Sometimes bigger and better are separate improvements – Big-screen GPS units allow for greater fishing flexibility

Back when big-screen LCD fish finders started appearing on professional tournament anglers’ boats I discussed them with walleye pros Scott and Marty Glorvigen.

“The first boat I saw with big screens had three 12-inch displays on it,” Scott said, “Just before daylight it was headed for the starting-gun lineup and it looked like a sports bar going by.”

He went on to say that he could read the bottom contour and see fish on the screens from 20 feet away.

The twin brothers, sponsored by Lowrance, were in the process of installing big-screen units on their boats.

So, what’s the big deal about big screens?

First and foremost, the bigger screens make subtle details easier to see. When fish are holding very near the bottom, they can get lost in clutter like brush and weeds, and even in the changing thickness of the bottom indication as you transition between hard and soft bottoms.

Color screens help, but you still have to look closely sometimes to pick out the fish. Looking closely is easier on the magnified image on a big screen, and you can better see detail from farther away from the display.

This was true even back when all we had were monochrome displays showing everything in shades of gray. Long-time walleye pro Gary Parsons and his partner Keith Kavajecz once described winning a tournament in Canada because they had good enough detail on big-enough screens to spot slightly bigger fish.

The walleyes were stuck to the bottom, and the little ones everybody was catching appeared as one short horizontal layer of pixels on top of the bottom indication. Slightly bigger fish appeared as two extra horizontal layers of pixels stacked on the bottom.

The two pros concentrated on the bottom-hugging fish that were two pixels thick and the difference in size was enough to win the tournament.

I’ve seen largemouth bass and even striped bass holding close to the bottom the same way. The new down- and side-scanning sonar features that deliver photo-like screen pictures are much better at defining fish-holding structure and cover, but even their detail is easier to see and evaluate on larger screens.

Bigger screens also benefit those of us with older eyes. I haven’t adapted to senior status as quietly as some, partly because I had 20/15 or 20/20 vision all my younger life. So, I still do a silent mental burn every time I have to dig out my reading glasses to get a better look at a screen. I don’t need the glasses to see detail on a 10- or 12-inch display.

Another obvious big-screen benefit is having room to split the display into multiple windows without over-compressing each picture. In fact, on today’s larger displays each of two, three or four windows remains as large as the entire screen of some smaller units.

Sometimes it’s an extreme tactical advantage to split your screen into a zoomed sonar view further enlarging just the 10 feet of depth holding the fish, a top-to-bottom sonar view so you don’t miss fish that cruise by above or below your zoomed depth window and a GPS view that helps you stay on a waypoint representing fish-holding structure.

I’m sure Humminbird had all this in mind when the decision was made to offer supersized versions of their award-winning Helix 7 with 7-inch screens. New Helix 9, 10 and 12 CHIRP series units have displays that measure 9, 10.1 and 12.1 inches, respectively.

The Helix 9 screen has 800 horizontal and 480 vertical pixels, the Helix 10 is 1024×600 pixels and the flagship Helix 12 CHIRP is 1280×800 pixels.

The new screens offer 1,500 nits of brightness, which should mean good visibility in sunlight — even through sunglasses.

The three units also have side imaging, down imaging and 360 imaging compatibilities. And they are Ethernet-capable, meaning they can share waypoints and real-time scrolling sonar views and are ready for integration with future features that require the data transmission capacity of a broadband network.

The three units are driven by new processors that are 25 percent faster to ensure all these things and more can go on at one time without leaving any pixels behind.

All the new Helix units share an impressive list of features, but the Helix 12 CHIRP unit gets more than just the biggest screen.

The CHIRP designation stands for compressed high-intensity radiated pulse, a technology originally developed for radar. Some brainy folks at Airmar Technology Corporation (makers of sonar transducers and other sensory apparatus for sporting, commercial and military use) apparently had nothing better to do one afternoon and figured out how to adapt the technology for sonar use.

In the world of sonar, high frequencies deliver better detail but less depth penetration, while low frequencies reach deeper but don’t offer as much detail and can be temperamental at high boat speeds. A CHIRP sonar pulse sweeps across a range of frequencies, and then advanced signal processing sorts everything out.

The overall goal is to utilize the best traits of all the included frequencies to provide clear, sharp screen images with superior target separation and reduced interference.

Most major sonar manufacturers now offer models using some form of CHIRP.

Humminbird says the pulses used by its Helix 12 CHIRP unit, along with its advanced digital signal processing, allow it to work at deeper depths while maintaining optimal resolution for target separation and overall detail.

Some CHIRP products only allow fishermen to utilize a pre-defined frequency bandwidth. Humminbird says the Helix 12 not only does this but also allows the user to select multiple bandwidth settings to customize the sonar to their preferences for different fishing applications.

It works with a wide variety of optional transducers and is capable of CHIRPing through frequencies ranging from 28 kHz to 540 kHz.

Depending upon the unit’s version and features, MSRP for Humminbird’s new Helix 9 models ranges from $699.99 to $999.99, the Helix 10 ranges from $999.99 to $1,499.99 and the Helix 12 retails from $1,699.99 to the Helix 12 CHIRP at $2,299.99.

Visit for more information.