I’ve seen these around for years and the price is good, so I bought one at a bargain on Amazon, the SourcingBay Portable Fish Finder. Partly I got this because last year the Indiana DNR sent me an email explaining that they’d cut the limit for the fish I actually fish for to 25 daily, because “advancements in technology” have put a strain on the fishery. Personally I think this is bullshit and the Indiana DNR just thinks it needs to come up with more rules annually. I don’t see anyone else fishing for the bream I usually fish for. They are plentiful, tasty and one of the safest fish to eat even with all the pollution we are seeing today. Twenty five is enough for a day though, cleaning 50 like I used to do keeps me up late. But I did want to know what this new technology was, and although my email question to the DNR about this was ignored, I am thinking that what they were talking about was fish-finding sonar. (Click here for current portable fish finder listings on Amazon, many will be clones of the Sourcingbay version). Also scroll down a bit for photocopies of the owner’s manual for the Sourcingbay Portable Fish Finder.
I have misgivings about any fish finders, and there are many reasons for this. I think the device is mostly redundant if you are a good fisherman and know the lakes and rivers where you fish. If you spend much time there you get a mental picture of what is under the water, where the old treetop lies and where the old river channel begins and where the fish go when the shallow water is too hot. Besides, one of the most effective fish finders is bait. If you throw bait out and nothing bites, probably there aren’t any fish around. Fish aren’t as picky as people think they are. If nothing is biting where you are fishing, you probably ought to move. A fish finder can tell you much the same thing as the fish do.
Well, in spite of this I bought the Sourcingbay version of this generic fish finder, made in China and marketed under many many different brand names. I certainly would not want to spend hundreds for a Hummingbird side-scanning sonar even though they are wonderful instruments and can even give you a 3D scan and a location of a catfish lying on the bottom of a river channel. If you are willing to spend thousands on a bass boat, another few hundred on a fish finder isn’t much, but it will take you forever to make a profit on that deal. I fish for food. If it’s cheaper in the store, I buy it in the store, this isn’t a pissing contest.
In actual use, the Sourcingbay Fish Finder impressed me. Sure, there’s this long long cable attached to the sensor, but they did build this with shore fishermen in mind and in theory you can unravel the cord and do some sort of cowboy lasso throw and toss the sensor out into the lake to see what is there. Well, you do need to tie some floats onto the cable itself if you do this, otherwise the whole thing sinks and you probably will lose the cable and the sensor, but that’s what supports the fishing tackle industry. I guarantee that if you spend twenty dollars for a fishing lure it will disappear on the first cast, and it would probably have caught fish if it hadn’t gone away. So then, you buy another one. It’s a wonderful marketplace.
Since I wanted to keep all parts of the Sourcingbay Fish Finder, I attached the cable to my Shakespeare Durango fishing pole, the longest that I have, and I limited my sonar scans to the pole’s length. Actually that worked really well and made a lot of sense, that’s the range where I catch nearly all the fish I catch.
Immediately the fish finder told me something I did not trust at all. I was fishing on the rocks just below a dam and I expected deep water there. The fish finder said it was .9 meters deep. I thought, that can’t be right. So I stared at the water for awhile and gradually I made out the shapes of rocks on the bottom, in the murky August lake water they hadn’t been obvious. Damn, fish finder was right. I started to wonder why I was there at all, because shallow water in August is not prime fish territory.
Suddenly the Finder yelled Fish! Fish! and a little pixel portrait of a swimming fish danced along the screen. OK, maybe that’s not entirely magic, there were lots of carp swimming around in the warm shallows. But the Finder was excited and I certainly couldn’t argue with it, one of those carps put up a pectoral fin that rose at least a foot above the waterline and then sank back down without a ripple. OK, fish finder, you were right. There’s fish out there. Convinced me that the Fish Finder knows fish. Didn’t help me catch any, to the carp that spot was just a big hot tub.
Whether a fish finder like this one makes sense or not, well, it depends. It’s certainly not essential, fishermen obviously have gotten by without them since forever. Saying that fish finders are essential is like saying that the frontier mountain men needed cell phones. I’d say a fish finder is most helpful if you don’t know the waters you are fishing, because it can detect changes in bottom structure that you can’t see. Yes, it can spot fish, but just spotting them doesn’t mean you can catch them. It is at least encouraging to see little pixelated fish traveling across the screen on a day when your luck has gone to hell. They may actually be fish! and actually they probably are, although with a simple sonar like this one it could also be the top of a weed bed. Such is life. If you are fishing a new place, this can help you learn bottom structure, and that is way more important than phantom images of fish.
I’ve read lots of reviews of this fish finder, many positive and many negative. It is what it is. If it doesn’t work, check the cable connection. If you get that connection wet, it isn’t likely to work. I noticed a setup quirk, that it reverts to meters instead of feet if it powers down, and there’s a trick to setting it to feet. The instructions say to press both setup and enter
buttons simultaneously to change meters to feet. This doesn’t work. Press Setup first and while holding Setup down, press Enter and hold this for a few seconds until the display flashes. Then press Enter to change the mode. For the other settings including battery save mode and fish alarm and sensitivity, just press Setup and hold until the display flashes, then press Enter to change mode. Press Setup again while the display is flashing and you shift to the next option. It isn’t hard, but it also doesn’t stick. Turn the finder off and you revert to basic presets. If you have trouble with meters vs feet, I suggest cutting a stick that is a yard long, and then cutting a stick that is a meter long, and put them side by side and look at them for a minute. Cripes, it’s not rocket science. People also complain that it turns off after five minutes. Well, read the directions. That’s battery saver mode and you can turn it off.
As for the waterproofing issue, well, tough nuts. Should have enough sense to keep a $40 sonar out of the water. Makes sense to waterproof that cable connector, and a little heatshrink tubing with a rubber cement sealant on the edges should make that connection permanently dry. A ziplock baggie with vent slits on the bottom will keep rain off the main console, and probably not overheat the sonar, although you ought to put a rubber band around the spot where the bag surrounds the cable, and don’t leave it in the sun, that’s stupid. Electronic things don’t work well if they are too hot. These preventive maintenance steps are actually possible. In Seattle in the 70’s I worked as a sonar technician for Wesmar, which is probably gone now but at the time was top of the line fishery sonar. None of the Wesmar stuff was waterproof and it went into the cockpits of commercial fishing boats, a lot of our customers were very angry when they were overwhelmed by hurricanes and the sonar didn’t work. Oh well . . . . Ziploc bags are cheap. Ultimately, if you are underwater the guarantee is moot and you have other things to deal with that are more important.
There was one other thing about this that intrigued me, the manual said it won’t work unless stationary. Well, that’s just wrong. It updates every second and it will tell you what it thinks it sees. If you are using the floating sensor option and your boat is moving, the depth readout won’t be right because the sensor is aimed behind you. It will tell you something, but what it says won’t be accurate. The sonar doesn’t care whether it’s moving or not, it just calculates stuff. Mine came with a little plastic bracket that could be used to attach the sonar sensor to the hull of a boat and keep the sensor stable.
Sigh. I pause and think of all the problems this entails. Once I applied for a job at a company that did repairs on fishing boats, and I told them I had worked at Wesmar, thought this would be a good thing. Quickly, the guy turned. “Wesmar?” he said. “There’s people with boats here who buy that crap and expect me to install it! I look at it and say What the Hell? What am I supposed to do with that? It’s like putting a hole in the boat with a plastic cork on it!”
So, even though the sonar company suggests that drilling a couple of holes in your boat’s hull so you can attach this very breakable sensor bracket to it is a good thing, maybe you want to actually realize that you are just putting holes in your boat. It’s better to have a boat with no holes in it, and just go fishing.