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With each passing year, society becomes increasingly transfixed on all that is new and unique in the technological world. We cling to our electronic devices as if our livelihood depended on it, and little if any segment of life has yet to feel the effects of this continual modernization.
Fishing itself has seen numerous changes at the hands of unyielding technological progress. Modern sonar and fish/depth finding equipment has reached a level of efficiency that would simply have been unfathomable some twenty years ago.
Just a few decades prior, the advent of primitive sonar units provided anglers with their first glimpse at what lied beneath their boats. While in their day, these units proved to be powerful tools in the hands of studious anglers, they are quite rudimentary by today’s standards. In the present day, the sonar industry’s latest creations are fully capable of providing a television-like depiction of all that takes place below.
From Humble Beginnings
Those who have grown up in fishing’s technological age could hardly fathom what life on the water was like in the early days of fish-finding innovation. In stark contrast to the multitude of highly advanced units found far and wide on store shelves today, much of the industry’s early efforts centered around the modification of primitive flashers, in a bid to gain the greatest possible edge.
“I came up fishing a flasher,” said 2002 Bassmaster Classic Champion, Jay Yelas. “Now it is like night and day. It is kind of like when I grew up, we had the telephone hanging on the wall in the living room at the house, and now we all walk around with smartphones in our pockets. The same thing is true for electronics when fishing. You can now see bass all over the place, you can see the baitfish, and you can see the habitat.”
Much of this innovation that we are the benefactor of today, can be directly traced back to the burgeoning tournament bass fishing scene of the 1970s. It seemed as if anglers from every corner of the nation began to throw their hats into the tournament fishing arena, and with this surge in popularity came a relentless search for anything that would give one a competitive edge.
In time, B.A.S.S. Angler, Tom Mann, began experimenting with flashers and other crude sonar, in an attempt to produce a unit that could be used to a high level of efficiency on any body of water. Alongside his group of investors, known as the Allied Sports Company, Mann toyed with the modification of medical health kits, to minimize interference from the sizable outboard engines which were growing in popularity.
Mann’s strategy proved to be viable, and the company we all know as Humminbird was born. One of their most popular early sonar units was the Super Sixty, which came into high demand rather rapidly. Then in 1984, the Humminbird LCR was introduced, essentially blending the technology of charts and flashers into a single unit.
The LCR became immensely popular with anglers from every walk of life, and created an ever-increasing demand within the fish/depth finding industry. From this demand came further technological advancement, that would drive further innovation in the years to follow.
Next Level Innovation
It could easily be said that we are living in the heyday of fishing sonar. The industry’s latest advancements have provided anglers with a prospective that few could have previously imagined possible. What was once a game of viewing distorted renderings, is now more closely related to watching real-time television-like renderings.
Using sonar solely to locate promising structure, is often thought of as obsolete. Anglers are now able to key in on, and target, specific fish on a brush pile or bridge piling, and watch how they interact with their surroundings. This level of instantaneous feedback, and the insight which it has provided, has allowed everyone from guides and professional anglers to avid weekend fishermen, the opportunity to make more efficient use of their time on the water.
Of today’s most sophisticated sonar units, few have garnered such high levels of praise as the Humminbird 360, and Garmin Livescope. While these units differ somewhat in their means of functionality, they both provide a depth of view far in excess of what many would have ever thought possible in years prior.
While the Humminbird 360 does not provide “live” feedback by definition, it does utilize top-end side-imaging capabilities, to provide anglers with the means to view a 360 degree zone around their boat in great detail. Game fish, baitfish, structure, and bottom contours are easily defined, with the 360.
The 360 also features a 150’ range of detection, and can focus in on a single area as narrow as 10 degrees, for a near instantaneous rate of refresh. Anglers can also select between 4 independent beam speeds when the 360 is in use. The fastest of these speeds provides rapid feedback, with a lower image quality, while slower speeds provide a high rate of definition, but do not refresh as quickly.
One angler who is well known for his use of Humminbird’s 360 technology is 2019 Bassmaster Classic Champion, Ott Defoe. He credits the Humminbird 360 as being a game changing piece of equipment, which he feels gives him an edge when on the water, no matter where he might be.
“The biggest thing on my boat anymore is my Humminbird 360 imaging. It is so impressive to see what is out in front of you when you are fishing. If I could only have one graph on the boat, it would definitely be the 360. That is the one that I couldn’t live without. It is incredible,” said Defoe.
Another outspoken advocate for the use of Humminbird’s 360 technology is legendary angler and two-time Bassmaster Classic Champion, Hank Parker. He has found significant favor in Humminbird’s latest addition to the 360 line, the Mega-360.
“I’m using a Humminbird Mega-360, and it is a mind boggling innovation that is changing fishing completely. Just the other day, I was crappie fishing, and had been fishing a couple of logs where we had caught crappie so many times, but we weren’t getting a bite. I had my front unit set on 2D sonar, and decided to switch it over to 360. Immediately, I saw a giant school of crappie off to my right, away from any structure. We keyed in and caught one on every cast,” said Parker.
Garmin’s Panoptix Livescope is another top-end sonar system which has been making significant waves as of late. Livescope is the only live-scanning sonar available on the recreational market to date, and offers a 200’ range of detection, both in the form of depth and distance. What makes Livescope so unique is its ability to interpret and display images in a way that makes individual fish species distinguishable from one another.
Many anglers also value Livescope for its real-time data transmission. You can watch from your boat as fish in the area school, feed on baitfish, or suspend at various depths. Anglers are also able to view their bait’s presentation on screen, as well as a fish’s reaction to this presentation. Many even relay stories of watching on sonar as they pull a fish from the depths at which they were previously holding.
One angler who speaks highly of Garmin Livescope is 2020 Bassmaster Classic Champion, Hank Cherry. Cherry speaks often of his affinity for Livescope, and the value which it offers to those who seek nothing but pure efficiency when on the water. If you ask Cherry, there are few tools at his disposal more valuable than that of Garmin’s Livescope.
““I’ve got to have my Garmins and that Livescope, because I have gotten to where I can’t fish without it,” says Cherry. “I know that my Livescope is always going to be there. I tell everyone that Livescope has become like my third eye. It is like watching TV. You can literally see everything, and make any necessary adjustments to get and stay on fish.”
Cherry also feels that the use of Garmin’s Livescope technology is nothing short of a must when attempting to track the hot bite that accompanies the shad spawn. “What I have noticed during the shad spawn, when night fishing, is that I can look down these rip-rap points with that Livescope, and be able to tell which points have them and which points don’t. It saves a lot of time when fishing.”
The Electronic Edge
If Tom Mann could see what has become of fishing sonar in the modern era, he himself would likely not believe it. What started out with a little experimentation in a garage, in an attempt to gain a competitive edge, has turned into a multi-million dollar per-year industry.
Gone are the days of simply casting blind at what appears to be a favorable location. Instead, anglers often do not throw a cast without having at first identified that a location is holding fish, and in many cases having preemptively determined the size and quantity of fish which the area is holding.
This is a point that Jay Yelas illustrated quite vividly. “I learned how to fish by searching for a good looking spot with my eyes, and going there to catch a few fish. Today, many guys do not find fish that way. They find fish by just idling around a lake, looking for fish with their electronics. I know a lot of young pros that don’t even make a cast for the first two hours in practice. They just idle around, using nothing more than their electronics to figure out where fish are. Electronics have changed our sport more than anything else,” said Yelas.
Where the future of sonar fish/depth finding technology will head in the years to come is anyone’s guess. But if the past is any indicator, there is nowhere to go but forward. The thought of watching fish in full color, as if they were captured on an underwater camera, seems to be but a small step from where the industry currently finds itself, and not outside of the realm of possibility. Though only time will tell, one can be relatively certain that the sport of fishing will continue to evolve alongside the advent of new and more efficient electronics.