March 2021

The Boat Electronics Fishing Pros Depend On

By : Mark Hicks

Boat electronics keep improving, and fishing pros keep finding new features to love. Pros Kevin VanDam, Greg Hackney, and Andrew Upshaw share the technologies they rely on the most.

KVD boating

The biggest challenge with today’s remarkable fishing electronics is keeping pace with the rapid-fire advancements. These days, every major brand offers highly detailed color displays, GPS mapping, plus 2D, side viewing, down viewing and forward-looking sonar. It almost makes you feel sorry for the fish. 

Side & Down Viewing

Humminbird put the technology race into high gear in 2009 when they introduced Side Imaging sonar. It shows anglers what is on either side of the boat in 3D, which is far more detailed than 2D sonar. This landmark technology allows anglers to scan more of the bottom in much less time and to drop waypoints well away from the boat.   

When one company introduces something new, it compels competitors to bring their products up to speed. Thus, Lowrance and Garmin have developed their own side viewing technology.

Down viewing, which displays the same detail as side viewing, came along a few years later. All the major electronics companies have adopted it. With down viewing a brush pile looks like a brush pile, and you can tell if fish are in or around the cover. With 2D sonar the same brush pile is displayed as a mound of colorful pixels, which could be mistaken for a school of baitfish.

Bass superstar Kevin VanDam, who is sponsored by Humminbird, relies heavily on Mega Side and Down Imaging.

“Mega Imaging is incredibly clear,” VanDam said. “I use Side Imaging on one of my console graphs and Down Imaging on the console and the bow. I don’t use 2D sonar. With Down Imaging there’s no guesswork about what I’m seeing.”

Forward Viewing

In 2012, Humminbird again leaped to the forefront by introducing 360 Imaging. When its transducer is mounted on the trolling motor shaft, it allows the angler to see structure, cover and fish in a circle all around the boat to a distance of 150 feet. It yields the same highly detailed 3D images as Side Imaging. You can see submerged bass cover you would have missed and cast precisely to cover in front of the boat before you blunder over it.

“Forward facing 360 Imaging sonar has dominated the tours,” VanDam said. “Humminbird is just about to launch Mega Live, which is forward facing live sonar.”

Mega Live is Humminbird’s response to Garmin’s Panoptix LiveScope, another major leap in fishing technology. With its transducer mounted on the trolling motor’s shaft you can see fish and baitfish from the surface to the bottom, as well as your lure swimming through the water in real time. Anglers claim they feel the bite the instant they see a bass attack their bait on the display. Lowrance has already introduced their version of this technology, called ActiveTarget Live.

Oklahoma bass pro Andrew Upshaw runs Garmin units and makes good use of LiveScope. He finished sixth at a 2020 Bassmaster Eastern Open on South Carolina’s Lake Hartwell in late September. Spotted bass dominated the tournament. They were suspended over deep water and marauding schools of baitfish. Many bass were caught casting near planted cane piles.

Upshaw found a number of cane piles with side viewing while idling about in practice. During the tournament he was able to cast a swimbait and a Strike King Sexy Dawg stickbait directly to the cane piles and to suspended fish he could see via LiveScope.

“Besides the cane piles, I was scanning the deep ends of points and channel turns,” Upshaw said. “I would see the bass and make pinpoint casts to them 80 to 100 feet away. The farther away I saw them the more likely they were to react to my baits.”

Upshaw explained that if you turn the Panoptix transducer down the graph displays only what is on the bottom in front of the trolling motor. Garmin calls this their Perspective Mode.

“Another thing I love is that Garmin graphs have the simplest system I’ve ever used,” Upshaw said. “They’re so reliable that I don’t feel the need to carry spare units.”


Upshaw is also quite satisfied with Garmin’s preloaded lake mapping. Louisiana Bassmaster Elite Series standout Greg Hackney runs Lowrance electronics. He dotes on the detail and clarity of his Lowrance displays, and is just as enamored with the Lowrance’s C-MAP Contour + Fishing Maps.

“C-MAP is as good as anything out there,” Hackney said. “You can also use Navionics with Lowrance units. For me, mapping is more important than anything. It’s how I find out-of-the-way stuff.”

While practicing for an FLW Tour event at Alabama’s Pickwick Lake, Hackney saw a submerged pond dam on his Lowrance maps not shown on other maps.

“When I fished that dam it was like the bass there had never seen a bait before,” Hackney said. “I fished the dam all four days and won the tournament with 99 pounds.”

VanDam calls Humminbird’s Lakemaster charts “incredible.” He claimed that the contour lines precisely show every turn and creek channel.

“I’ve won two Bassmaster Elite Series tournaments thanks to Lakemaster maps, one at Toledo Bend and another at Grand Lake,” VanDam said. “It’s hard to be competitive if you’re not taking advantage of today’s electronic capabilities.”

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