Since I wasn't much of an angler until I started fishing out of a kayak in 2008, fishfinders and gps were something I knew of, but didn't understand. It didn't take me long before I had an Eagle, black and white combo unit installed in my Hobie Adventure. Now all I had to do is figure out how to use it. Just being able to use the screens that showed water temperature, speed, and depth was really all I was looking for at first. Understanding how to use sonar was something that I was not really ready for. In 2010 I fished a few tournaments that were on lakes that I had never been on and being able to follow my path back to the launch from my GPS screen was a nice asset to have.
Multiple electornics installed on a Hobie Pro Angler 14
As I became more serious about the sport I started reading about down imaging, and side scan. In the winter on 2010 I started researching which unit would be my next purchase. I had narrowed it down to either a Humminbird or Lowrance with Down Imaging. While working the winter fishing shows, I decided on a Humminbird 788ci HD DI, probably because the salesman I talked to explained the features so well.
Learning the Humminbird after I had finally learned how to use my Eagle (Lowrance) Combo became another challenge. I learned quickly that the reset to factory parameters option would always get you out of trouble. That first year with my Humminbird unit (2011) I learned how to use the down imaging to find structure on lakes that I had never fished before. Setting waypoints and going back to the same spot a day later to pick up on the hotspot was a lot easier than looking for landmarks. I still remember holding an anchor hanging over the bow of an aluminum boat as my grandfather slowly operated the outboard motor, looking for a drop off in a Canadian Shield Lake back in the early 70s.
I have had the luxury of being given different model Humminbird units the past couple of years to see what works best, fishing in a kayak. In 2012 I tried Side Imaging where I mounted the transducer to the bottom of my rudder on the Hobie Adventure. With the 798ci HD SI mounted on the mast hole of the Adventure it was too far away to manipulate and interpret the Side Imaging screen. I also learned that though Down Imaging and Side Imaging are great tools for finding structure and fish, traditional sonar is still important and a great tool. Using a down rigger to troll deep for salmon and trout becomes easy when you can see the ball on your screen. That wouldn't be possible on your DI or SI screen. It is easier to tell the size of the fish on the sonar screen versus the DI or SI screen.
Transducer installed on the rudder of my Hobie Adventure
Over the last couple of years I have marked waypoints that I have gone back to and caught fish. My first outing on my local lake this year I didn't have my way points on my new Humminbird 999ci HD SI and remembered that that they were on my Navionics App on my iPhone. After pedaling to the waypoint I hooked up withing a few minutes. If there is one thing I have learned through the several units I have tried and installed is to mount your Fishfinder close to where you can reach I easily. That is the only way you are going to be able to manipulate and learn how it works. You can't break it when you push the wrong button and as I said earlier the reset to factory defaults is always an option. I mounted my Humminbird 999 right next to my seat and I don't have to reach to manipulate it. In a recent tournament I plotted out a nice drift with waypoints that had me going over the same small area each time I went to back to the top of the drift. This kept me on fish most of the day and probably made the difference of placing high in the tournament.
Between my GPS/FF combo unit, iPhone, and VHF radio I feel very safe when I am out on the water. Even if one of the batteries was to die, I still have back up. Whether you spend $100 or $1000 on Fishfinder, learn how to use it for what it was intended, whether you are monitoring water temperature, finding suspended fish, structure, waypoints, or maintaining a trolling speed. If you have a smart phone, purchase a waterproof bag that will give you the confidence to bring it out on the water with you. It could save your life one day, or carry waypoints on a Navionics APP. VHF radios are great for comunicating and will get you out of trouble if you ever need to call the Coast Guard. Most of the latest models are water proof and float.
There are still people that will use landmarks and like to sight fish. I need all the help I can get and as we get older, relying on your eye site becomes difficult. Do yourself a favor and take some of the guess work and luck out of fishing. Adapt some simple electronics and you may find yourself upgrading soon after.