April 18, 2022
By Dr. Todd A. Kuhn
Sonar technology has leapt forward at a dizzying clip, evolving dramatically since the introduction of the Humminbird Super Sixty flasher in the early 1970s. This clunky, whirling dervish of a contraption was the crudest of electronic gadgets, handicapped by largesse limitations and shortcomings. However, at the time, top bass fishing professionals considered it the quintessential fish-finding "machine."
Today, there is an overabundance of advanced electronics expressly designed to assist anglers navigate waterways and ultimately find more fish. Over the past year, I have been running a Garmin LiveScope on my bass boat to evaluate the latest-and-greatest in bass-fishing tools. What follows are my impressions after an extended on-the-water evaluation.
Garmin introduced their LiveScope technology in 2018 at the ICAST Show (the annual fishing industry trade show), winning both Best of Show and Best of Electronics awards. Since then, it has set the collective fishing world on its ear.
The technology has been described by many users and casual observers as "live video." While this is not technically correct, it does describe the capabilities of the LiveScope system.
My boat is rigged with a Garmin EchoMap Ultra 106SV mounted on the bow with a LiveScope Transducer System. The Garmin EchoMap sonar transducer is mounted rearward on the transom with the LiveScope transducer mounted to the trolling motor shaft using a Garmin LiveScope Perspective Mode Mount bracket.
The LiveScope transducer may be mounted anywhere, however, as a bass fisherman, I opted to mount the LiveScope transducer on the trolling motor shaft—arguably the best position for “looking” (in real time) anywhere you can point the trolling motor and transducer.
This is done by simply rotating the trolling motor and “aiming” the transducer where you’d like to “see.” To the uninitiated, you can think of the LiveScope as a sonar version of a submarine periscope but inverted to electronically see under the water.
I have spent a great deal of time using the Garmin LiveScope product on the water over the past year. Admittedly, I was a cynic when I first heard some of the wild claims by users surrounding the technology.
Never one to jump on the bandwagon quickly, and being a trained engineer, I wanted to give the technology some time to mature before wading in.
Fishing mostly in Central Florida, I fish very shallow areas 90 percent of the time. In fact, 5 or 6 feet is considered "deep" water here. With that being said, a large majority of the videos online touting the Garmin’s LiveScope capabilities focus on chasing open-water bait balls or locating bass on deep rock piles and ledges. Here, we look for bass on shallow shell bars, in weed beds, on river cutbanks and on the occasional dock piling.
So, my "very shallow" water application provided a test of the unit’s ability to find fishable structure and fish not normally discussed when reviewing the Garmin forward facing sonar technology.
CONVENTIONAL SHALLOW APPLICATIONS
Over the years, I have found that traditional down-imaging sonar units are of little-to-no use in shallow applications. This is due in part to the fact that the water depth does not permit sufficient physical distance for the signal to spread out any appreciable amount.
As a result, what you see on the screen in very shallow water (10 feet or less) is a narrow, limited representation of the bottom (i.e., a small sonar "slice"). While down imaging is great for reporting shallow-water depths, its ability to find fish here is nearly zero. Side-imaging technologies also have their drawbacks in shallow water for much of the same reasons.
Fishing shallow water almost exclusively, I decided to mount the LiveScope transducer on the trolling motor shaft using the optional Garmin Perspective Mode Mount ($100).
This bracket allows the user to physically rotate the transducer onto its side, offering a horizontal slice (view) of the water facing forward, in contrast to the traditional vertical slice the standard mount offers.
WHAT YOU SEE
Admittedly, the Garmin LiveScope opened up a whole new underwater world for me. The ability to “shoot” the sonar beam in any direction the trolling motor can rotate and get a real-time view on the screen is priceless. Prior to using the Garmin, my ability see underwater was limited to the seemingly static sonar views in down imaging and side-imaging modes.
The LiveScope allows the user to look around their boat in real-time, and actually watch fish moving in and around structure and cover. In fact, it has sufficient detail to watch your bait moving in the water column in many instances (this is dependent on the bait’s reflective profile) and cast to individual fish which appear onscreen.
Another huge advantage of the LiveScope over down or side imaging is you can use the trolling motor to actively look for targets, such as brush piles or beds. No more having to run windrows with your boat (i.e., idling your boat around much like you’re mowing the grass) to locate fishable structure.
The unit has a forward range of 200 feet. Now, with that being said, the ability to reach out to these distances is dependent on the water depth. The deeper the water, the further the beam can travel and the more robust your field of view.
However, even in the shallowest of water, there is sufficient reach forward to get a good indication of what lies ahead.
OPERATION AND PRICE
The operation of the LiveScope in forward-sonar mode is straightforward. The display is customizable for various applications (think water depths). Once I dialed-in the unit, I rarely fiddled with the adjustments. There is an auto-mode, but I found it performed better with a few small tweaks (i.e., gain, brightness, sensitivity, etc.) in manual mode.
Now, let’s get down to the numbers. Admittedly, this technology comes with a price. The Garmin ECHOMAP Ultra 106sv carries an MSRP of $2,149.99. I choose this unit because it is a very powerful unit, with high-end features, like the large viewing screen (10 inches) and touch screen functionality.
The LiveScope System retails for $1,499.99 (MSRP). Admittedly you can get into a unit cheaper as the EchoMap Ultra 106sv is a high-end, high-definition sonar and GPS unit. An EchoMap UHD 93sv, for instance, retails for $999 and is compatible with the LiveScope System. And you can find “deals” on the LiveScope on occasion.
So, the fundamental question remains: Is the technology worth the retail?
The answer is a resounding “yes.” The LiveScope allows you to find fish other tradition sonar units simply cannot. The LiveScope gives you the ability to literally look around under the water in real-time.
This feature greatly reduces the amount of time you spend searching for fish. For tournament anglers the value of this cannot be overstated. Additionally, it helps you not only find fish, but it also helps you find active fish. The ability to watch what fish are doing in real-time reveals if they are active or inactive. This can save you literally hours of fishing for fish you’ve found on traditional sonar but cannot coax into biting. And as any tournament angler, or weekend warrior for that matter knows—time on the water is money.
Technology is an amazing thing. Just a few short years ago most would have never imagined being able to watch fish swimming around on a sonar screen. I firmly believe few technological advances in the fishing world can rival what Garmin has achieved with its LiveScope. The advent of the ability to survey the underwater world and fish in real-time is invaluable to fishermen everywhere.
As with any advancement, there is a cost. However, for those who insist on the latest in technology and usability, the Garmin LiveScope is a valuable asset that will help you find more fish. For tournament anglers, the ability to find, monitor and then catch bass in real-time is now a necessity to remain competitive.
After fishing my Garmin LiveScope System for a year now, I can say without hesitation that it will make you a better fisherman and let you find more fish.
Additionally, for those of you who fish shallow water, I cannot recommend the Perspective Mode Bracket enough. It is a godsend, allowing you to probe water formerly not accessible with other sonar units.
GARMIN INTRODUCES LIVESCOPE PLUS SYSTEM
New system improves on already impressive technology.
For the new year Garmin has introduced a Garmin LiveScope improved LiveScope model with their LiveScope Plus System. The latest addition to Garmin’s live-scanning sonar lineup offers 35% better target separation over the existing system. Additionally, the new model has sharper resolution, reduced noise for Garmin’s clearest images. This makes it easier than ever to see structure, bait and fish around the boat in real time, even while stationary. The LiveScope Plus operates in three modes: forward, down and perspective. The LiveScope Plus System now includes the popular Perspective Mode Mount as standard equipment.