all things related to the use and interpretation of not only the features of the Lowrance units themselves, but also the data they generate. These days, effectively managing the data alone can be a big advantage.

Our 2014 Ranger boat is equipped with twin HDS9 Gen2 Touch units linked together via an on-board network. That network also supports a StructureScan 3D down and side imaging, SpotlightScan directional 3D imaging, Point 1 GPS antennae, GoFree WiFi to allow the system to communicate with my mobile device, and even SonicHub music management. Yes, I can control my iPod through the HDS units at the bow or console while music plays though speakers built into the consoles. This ain’t your grandpa’s fishin’ boat.

But, it’s all for naught if I don’t master the whole system. Sure, you can just turn it on, use the uber-simple touch screens to handle basic settings and get to fishing, but would that make it worth the money? I think not. This system is capable – deserving even – of so much more, and the best part is that the resources are out there to allow me to fully understand and apply all its power while I wait for the snow to melt. The Internet is a handy tool for such things.

First, I’m working on knowing all the menus, along with what they do, off the top of my head; I don’t want to be on the water searching menus when I could be searching for fish or bait or thermoclines or bottom content changes or structure or cover or, you get the point.

Next, I’m cleaning up all my old waypoints, categorizing and naming them and then assigning specific screen icons for each type of waypoint. For instance, rock piles will have different icons than beaver huts, etc. For the three lakes we guide on, I’m sorting waypoints by water level; the water levels move 30-60 vertical feet annually and waypoints are only good at certain levels, so I’m grouping them in 10 foot intervals and coding them accordingly.

Lastly, I’ll read, watch or otherwise ingest every piece of “how to interpret your sonar” I can dig up. Same thing for tweaks/tricks/tips. I’ll assimilate this new info with my years of experience and by the time we launch the new boat, I’ll have an extremely solid base to start with. A month or so on the water to fine tune myself should do it.

I’m about half way through my process right now and after writing this, I feel pretty good about my use of the winter doldrums. Now I’m really looking forward to thawing lakes because I know for certain that my days on the water will be more successful through not just the basic use of the awesome Lowrance system, but the confidence that comes with mastery.