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Posted on Aug 20, 2007 in Top Shots
Stay Small, Stay Simple, Go High-Tech

By Doug Olander
Editor-in-Chief, Sport Fishing

When not running offshore (or chained to a desk in front of this laptop, as right now), I’m likely to be paddling along coastal reefs, oyster bars, grass flats and channels to fish from my kayak. For years, I’ve relied on a portable black-and-white sounder. It’s worked well within its inherent limitations (among those having to change out eight AA batteries after a few hours), but until recently I never realized how much I’d been missing.

I finally ditched that little portable and went to a unit nearly as small in size, but in terms of features and function, it’s like I’d moved from a studio basement apartment to a four-bedroom condo suite with a phenomenal view! After chatting with Mark Gibson of Humminbird at this year’s big ICAST tackle trade show in Vegas, I decided to try Humminbird’s 797c2 SI Combo sidescan sonar/gps/plotter. It’s not cheap but, having now been there/done that, I can tell you that it is really great to have good electronics on any boat — and that includes a kayak. I wish I’d made the move years ago.

The main reason I didn’t do so was that, when it comes to kayak fishing, I like simplicity. The portable was very small and self-contained, and required no drilling holes in the hull or permanent mounting, etc. Turns out one need give up none of those assets to utilize the newest high-tech electronics. Case in point, the 797 is actually no larger than my old portable.

I had also been reluctant to mess with a motorcycle battery — widely regarded as good choice to power a unit like this, which does take decidedly more juice than a basic black/white sounder. Such batteries are, relatively speaking, bigger and heavier than I’d like and not really made for marine environment. Problem solved thanks to some more new-tech stuff: an astoundingly compact, waterproof, lithium rechargeable from Daiwa made to power its new Dendoh deep-drop electric reels. Having seem these in action, I asked the company’s Southeast rep, Scot Rogers, if there might be any reason that battery couldn’t run a unit like the Humminbird 797. He said no reason at all -- it would run it all day and then some. He was right: From my weekend trial, after 5 straight hours powering the 797, the Dendoh battery still had 3/4 of its life left!

Then there was the transducer. I’d talked to yakkers who’d rigged theirs by running the cord up through a scupper and using PVC to make a mounting there (though of course that means the scupper can’t be plugged). But I knew from experience how well a suction-cup mount can work on most hulls. No muss, no fuss, no worry: slap it on wherever you want it and go. Weekend trial proved that, too: Mine stayed on for five hours of paddling, sometimes through weeds.

The GPS antenna on the 979 is a plastic flattened dome about the diameter of an orange. I simply ran the wire from the unit alongside the kayak, next to my seat, and back to the top of the stern. There, beneath the bungee cords that Hobie includes across the hatch, it sat all day working charmlike.

Finally, I needed to mount the unit. For this I did break down and add a permanent mounting, but one with a small footprint indeed -- a R.A.M. mount base smaller than a golf ball. I drilled three small holes for it (using copious clear marine calk underneath the base) and it sits, mostly out of the way, to my right. The screen is right there, easy to see/watch/manipulate. I could split the GPS tracker with the color sounder (including another split to zoom it) or with the amazing sidescan sonar (which I haven’t quite fine-tuned yet).

In fact, this blog could be considered a sneak peek for those visiting -- I intend to run a sidebar with more photos and specifics with a feature next year for other kayakers who are considering upgrading their electronics. I realize now that it’s easy to stay small and simple -- but still go high-tech. Again I say: I wish I’d done this years ago. It’s worth considering for anyone who spends much time fishing from a kayak!

- Doug Olander

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