Today’s Lowrance sonar/GPS combos are so powerful, even the entry-level units are waaaay more advanced than what was available just a few years ago before we had GPS, SideScan or DownScan.
Because of that, I cringe a little when asked to justify having four units on my boat. It reminds me somewhat of the time when my son went toy shopping with his grandparents during one of their visits. After his puppy dog eyes compelled them to buy him an expensive LEGO set that was way over their original budget, he had the nerve to ask if they’d buy the companion set as well. Seriously?
Over the past five years, I’ve spent a lot of time with multiple units in my boat, as well as fishing in friends’ boats with a couple of smaller units or in johnboats with a single graph. Long story short, it’s not necessary to have four or more big-screen units to catch fish, and guys without multiple units out-fish me on a routine basis. However, if you’re serious about your fishing and can afford multiple units, there are some significant benefits to those extra screens.
The advantages of having multiple fish finders are pretty obvious. Like watching TV on a big screen or having a large monitor hooked to a computer, you get a bigger picture with multiple screens. While standing at the bow to fish, the screens are much easier to read, as opposed to having to kneel down to get a close-up view. In addition, a larger view of maps reduces the need to zoom in and out constantly. Most importantly, side-image sonar has such high resolution now that the wider it is, the more subtle the details and fish you can see. Redundancy is another big bonus, as you have a built-in backup in case one unit locks up, takes a direct hit from a 1-ounce jig or a wire mysteriously gets disconnected. Finally, multiple units allow you to look at information coming from StructureScan transducers mounted in multiple locations at the same time. Later on, I’ll explain why this is a huge asset.
The following is how I set up my boat to take full advantage of multiple screens, starting at the console: On a Lowrance Gen2 HDS-12 Touch, I have SideScan, DownScan and the Lowrance GPS map. On my second unit, a Lowrance Gen2 HDS-7 Touch, I have traditional sonar and a Navionics GPS topo map. As previously noted, the wider you make SideScan, the more detail you see, so I have this image stretching all the way across my HDS-12. Conversely, width on DownScan shows history, whereas the taller it is, the more detail you get. DownScan is so sharp and clear that fish and structure are readily identifiable, so if I adjust it to about half to two-thirds the height of my HDS-12 screen, I can easily decipher it.
Having two different maps for the same lake is another huge help, whether I’m fishing shallow or deep. Subtle little humps, creek channels and ledges are often shown better on one than the other, and I’m always looking for something that others miss. Furthermore, I like to have one map zoomed in fairly tight to see small details, while I’ll have another zoomed out to help me get the big picture. As for traditional sonar, about the only time I look at it is when I’m on plane, since DownScan and SideScan don’t work then. I only need a small window with regular sonar to make sure I’m not running into a shallow hazard, and to spot any humps and drop-offs that aren’t marked on my maps.
While I’m more focused on navigating and locating fish-holding areas while driving at the console, I set up my electronics differently at the bow to maximize my view for fishing. On an HDS-12 I have DownScan, a Lowrance map and a Navionics map. On a second Lowrance Gen 2 HDS-5 unit, I have a full screen of DownScan, for a grand total of two map windows and two DownScan windows.
The two different maps – one zoomed in and the other zoomed out – offer the same advantages as at the console. The DownScan on my HDS-12 reads off a transducer mounted on my trolling motor, so I get a very precise view of what is directly below me. The DownScan on my HDS-5 reads off the StructureScan transducer at the transom that is also used for my console unit.
Being able to see what is directly below the front and back of my boat at the same time aids both shallow and deep fishing. Whether shallow or deep, following a winding grassline, creek channel or ledge can be tricky, so getting readings from two places at once allows me to stay right on the edge. Out deep, multiple readings help me quickly relocate and get directly over schools or individual fish that are roaming around offshore. Employing techniques such as drop-shotting or spoon-jigging, you can regularly pluck these fish “right off the screen.”
Conspicuously absent from the bow of my boat are traditional sonar and SideScan. Traditional sonar casts a wider signal than DownScan, making it good for locating fish in a general area, but not as precise. So I opt for DownScan at the bow. SideScan is a great scouting tool to find fish, but you need to be moving forward in a straight line for a good picture. Usually, I’m either trying to hold still on a spot, moving very slowly, or weaving in and out when fishing. Thus, SideScan doesn’t work well, although I will add it up front when I’m pre-fishing and flying down a bank quickly to spot isolated brush piles, stumps or grass clumps off to my side.
Depending on how you fish, a different setup might produce better results for you, so customize your displays to fit your needs. In general, the more you fish offshore, the bigger the benefit of multiple screens.
Unfortunately, you might find your spouse and accountant a bit tougher to sell on the idea than my son’s grandparents were on the LEGO set.