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Fly Fishing

Chasing Golden Trevalley on the Magnetic Island flats.


Enjoying one of the many beautiful beaches of Magnetic Island.

Sunday 9 June 2013

Humminbird 998c HD & 798c HD Ethernet and Side Image review

Humminbird were the first company to introduce the Side Image concept to the recreational range of sounders back in 2006. And, in my honest opinion, they still do it better than any other manufacturer today! Humminbird have always been on the cutting edge of sounder technology, producing Wide Eye, Quad Beam, Side Scan, Down Image and now 360 degrees! Who remembers being amazed at pictures like this? But it is the the Side Image technology in particular that took the fishing community by storm. It has been one of the biggest advancements in fishing since the introduction of GPS.

Side Image uses an incredibly low frequency transducer signal to produce a razor thin beam that takes a “sonar snapshot” of the area up to 70m to the left and right of the boat. The return image for this slice is then added to the images taken immediately before and after to build an incredibly detailed view of the lake bottom. Its has often been likened to shining a torch out either side of the boat. Objects mid-water or off the bottom reflect the sonar back to the transducer and create a 'shadow' on the bottom. Its quite difficult to explain how the Side Image is rendered and interpreted on the screen, but Humminbird have a very thorough overview of how to read a Side Image display here.

My first introduction to the Humminbird sounders, and the Side Image technology, came when I purchased a Cruise Craft 575 Outsider in 2008. I had been using a Furuno FCV-620 on my previous boat, and was determined to stay with Furuno due to the exceptional quality and reliability of the sounder readings. The Furuno I had been using ran rings around the Lowrance unit I had before it, and I was so impressed that I wrote a review only a short time after using it. But the demonstration of Side Image in store, and countless positive comments from other users, convinced me to spend the $4k+ on the then 997c. One thing I didn't like was going back from independent GPS and Sounder units, to a single screen all in one combo. But the large 16:9 8in wide-screen display does allow split screen GPS/Sounder views with quite a reasonable viewing area. The only annoying issue with spit screen is having to flip between the 'active side' to access the appropriate 'quick menu' features. It would be perfect if Humminbird made a single button that did just this, swap between active side. What the sounders do have is a series of 3 customisable buttons that allow access to your favourite display combinations with one press. But, if one of these shortcut buttons could be re-programed to change the active side it would be much more convenient! Coming from the incredible Furuno sounder I was concerned about the 2-d performance of the Humminbird in deeper shoal and reef areas. But this concern was eased on my very first trip to Maggi-shoals. I have never run the Humminbird along side a Furuno, but from my experience the 2-d readings produced form the Humminbird is equally as good as, if only slightly behind, that of the Furuno. But with the addition of Side and Down image, the Humminbird is the clear winner.

The Side Image not only allows you to find timber, rock bars and drop-offs in the creeks. But it also lets you scan the bottom for bombies and shoals offshore. I have found the Side Image gives its best return in 5-15m of water, but it does work reasonably well up to 25-30m. In my experience I have found that setting a side range of approximately 2 to 3 times the depth of water gives the best result. So in 20m of water I will set the unit to scan about 40-50m either side of the boat. This gives a up to 100m wide view of the bottom, and greatly increases your chance of finding offshore structure. I have over a dozen marks off Westpoint that have been located using Side Image. Many appear to be sunken timber washed out of the Bohle river during floods! But Side image has many more applications. I have tracked Mackerel schools around the boat, and followed tuna schools after they have gone down and out of sight. I can identify exactly where bait is hanging around the channel markers with a single pass, and can adjust the boat position based on the side fish may be sitting. The Side Image also allows you to 'mark' an exact GPS position of a piece of structure that is off to the side of the boat. Simply press the arrows to pause the screen and activate a set of 'cross hairs'. Place these onto the structure and press the mark button and the GPS location of that mark, not the boats position, is placed into the waypoints. You can then turn around and position the boat directly over the structure or school of fish! And this brings me to what would be one of my favourite features of the Humminbird sounders, SNAPSHOT.

With Snapshot enabled in the menu, and a blank SD card installed, a snapshot of the screen display is created every time the 'mark' button is pushed. This creates a full resolution screenshot of the display and saves it to a SNAPSHOT directory on the SD in the popular PNG image format. BUT, not only does this create a screenshot, but it also associates this image with the created waypoint on the GPS map. So when the cursor is placed over the waypoint a small thumbnail image of the screenshot is shown on the map. This is perfect to remind you of why the mark was created in the first place! Definitely an invaluable feature when you start to gather hundreds of marks. A quick press of the 'info' button while the thumbnail is being displayed and you can also view this thumbnail in full screen. Simply brilliant!

Something that has always impressed me with the Humminbird sounders is the ability to upgrade the software with a simple download from their website. This upgrade in software has always been free, and makes many new features available on older models. The introduction of Down Imaging to the 797 and 997 sounders in 2010 is an excellent example of this. Even though a new series of sounders had already become available, the upgrade of the software allowed people owning the previous model to still take advantage of many of the new features. The same is true of the newly introduced 'iPilot Link' feature. This feature allows specific Humminbird models to communicate with the latest iPilot electric motors from Minn Kota. This is now available on selected models via a software update. While I have not yet experienced the iPilot link, I believe you can tell the electric motor to go to, and hold on, any waypoint stored in the Humminbird GPS. All from the new larger screen remote!

The new 'HD' models have changed very little from the previous non-HD. In fact, I believe the only change is from a CCFL display to the newer LED LCD. And while HD stands for 'High Definition', the actual resolution of the display is unchanged in all models. But the LED LCD is brighter and clearer, especially in direct sunlight. And while this may seem a rather lame change to the lineup, its quite significant for users who have their sounder mounted on open consoles. I know my previous 998 was incredibly difficult to read in the middle of the day, especially the Side Image colours. But the new HD is much improved in this area. 

Introduced in the x98 range in 2011 was the 'ethernet' concept. This added a new port to the back of the units that allowed direct connection between sounders, without the need for a third interlink module. A single cable can be run between two units and all transducer, GPS and waypoint data can be shared to both units. This is ideal in many situations, including lure-casting boats that often have one sounder mounted on a console and a second mounted on the bow. This is the configuration I have chosen to use on my 485sf. But it could also be used to link two units sitting side-by-side on a console, or on a game boat that has one sounder in the control room and another on the flybridge.

In my boat the 998HD is mounted on the console, and 798HD is on the front casting deck. An external GPS antenna is connected to the 998HD, as is the transom mounted Side Image transducer. A single ethernet and power cable run forward to the 798HD mounted to the floor of the casting deck. The 798 attaches to a very well designed quick release bracket. This allows the sounder to be removed with the push of a button without the need to unplug any cables. The bracket also allows 360degree turning of the sounder, and generous back and forward tilt. All without having to undo any knobs! I toyed with the idea of mounting the sounder to the top of the gunwale, but decided it would be better off on the casting deck inside the boat. From where it is mounted there is protection from salt spray, and on the right angle is very readable when standing right up on the bow. It also made running cables back to the 998 very easy. I can now keep an eye on the sounder while working lures from the bow. The 998HD is mounted to the console using the bracket rather than flush mounting. I opted to do this so the unit is removable for security. It also saves having a large hole in the dash if I ever decide to make a change. Emmanuel from Townsville Marine had his 998 mounded flush in the console on his 485sf, but has since removed it and bracketed it as the reading angle is not optimal nor adjustable. My only problem is that its a little tight between the back of the sounder and the wind-screen for trying to plut in the cables. 

Connecting compatible units together is incredibly simple. Once the correct cable is installed, and the two sounders are up and running, the sharing of data is completely automatic. A simple ethernet menu on both units allows adjustments of the preferred 'source' for data. Unfortunately the cables required to perform the connection are not cheap. And if connecting to a 798 an additional adapter cable is required so the quick release bracket can continue to be used. A 6m ethernet cable retails for about $99 and the adapter is about $45. Still better than having to purchase an interlink module. And for the convenience of shared information, its well worth it. With the two sounders connected, all the GPS and Transducer peripherals become available from either unit via the ethernet menu. If you wish, you can specify which GPS antenna to use, which transducer for 2-d or side image and even where to get the temperature from. I have opted to have bother the 798HD and 998HD access the GPS antenna that is externally mounted and connected to the 998. I have also decided to only run the Side Imaged transducer on the transom of the boat and connected to the 998. It would be possible to mount the 798 transducer to the electric motor and have this information available on the network, but I fear the transducer will become damaged when the electric is accidentally driven into timber retrieving lures! All waypoint data on either unit is instantly available on the the network and visible on both units. However, the waypoint data itself is actually 'saved' to the local unit, and thus an SD card needs to be installed into both units if you wish to be able to 'mark' positions from both. The Navionics map data, however, is NOT shared and only available on the local unit. This is not much of a problem for me as navigation is performed from the console. Plus, the base map built into the unit is more than adequate to negotiate to waypoints. If more than two units need to be connected, or additional accessories placed on the network, an ethernet switch will be required.

Performance and features of both sounders is equally outstanding. The only difference really is the screen size. If I was purchasing for a small boat in a creek situation, where GPS navigation is of minimal importance, the I would be more than happy with the 798 size. But if split screening GPS and sounder data then the lager display of the 998 is well worth the extra. And if money is no object, then there is even the option of the much larger and very impressive 1198!

360 degree is now also available from Humminbird. I have not had the privilege of using this technology yet, but have spoken to Tim Morgan about the technology. Tim has been using a prototype transducer on his boat for a while now and is simply amazed by its potential. 360 uses a special large round transducer that is lowered down into the water from a mount at the back of the boat. It has to be lowered deeper into the water than a traditional transducer in order to send a signal under the hull and motor to get 360 degree view. And so the system is only usable at slow speeds. The 360 displays in a 'radar like' sweeping motion around the boat, updating the return on the screen as it goes. So, unlike Side and Down Imaging, the boat does NOT need to be in motion at all to produce an image of the structure and fish! It is now possible see structure and fish as the boat is 'approaching', stop the boat in 'Spotlock' on the Minn Kota iPilot, and know exactly where to cast and how far without ever passing the boat over the structure. This will be an amazing advantage for fishermen in the future, but right now the 360 transducer is brand new technology and incredibly expensive. The transducer alone retails for near on $3k, and will connect to the 1198, 998, 898 & 798 with the latest firmware update applied. 

If you are interested in seeing the Humminbird range of sounders in full swing then go and have a chat to Dave at Townsville Marine. Dave is an ex Humminbird rep and really has his finger on the pulse when it comes to the technology in these units. Townsville Marine will sort you out for a good price and take care of the installation if needed. In fact, mention this article, and for the month of JUNE 2013  Emmanuel will instantly give 20% off RRP!