The Akaska Prescription, Straight From ‘Doctor Sonar’
Aug 17th, 2011 by OutdoorsFIRST
Modified Aug 17th, 2011 at 12:43 PM
When Bruce “Doc” Samson launches his Crestliner at the AIM Pro Walleye Series International Championship in September, you can bet that he, along with all other Pros Anglers, will be relying on their electronics to get them to the podium.
Samson is among the most, if not THE most knowledgeable AIM Pro when it comes to turning on and tuning in to what’s happening below their boats.
Known as “Doctor Sonar,” Samson retired from his medical practice in Minnetrista, Minnesota to fish for walleye professionally full-time. When he’s not on the water, he presents seminars across the Midwest on the proper operation of marine electronics, and specifically Lowrance depth sounders. His instructional DVDs run the gamut, from basic operation for beginners to advanced techniques, as well as operating the Lowrance HDS® series of high-definition sonars, and its newest StructureScan™ side-scan models.
Samson and the other AIM Pro Anglers who will be competing on Lake Oahe in September will be bringing all their knowledge to bear to find the points and submerged trees to find walleye on the still-swollen Missouri River, the fourth-largest manmade impoundment in the nation.
The spring run-off resulted in Lake Oahe being seven feet higher than AIM Pros encountered the last time they were here in August 2010. Their knowledge of electronics will be the difference between being in the running and going home after Day Two.
As he prepares for the AIM Championship, Doc has been putting together aerial photos of Oahe from the dry years to help him update his understanding of the lake, and find all the new trees that grew along the exposed shoreline during the drought. He will have them on his boat computer so he can drive right to them to shorten his “hunting time.”
A Passion for Fishing
Samson grew up in North Dakota and cut his teeth on river angling. “Whether it was with creek clubs, river shiners or white suckers, we were always down there fishing. When I got old enough, we’d go to the Red River and catch catfish, too,” Samson recalled. “I was a river fisherman because I couldn’t afford a boat.”
Samson strayed a bit after college, buying a golf cart and clubs before purchasing his first boat after beginning his medical practice. “When I bought that first boat though, the golf ended immediately. I have such a passion for fishing that golf doesn’t compare.”
That passion developed into a desire to fulfill his self-described competitive streak as a Pro Angler. But the learning curve was steep at first, he said. “I couldn’t catch anything, so I studied and still couldn’t. But then I met a guide who also fished walleye tournaments and he taught me about fish behavior,” Samson said. He learned that the basics of walleye behavior do not change much. “I learned what they do in seasonally, how weather affects them and things I just didn’t think of. That changed everything for me.”
“We always wonder why walleye are where they are, when their feeding times are, and there are reasons for that. It’s all probably related to what they eat, and to what the bait fish are eating.” Learn all you can about the fish you’re targeting, he said, and you soon realize that walleyes live differently than other species.
“Walleyes have different patterns in different bodies of water than other species. You can catch them in two feet of water and in 80 feet; in weeds and suspended. They can be anywhere and you have to figure them out. Electronics help me catch more fish. The best Pros are on top of their electronics game as much as they are on telling the difference between a jig bite and a trolling bite.”
“Once you learn how to jig, you know how. With electronics, there is no end. It keeps changing.” That education, which continues to this day, got a boost when Samson entered his first tournament. “I was done after that. I love anything competitive, whether it’s bowling, pool, chess or other sports. I just love the challenge. And once I found out about walleye tournaments, that allowed me to be competitive doing what I love to do, that was it,” he said.
One of his articles on using electronics for walleye, playing off his medical degree, was aptly titled “Doctor Sonar,” by magazine editors, and he liked the nickname so much that he adopted it.
His first piece of electronic equipment was a flasher. “I had to learn that on my own. There wasn’t anyone to teach how to tell a hard bottom from a soft bottom or the size of fish. A flasher isn’t the same quality as we have today, but it worked well,” he said.
Samson began tournament fishing with the MWC in 1986, winning the series championship in his first year. He also has four PWT tournament wins, two PWT Top Qualifier awards, and won the 2002 RCL championship. He was also voted the top PWT teaching pro in 2004, and continues in that capacity today, presenting seminars and making available seven teaching DVDs on his website, hightechfishing.com.
“I lay all credit for those wins to electronics. I won the Devil’s Lake PWT because I had maps, and because of my flasher I was able to stay by some giant boulders.” After that first flasher, Samson stepped up to a paper graph. Then, he said, Lowrance changed everything with the LCX series sonar.
“I got one and was overwhelmed by it. And I learned that I was at first only using a small part of its capability. That winter I plugged it into a battery and opened the manual and did everything it said, learning it thoroughly. Then I thought that others would like to know how to operate them, and that’s when I made my first DVD.”
Samson’s current DVD series focuses on proper boat control, electronics for beginners and advanced users, plus understanding the Lowrance HDS, and Lowrance side scan units, and one DVD focusing on a technique he likes: using a slip bobber. Most of his seminars take place for lucky anglers in North Dakota, Michigan, Wisconsin, South Dakota, Nebraska, Minnesota and Iowa.
His seminars are popular, he said, because most electronics owners don’t put in the effort or the time to learn what the equipment is capable of. “It’s overwhelming for some. Everything is in the manual but many anglers read the first three pages and they’re lost. That’s why I made the DVDs. You can watch as I push every button and explain what they do.”
Sonar: The Short Course
“Learning to effectively operate these units is like learning to operate a home computer. You can’t do it in one day,” he said. “You may learn how to turn it on and maybe set up a split screen to see both the GPS side and the sonar side, and maybe you can learn to make a waypoint, and maybe that’s all you need to do, but there’s a lot more you can do.”
He breaks down the basics of sonar so everyone can understand, starting something like this: Sonar is all about sound and how it reflects off objects in water. “Sound reflects off harder objects differently than softer. It’s picking up changes in density. That’s why if you have turbulence in water, the signal won’t go through as well. How the screen is set up will show that sound reflected as different colors,” Samson said.
After 25 years of fishing professionally, Samson says he still has that passion for both fishing, and teaching others to fish. “I like what I’m doing. It works. And I get to go fishing ‘enough.’ How many—at the end of the day—can say they’ve fished enough? I get to do that now, and that’s priceless.”
Doc Samson and the other AIM Pro Anglers will be put to the test on Lake Oahe for the AIM International Walleye Championship on September 15 to 17 at Akaska, South Dakota. Fans can follow all the action at www.aimfishing.com.