One size doesn’t fit all

Sometimes smaller electronics are best

Every now and then, as I poke along through life, I’m hit with small blasts of clarity. Usually, it isn’t over anything new, just a clarification of a fuzzy thought that’s been lurking in the back of my mind.

For example, a decade or so back a couple of professional walleye fishermen altered my perspective on fishing equipment from boats to electronics.

I’ve been lucky enough to form lasting friendships with professional tournament anglers, guides and other expert fishermen over the years. These guys have to understand how boats, electronics and other fishing gear fit into the process of catching fish for a living in order to live that life. Manufacturers realize this and sponsor the best teachers among these pros because the rest of us look to them for guidance and tend to emulate them in hopes of enjoying at least some of their fishing success.

These two Minnesota walleye pros — twin brothers Scott and Marty Glorvigen — think this can cause some fishermen to be misled.

We had just been out in a john boat testing one of Lowrance’s newest small color fish finders and were sitting around with our feet up when they hit me with a dose of plain truth. They run glamorous, 20-something-foot boats with maxed-out horsepower because they have to be ready to fish tournaments on any water in any weather.

Who besides a tournament fisherman or a guide really needs to do that? When it comes to fun, the average guy could enjoy all the fun he can stand in a john boat like the one we’d just stepped out of.

The Glorvigen brothers each have a john boat and use them for family fishing, duck hunting and as a perfect vehicle for teaching kids to run and handle a boat.

They worry the fact that nobody is talking about what pros use when they’re just out having fun might steer anglers toward boats much bigger and more expensive than their personal needs require.

I realized the same thing is true where electronics are concerned. Let’s take a look at the newest and most recently updated units from Lowrance and you’ll see what I mean.

Lowrance just announced its all-new HDS Gen3 fishfinder/chart plotter series. These top-of-the-line units come with 7-inch ($1,249), 9-inch ($2,049) and 12-inch ($3,149) screens backed by faster processors, enhanced built-in fish-finder technologies and a menu system that’s even easier to use with both touchscreen and keypad guidance.

“Built-in” fish-finder technologies means you no longer need to interface the units with black boxes to get those photo-like screen pictures from side-looking StructureScan and down-looking DownScan Imaging, or CHIRP-assisted conventional down-looking sonar for better target separation and noise rejection.

And, you have wireless connectivity built in for direct mapping and software downloads, as well as connection with mobile devices.

You get plug-and-play interfacing with Lowrance options like SpotlightScan Sonar, Broadband Radar, SonicHub marine audio, SiriusXM Marine Weather Radio, class B AIS and DSC VHF.

You can also add SmartSteer to run MotorGuide Xi5 trolling motors and the new Lowrance Outboard Pilot to steer your big motor.

Big screens are perfect for big boats where you might be fishing farther away from a screen you need to see. They are also handy when you have different things operating that need to be monitored from different split-screen windows because each screen would still big enough to be interpreted.

Conversely, on smaller boats, big displays mounted on the helm console can actually block important areas of your vision, which can cause unwanted adrenaline dumps while cruising at high boat speeds.

My boat is an 18-footer, big enough to run the large screens but also small enough to get by with the mid-sized and small screens. If I really face facts, the only reason I run the occasional unit with a big 10- or 12-inc screen is because I get to borrow and test them. If I had to buy every unit I run, I’d choose one with no larger than a 9-inch screen.

I’ve been spoiled by the side-looking StructureScan sonar, but if I decided I could get by without it I’d probably choose a model from the next-lower tier of units — in the Lowrance line that would be one from the Elite series. They have built-in CHIRP sonar and DownScan Imaging, they can use more types of cartography than I will use, and they even support the Insight Genesis map-creation service that lets you make your own custom maps.

The biggest difference is the Elite units don’t have an Ethernet port and therefore can’t interface with radar, SpotlightScan Sonar or other plug-in accessories that require Ethernet’s extra bandwidth.

But they do have NMEA 2000 networking capability that allows waypoint sharing among networked plotters, the ability to add an optional temp sensor, Point-1 GPS antenna with heading sensor and a class-B AIS receiver.

The new Elite-9 CHIRP ($1,399) with 9-inch widescreen display and an 83/200 kHz transducer would be my first choice. The screen has plenty of width for multiple display windows. Smaller Elite units are also available with 4-, 5- and 7-inch screens ranging in price from $549 to $769.

If I was looking for a unit to fit a john boat the size of the Glorvigens’, I’d consider one of the new Mark-4 or Elite-4 CHIRP series units.

The Elite-4 CHIRP unit ($299) combines DownScan Imaging with traditional down-looking sonar enhanced with CHIRP’s extra display clarity, has built-in GPS compatible with select Navionics and C-Map charts, and even uses Insight Genesis to let you make and share custom charts.

Some anglers still prefer a black-and-white display over a color screen, and Lowrance has them covered with the Mark-4 CHIRP model ($229) with a monochrome display. Many anglers feel these screens deliver maximum visibility over a wider range of light conditions

If all you want is sonar without GPS and you want it with photo-like display detail, Lowrance now offers the Elite-3x, a color sounder with DownScan Imaging for a suggested retail price of $129.

The bottom line here is that, with few exceptions, you don’t need to buy a unit with a bigger screen to get the features you want. The same feature sets are available throughout all the screen sizes within a model series, and more cutting-edge features are found on lesser-priced series than ever before.

And, as Scott and Marty Glorvigen told me, don’t get so wrapped up in your quest for fishing success that you leave family and fun behind.