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Cutting Through the Clutter – Fishing Sonar

Cutting Through the Clutter – Fishing Sonar

For clarification, this article was written by Lowrance Rep, Evan Roda, and generously submitted to the Max-fishing website. Max-fishing owns the rights to this article but wishes to make sure that Evan is given full credit for its content.

One of the biggest purchases you will make as a fisherman, next to your boat and motor, is your fish-finder. Unfortunately this is also one of the most confusing and sometimes intimidating choices an angler has to make. I have been a Lowrance specialist now for three years, and I still have to study regularly just to keep up with the rapidly growing technology behind today’s Sonar and GPS units. With this article, I hope to clear up any confusions you may have, and ultimately help you make the right choice on your next Lowrance unit.

When a customer comes to me looking for a new fish-finder, the first question I ask them is “What do you need this unit to do for you?” The perfect sonar unit for one angler may be far from perfect for another. Choose the one that fits YOUR needs and your budget best. The three major factors to consider are: power, pixels, and screen size. In addition to these, you must also decide whether you want a monochrome or color unit. Do you want a Single or Dual-Frequency sonar? Are you interested GPS as well? All of these options will affect the price you pay, and there is no reason to pay for features you do not need.

First we must look at what these different features do for you. The “power” a sonar unit puts out is a measure of the electrical energy applied to the transducer by the sonar transmitter. Expressed in watts, the output power of a unit is typically described as “peak-to-peak”. This value is a measurement of the total swing of an AC voltage from its peak negative value to its peak positive value. A base model unit such as the Lowrance X52 transmits 1,500 watts peak-to-peak (188 watts RMS), while the LCX-28C HD boasts up to 8,000 watts peak-to-peak power output (1,000 watts RMS). What does this all mean to YOU? The more output power a sonar unit can transmit, the deeper that unit’s signal can penetrate, and the finer the detail that can be shown. In a heavy cover situation, a low power unit may show you the weed bed, while a higher power unit may also show you the fish hiding within those weeds.

Another major factor to consider is the pixel count of the screen on the sonar unit. Pixels are “picture elements,” or little squares of color that come together to form shapes and images on a liquid crystal display (LCD). The more pixels per square inch, the sharper and more detailed the picture you see. A high resolution screen will give you clearer fish arches, while also allowing you to better distinguish underwater structure. The pixel counts for Sonar and GPS units are represented by vertical and horizontal counts. (i.e.: 480V x 640H) Keep in mind, that the screen size relative to those pixel counts determines how sharp the resolution really is. For instance, the pixel count on the LCX-113C HD is 600V x 800H with a 10.4″ diagonal screen. While this unit’s screen resolution is quite impressive, the new LCX-38C HD has the same incredible pixel count packed into a smaller 8.4″ diagonal screen, giving you an even sharper picture.

With the screen resolution of today’s fish-finders continuing to improve, more and more units are also being made with color displays. Once you have laid eyes on one of these new color screens, you will quickly realize why monochrome sonar units are now following the ill fated Dodo Bird into the history books. The color screens are not only easier to read in direct sunlight, but are also capable of showing you a much more diverse picture of the underwater world beneath you.

When using, a monochrome sonar unit, the best way to judge a fish’s size is to look at how thick and prominent the fish arch is, and does it have a light gray accent, or “Grey Line”. The new state-of-the-art color screens take things 16 dazzling steps farther. With an incredible 16-bit color SolarMax(TM) TFT display, the fish not only stand out better, but also lend themselves to a much easier judgment of size, based off of what color they are. The more intense the color appears on an arch, the larger the actual size of the fish. Small blue fish arches may be bait fry or young bluegill and perch, while bright orange and yellow arches could be six pound smallmouth bass or that trophy mackinaw you have been dreaming about. This scale of color also pertains to your judgment of bottom composition. The thicker the yellow on the bottom signal, the harder the bottom’s composition (white background chart mode – 68% Colorline). Emerging weed beds will show as a blue and purple return, while a large rock pile or road-bed will show as an orange and bright yellow return. These new advances in color display technology now give anglers the ability to quickly determine if the return on his sonar screen is a clump of weeds surrounded by baby bluegill, or a large rock pillar encircled with fat walleye.

If all these different options have not completely overwhelmed you, you now also have to choose a single or dual-frequency sonar unit. These units use either a 200 kHz signal or a combination of 200 kHz and 50 kHz. While trying not to once again totally loose you in frivolous details, let me clear up the major differences between the two frequency options.

Today’s standard single frequency Lowrance sonar units transmit a 200 kHz signal with a twenty degree cone angle. The 200 kHz frequency is very sensitive and will give you highly detailed returns. Single frequency sonar units are ideal for most freshwater applications and perform very well in depths up to 1,000 feet with select models. The rapid absorption rate of the 200 kHz signal in saltwater environments limits the single frequency unit’s depth range and effectiveness for ocean use considerably. Single frequency sonar units are my top recommendation for use in our inland lakes and rivers.

Dual-frequency sonar units operate with both a 200 kHz signal and a 50 kHz signal. These units are ideal for ocean fishing and extreme water depths. The 50 kHz signal has a much slower absorption rate in saltwater and can reach depths to 3,000 feet (915 m) with select models. The signal detail of the 50 kHz frequency is much cruder however, and returns displayed may be harder to distinguish. The cone angles on the dual-frequency transducer are approximately eleven degrees in 200 kHz and thirty three degrees in 50 kHz. This slightly wider cone angle is one major reason why some anglers choose to use these units to track down rigger balls.

The last option you will encounter when buying your new Lowrance unit could also be one of the most useful; the Global Positioning System, or GPS. GPS capable units can provide more than just a map of where you are; they also supply you with many valuable tools to help take your fishing to the next level. With today’s units, you can track your speed, save multiple trolling routes, customize maps with a variety of shapes and symbols, check sun and moon phases, watch for incoming or outgoing tides, compare available boat ramp amenities, and even get phone numbers for local restaurants or hotels. If all this is not enough for you, they can also help you find your way home safely through the fog just in time for dinner.

I have done my best to cover the many options that affect the price you pay, but only YOU can decide which unit fits your needs best. Some boaters only need a basic sonar unit to provide them with depth, water temp, and the occasional fish. Lowrance’s X52 can fill these needs very well, and the $189.00 price tag puts this unit well within reach of most budgets. Serious tournament anglers who need something more substantial should look for a more complete unit, and I would definitely recommend a GPS capable model. One of the best buys in this category, and my personal favorite, is the new LMS-520 C for $649.00. For split screen viewing of both sonar and GPS however, the larger 7 inch or even 10.4 inch screens available on some units are a little easier on the eyes. Select models for 2007 are even compatible with Lowrance’s new LRA Radar arrays, giving you even more features to help keep you safe on the water.

Whichever unit you choose to purchase, just be sure to choose one that fits both your needs, and your budget. There are plenty to pick from, and making the right choice will save you loads of frustration while also providing you with a valuable tool to enhance your angling experience for many years to come. I hope this article has helped you to make a more informed decision on your next Lowrance purchase, and be sure to check in here at Max-Fishing for more informative articles and answers to all your Lowrance questions.

For clarification, this article was written by Evan Roda and submitted to the Max-fishing website. Max-fishing owns the rights to this article but wishes to make sure that Evan is given full credit for its content.