Choosing ElectronicsChoosing Electronics Confused by the myriad of options available on today's electronic equipment for bass boats? You're not alone.
By Ronald F. Dodson, Ph.D.
There is a wide array of electronic equipment available to bass anglers. Since positioning a boat can be a critical part of many presentations, it seems reasonable to start with trolling motors.
Things have changed greatly over the last few years in what we now have as options on trolling motors. To begin with, weedless props are now standard on most major brands. There are also some unique designs of the heads that also aid in cutting through vegetation.
The issue of thrust, or power, is pretty much on an even playing field since all major brands provide you plenty of push or pull. It is still up to you to make sure you get sufficient power to do the job properly to match your fishing style. If you plan to fish in the wind and heavier waves, you need a much greater margin of power than if you plan to avoid such confrontation. Fishing high waves requires you use a sufficiently long shaft to give you the best chance of avoiding loss of power. This can occur when the motor cavitates between swells.
One major manufacturer, Minn Kota, recommends shaft lengths of 42 inches if the deck of your boat is from 16 to 22 inches from the water line. For boats with a 22- to 28-inch gap between deck and water line they recommend a 48-inch shaft. As per the point made about rough water, you can simply add five inches to the water line measurement.
Brackets are now available that easily handle heavier thrust motors without any problem. However, if you want to get the whole story on a shock absorber or breakaway bracket, ask how it does in stumps.
To get an answer as to the durability of the various products, go to a repair station and see which ones are having shafts replaced or straightened. If you are going to fish stumps you are not always going to hit a stump head on. More often it will be a side blow and a bracket that lets the motor collapse under the boat will reach a point that the shock absorber effect stops.
The Minn Kota folks have upped the ante in design to meet these problems by offering a 360-degree breakaway bracket that reverts to the original position automatically. They have also developed a composite shaft that absorbs impact and survives. Folks in repair shops I have talked to claim not to have had any of these in for repairs.
The choice is yours on foot or hand control, but one of the old concerns about foot controlled motors has been greatly improved. Both MotorGuide and Minn Kota offer steering enhanced models. The Minn Kota version consists of an autopilot that is reported to hold any course within two degrees, correcting for wind, waves, and current. MotorGuide has its space-age version in the laser series that allows wireless direction control from either a special footpad or hand-held control. Trolling motors are a big investment. Shop wisely make sure you get answers to all your questions before you buy.
The other major factor in getting the most functional use from your trolling motor is batteries. If you are going to put in a long day with heavy use, invest in the more and powerful marine batteries.
The second most important electronic device to assist you in bass fishing is a depth finder. The same technology that has allowed widespread use of portable telephones has permitted the reduction of size in liquid crystal units. It has also increased the number of functions available to fishermen.
When purchasing a depth finder you can find everything from cheaper units with limited functions to products with extensive computer capabilities. Fortunately even the lower priced units do a good job of tracking the bottom as well as marking structure and fish.
Relatively recent entries into the market are liquid crystal units as flashers. Both Zercom and Big Foot offer such products. The advantage is the speed of a flasher for real-time readouts without the negatives associated with the original motor driven light flasher. For example, the stress required on the motor to sustain high speed RPM's made a 30-foot unit difficult to maintain. The new liquid crystal units make no noise and the board technology permits the use of variable scales with ease.
Again, you need to select this product with your personal fishing in mind. Choose the model that has the options you require. The ability to add speed, temperature, and a trip log require that you purchase a middle to high-ranged priced depth finder. As you step up in price, with both Humminbird and Lowrance, you also get units with more pixels. These are the little squares that pass along the screen from left to right to build the image. More pixels bring sharper detail to the screen.
Another option, or feature, on the higher dollar units are dual and tri-beam transducers. These allow you to see three to five times what you could see with single crystal transducers.
The companies usually offer suggestions for best positioning of the transducer with an emphasis on placing it outside of the hull. As long as the boat doesn't have a second floor that will work at all but the highest speeds. The position is critical and either a dealer who knows where the transducer should be placed should seat it for you or you will have to move it around until you the find the best read. The transducer can be fixed to the floor with epoxy or you can get adequate function if it is wedged in place and the face is covered with a standard layer of water.
I would like to give one word of caution about the flasher-type of liquid crystal units. There are some emitted frequencies that interfere with reception on liquid crystal graphs. Generally, you will only be able to run one unit at a time. This can be a pain since the flasher gives real-time while the graph gives a series of real-time readings in images on the screen. In other words, they compliment each other. If you invest in both you should be able to expect them to work simultaneously.
By the way, when you pay what even a basic finder costs, make sure it's waterproof. If you see the term water resistant, run. I had one of those creatures and got to where I had to put my rain suit on it instead of myself.
What does the future hold for depth finders? I asked that of Bill Easley, director of western sales for Humminbird.
"Additional refinements in technology will help us continue to add options in the future," said Easley. "The industry is working on forward-looking and forward-scanning models which will use more complex crystal capabilities in the transducers and more processing ability in the units."
Some of this advanced technology combines in one unit depth direction as well as GPS determinant of location such as in the Humminbird NS25. The Global Positioning System (GPS), in combination with a depth finder, offers a powerful tool according to Easley. Anglers will be able to access accurate and rapid location of a desired way point.
One of the problems with past GPS units was the limitation placed on the accuracy you could obtain due to the military degradation of satellite signals. The units receiving scrambled signals would locate within 100 meters or so. Easley indicates that the new units will offer differential GPS, which means data from beacons help to overcome the scramble effect and allow accuracy of location well within 10 meters.
If you plan to purchase a portable unit that operates off a battery, then you should determine if the loss of power means loss acquired data.
While many of the new GPS units are more streamlined with fewer buttons, you are still going to have to commit effort to use them most effectively. Fortunately, these units are improving in function as well as becoming more user friendly due to computer enhanced menus that walk you through the various steps.
The idea of a depth finder/GPS unit has obvious immediate use for bass fishermen in that if you know the level fluctuations in a given lake, you can play off the depth to more quickly get to the general area of a desired way point.
The major electronic accessories those we use today as anglers have become more reliable and offer a wide variety of operation choices. It's still sound advice to ask fellow anglers about the products they're using before making an investment.