Not so long ago, handheld navigation options centered on the humble but reliable compass, while marking and returning to productive fishing areas often involved the art of triangulation. Such tools and methods still work, but recent decades have yielded a wealth of mapping options that put the power of GPS navigation squarely in the palm of your hand. True, you can find plenty of fixed-mount chartplotters, but handheld options offer ultimate portability, along with the ability to bring your mapping unit on a variety of fishing adventures independently of your boat.
In the past few years, the explosion in smartphone and tablet technology has yielded another alternative — mapping apps that transform a mobile device into a handheld plotter. With a few strokes of the touchscreen, you can download apps that reveal contour lines, plot waypoints, and perform a variety of other mapping functions at a fraction of the cost of a dedicated handheld GPS unit. To be fair, however, dedicated mapping units tend to have better satellite reception, a broader suite of features, and longer battery life than phones or tablets. So, depending on where and how you plan to use the mapping unit, it pays to consider all the factors.
Wireless technology adds even more options to the mix. New WiFi products allow amazing networking between base GPS units, smartphones, and tablets. With so many choices, we decided a whirlwind tour of the handheld GPS navigation scene was in order. Following are top options to ponder in your own personal map quest.
- Aqua-Vu WiFi's claim to fame is its ability to wirelessly beam real-time underwater images straight to smartphones and tablets within 100 feet of the transmitter. In essence, this turns these devices in video displays. But the system also has a link to handheld navigation, thanks to its capacity to record footage and link it with GPS coordinates for future reference.
Lowrance Endura Safari
- Lowrance's iFINDER H20 was unquestionably a top pick among handheld mapping units, but its discontinuation leaves a couple of other options within the family, including the Endura Safari. Retailing for less than $300, it offers a 2.7-inch touchscreen optimized for outdoor use, easy-to-navigate menus, high-performance processor, and powerful memory for speedy panning and redraws. It comes preloaded with an advanced basemap of roads, lakes, rivers, and key points of interest, and you can trick it out with a variety of add-on marine mapping options including LakeMaster and Fishing Hot Spots Pro USA products.
- Connect a GoFree WIFI-1 module to your HDS Gen2 or Gen2 Touch unit and build your own wireless network, allowing multiple smartphones and tablets to view GPS data and sonar displays. With a touchscreen tablet, you can even control the functions of a Gen2 Touch. A hit on the big-boat bluewater scene, where GoFree allows users to control GPS from a fly bridge or elsewhere on the vessel without buying a second display, it has small-craft applications as well. First off, anglers anywhere in the boat can check out map and sonar information. Besides keeping everyone in the loop on navigation and the underwater scene, it opens the door to taking screen shots and texting them to buddies, or even posting the images on social media venues. Another plus — you can use a tablet to view dashboard mapping and sonar data from bow or stern fishing positions, without shelling out for an additional display.
Magellan eXplorist 510 Pro Angler Edition
- The eXplorist 510 packs plenty of fishing-friendly navigation into the palm of your hand. The waterproof 510 platform provides highly sensitive GPS reception, accurate positioning, and an easy-to-read display. The unit also blends a user-friendly, 3-inch touchscreen with a pair of customizable hard buttons, making it simple to harness the host of functions and more than 30 navigational data fields. Other cool features include a 3.2 mega-pixel camera, and there's even a microphone and speaker, so you can record geo-referenced images and voice notes to guide future fishing expeditions. In a nod to fishing fans, the Pro Angler Edition is bundled with a Fishing Hot Spots Pro micro SD card that's loaded with detailed information on more than 4,000 lakes and waterways. It's also compatible with Navionics mapping products.
- Navionics' Marine & Lakes: USA was one of my favorite fishing apps, thanks to a host of smart mapping features. In January 2014, the company officially discontinued this app, though it says existing app owners will continue receiving updates. In its place, we have Navionics Boating, which the company promises is the same simple to use app. The only difference is, the app is free, but you pay for chart coverage regions. All of which means the original Marine & Lakes app's benefits, including detailed lake contours, trip planning, route marking, and more, are still available in the new version.
- Smartphones, tablets, and yes, now watches are on the forefront of navigation. Designed for mariners of all stripes, Garmin's Quatix delivers GPS mapping data, plus tidal details, speed, and course information — with alerts for both speed and anchor drag. There's also a built-in barometer and triple-axis electronic compass. Wireless connectivity aids the integration of BlueChart Mobile and HomePort data by allowing the transfer of waypoints, routes, and tracks via Bluetooth Low Energy and USB portals. You can even tap into a compatible Garmin plotter at the helm to steer the vessel with your watch. Word is, the Quatix keeps pretty good time, too.
Trimble GPS Fish
- Billed as an app built for anglers, Trimble's GPS Fish lets you navigate with a digital compass, record tracks, mark waypoints, and build personalized map bundles. You can also check weather forecasts, monitor sun and lunar phases, and create a personal fishing journal that tracks daily catches. It's available in free, Pro and Elite versions, the latter of which offers depth contours for 6,900 U.S. lakes. Trimble also provides an online trip planner to aid in scouting potential honeyholes.
Garmin Montana 600
- Where do we start? The 4-inch, dual-orientation, glove-friendly touchscreen is easy to use, and features exceptional 272 X 480-pixel resolution with trans-reflective TFT LCD for crisp, colorful, detailed map views. The unit sports ample shortcuts, a customizable home-screen, and a handy dashboard, all of which engender ease of use. Other smart features include 3-gig internal memory, pre-loaded Worldwide DEM basemap, lightning-fast satellite acquisition, and the ability to wirelessly share data with other Garmin users. Also features a dual-battery system fueled by either a rechargeable lithium-ion pack or traditional AA batteries. The Montana 600 is compatible with BlueChart g2 and a number of inland map packages covering U.S. and Canadian waters, including the Upper Midwest Fishing Guide. The latter offers detailed coverage of more than 9,500 popular lakes and rivers, 500 of which are covered in extra detail.