Sportsman’s Corner: Fish finders for dummies

Published: 07-03-2024 5:00 PM

Modified: 07-09-2024 1:48 PM

By Mike Roche

This writer is old enough to remember when the first “fish finders” appeared on the market. The technology that had been used for decades for marine and military purposes was used to create “flashers” that would show images on a screen of the bottom of a body of water and objects suspended in the water below the boat.

Quabbin fishermen were soon equipping their boats with sonar units that indicated the depth of the water and showed fish, which appeared as hook-shaped objects. That information helped fishermen zero in on where fish were suspended. Over time, the technology has been constantly improving and today, the latest units do so much more than just mark fish and the bottom.

Deep water trollers who fish Quabbin, Lake Ontario and most large bodies of water have long found that new developments resulted in clearer images. More recently, bass fishermen, particularly those who fish tournaments which often have big stakes, have driven developments like side sonar, which shows fish well in front of the boat, and mapping which includes nearly all bodies of water in the United States. Screens are incredibly clear, detailed and larger, with 15-inch screens now common. Features allow you to save data, mark places and the detail of some high-end units allows a fisherman to see his lure/bait drop after the cast and he can watch fish approach the bait! That technology is not cheap but what is money when we are talking fishing, right?

That brings us to the reason for me to do all this research on fish finders. When I sold my ProCraft 18-foot aluminum Fish’N Ski “bass boat,” it had served me for over 25 years. The newly-purchased Lowrance Elite 9 unit had been installed just before that last fishing season ended. The plan was to link it to the MotorGuide Xi5 GPS trolling motor and the images and screen quality was impressive and the possibilities endless. But it went with the boat and the replacement 2007 Tahoe Q6 Fish’N Ski had a bow-mounted Lowrance unit that had been original equipment. It marked fish under the stern transducer and provided water surface temperature and speed. When the boat was put in the water this year, the unit would not turn on, so our fishing to trip to Webber Lake in Vassalboro, Maine was “blind.”

My resolve upon return was to replace it and possibly add a second unit, so the research began. My inquiries to the three major companies, Hummingbird, Lowrance and Garmin were asking as a writer about units that were easy to use for a basic fisherman. That excluded the high-end products that serious bass fishermen and tournament competitors use.

This writer was looking for simple. “Fish Finders for Dummies” was what my target audience was. Hummingbird was quick to respond, and they provided links where products could be viewed and included many reviews by fishermen. It was clear to me that this senior citizen really needed to talk to a knowledgeable person and see the units work, so a call to Cabela’s in Berlin, Massachusetts led to my driving to the store to talk to Lou Raddi.

The Cabela’s marine electronics section was a great place to do research. The store has displays of all three of the major brands and most models, and Lou was extremely helpful. His opinion was that all three used the same technology and had similar features. From four-inch to 15-inch screens and so many features that were available at all price points. For me, it was obvious that my days of fishing the big lakes or the ocean are behind me and that a perfect unit for my needs would have be the ability to show the temperature and mark fish. That would not require my seeing fish 100 feet ahead of me, so side sonar was not an option. Today, many fishermen mount the transducer, the unit that sends the signals, on the trolling motor instead of the rear transom so that was a consideration. Lou took me through all three product lines and ran demos that were loaded in each. There was great detail and maps of nearly every body of water (including White Pond) and both coasts but in the end, the choice was a Garmin Striker 4. The unit will be mounted where the Lowrance was and now the work begins!

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My big criticism of Garmin is that they are so big it is hard to communicate with them. When the box was opened and the parts reviewed, the power cable that goes from the unit to the battery is six feet long. The unit is mounted in the bow of the 20-foot Tahoe and the batteries are in the rear. That would require longer wire. As this is being written, two days of emails and a desperate search for a number to talk to a person have gotten me nowhere, as did a search of all three local auto parts stores and Hamshaw’s looking for the right cord. That would be four 16-gauge wires, sheathed. Amazon, of course, did produce a product that seems to be what is needed and once the Independence Day festivities are past, that installation may begin in earnest. All that to catch a few bass!

Mike Roche is a retired teacher who has been involved in conservation and wildlife issues his entire life. He has written the Sportsman’s Corner since 1984 and has served as advisor to the Mahar Fish’N Game Club, counselor and director of the Massachusetts Conservation Camp, former Connecticut Valley District representative on the Massachusetts Fisheries and Wildlife Board, has been a Massachusetts Hunter Education Instructor and is a licensed New York hunting guide. He can be reached at