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New 3-D Sonar Provides More Than Depth

Modern Humminbird sonar, left, identifies lake depth with a color selection system, while Mega-360 sonar imaging, right, provides a 360-degree view of bottom structure and fish all around the boat. Photo by Forrest Fisher

Fishing gear was simple when many post-World War II baby boomers started fishing in the 50s — rod, reel, line, hooks, sinkers and worms or minnows for bait. Fishing was more about talking and sitting down to watch your line once it was in the water. We mostly fished creeks in my early days, as fishing Lake Erie required a boat and extra cash that nobody had back then. A gallon of gas was 21 cents, and a pack of cigarettes cost even more, about 25 cents. If you were lucky enough to have a job, the median family income annual salary was about $3,000 yearly. You get my point. We’ve come a long way. My dad taught me to find the highest spot on the shore or to look up and down the creek from a bridge to see where the deep holes were located.

“In the heart of summer,” he would say, “we’ll find the fish in the deeper holes.”

Of course, that was the old days of catching smallmouth bass, rock bass and suckers in our local creeks. Not many folks fish our creeks these days; most everyone fishes in the lake from a boat, and boat fishing has changed a lot.

Two weeks ago, I visited the Humminbird sonar factory in Eufaula, Alabama, to tour the facility where about 200 people work.

“Humminbird sonar units are 100 percent made in the USA,” general manager Craig Packard said.

The Humminbird Mega-LIVE downward-, sideward- and forward-imaging sonar provides exact location of bottom structure, number of fish and size of fish. The angler can choose which fish to fish for. Similar sonar is sold by Garmin and Lowrance companies. Photo by Forrest Fisher

I didn’t know that. Dana Pruehs, our tour guide and an active production planning manager, gave us a brief outline of Humminbird’s history, from flasher units in the 50s to sonar imaging today. It was eye-opening for me. From identifying the deep holes in the lake to identifying individual fish wherever they are and using other related gear to hold your boat in position to where the sonar said you should fish from. The sonar units tie in with the Minn Kota electric bow motor that uses GPS to maintain your position without dropping the anchor to disturb the bottom or the fish there — pretty cool stuff. Minn Kota, Humminbird and Cannon (downriggers) are all part of the Johnson Outdoors Company.

The old-time flasher units provided depth in feet, and whoever had one of those was considered “cheating” if you talked about them in a bait and tackle store. Slowly, though, the tide of acceptance changed, and the flasher units became small TV screen units with touch screen controls, and further changed from 2-dimensional sonar to 3-dimensional sonar imaging and more. Humminbird changed the world of catching fish for anglers with its mega-side imaging, which is available in Mega-Live and Mega-360. Mega 360 allows the angler to see 125 feet all the way around the boat (360 degrees) to see structure and fish. Mega-Live is a separate unit that will enable anglers to watch fish on structures that you spotted with the Mega 360 or with side scan from a 2-dimensional unit. The Mega Live imaging allows hand-held controls on a joystick to view trees, rock points, and similar underwater structures with fish, identify the fish, and then zero in by choosing a lure to present to that specific fish you want to catch.

Modern guides use the system by skimming their boat down the lake at medium-high speed using 2-D bottom and side-scan sonar. They spot a form of structure, then slow down, return to that vicinity, and switch to the imaging sonar to zero in on the fish.

“Our modern sonar systems can be networked to control the whole boat,” Pruehs. “Our Solix and Helix systems, combined with our digital map systems from Lakemaster, allow anglers to enjoy a safe boat trip by learning more about the waterway in full color, and the forage and predator fish populations, the bottom structure, and much more.”

I was more than impressed, but secretly, the more I thought about it, the more I was concerned for the fish populations that could now be harvested without mercy.

Setting up a boat control network with the Humminbird Mega tools, bow motor, batteries and all the necessary options will cost about $5,000 on the lean side. Of course, if you needed to have just one of these, the Mega Live imaging sonar, costing about $1,000, would provide more than enough advantage for most anglers to reap the benefits of the new sonar imaging technology. Humminbird has competition from Lowrance and Garmin, and others, as well, that offer similar products.

I fished for crappie the next day with a friend using this new sonar hardware, and we caught our 30-fish daily bag limit (each) in less than three hours from a lake of over 50,000 square acres. On the drive home, my mind drifted back to my dad, reminding me to find those deep holes with binoculars from the bridge. I welcome change, but I’m having cold-sweat dreams about how being too effective might hamper the fishery. We might need new regulations.

Gotta love the outdoors.

June 22: Student Bass Open Tournament, Long Point State Park, 7 a.m. to 2 p.m., $55 entry fee, looking for sponsor help. Info, Dillan LaBarbera, 716-499-7545.

June 22: Teach-Me-To-Fish Clinic, Chestnut Ridge Park Lake, Orchard Park, call NYSDEC at 716-533-4070 or visit www.ecfsc.org.

June 23: Southtowns Walleye Association annual tournament awards ceremony, 5895 Southwestern Blvd., Hamburg. June 28: WNY Heroes Day, Dunkirk Harbor, visit https://wnyheroes.org/, sponsored by Eastern Lake Erie Charter Boat Association, President Jim Steel, 716-481-5348.

June 29-30: Bart’s Cove Walleye Duel-1 (Integrity Walleye Series), Lake Erie walleye tournament, Dunkirk Harbor, two-day/three-fish bag/day, $500 entry, contact Bob Rustowicz, 716-830-6394.

June 29-30: NYS Free Fishing Days, no license required for residents and nonresidents.

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