Fishing Gear photo

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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?