These are exciting times to be in the market for a sounder or fish finder. For many years fish finder technology had remained virtually unchanged with minor improvements few and far between. Not so today. Sounder technology is now moving along at a blistering rate.
On a recent visit to the Miami International Boat Show I was reminiscing about how excited I was at buying a new fish finder many years ago that actually showed the fish as a red speck on the otherwise black and white screen. Fast-forward to one of a handful of booths at the show with various incarnations of new innovative CHIRP fish finders, and that old fish finder with the red dots is about as archaic as a lead line. The new technology was truly stunning and after seeing the demos and talking with the reps you walk away with a feeling that the fish you are after don’t stand a chance.
Compressed High Intensity Radar Pulse (CHIRP) is available in a wide range of capabilities and prices. This newer technology that gives much higher definition than standard sounders does so by sending out a rapid high intensity array of sound echoes through a range of frequencies, rather than a lower power single pulse at a single frequency. While the science behind it can be a bit complex the result is much higher definition and clarity. Simply put CHIRP allows for greater sensitivity, better target resolution and improved noise rejection, which translates to clearly viewing fish, bait and structure. While this technology was expensive when introduced a few years ago, it was clear at the show that there are now plenty of lower-priced units available – albeit with some limitations over their more expensive brethren such as lower power, less depth capability and limited to one frequency range rather than two or more. Despite their limitations these less expensive but very capable machines can produce images of fish and structure unlike anything seen in that price range before.
New models such as Garmin’s Elite-4 CHIRP series offer all this technology with a four inch color display, standard broadband fish finding (the traditional looking fish finder display that is great for identifying fish) and their DownScan Imaging (excellent for displaying structure) starting in the $200 dollar range. Similar fish finders are available from Garmin with their Echo line and Raymarine’s Dragonfly fish finders. Raymarine is even offering a fish finder the Wi-Fish CHIRP DownVision that sends its information for display out to a smartphone or tablet.
While CHIRP was everywhere at the show there were two standouts that drew crowds with yet more exciting sonar technology. Navico displayed their new ForwardScan technology and Garmin debuted their Panoptix All Seeing Sonar. While side view sonar technology is also growing in popularity both of these systems take it a step further and offer forward-facing sonar.
Garmin’s Panoptix tied to one of their new multifunction displays allows a real-time view of what is in front of the boat when in their LiveVu Forward mode, and under the boat with Panoptix Down mode. Both utilize rectangular transducers (one pointing down for Panoptix Down and one angled forward for the Panoptix Forward). The forward transducer will show you real time moving images of whatever is in the water in front of the boat. A demo showed quite clearly a diver moving towards the boat while confirmed by an underwater video showing the same. The system can be switched to RealVu Forward to then display a forward looking 3D view of the bottom structure and fish. The Panoptix Down transducer in the LiveVu Down mode will display real-time moving sonar images under the boat and can even display echo trails. You can see bait dropping to the bottom and view fish striking the bait, all with echo trails. There is also the RealVu 3D Down mode that scans below the boat both front to back and side to side, drawing an impressive 3D rendering of the bottom that quite clearly shows depressions and structure.
Navico also displayed their new ForwardScan transducer that can work with their SonarHub. This through-hull transducer has a wedge type element at the end of it that faces forward and is able to display structure ahead of the vessel at up to eight times the actual depth. Transmitting and receiving ‘up to ten times faster than other forward looking systems’ this forward scanning system provides a clear image of the bottom in front of the vessel. Designed to run at 180Hz this transducer will not interfere with other transducers on board, allowing simultaneous use for locating hazards and obstructions ahead.
The physics of these forward viewing transducers limits their capability for some vessels as the elements need to be facing forward and thus under hang the hull, creating an impact potential. For smaller vessels the Garmin system is fantastic but it may not be a good fit for larger vessels. The Navico Forward Scan could be used on a larger craft and it can be purchased with a blanking plug that could be switched out if a low hanging transducer element would be threatened.
Limitations aside sounders and fish finders have come a long way in just a few short years and there has never been a better time to be in the market for a new one.
Glenn Hayes is a freelance photographer and writer living in West Central Florida. For more information, visit: www.HayesStudios.com