Pop into any of the great fishing forums out there and you are bound to come across a thread about the latest and greatest sonars. If that forum happens to be frequented by fishing trip enthusiasts’ chances are the focus will be on portable sonars. Over the years our group has used a variety of set ups. For years we had 2 trust Eagle Cuda 168s (Eagle Cuda Listing) . They are long discontinued but, in all honesty, they were great on a fly in. Dependable, simple to use and they ran on 8 AA batteries.
However, times they are a changing. Heading into our trip to Root Bay with Slate Falls Outposts (Root Bay Trip) this year 3 of our group had all purchased Humminbird Helix 5 portable units Humminbird Helix 5 GPS G2 Portable at Sail . This trip would be our first real run at using them for a week semi off the grid.
The Helix 5 GPS G2 portables come with everything you need to operate – handy carrying case, transducer with suction cup mount, lead acid battery and charger. For the most part they are plug and play. For those who want the lowdown outlined below are the full specifications from the Sail website
If fishing is in your DNA, there's no such thing as "too early" or "too far”. High expectations go with the territory. The HELIX 5 Series answers the call with an uncompromising, 5 in. widescreen display. This HELIX 5 CHIRP GPS G2 model features CHIRP Digital Sonar, GPS mapping, AutoChart Live, the new Humminbird basemap, DualBeam PLUS, SwitchFire and a portable kit.
CHIRP digital sonar: view details that other forms of sonar won’t show you. Humminbird CHIRP digital sonar is engineered to help you see individual fish, clearly identify bait and structure, and reach greater depths and range.
SwitchFire sonar: take command of how your sonar returns appear. With two display modes, you can add or remove detail, account for water depth, temperature and turbulence, even watch lure presentations - all at the push of a button.
Dual Beam PLUS sonar: two beams combine for great detail and a generous coverage area, helping you identify fish, structure and contours. Use the narrow beam for high accuracy returns of fish, structure, detail and the bottom profile. Opt for the wide beam when you want a larger search area. You can view the beams separately, side-by-side or blended together for the complete picture. Your coverage area will be equal to your depth.
Humminbird Basemap built-in: our enhanced standard basemap provides you with a clear view of underwater terrain and surrounding points of interest so you can fish and navigate with total confidence. Identify buoys, daymarkers, hazards, marinas, contours, depth markers and much, much more. Includes charts of more than 10,000 lakes, plus coastal coverage for the U.S.
AutoChart Live: create real-time maps of your fishing spots, with access to patented Humminbird® LakeMaster® features. Map depth contours, bottom hardness and vegetation as you drive your boat, with eight hours of built-in recording time.
Portable carrying case: take your fishing system on the go. The soft-sided carrying case protects your Humminbird for safe transport.
LakeMaster compatible: upgrade to the unrivalled accuracy and detail of Humminbird LakeMaster maps. From easy-to-read contours, to highlighted depth ranges, to scrollable lake lists, you’ll have all the tools you need to make every moment count.
Navionics compatible: Humminbird provides even more map options thanks to additional Navionics compatibility. Available maps regions include detailed cartography for saltwater and freshwater applications which make Navionics a great option for fishing, cruising or sailing.
1-year limited manufacturer warranty
Great: The units worked as advertised during our trip and were no worse for wear. They were relatively easy to set up, easy to unplug at the end of the day and all the features (which I will cover in more detail below) operated as they should. One call out – the boats in camp were 14-foot Alumarines – tough, durable, handle big water well BUT they have a unique bottom (probably to handle rocks) with huge chines. It took us a few days (thanks Willy!) to get the suction cup transducers angled right to be able to read at top speed. Once we did this, we could map bottom running at top speed (solo guy in a boat was around 20 MPH)
Great! I am going to break this into a few different chunks:
Sonar – excellent. These units pick up every detail, have all the bells and whistles and fish marking seemed to be bang on (generally we marked fish, we caught fish). Water temp and boat speed display were a useful tool when scouting a spot and trolling for sure.
GPS – excellent. The GPS maps were helpful fishing a huge, rock infested body of water like St Joseph. When we first got to camp, we entered waypoints at the camp and from there it was relatively straight forward to navigate. I will call out that the base map was good but not perfect but they more that met our needs. Another nice feature is the “point” feature when using the map. Basically, the system generates a large green arrow highlighting your direction of travel. This helped a lot when trolling between two waypoints, we have an older GPS on our cottage boat which does not have this feature and when moving slowly it is very easy to be well off your mark before you realize it
Auto Chart – good. I think this feature could be excellent however there is a cost to get more than a small amount of data and so most days we didn’t use this feature a lot. Don’t get me wrong I can see how it would be invaluable on a new lake but we didn’t use it much at all
Battery Life – good. Overall, we found that we got about 3 days out of a battery when we were using both the sonar and GPS function (Note the guys upgraded to Dakota Lithium Ion batteries, review on that coming soon). I think if you turned off the GPS you could probably get more battery life but we had both a gas generator and an inverter off the solar system to charge with. Note: We did run two of the finders off Dakota Lithium Ion batteries and the performance was better/they charged faster but I will go into more detail when I review the batteries themselves.
Good to Great: These units are not cheap and are currently about $600 CDN to buy. I say good to great because like most sonars if you watch for season end or season beginning sales you can usually score a good deal. One of our group members paid less than $400 for his unit. So, if you are interested keep an eye out at your local sporting goods store and you might score one on the cheap
Yes – I would totally recommend this sonar. On one of the days I was fishing solo I had left the dock without the unit head (Idiot!). Being lazy I thought I could fish old school and not bother running back to camp, well that lasted about 30 minutes of me being skunked while the other boats were racking up fish. The GPS map was also a great feature on a huge lake like St Joseph. It was easy to get turned around and I know I relied on the unit a few times to orient myself. On long runs through shoal infested waters it was also nice to zoom in, get on your track and drive home (the first ride was always an adventure).
PS - as always I am not affiliated or motivated in any way with any of the brands reviewed (Open to it though lol)