I think something we don’t talk about enough is electronics. It’s because we don’t use them. What good is a fish finder when you’re fishing in 2 feet of crystal clear water from the front of a boat? You’ll see the fish before that transducer will. Most people are on a limited budget, and that top-of-the-line $1,500 fish finder is probably out of economic reach of most recreational inshore fishermen.
The key word there is inshore. If you venture offshore, then investing in a good fish finder makes way more sense. But do you really need to put that much money into it if you stay inshore? It depends on how you fish.
For the average everyday recreational angler, you don’t need a lot of electronics. A GPS, depthfinder and sonar unit is all you need. I would put more emphasis on the GPS screen. You need to learn the Harbor, and having an easily visible map of the Harbor at your fingertips is really handy. You’ll want the ability to add waypoints, and leaving trails is also a great option.
Depthfinding is also an option you want. Now, always knowing the depth isn’t the point. I had a customer that was always looking down at his fish finder. I finally asked what he kept looking at, and he said he was checking the depth. I asked him why and he said, “So I don’t hit any sandbars.” I asked him where his transducer was mounted, and he said it was at the back of the boat. I asked him which end of the boat would hit the sandbar first.
He didn’t understand what I was talking about, so I had him navigate to Gallahger’s Cut and gently place his bow on the beach. I then asked him how deep his depthfinder showed with the front on land. “Eight feet,” he said. He got the point.
The real point is making sure you have enough water to get your flats boat up on plane. I know it takes 1.6 feet of water to get my boat on plane. Nine times out of 10, you can look over the side of your boat to see the depth.
But you may not fish only in shallow water. How about tarpon fishing? You may someday want to tarpon fish in the Harbor and the passes. Side-scan capabilities are, I would say, a necessity for tarpon. I have come to rely on side-scan for tarpon in the Harbor. You will have a lot of people avoid fishing for tarpon in the Harbor when it’s a little windy — mainly because they can’t see tarpon rolling, which makes it hard to find the fish. But when you’re cutting a 300-foot path on both sides of your boat, those tarpon can’t hide. It’s nice to tell the people fishing with you “Tarpon, right side, 60 feet out.”
Specialty mapping chips are also another option some people want when shopping for a fish finder. Most pre-installed maps that come with units today will suffice. If you plan on going to a lot of different places to fish, then you might want to consider an upgrade to the manufacturer’s maps or a Navionics chip. If you plan on going offshore, an upgrade is a good idea so you have more information. But the Harbor has an average depth of 7 feet and hasn’t been geographically sounded in more than 100 years, so it’s really not needed if that’s where you’ll be.
An option you may want to consider is networking. Some of your mid- to high-end machines can do NMEA 2000 networking with sonar, other units, and even your motor. Most newer outboards have NMEA-compliant monitoring, so you can connect your outboard to your fish finder and monitor your engine’s performance. Water pressure, temperature, oil pressure, RPMs and fuel mileage can all be monitored from your unit instead of expensive digital gauges from the engine manufacturer.
But you don’t need to break the bank if those options are needed. I have a $1,200 unit on my boat, and I use about $500 of it. Get what you need and don’t overspend — unless, of course, you just like spending money, in which case get one for me too.
Capt. Cayle Wills owns and operates Bad Fish Charters on Charlotte Harbor. Contact him at 941-916-4538 or Capt.Cayle@ReelBadFish.com. You can also visit him online at ReelBadFish.com or Facebook.com/BadFishCharters.