5 Surprise Marine Electronics Upgrades To Help You Catch More Fish

Do you want to make your boat a better fishing machine? These five unexpected electronic upgrades will do the trick.

We have an entire section of BDOutdoors dedicated to marine electronics because in this day and age all of us anglers depend on our fishfinders, chartplotters, and other digital tools to get the hotspots and then fill the fishbox. But the modern marine electronic advantages you can utilize go well beyond those sounders and plotters. Do you want to make your fishing machine into a better boat? Here are five surprise electronic upgrades you may not have thought of, which will help you hit high-liner status.

Autopilot – Yeah, sure it’s nice to be able to press a button and get where you’re going without wrestling the wheel. But set that aside for a moment. The angling advantages an autopilot delivers are far more important than most people imagine. I found this out first-hand the very first day I fished after adding a Si-Tex SP110C on my trusty old Glacier Bay 22. With a day of Spanish mackerel trolling on the agenda we had two last-minute cancellations from the crew and ended up setting out a trolling spread of six lines with just two people on the boat. Thanks to the autopilot, at the press of a button I was able to turn my focus on setting out lines. (Yes, of course, you always have to maintain a safe lookout, but it allows for glances rather than a constant stare). And when three rods went down at once I could again press a button and then play a role in the cockpit chaos that ensued.

marine electronics
When these little guys attacked our spoons in packs, the ability to press a button and jump into action was invaluable.

Allowing the captain to move away from the wheel for a few moments is only one way an autopilot can help. Making course changes by jogging in smooth five-degree increments allows for tangle-free turns. Many systems have clover-leaf patterns that allow you to work a spot hard after a strike, without commanding your full attention at the helm. And you can pre-set routes to hit multiple spots one after the next.

AIS – Few of us anglers have AIS and even fewer ever pay any attention to it. That’s a shame because the automatic identification system can help you catch more fish. Shrimpers, trawlers, scallopers, and squid boats can all represent mobile hotspots when predators are attracted to their by-kill and discards. Savvy anglers know this and often chum or cast lures around them, but many people simply run off into the wild blue yonder and hope to spot one or find them on radar. With AIS, you know where those commercial fishing boats are before you even leave the dock.

Added bonus: You don’t’ need to make any huge investments to include AIS in the mix. There are several cell phone apps that let you tap into AIS data, and can help you pre-plan your day of trawler chunking.

marine electronics
You can get AIS right on your cell phone, with a number of different apps.

Lighting – Who would think of boat lights as fishing tools? Well, anglers do, of course. Who would think of them as electronics? Hey, today’s modern systems can include zoned color-changing systems controlled with a cell phone app, touch-screen controllers, fish-strobe modes, and NMEA2000 compatibility. What you really care about, of course, is the fact that illumination like those Ocean LED underwater lights draws in hordes of bait when you’re fishing at night.

Another important factor to consider is deck illumination. Another upgrade that went on the Glacier Bay was an Imtra IML cockpit light, a six-LED bracket-mount that turns dark into day in the entire cockpit yet is amazingly compact and inexpensive. When fish are coming up to the gaff that illuminating glow is an absolute necessity.

marine electronics
This little Imtra is all it takes to light up the boat, yet it costs less than $100 bucks.

Chartplotter – Sure, you already have a chartplotter and you already use it while fishing. But a simple upgrade – one that’s often cost-free – could give you a serious fish-catching boost. Self-charting ability is the key. These days, most modern units allow you to create your own highly-detailed bathymetric cartography, by combining GPS data with the pings of your fishfinder. The latest units can often do this right out of the box, but many that are three to five years old could harness this ability if you upgraded the software. Raymarine’s LightHouse II has Navionics SonarChart Live built right into the Release 17 update, for example, and if you have a compatible unit but haven’t upgraded yet you’re missing out.

marine electronics
The enhanced detail of self-generated bathymetric data can give you a serious leg up on the competition.

Bow-Mount Electric – Bow-mounted electric trolling motors are another item many people don’t think of as electronics, but the three newest versions to hit the market, the Lowrance Ghost, Garmin Force, and Minn Kota 87-inch shaft Terrova have big brains with onboard GPS, full integration with MFDs at the helm, and in some cases Bluetooth connectivity and/or wireless remote control. You bet they’re electronics, and more importantly, adding them to your boat (if you have the right size and type, of course) can help turn it into a better fishing platform. Virtual anchoring is one big perk; once you get within casting distance of the hotspot you can press a button and the trolling motor uses GPS to hold you in place. Autopilot is another advantage these rigs can deliver. And in the case of the Minn Kota, the new 87-inch shaft length means saltwater center console boats up into the 20- to 30-foot, 10,000-pound range can now enjoy all these benefits.

marine electronics
Bigger trolling motors with bigger brains and longer shafts mean a wider range of saltwater boats can now enjoy their benefits.

If it hadn’t crossed your mind to consider any one of these five electronic upgrades – much less all of them – right now is the time to start thinking about it. Because each and everyone will help turn your boat into a more efficient fish-killing machine.

Get more great boating information and tips from Lenny Rudow on BD.

Lenny Rudow …has been a writer and editor in the marine field for over two decades, and has authored seven books. He is currently the Angler in Chief at Rudow's FishTalk Magazine, is Electronics and Fishing Editor for BoatUS Magazine, and is a contributing editor to several other publications. His...