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No longer just for the big boats, sonar fish finders are now practical for paddle-driven craft and even shore fishermen curious about what’s going on down below. Even those of us who don’t fish will be fascinated by these new toys — er, tools.
Be careful what you spring for, though, because some of the new lineup is mediocre. One of my first electronics jobs was as a sonar technician building fishery sonar for the salmon fleet in the Pacific Northwest. There’s a lot to go wrong with these rigs, and it can still happen even though the package is smaller and neater today. I’ve picked out a few with a solid reputation to review here.
If you like to ice fish you won’t need a canoe of course, but a depth finder can come in really handy and save the trouble of digging test holes until you find deep water and good fishing. Two of these sonars — the simplest — will penetrate thick ice and give accurate readings of water depth from two feet to 200 feet.
Vexilar’s LPS-1’s numerical readout is limited to depth measurements, but since the unit is waterproof to 150 feet the flashlight-sized floating sonar also works for divers, giving echo-location capability in any direction. Currently in short supply on Amazon so buy the Vexilar® LPS-1 Hand-held Digital Sonar Depth Finder while you can.
Similar but with side-scanning fish-finding potential, the NorCross DF2200PX Portable Sonar System meets the same general specs as Vexilar but includes simple fish spotting and water temperature readings. Don’t expect a lot of details, since the NorCross DF2200PX’s fish finding is limited to the display of a fish symbol on the screen when a signal bounces back from above the bottom depth.
The more advanced NorCross HawkEye F33P was a product just a little bit ahead of its time. Though it’s a capable unit, with depth sounding and fish finding ability, you may find it awkward compared to the best available today. The NorCross HawkEye F33P Fish Finder does display fish and fish depth, indicates weed cover at bottom depths, and sounds an alarm when it spots a school of fish. The awkwardness involves the rig itself, since the transducer hangs below a float at the end of a long cable. This hard-wired system may have been state of the art a few years ago, but the new wireless systems outshine it today. Since attaching floats to support the cable is as essential as floating the transducer, working with the NorCross HawkEye can take up too much of your time. On the other hand, it works well considering the limitations of the display, and it may be a real bargain because of the competition from newer models. With some handyman ingenuity you could even mount the transducer to the hull of the boat for sonar without dragging cable.
The best concepts out there at the moment are wireless systems, and amazingly enough their record is pretty good. Floating sonar transducers the size of a bass lure can be trailed on light fishing line or even tied off and cast like fishing lures to probe awkward areas. Use them from shore or from a boat. Readout and control units are only slightly larger than a wristwatch.
The Humminbird SmartCast RF25 attaches directly to your fishing pole for what seems like the most convenient display system possible. Actually, putting the Humminbird SmartCast RF25 Wireless Remote Fish Finder on the rod won’t be the happiest solution for everybody. There’s potential for tangling in fishing line and interference when playing a fish, and from a technician’s point of view the added shock of casting and general banging around can’t be good for the Humminbird.
Humminbird’s wrist-mounted Humminbird RF35 Smartcast makes more practical sense to me. On your left wrist the Humminbird RF35 Smartcast Series FishFinder is there when you need it and out of the way when you don’t, and for the most part the control box is protected from hard shocks.
In case you lose the transducer to a high lure-catching tree limb, lurking snapping turtle or possibly a curious bass or pike, Humminbird sells replacement transducers for a reasonable price. Get ready to throw some more expensive gear in the lake, because this is too cool to pass up. Today March 23, 2010, the Humminbird RF45 Advance Remote Sonar Sensor sells for just under $25 on Amazon. I wish I had stock in Humminbird.