The state of fishing electronics


In 1957, Carl Lowrance utilized technology known as sonar — electronically sending sound waves through water to detect obstacles — which had been developed for use in submarines in World War II.

Lowrance's invention — a small electronic box that flashed instant water depths and possible fish targets — was the start of a technological revolution in angling.

Why, the sonar even indicated if the bottom was hard or soft.

To no one's surprise, the revolution hasn't ended, of course.

In my fishing boat the other day I turned on a state-of-the-art Lowrance 104 unit that combines sonar with GPS and mapping capabilities.

It's the fishing version of shock and awe. On a split-screen as clear as color television, the Lowrance 104 showed the bottom depth, possible fish or bait targets and bottom hardness — and that's just one side of the screen.

On the other side, I zoomed in on an electronic map of Minnesota created by Navionics Inc., an international company that has dozens of Minnesota fishing lake maps on a computer chip smaller than a poker chip.

Let's say, I'm fishing on Mille Lacs. I zoom in on the map, find Mille Lacs and zoom closer until I find the edge of the Seven Mile Flat. I see the shape of a boat. That's me.

I turn the boat and, thanks to GPS (global positioning system) the boat's movements are recorded because the Lowrance 104 is communicating with satellites that are 11,000 miles above the Earth.

A readout of the water depth is also on the screen plus fish marks, if detected by the sonar signal.

So you think fishing is a sport of six-packs and cork bobbers, huh?

Bill Eastwood, national sales manager for Navionics, said the company began assembling freshwater lake data about four years ago, following a 20-year history with electronic chart maps for saltwater navigation.

He said more Minnesota lakes are being mapped every year and the new maps — also developed with GPS technology — are increasingly accurate.

Mike Schnettler, a Minnesota representative for Lowrance, said the marriage of GPS, mapping and sonar technology took off four years ago when the U.S. military ceased scrambling the GPS signal from the satellites in space.

"Keep in mind," Schnettler said, "the lake contours are only as accurate as the mapping data in the computer chip."

Eastwood said Navionics has lake mapping teams scattered around the country mapping new lakes or remapping lakes with inaccurate contours.

"Nationally, we have 1,500 lakes mapped but we expect to have 3,000 a year from now," he said.

What's next in fishing electronics? Recently at the annual International Convention of Allied Sportfishing Trades, or ICAST, in Las Vegas, Darrel Lowrance said the next addition is already underway.

Anglers soon will have immediate weather radar and instant forecasts appear on their electronic fish finder screens.

Down the road, Lowrance said, anglers will find their lake depth screens will appear in 3-D effect to more easily visualize the haunts of fish. After that? Who knows?

At the same Nevada tackle, a new company, Biosonix, reported it soon would market a device that matched the underwater sounds of feeding fish so as to attract fish under an angler's boat.

If so, the old cry of, "Here fishy, fishy, fishy," soon may be obsolete.

Ron Schara may be reached at ron@mnbound.com.

Schara's 250-page book, "Ron Schara's Minnesota Fishing Guide" (Tristan Outdoors; $19.95) is available by clicking here or by calling (888) 755-3155.

July through September 2004, Ron Schara's short feature, "Backroads with Ron & Raven," airs Saturdays on ESPN2 at 7:55 a.m. ET. Click here to view this week's show descriptions.