Electronics for Aluminum Boats…Part 1: Types and Options

By Ron Presley

Modern electronics have become the cat’s meow, the bee’s knees and the cat’s pajamas to crappie fishermen everywhere. Modern units help anglers find structure, chart courses, follow contours, indicate water temperature and actually show them the fish. They are too awesome to be without.
The good news is that aluminum boat owners can enjoy the same great performance from their electronics as fiberglass boat owners. All they have to do is get the installation right. “”I believe installation is a key on all boats,” says Bill Carson of Johnson Outdoors. “It is not complex or rocket science. When done correctly it makes all the difference in the world.”
Jim Edlund, Traditions Media LLC and student of marine electronics agrees. “Correct installation is key,” says Edlund. “Making sure that the transducer cavitation is correct will provide accurate data at any speed.”

Modern electronics allow anglers to choose various combinations of views to on the screen at one time.

“Selecting a unit, whether for a glass or aluminum boat, all comes down to the needs of the angler,” continues Edlund. “In my opinion 2D sonar and GPS mapping are must-haves in any boat. Down Imaging, Side Imaging (SI) and newer technologies like 360 Imaging, SmartStrike, AutoChart Live (the latter two available only via ONIX) can boost the odds in any angler’s favor.”


Screen size is another important factor in choosing a unit. “You can typically get by with smaller units in smaller boats,” says Edlund. “However, the more screen real estate you have, the better you can read the data.”
Price points on new units have come down considerably over the years, making it possible for most anglers to afford some type of unit. Like most other fishing equipment, the choice will depend on the type of fishing you do and the budget you have to spend. As the price goes up so do the features included in the units.

The Humminbird ONIX gathers data from the engine and calculates parameters to display on the dash-like screen eliminating the need for other gauges.

For beginning anglers with a small budget a simple black and white unit like the Humminbird 541 can be purchased for around 150 bucks. If you limit your fishing to shallow water from a small boat this might be what you need. You won’t get any GPS or navigation features, but if you don’t need them why pay for them. Similar units are available from other manufacturers like Lowrance and Garmin.

As your budget increases you can get into features like colored screens, GPS and a multitude of features that go beyond simply finding fish. The GPS function allows anglers to mark waypoints and navigate back to them when desired. The ability to add a chart like those from Navionics is also a desirable feature. Charts of particular fishing areas give anglers tons of information on ledges, creeks, drop-offs and other structure that it would take years of fishing to discover. If cartography appeals to you, be sure to purchase a unit that supports it.

 The screen sizes on less expensive units are naturally smaller, but I recently experienced a Humminbird Helix 5 SI GPS Fishfinder on an aluminum boat that worked and viewed superbly. We were running on plane with no bottom loss as well as great depiction of structure. For a budget around $400 this unit will give anglers a 256-color display and all kinds of functions including zoom, split screen viewing, down and side imaging.
Dr. Jason Halfen is an avid crappie angler. He owns and operates The Technological Angler (www.thetechnologicalangler.com) with a primary mission to help anglers learn to use their on-board technology to its fullest potential.
“In the world of fish finders, I think the most important tool for crappie anglers, is side imaging,” reports Halfen. “I have been running Humminbird units for the past 6 years, and am continually impressed by their ability to mark schools of crappie, up to 150 feet to the sides of the boat.”

Halfen uses his SI to spot crappie schools away from the boat. “When I spot crappie at long distances using SI, I will drop a GPS waypoint on the school, turn off my main motor, and creep over to the school using my Minn Kota Ulterra bow mount trolling motor. Approaching a school of crappie with whisper-quiet electric power, especially when that school is in shallow water, ensures a much higher catch rate than if I had charged through the school with my main outboard.”
Anglers can also add multiple units as budget permits. Many crappie anglers have one unit on or near the console for cruising to locate fish and for navigation purposes. They have another unit mounted where they fish, like spider rigging on the bow, to stay on the fish once they find them. Pro crappie anglers Scott and Billy Williams are two such anglers. They won the Bass Pro Shops Crappie Masters Florida State Championship on Lake Monroe in 2013 and again in 2014. The father/son team credits much of their success to current sonar technology.
In the 2014 Florida Championship, their Humminbird SI helped them find a deep cut in an old run-around off the main river with a bunch of trash piled up. “We couldn’t spider rig up on it so I rigged a slip cork on a B’n’M jigging pole and flipped it up under there,” explained Scott. “We immediately started catching nice specks. I would not have known that structure was there without side imaging. All I had to do was watch my bow-mounted sonar and figure out how to get my bait to em’.”

Dream Machines
More expensive units bring bigger screens, more technology and better data interpretation. If you are an angler who wants to go the extra mile with technology the high-end machines are there for you.
The Humminbird ONIX, for example, can be purchased in 8 different combos, one of which should match your fishing requirements. It produces 360 degree imaging and features like SmartStrike that give anglers a new tool for finding fish based on species, season, time of day and weather conditions.
The Humminbird website reports, “SmartStrike highlights areas of the map where your prey is most likely to be located—before you even wet a line. This minimizes guesswork, fruitless searching or wasted casting, thus maximizing your time on the water to fish. It’s like having your own personal fishing guide with decades of experience.”
Space age technology even transforms your sonar screen into a cockpit like monitoring of important engine data like oil pressure, engine temperature, RPMs and fuel level on compatible engines. (See photo)
All the major manufacturers make dozens of units in various sizes and combinations of technology and it seems to grow and improve each year. A Google search of Bass Pro Shops fishfinders revealed three Internet pages with more than 80 units priced from $99 to $4,999. Needless to say, buyers must plan well, study their options and then purchase a unit that best matches the way they fish.

Editor’s note: Next month’s column will discuss electronics placement, installation and transducer protection.