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December 18, 2008

Heading in a New Direction

Today's autopilots enhance fishing with advanced moves

"Sometimes you want to drift with the wind; sometimes you want to go directly with the bottom," says Eric Kunz, Furuno's senior product manager. If you fish a    fairly straight ledge or reef line, for instance, the advanced-auto mode helps you stay atop productive structure.

If you want to maintain a specific depth or follow a contour, you can turn on depth shading with Furuno's NavNet 3D plotter and make a quick route by clicking on similarly shaded locations. You can also navigate to various temperatures using NavNet's track line - the actual path of your vessel changes color based on the temperature of the water you cover. If you see a particular temperature on the track line, you use the autopilot's track-back feature to take you there.

Simrad offers bottom-contour tracking. The captain sets up at a depth - the 100-fathom line, for instance at the edge of a canyon - and programs the autopilot to stay at that depth. He can also program the turn radius to avoid abrupt changes, and he must tell the pilot which side of the boat is deep and which is shallow. The pilot uses information from the depth sounder to stay on course.

Back and Forth
Sometimes you just want to hover. "Where I fish, we have a lot of current. And since I'm undermanned half the time, I use the autopilot to keep me headed in the right direction as I try to remain still in the current [using the throttles]," Chemi says.

Today's autopilots steer outboards easily at slow speeds without the use of rudder-feedback units, which often malfunctioned in the past. Garmin's new GHP 10 will even set a course in reverse. Anglers trying to keep their boats oriented while battling  current in inlets or while kite fishing can engage the unit's reverse function. That tells the autopilot that the stern has become the bow. With engines in reverse, the vessel tracks backward to hold the spot.