In the Market for a Fishfinder?
By Justin Hoffman
With so many options and technical lingo, choosing the perfect
fishfinder can become a bit bewildering.
The game of fishing has embraced technology full-steam, turning the
art of finding and catching fish into a modern-day science. Bells
and whistles have replaced the "that spot looks good over there"
mentality, with the fish finder leading the way in terms of
functionality and definite angler advantage. These powerful tools
allow a fisherman the resources to check depth, structure, fish
locations, speed and temperature. Not only that, but marking
productive waypoints and adding safety to your outing is a breeze
with today’s GPS technology. Follow this guide and find out what the
terms mean, and what a fish finder can ultimately do for you.
This past season was a first for me. I finally had
high-quality sonars on the boat. Not only did this open my eyes to
what is truly hidden under the surface of the water, but they also
enabled me to increase my catch rates considerably. My Humminbird
597ci HD and 798ci HD SI worked flawlessly, and definitely made me
regret all of the years I plied the water with inferior finders.
A sonar works by sending out an electronic impulse from the unit to
the transducer. This impulse is transmitted into a sound wave by the
transducer, at which point it is beamed through the water column.
The sound wave will travel downward until it reaches the bottom
structure - at this point it will be bounced back to the receiving
unit. The sound wave will also "travel" through any objects found
between the lake bottom and the surface of the water (fish or
baitfish). When the signal is received, the unit will then make its
interpretations, finally showcasing the results on the screen. These
results will include depth of bottom, any vegetation or structure
found and any fish or baitfish that were located under the boat at
the time of the reading.
The power of a sonar unit is described in Watts. The term
"peak to peak" is used to describe the overall output power of the
transmitter. When dealing with fish finders, the higher the wattage,
the more efficient and powerful the overall unit will be. Low
wattage will ultimately bring you slow readouts, meaning a delayed
reaction for a reading of a spot you have already traveled over.
The bare minimum peak-to-peak power would be 1500 Watts, although
3000 plus Watts is certainly recommended for most anglers. One key
point to remember - the shallower the water you fish, the less power
you will need. For those that fish deep water (such as the Great
Lakes) it is best to choose the most powerful unit that your wallet,
or significant other, will allow.
The number of pixels that a fish finder screen is made up
of is a very important step in deciphering the quality and
performance of the unit. Simply put, a pixel is a dot. The display
screen is made up of a series of many dots, which in turn produce
the "picture" or read out. The more pixels present on a screen, the
better the picture will appear. (As the pixel count goes down, the
more "blocky" or less distinguishable the screen read out will
320 x 240 pixels would be the bare minimum in my books, but
certainly move higher if you are able to. Both of my units feature
640 x 640. The bigger the numbers = improved viewing. You won't
regret it in the long run.
A transducer is the part that sends out sound waves in
order to see what is below the surface of the water. When dealing
with transducers, the most important aspect is cone angle. In
layman's terms, the cone refers to how wide of a beam is sent out
from the bottom of your boat. (It starts out narrow at the
transducer and widens as it gets deeper.) The wider the degree on
the cone, the larger the view of what lies beneath you will receive.
As you move deeper, the coverage will widen and vice versa. Keep in
mind that as cone angles widen, sensitivity begins to diminish in
very deep water.
Transducer cones can be purchased in ranges from 9-degrees upwards
of 60-degrees, with most units falling somewhere between 16 and
20-degrees. In my mind, a cone of 20-degrees is a perfect starting
point for anglers fishing a variety of water depths. Many dual cone
models will come with 20 and 60 degrees.
Frequencies also come into play with transducers. Most will come
with either 50, 192 or 200 kHz, all in direct relation to the cone
angle. The higher the frequency, the better the unit will work in
shallow water conditions.
Another interesting aspect of transducers is the ability to have
more than one cone transmitting from the same starting point. In
other words, the standard transducer will have a single beam. Moving
up the scale, you can then progress to a dual beam, triple beam,
side beam and so forth. What each of these does is cover more water
- a very efficient option to have when scouring the lake for fish.
Some models will come standard with these accessories, while others
will be an upgrade. Again, cost will come into effect for these
pricier, but significant advantages. Dual beams are far superior
over single if your main playing area is relatively shallow water,
as they will cover more of the water effectively.
Side imaging technology is a revolutionary design that can
now allow an angler to see what is to the side of the boat, all from
a bird’s eye view on the screen. Available on select models, these
amazingly clear, picture-like images will showcase every nook and
cranny to the left and right of your craft (240 feet each!), saving
you hours of spent time in comparison to working over the same area
with a regular downward transducer beam.
This function will cut through murky water with ease, showing you
rock piles, humps, and schooling fish you would never have known
that were there. Used in conjunction with a GPS, waypointing
productive looking structure directly on the screen has never been
easier. For tournament anglers or serious fishermen, a side scan is
a definite luxury that can up the catch quota, and learning curve,
Down Imaging / Structure Scan
Using the same technology as side imaging, down imaging “snapshots”
are created with high-frequency sound waves emitted in razor thin
slices, allowing the user to see a 2D view of timber, brush, rocks,
and all other structure directly beneath the boat – all in stunning
and photographic detail.
Another tool to accurately locate fish – and the structure they hide
Color displays can be found everywhere on the electronics
market, and for good reason. Color will allow you a greater screen
definition, making fish and structure literally “pop out” in
different hues - this can often make for easier interpretation and
indentification. I find color screens easier to see in bright light,
and viewing them under dark or cloudy conditions makes them stand
out positively brilliant. And new to the market are HD (high
definition) screens. These realistic units give the same quality and
“pow” that your HD TV does for your home, giving you as a buyer the
best quality and highest realism that can be found. The maps look
beyond life like! Yes, HD does come with a higher price tag, but,
like I equate it to high speed internet and dial up, there’s just no
comparison between the two models.
Black and white still have a place in the fishfinder market, but for
the difference in price, I definitely suggest going at least the
route of color. Saying that, black and white is better than nothing,
so if that’s all your funds will allow at this time, then make the
Screen size is another aspect of your fishfinder that should be
given some thought. Generally, the lower-end units are always
smaller in stature. This works well if it is to be used as a
secondary unit or backup, but for your main electronics, always go
with the largest size you can afford. A bigger screen equates to a
greater viewing surface, meaning structure, digital readouts
(depths, temperature, etc,) and chart plotting will be easier to see
and recognize. The quality will be much better, also. A five-inch
screen is a great starting point to consider.
Temperature, Speed and Distance
Although standard on many units on the market, some
lower-end fish finders will offer these add-ons as options. All have
a place and time, and most are a personal choice in relation to your
particular style of fishing. For those that primarily troll, the
speed and distance feature will certainly improve your creel count.
(You can tell the exact speed you were traveling when a fish strikes
- important stuff for those looking to duplicate their catch.) The
same goes for drift fishing, especially when your targeted species
is picky about how fast they will chase down a bait.
Having a temperature gauge on board is extremely important in my
books, for the sole fact of finding warmer water or helping you
locate the preferred range for fish. This feature works wonders for
me during early season crappie forays, especially when fish are up
spawning in shallow water. It goes without saying that my
temperature gauge helps me locate and key in on these fussy fish.
Both options are mandatory in my eyes.
Portable or Fixed
Anglers have the option or purchasing a fish finder that will be
affixed permanently to their craft, or one that can be taken in and
out of the boat with ease.
For those that rent boats, ice fish or go on fly-in retreats, the
portable option is one to look into. It can be used in a variety of
situations, and the compact size and carrying case make travel a
breeze. They will also perform as proficiently as the fixed models,
with the only difference being their portability.
Fixed fish finders certainly get the nod for boat owners, as they
can be mounted in the exact position they desire, with wires
"hidden" underneath floor boards and bow. The transducer can also be
attached to either the stern, trolling motor, or hull in order for
it to be out of the way and securely held. (Portable units often use
a suction cup for attachment purposes.)
There are even units made specifically for kayaks – for those
anglers that have jumped on this eco-friendly way of fishing.
The GPS Option
GPS, or Global Positioning Systems, use satellites in the
sky to pinpoint your exact location when out on the water. This
feature allows you to mark productive spots (and come back to them
time and time again), find your way back to shore in the case of an
emergency and also map out co-ordinates for your home lake through
the use of mapping software.
Most GPS fish finders are combo units, meaning they have both a
depth sounder as well as a chartplotter. A chartplotter will
showcase your location, superimposed over a map. This allows you to
know your exact location at all times. Entering waypoints is as easy
as pushing a button with these units, and this priceless function
will allow you to mark fish, structure, launch ramps, or anything
else you desire. Once saved, that information can be selected at any
time, and those spots can be revisited, or avoided, during future
visits. (This is an awesome feature for returning to that honey hole
of a mid-lake hump!)
For those that do big water fishing or certainly tournament anglers,
having GPS built into your fish finder will open up a new world of
fishing fun and increased catch rates.
GPS can’t be discussed without a quick word on mapping software.
Navionics rules the roost in this market, and their mapping chips
give your sonar the ultimate in functionality. Chips are available
that will show most lakes in Ontario – with varying degrees of
topography detail depending on the package purchased.
As you can see, fish finders are an important addition to your
fishing arsenal. I can guarantee that they will increase your catch
rates, and in the world of angling, that's what each and every one
of us strives for when out on the water. Have a great season and
happy fish finder shopping!
Check out Justin’s Blog/Website at:
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