Electronic navigation and lake mapping aids have seen dramatic advances in recent years. Not long ago, anglers relied on paper maps and triangulating shoreline landmarks to locate prime spots, we now have a host of high-tech tools, capable of not only guiding us back to countless locations, but of observing underwater spots directly and creating maps of them.
On the chartplotting front, manufacturers continue to pack more punch into smaller and more affordable packages. For example, Garmin's latest sonar-GPS combo — the echoMAP 70s — features a 7-inch WVGA touchscreen display with pinch-to-zoom, plus an integrated 10Hz GPS/GLONASS receiver that's able to refresh position and heading up to 10 times per second, which translates into amazing accuracy when hovering over waypoints or navigating. The echoMAP 70s also allows sonar recording, and can coordinate the timing of sonar returns in relation to boat position for extremely precise waypoint plotting.
Lowrance Electronics offers an array of mapping products, including several slick plotters. Among their many features is the TrackBack tool, which lets you scroll back in time on the display, place your cursor on a piece of promising structure or school of fish, then mark it with a GPS breadcrumb for future exploitation.
Such top-shelf technology is not limited to Lowrance's high-end units. The new Elite-5 Hybrid Dual Imaging (HDI) series, which retails for under $700, offers TrackBack, along with a built-in GPS antenna and detailed U.S. map with more than 3,000 lakes and rivers, plus coastal contours to 1,000 feet. Available as a stand-alone plotter or fishfinder-combo unit that blends Broadband Sounder and Downscan Imaging with GPS, the Elite-5 HDI accommodates Lake and Nautic Insight HD and PRO cartography, along with Navionics Gold, HotMaps Premium, Fishing Hotspots PRO, and Jeppesen C-Map Max-N charts. It's also compatible with online Insight Genesis map-making services, which let you create custom, high-resolution maps of contours, bottom hardness, and vegetation from recorded sonar logs — a trend we'll delve into deeper in a moment.
Not to be outdone, Raymarine brings its bluewater GPS technology to inland waters — also for less than seven Benjamins — with its new Dragonfly Sonar/GPS. Beyond a 50-channel GPS sensor and Navionics cartography, this combo plotter offers the down-scanning imagery of the company's big-boat ClearPulse CHIRP sonar, which transmits across a wide spectrum of sonar frequencies with each pulse to produce high-resolution, lifelike sonar images. Other features include two dedicated channels for simultaneously watching traditional sonar views and DownVision images; dual-beam CHIRP transducers — a 60-degree fan beam for DownVision, plus a 25-degree beam for marking fish; and an optically-bonded, backlit 5.7-inch display.
Great maps are only as good as your boat-positioning skills, which makes self-guided systems such as Minn Kota's i-Pilot and MotorGuide's new Pinpoint GPS such handy allies in the quest for fish.
Using built-in GPS, i-Pilot lets you lock onto specific coordinates regardless of current, wind, or waves. The Spot-Lock feature, which works like an electronic anchor to hold your boat in place, fires up the trolling motor if you move over 5 feet off position. Plus, you can record and retrace trolling or casting passes at speeds of your choice with the Record-A-Track option.
The system is constantly evolving, with recent gains including a larger LCD screen and beefed up memory. By far the biggest improvement, introduced in 2013, was i-Pilot Link, which opened the lines of communication between your trolling motor, sonar/GPS unit, and map card. Compatible with Minn Kota Terrova, PowerDrive V2, and select saltwater bowmounts, it works with most Ethernet-equipped Humminbird fishfinders, and LakeMaster digital GPS maps. There are multiple benefits — including the ability to have the trolling motor follow trails created using your own recorded sonar data.
Another handy feature is the Follow The Contour function, which lets you shadow the contour line of your choice. To stay a cast-length off a key depth or the bank, use the Contour Offset setting.
Raising the bar even higher, Humminbird's new trolling motor-mounted Bow 360 sonar — compatible to the i-Pilot system — blends navigational benefits such as an internal GPS receiver with heading sensor, and the ability to mark waypoints anywhere onscreen, with the company's 360 Imaging.
MotorGuide's Pinpoint GPS is another stellar option. Available on the company's new Xi5 wireless trolling motor, it relies on an ultra-precise GPS receiver and control algorithms to keep the boat positioned tightly on target. You can move the boat in 5-foot increments in any direction, plus store up to eight locations in anchor mode. Other features include heading lock, cruise control, and route memory features.
MotorGuide also partnered with Lowrance to create PinpointConnect. Scheduled for a spring 2014 release — it integrates Lowrance HDS Gen2 and Gen2 Touch sonar/chartplotters with the GPS navigation on the MotorGuide Xi5 trolling motor, so you can plot a course, set your speed, maintain a heading, or hold your position from the helm, then step away to fish.
One of my favorite new twists on the navigational front is the rise of personal mapping products. For example, LakeMaster's new AutoChart lets you create detailed hydrographic maps of your favorite fishing holes using Humminbird sonar returns and GPS data.
Simply record sonar logs on the AutoChart Zero Lines SD card (included), which is loaded with the shorelines of more than 2 million lakes. Next, convert your data into a map with AutoChart PC software. Export the map onto the SD card, and display it on any LakeMaster-compatible Humminbird unit.
AutoChart is compatible with LakeMaster's Depth Highlight, Water level Offset, and Shallow Water Highlight features — as well as Minn Kota's i-Pilot Link Follow the Contour feature. An AutoChart Pro version ups the ante, providing bottom hardness and the ability to overlay Side Imaging returns for a three-dimensional view of the bottom.
Another option is Navico's Insight Genesis, a cloud-based system for creating custom contour maps using sonar recordings from Lowrance's Broadband Sounder and Structure- Scan sonar imaging transducers. You can also archive information on aquatic vegetation and bottom hardness. Simply scan the area you want to map, and upload the data to a free Insight Genesis account. After processing the information, the service emails you a link that allows you to view the map. If you like it, you can purchase an encrypted download of it for use on a compatible Lowrance plotter.
Serious mapmakers can purchase a premium Insight Genesis package offering analytical tools and increased contour line control, plus overlays of bottom composition and vegetation. Additional features include depth-shading options, the ability to merge multiple maps into one master chart, plus online storage and management of your mapping library. You can even study your map alongside the sonar recordings that produced it — checking weed heights, monitoring the presence of forage and large fish, and other useful information. Recent upgrades include a privacy option that lets you keep recorded sonar maps to yourself, along with helpful tools that let you import and export waypoints.
Anglers with a hankering for offline structural strategizing have plenty of options, too. Navico's Insight Planner makes it easy to create routes, waypoints, and points of interest on a PC, then transfer data to a Lowrance or Simrad plotter. It's compatible with Lake Insight, Nautic Insight, Insight Genesis, C-MAP, Navionics, and others.
LakeMaster's Contour Elite comes pre-loaded with the company's high-definition lake maps available in packages by state and region. The software lets you search for potential hotspots by fish species and customized criteria. There's also a Similar Area option that, once you highlight a spot on the map, analyzes key attributes, then searches for similar structure.
In the species-specific search mode, which lets you select for different freshwater fish, the program targets criteria based on each species' daily and seasonal movements. Once you find a likely spot, you can check 3-D views of the structure, and mark GPS coordinates of key areas that are transferable to your chartplotter.
In the traditional mapping department, Garmin introduced its most detailed inland cartography yet with LakeVu HD and LakeVu HD Ultra. The LakeVu HD database covers 17,000 U.S. lakes, reservoirs, and rivers — more than 400 of which are detailed in 1-foot contours.
The Ultra version adds Auto Guidance, Dynamic Lake Level, and high-resolution Depth Range Shading features, plus Garmin's popular 3-D MarinerEye and FishEye views. The latter offers an underwater perspective of contours, depths, and drop-offs, providing bonus insights into promising structure.
Add to these products the various apps from sources such as Navionics and C-MAPS, available for smartphones and tablets, and today's mapping options are limited only by our willingness to embrace and study these new technologies.
*Dan Johnson, Harris, Minnesota, is a frequent contributor to In-Fisherman publications and director of All Creation Outdoor Media.
Humminbird LakeMaster AutoChart with Zero Lines SD Card