Castable Fish Finder – A Skeptic’s Field Test
As part of my scramble to get my life ready for dad status, one of my preemptive strikes was to get reacquainted with pond fishing. My wife and I both like to fish too much to stop just because we had a baby, but I knew that long boat rides on the river were probably going to be, at least temporarily, out of the picture. It’s hard enough to get a pregnant woman in and out of a car, let alone a boat, and you can’t put a life jacket on a newborn (I checked). Luckily, I have a one acre duck pond at a local park just around the corner from my house with plenty of grassy banks, shade trees, and picnic tables on its edges. I knew from a couple of casual casts in the past that it held fish, but I’d never really paid it much attention. Once I realized I’d be shore bound for the foreseeable future, I knew I had to inspect that pond a little closer and this is where a castable fish finder came into my life.
Review Of The Garmin Castable Fish Finder
While I was more than a little dismissive of it when my buddy had first purchased it, I swallowed my pride and asked to borrow it. He kindly granted my request, and I spent several days casting it and retrieving it across the pond. I had low expectations, both of the fish finder and the pond, but I was pleasantly surprised at what I found.
The unit I borrowed was a Garmin Striker Cast model, and once I had installed the Garmin app on my phone and chucked the unit out into the water, I was pleasantly surprised at the reading that showed up on my phone’s screen. It looked almost exactly like the readout on my boat’s sonar, which isn’t surprising in retrospect since it’s also a Garmin Striker unit.
I would have been happy to just be able to get a feel for the pond’s depth, but I was shocked to learn that I could also spot submerged structure and even fish on the little device! As I cast and retrieved the unit across the pond on a heavy duty catfishing combo, a picture started to emerge. The pond’s depth sloped gradually until about 15ft from the shore, and dropped sharply there from about 2-3ft to 6ft on average. Fish seemed generally concentrated on this ledge. The south end of the pond was surprisingly deep, with the deepest reading showing 9ft of water with fish holding right on the bottom around what looked like a few scattered brush piles. This coincided with prior knowledge I had from a city worker, who told me that they had sunk several Christmas trees in the middle of the pond.
Armed with this knowledge, my wife and I spent a very pleasant spring and summer fishing over these brush piles with live minnows under a slip cork carefully adjusted to suspend the minnow just over the tops of them. We caught the mess out of the bass hiding down there, much to the chagrin of plenty of other anglers who couldn’t do much more than fish the weedlines or just blindly cast. We also pulled several catfish out of the deepest part of the pond by fishing a carolina rig with nightcrawlers, and caught countless bluegill suspended just over the ledge that sonar revealed. Overall, because we could “see” the whole pond, the fishing magically went from “ok” to “great.”
Since then, I’ve used the Striker Cast several times to take a peak at bank fishing spots. My boat hasn’t been run much since our daughter was born, but I’ve caught catfish, bass, crappie, bluegill, pickerel, and choupique from the banks with her nestled in a chest carrier or in her car seat on the ground next to me. I make fewer and shorter trips now than I did in the past, but I really do seem to be catching more fish since I’m no longer guessing at what’s going on below the surface in the little creeks and ponds I have access to. I can honestly say that little Garmin is the single most useful tool I have stuffed into my tackle bag, next to a clean diaper and a bottle of formula!
Castable Fish Finder Features To Look For
Before you rush out and drop a couple of hundred dollars on a castable fish finder, it’s worth keeping a few criteria in mind. Here are a few things that my experience with one has taught me to evaluate.
Castable fish finders aren’t a gimmick, they really are sonar units. With that in mind, if you have prior experience with a brand, I’d recommend sticking with that company when buying. It took no time at all for me to adjust the Striker Cast to my liking and start gathering useful information, because I had already spent hours using the Garmin on my boat and was familiar with their system and settings.
The Garmin Striker Cast I used had a stated bluetooth range of 200ft. I was casting it with a 7’6” medium-heavy Ugly-Stik Tiger Elite saltwater rod paired with an Abu Garcia Ambassadeur C3 6500 reel spooled with 65lb braid, which is my big river cat setup for fishing big baits and big weights in heavy current. I was able to sling the Garmin a long way with it. Being able to cast a long distance lets you cover more water, but I did run into the problem of being able to cast the unit further than it could connect to my phone. There are models on the market, such as the Deeper Pro+ that advertise a longer connectivity range that would be useful.
Battery Life And Recharging
One feature I really liked about the Garmin Striker Cast was only “on” when it was in contact with the water. This simple design used the water to make a connection in the circuit, and meant that the unit drew zero power when not in use. I never once came anywhere close to draining a battery on a trip.
I was initially hesitant to borrow my buddy’s unit, and cast it very carefully the whole time I was using it. I was concerned that the eyelet used to tie it onto the line would break, or that the housing would crack or come loose after repeated impact with the surface of the water. However, these concerns were unfounded. Both of us have used the unit extensively the last year and it shows zero signs of wear or water intrusion. I can’t comment on other brands, but given the cost of these units I would definitely advise shoppers to read the user reviews of any models they are interested in. The units are fairly heavy and a long, lobbing cast can cause them to really make an impact when they hit the water.
The one complaint I have with the Striker Cast is that it does not have an onboard GPS. The “maps” I have drawn of my fishing holes sadly live only in my head. There are models like the Striker Cast GPS that do incorporate this feature, and I would definitely advise anglers to go ahead and spring for the extra cost it adds. Small ponds, lakes, and creeks usually aren’t featured on any bathymetric maps available, so it’s a great feature to be able to draw your own to study.
How To Use A Castable Fish Finder Effectively
Just like with any other sonar unit, you’ll get way more out of the technology if you understand how to use it. Castable fish finders are pretty simple to use, but I’ve learned a couple of tips after some time using mine that I’ll share here.
The biggest piece of advice I have is to make sure that you have a stout rod to use with the unit. The Ugly Stik that I used initially was overkill, and I currently get by fine with a fiberglass medium-heavy bass rod. You definitely want something with a strong tip, good length, and a stout backbone.
As for the actual casting, you want to try and cast well past wherever you suspect fish will be, if you’re using the unit to locate them. A baseball-sized chunk of plastic will spook just about any fish in the lake if it lands square on top of its head.
You’ll also want to be mindful of how you retrieve the unit. Too fast, and the unit will wiggle and sway and create erratic and inaccurate readings. To slow, and the nice, clean “arc” that fish should show will turn into wormy wiggles. There’s definitely a sweet spot in the retrieve, and it’s worth experimenting in order to find it.
Final Thoughts On Castable Fish Finders
As somebody who has spent over a decade working in the outdoor industry, I’m usually pretty hard to impress when it comes to new gear, particularly electronics. A lot of gear is meant to catch fishermen instead of fish, and gimmicks come and go every year. This skepticism kept me out of the castable fish finder game for several years, and that has very much been my loss. Castable fish finders are legitimate and quite capable sonar units, and if you are constrained to the bank my advice would be to go ahead and purchase one as soon as you’re able. It may not make you a better fisherman, but it will definitely make you a better-informed one.
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