Merwin: Are Some Electronics Unfair to Fish?

Two major brands of marine-electronic devices are at each other's throats this week as Humminbird (Johnson Outdoors) filed a federal lawsuit against Lowrance (Navico) alleging patent infringement. At issue is a patent--granted to Humminbird this week--regarding Humminbird's side-imaging sonar.

Humminbird introduced side-scanning units (like the one shown here) in 2005. Last winter, Lowrance introduced a "StructureScan" add-on module for its high-end, multi-function displays. To my admittedly untrained eye, the screen views in each brand are somewhat similar, but I'm not enough of an electronics geek to ascertain--or even perhaps to understand--the difference.

What I have found from using it on the water, though, is that side-scanning sonar is very cool. The Humminbird unit I once tested would allow me to sonar scan a swath up to 480 feet wide from a slow-moving boat. Schools of baitfish around rock piles at one side or the other became quickly evident, as did underwater structure and downed trees that I never knew were there. In talking with several crappie specialists down South, I also found side-scanning to be the greatest thing ever for searching out schools of suspended or structure-hugging crappies.

It's almost seems unfair to the fish. In fact, maybe it is unfair. I'm old enough to have fished back when "marine electronics" consisted only of a handheld compass. I located underwater structure by trial and error and marked its location by visually triangulating from shoreline landmarks.

So maybe while the big-time lawyers are duking things out over who has the latest technology, we could declare a few lakes to be "electronics-free?" That is, a few places where you have to do things the hard way. Or is the electronics genie out of the bottle, never to go back again?