The future of fish finders is here

By: J.D. Richey Journal Outdoors Editor
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So, with a brand new boat coming, I’ve been shopping around for a new fish finder. It’s been about five years since I purchased my last one… and man, have things changed!
Marine electronics are now like mini computers… super powerful, with all sorts of add-ons like satellite radio, radar and docking stations for iPhones and MP3 players.
I’ve owned several brands in the past — Humminbird, Interphase and Bottom Line, but I always seem to lean towards Lowrance. I think it’s partially a familiarity thing — I know the basic layouts and controls of their units — and I’ve never had any problems with them either.
Plus, I have a friend, Capt. Jack Findleton of Sacramento Sportfishing Guides, who just happens to be the local Lowrance guru. You’ve probably seen the ol’ skipper running the Lowrance classes at the Sacramento International Sportsmen’s Expos over the years (well worth an hour of your time, by the way!).
Anyway, I figured he’d be an excellent resource in helping me pick out a new unit. I get a little overwhelmed with all the technical stuff in the catalogs, so I turned to Capt. Jack for help.
What he was really excited about was the new Lowrance DownScan Imaging (DSI) units. There are several new fish finders in the lineup that feature the DSI stuff and man, does it look cool! Describing it is a bit of a tough chore but let me try.
The DSI (I have no idea how it works) displays almost photo-like views of what’s underwater. Instead of the video game-type look you get on a traditional fish finder, the DSI picture looks very much like an ultrasound. Basically, you see everything down there in amazing detail. No more guessing or interpreting what your graph is telling you.
The images from these units are crazy. Some of the samples I’ve seen show a submerged school bus and you can clearly see the windows and trim on the sides of it. There are also screen shots of trees in which every limb is visible — and all the fish hiding within are revealed. Bridge pilings, brush piles, thermoclines, bottom structure, vegetation and, of course, fish all show up amazingly well.
Findleton said that the DSI units take a little getting used to, but once you do, it’s hard to go back to a regular graph. For example, you’re no longer looking for fish to look like arches on the screen, he says. Instead, they show up more as dots. Some of the units also feature a Side Scan view as well, so you can see what’s abeam of you. Pretty powerful stuff!
Apparently, there are all sorts of ways to tweak the picture, too — different color modes, etc — that you can dial in to make it even more readable. And Capt. Jack explained a feature that allows you to scroll back your screen history, which is something I’ve been wishing I had for many years.
Now, there is one other thing you should know about these units before you rush out and buy one. Apparently, they’re not (yet) super great for deep water.
I told Jack that I fish Tahoe in the summers and he said that as long as I was keeping it to 200 feet or less, I’d be in great shape. No problem there — if I have to fish deeper than 200 feet for anything, I’m probably going to do something else anyway…
So, bottom line is: I ordered one as soon as I got off the phone with the skipper. I know that he’s a no-nonsense, tell it straight to your face kind of guy, so I believed him when he told me I’d love one of these machines. The one I purchased is an Elite DSI 5 (graph and GPS unit).
I’ll report back on how it works out and I’m sure there’s a review forthcoming on as well. For more info on DSI, go to
J.D. Richey is a 1986 Placer High graduate whose outdoors pieces have been published nationally. His column runs Fridays in the Journal.