Tech Toys 2014

Sophisticated chartplotters, high-definition sonar units and intuitive autopilots are most often associated with blue water fishing and high performance sport fishing vessels capable of crossing expansive stretches of water. However, these essential tools also play a huge role in the success of inshore anglers statewide. Unlike yesteryear’s bulky and super expensive equipment, today’s multifunction displays are compact, affordable and easier to operate than ever before.


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Photo: Navico

Leading electronic manufacturers have clearly taken notice of how popular inshore fishing has become and what an important segment of our industry it really is. Fortunately, they’ve stepped up and answered the call to flat skiff and bay boat owners by designing and introducing all-in-one, self-contained multifunction displays with internal GPS antennas and fish finders built in. Easy to install, compact units may have a small footprint but include a long list of useful features and are an excellent option for both new vessels and refits with limited dash space. With the modern technology comes crystal clear, sunlight viewable split-screen LCD displays, touchscreen capability, side imaging and wireless connectivity. These benefits and more are now a reality for even the most budget conscious inshore and near-shore boaters.

If you are the adventurist type who enjoys exploring unfamiliar territory outside your comfort zone, a digital road map with pinpoint accuracy is absolutely invaluable!

But don’t be under the impression these advanced units are difficult to operate. Although they are indeed jam packed with innovative features, the latest line of incredibly capable MFDs are extremely user friendly and designed to given even the most novice user the ability to navigate like a pro in no time at all. Lets start with chartplotters and discuss some of the advantages digital mapping offers.

Possibly the greatest benefit is the ability to navigate unfamiliar shallows safely and efficiently without the risk of running aground and damaging your craft or fragile environment. Better yet, how about completely eliminating the possibility of getting lost in the maze of islands we call the backcountry. If you fish the same water enough times, you likely know the area like the back of your hand. However, Florida is an awfully big place with lots of exciting fisheries. It is simply impossible for any one angler to know everything about every venue. If you are the adventurist type who enjoys exploring unfamiliar territory outside your comfort zone, a digital road map with pinpoint accuracy is absolutely invaluable!

Modern chartplotters provide users with a plethora of options and information including satellite photo overlay, raster, vector and fishing chart options with 2D, 3D and even 4D views with pan/tilt features. Marina, boat ramp, tide and current data can also be extremely useful, as are hazards to navigation, instrument displays, fluid levels and so much more. Modern, fully customizable chartplotters also enable users to create and save routes to and from productive fishing holes easier than ever before. With the push of a button or touch of the screen you can instantly save and refer back to a multitude of waypoints designating specific potholes, current swept points, channel edges, rockpiles and more. For professional fishing guides, today’s fuel prices and demanding clients mean time is money. When utilized to its full advantage, the latest generation chartplotter will ultimately save you time and help you increase the bottom line.

While a large percentage of inshore fishing takes place in water barely a few feet deep where a fish finder is unnecessary, sonar is still an absolute must for nearly all shallow water enthusiasts. Even if you spend the majority of your time sight fishing in water only knee high, there are plenty of occasions where deciphering what lies beneath is absolutely essential to successful days on the water. Let’s take a closer look at Tampa Bay. This large body of water houses countless small reefs and debris piles not visible to the naked eye in the often stained water. Being able to zero in on these fish attracting habitats and having the ability to read bait and schooling game fish is priceless insight that will greatly enhance your time on the water. At the very least, whether fishing, diving, navigating or anchoring, knowing the depth of water and bottom composition is a major advantage for virtually any boater. Fish finders also reveal water temperature. This key piece of data can put you on a hot bite or send you scrambling for more ideal conditions.

Autopilots in particular are rarely associated with flats skiffs and bay boats, yet today’s sophisticated electric trolling motors offer shallow water boaters many of the same benefits our offshore brethren have at their disposable. Using Minn-Kota’s IPilot, Rhodan’s precision GPS guided trolling motor or MotorGuide’s sophisticated new Xi5, small boat operators can cruise a mangrove shoreline or follow and backtrack a predetermined route from one waypoint to the next. With completely hands free operation, anglers can focus on the real task at hand—catching fish! These units also offer virtual anchors. With the push of a single button on a wireless remote the vessel will maintain heading and position.

Even with modern technology, becoming a successful inshore fisherman requires much more than sophisticated equipment. The fundamentals still reign supreme. Knowing how to read the water and adapt to constantly changing environments are attributes no tech toy can replace. Human intuition, past experiences, on the water observations and an overall knowledge of the fishery and habitat are still key factors. While the newest electronics won’t make you a better angler overnight, sophisticated navigation and fish finding equipment will certainly enhance your experiences and enable you to maximize your time on any body of water. It’s time you embrace change and upgrade to the latest tech toys.

Value And Performance

7-Inch Multifunction Displays Under $1,000

Furuno: GP1870F

If you’re looking for the finest all-in-one color LCD unit available, set a course for your nearest Furuno dealer. The fully integrated GP1870F GPS/chartplotter/fish finder is here! Compact, waterproof and durable, the unit delivers highly accurate data and crystal clear pictures on a 7” wide format, color bonded LCD screen. Fast, powerful and easy to use, the GP1870F incorporates the best of Furuno’s legendary line of chartplotters and adds a whole new set of user-friendly features for small to mid size boaters.

Raymarine: a77

A powerful, go-anywhere navigation unit, Raymarine’s a77 MFD delivers the speed and simplicity of Raymarine technology in a sleek, compact touchscreen display. Swipe, touch and navigate, it’s that simple. Powered by Raymarine’s intuitive LightHouse user interface with super bright LED technology and a sunlight viewable, optically bonded display, the a77 includes a super fast dual core processor and powerful graphics processor. The a77 is packed full of features, and with flexible mounting options available it’s an excellent choice for backcountry boat owners.

Lowrance: Elite-7 Broadband

New for Lowrance is the Elite-7 fish finder/chartplotter combo with LED backlit display. Broadband Sounder™ technology, built-in GPS antenna and high-definition mapping are included and the unit is HDI™ (Hybrid Dual Imaging) ready. A multi-window display lets you choose up to three panels in split-screen mode to view chart, sonar and DownScan Imaging all on one screen. Lowrance’s Elite–7 is a reliable navigation unit that’s easy-to-use and provides exclusive technology overlays that result in stunning views. TrackBack™ through sonar history is also a key feature.

Humminbird: 859ci HD Combo

Humminbrid’s 859ci HD Combo features a super bright LED backlit display. The widescreen provides bright, crystal clear images for easy viewing in harsh sunlight. With DualBeam PLUS™ sonar with SwitchFire™ and 4000 watts PTP power output, the 859ci includes GPS chartplotting with built-in Humminbird ContourXD™ map and Advanced Fishing System capabilities. The 859ci also includes a dual card reader and instant access preset buttons. The advanced sonar includes Screen Snap Shot to Memory Card, Sonar Recording, and Freeze Frame with the ability to mark structure on the sonar screen. You can also observe 3D chart views, a temperature graph and trip log.

Garmin: echoMAP 70s

The echoMAP 70s is an amazing combo unit featuring an intelligent touchscreen display. The unit comes with a worldwide basemap and a user interface that anyone can navigate. Plus, it has multi-touch functions and auto-dimming to enhance screen views. With the integration of a GPS receiver, the 70s refreshes position and heading up to 10 times per second and has proven to be incredibly accurate when marking waypoints and navigating. The echoMAP 70s also allows for sonar recording. This feature coordinates the timing of the sonar return in relation to the boat’s position—so every one of the available 5,000 waypoints will be precise. Included with echoMAP 70s is a dual-beam transducer. It also has wireless connectivity capability.