April 29, 2015
My first fishing boat was a homemade Huck Finn-style raft cobbled together from whatever odd materials my buddy Jon and I could beg, borrow or scrounge from our garages. It was a fishing boat only in the sense that it floated (barely) and sported both an electric trolling motor and an old Humminbird Super Sixty flasher. Come to think of it, the whole craft was a one continuous casting deck, composed of several sheets of plywood attached atop two empty 50-gallon drums. As I recall, the rig held together just long enough to last one fishing season, but what a year it was. Hundreds of crappies, lots of respectable trout, plus big bluegills, walleyes, pike, carp, and a few monster catfish all helped christen this, well, unique fishing boat.
Several decades and a modest collection of v-hulls, float tubes, kayaks and jonboats later, it's still anyone's guess what species I might be chasing on any given day. So, like a lot of other In-Fisherman fans, I face two alternatives: (a) Own a half-dozen different boats, each suited to a specific species or function (not the most cost-effective or garage-friendly option); or (b) select one very versatile boat, and equip it with an extensive armada of electronics, accessories and accouterments to more or less address every conceivable species or scenario.
Sounds like fun, right?
My Search for A Superboat
Of course, it's an impossible ambition. But you have to admit, planning and contriving your own idea of the ultimate dreamboat can be a pretty exciting prospect. Notice my use of the word "planning" — as in, sketching ideas out in your head or on paper — rather than the business of actually installing the parts, which, at best, can turn occasionally maddening. At worst, you do something wrong and pay for it on the water.
This is why I leave the actual assembly and installation of accessories to experts, such as Andy Kratochvil. Andy is the proprietor of Fish Lectronics, a Minnesota based boat-rigging business with an impressive list of clients that includes In-Fisherman staffers, Gary Roach and Al and Ron Lindner. Before we dive into all the cool little doodads that comprise our multispecies super boat, however, the biggest decision remains: which boat is best for the way we fish?
Which Boat Is Best?
The "multispecies" connotation carries different meanings for every one. These are dictated by the types of waters we fish, preferred presentations, and of course, personal budget. Nonetheless, let's assume a true multispecies boat is the one that facilitates effective and comfortable fishing, whether you're casting for bass or muskies, drifting rivers for walleyes, trolling for trout, or anchoring for catfish. Spacious casting decks are nice for plenty of presentations. But so is ample cockpit space for trolling, drifting and safely running from spot to spot. A deep V-hull offers a nice dry ride, particularly in rough seas. But it can also be a limiting factor for fishing the extreme shallows.
Lund, for instance, offers the Impact — a highly popular model introduced in 2011. Lund director of marketing Jason Oakes says the Impact has become one of the company's top-selling models, sporting design elements and key features that scream versatility.
"The 1875 and 2025 Impact were each engineered with an open, spacious layout, catering to a variety of fishing approaches," says Oakes. "The IPS hull manhandles rough seas, keeping passengers safe and dry. Yet the raised interior decks also position anglers closer to the water while fishing, easing the landing and unhooking process."
Oakes adds that Lund's Sport Track system allows anglers to mount rod holders, tackle and tool holders, and even downriggers without drilling holes. What's especially remarkable about Sport Track is the ability to quickly shift rod holder positions, up and down the length of each rail, maximizing versatility with as many rod holders as you choose to mount.
Several manufacturers, including Lund, also offer aft "jump" seats — two additional padded chairs that flip up for additional passengers and instantly fold back down to expand the rear casting deck.
Beyond Lund's Impact, Ranger, Alumacraft, Skeeter and most major boat makers offer a line of "multispecies" rigs. At the websites of Lund, Ranger, and Alumacraft, folks in the market for a new boat can utilize a "Boat Builder" app — an interactive guided tour helping you design your own personal super boat.
Juicing the System
Before launching into the fun stuff — loading our boat with stuff like side imaging, iPilots and, spike anchors — it's necessary to address the 'power problem,' ensuring proper battery juice to keep everything running right. Fish Lectronics' Kratochvil addresses common problems associated with marine electronics:
"Just a few years ago, the average angler ran maybe one 5-inch sonar unit," he says. "Now I commonly see boats with three or more 10-inch units, all of them networked together. Add trolling motors and accessories such as Talons, Power Poles, 360 Imaging, and multimedia systems, and you're suddenly pulling a lot of juice.
"All these units run on varying frequencies, and some, such as Minn Kota's iPilot operate on two different computer systems. Any interference or drop in voltage can cause problems." Kratochvil advises that for anglers attempting to wire their own boats, two guidelines are critically important.
First, use thicker 6-gauge wire for trolling-motor-to-battery connections. This prevents overheating and excessive voltage loss. Also, keep wire runs as short and direct as possible to minimize voltage loss and to avoid contact with and interference from other wires.
While proper wiring matters, the batteries are your boat's power plant. FLW bass pro Jeff Gustafson, who's also a panfish-muskie-walleye-pike guide, runs four Optima D31 batteries, which power a pair of Minn Kota Talons, tools he uses everyday, no matter what species he's targeting. "In many years with the Optimas, I've never had a dead battery, and I can run the same battery for cranking/accessories as I do for my trolling motors and Talons."
Kratochvil stresses the need to maintain power sources properly. "My rule is to immediately charge all the batteries — deep cycle and cranking — after every outing. When stored for extended periods, keep batteries on a trickle charge or 'maintenance mode.'"
The Transom Tight Spot
As Gustafson notes, for almost every species, a set of transom-mounted spike anchors, such as Power Poles or Minn Kota Talons, serve a valuable function. Whereas a traditional anchor requires time and muscle to properly position the boat, a spike anchor deploys instantly with the push of a button. Previously referred to as 'shallow water anchors,' Talons are now offered in 6- to 12-foot models and Power Poles in 4- to 10-foot versions.
Having recently rigged a Lund Predator for multispecies duty, I encountered the now-common issue of limited transom space. For backtrolling walleyes, a Minn Kota Vantage clutches the stern to the right of the Mercury 4-stroke. A Humminbird 360 Imaging module lies to the left, and I plan to mount a Talon soon, if space allows. Some anglers also choose to add a 9-H.P. kicker motor for trolling, putting transom space at an even higher premium.
The 360 Imaging unit has become an awesome fish- and spot-finding tool for me. For scanning clean bottom flats, the full-circle sonar imager shows individual fish targets, pinpointing their position relative to my boat. Spotting a sizeable fish at 2-o'clock, 80 feet from the 360 transducer, I can quickly fire a cast and often connect immediately.
Signals from 360 Imaging are just one of numerous possible pictures to display on a high resolution sonar unit. Side imaging, down imaging, traditional 2-D sonar, digital contour maps and even underwater video feeds make for an interesting dilemma. While most units from Humminbird, Lowrance, Garmin and Raymarine allow for total screen customization with different "window" views, most anglers still run into the issue of deciding which information to display.
Anglers are increasingly solving this dilemma either by purchasing a single 10- or 12-inch display, or by rigging multiple units, often both on the console and in the bow. A common set-up is to run one large display for sonar, side- and 360 Imaging, and a second unit dedicated to digital mapping. For example, my console contains one Humminbird Onix 10 CI SI Combo for sonar feeds and a second Humminbird 698 CI HD DI Combo for mapping. (The 698 also doubles as my ice fishing unit.)
What's perhaps most amazing is technology that now enables anglers to network everything together — sonar, mapping and trolling motor — to achieve absolutely precise boat control. Minn Kota's iPilot Link system operates with a handheld remote control, and is capable of spot-locking (virtual anchoring) on any specific GPS waypoint. With use of LakeMaster digital maps, the trolling motor can even be set to "follow the contour," automatically moving the boat at a prescribed speed along a specific depth contour line. Motor Guide offers a similar trolling motor guided system, the Xi5.
On the trolling motor front, Minn Kota's bow mounted Ulterra eliminates the need to bend over and manually deploy or stow the unit. A push-button remote auto-deploys and stows the motor, power trims the depth of the propeller and is fully compatible with iPilot Link.
Wireless, Video and Beyond
Another emerging trend — particularly among muskie, bass and saltwater anglers — is use of Go-Pro style "point of view" cams for documenting big catches. The EZ Cam Post is an adjustable monopod for attaching your digital camera, which connects to any swivel seat base.
For a true-to-life picture of the fish's world, underwater viewing systems, such as the Aqua-Vu Micro series, feature a smartphone sized monitor and camera optics the size of an acorn, linked via 50 to 100 feet of video cable. It's also now possible to connect the Aqua-Vu Micro directly to a large LCD screen, viewing the underwater terrain in near-HD quality.
The future includes more push-button convenience, and certainly, fewer wires. Wireless transmission now allows for sonar and underwater video feeds to appear on smartphones and tablets from anywhere in the boat, with Raymarine and Vexilar both offering products.
It all becomes a little mind-boggling, until you realize the endgame never changes: more fun and, hopefully, more and bigger fish in the boat. The catching part is still up to you.