Having useful fishing electronics on your boat will help you catch more fish. So you’ve bought yourself a boat and you want to become a decent fisherman. You’ll want to be armed with an arsenal of marine electronics.
Sonar and Global Positioning System (GPS) stand out as the primary weapons of any fisherman. Radar would be the third element in a serious angler’s electronics package, especially if fishing in the darkness or consistently inclement weather or trying to find flocks of birds hovering over schools of fish.
A sonar unit, or fishfinder, would rank as the most critical component of your marine electronics package. They deliver a plethora of features and functions that should help you find the fish. Catching those fish is another matter.
You will become a better angler if you practice finding fish with your eyes, ears, and local knowledge as well as your electronics. For instance, look and listen for swirls and splashes and gaggles of birds scanning the surface for bait. Buy a fishing chart too—doing so will lead you to interesting areas where your fishfinder will tell the true tale.
Sonar, which stands for Sound Navigation and Ranging, was developed in the early 1900s to detect submarines. Sound waves are sent out from a transducer toward the bottom. When the pulse hits a solid object such as a shipwreck, rock piles or a fish, an echo is transmitted back to the transducer and—voila, a mark appears on the screen.
When selecting fishing electronics, the size of your boat, where you intend to fish and the thickness of your wallet will all need to be considered. Smaller boats will likely have minimal space for large screen flush-mounted units. But today’s high-resolution and high-definition screens will deliver a quality picture even in a smaller screen unit. If you have a small boat with limited space for gear and money is a concern stick with a screen size at or under 5-inches. These units will get the job done for you at a reasonable cost.
Most manufacturers still offer machines with black-and-white—more often called monochrome screens—and they work well in providing the basics and sometimes more. This type of unit is perfect for those of us who want to keep our electronics spending to a minimum.
If your budget will allow and you have the mounting space go with a bigger screen. The smaller units will do the trick for inshore, flats, or bass fishing, but you’ll want to turn to the bigger boys for offshore duties. One reason is that you’ll likely be standing in a bigger boat and farther away from the screen, so the display needs to be larger.
Screen resolution is measured in the number of pixels that make up the image. It seems that 240 x 240 pixels should be your starting point—anything lower than that will likely disappoint. Large screen top dollar display pixel counts can go as high as 1280 x 800.
Beyond the Basics
Besides delivering an easily viewable screen and providing the basic information, what else is important in a fishfinder? Ease of use. Make sure all the buttons and controls can be operated without a fuss. Are they intuitive or do their menus make no sense? You want to quickly find the information you need.
Boaters can save space at the helm with a GPS/fishfinder combination unit. Most allow you to split the screen to show the chart on one side and the water column on the other. You can also execute chart-over-sounder displays.
But if you have the space at the helm and the money, separate units are preferable. You can also combine the third major unit of fishing electronics in our group: radar.
For the night-time fisherman, radar can greatly increase the safety of your boating and fishing. Without one, you’re limited to relying on your eyes to track other boats and ships. And eyesight can be a deceiving sense on the water at night, especially in an area with lots of ambient light.
Many offshore aficionados also use high power radar units to find schools of birds tracking tuna schools. Plan on spending some serious money if this is your objective as you will need to spring for at least a 6-kw open array antenna.
Prices for a monochrome fishfinder start as low as $100. You’ll pay over a thousand dollars for a powerful dual frequency unit with a large high-definition screen. If you choose to go with a multi-function display and add a black box sonar and radar to the package expect it to run into multiple thousands or more.
Other basic fishing electronics revolve around safety. You should have a VHF radio, backup handheld VHF radio, a backup GPS and an EPIRB if you are going offshore.