Using Portable Sonar Fish Finder In Lake Michigan

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There are many great things to do in Jean Klock Park and the nearby water front. From volleyball and biking to building sand castles and playing golf. My favorite activity, by far, is fishing out in the beautiful waters of Lake Michigan that line the shore of the park. If you think about it, though, we don’t really know what lies under the surface of Lake Michigan. With the help of a team of scientists using portable sonar fish finders, we are starting to find out.

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Boat On The Bottom Of Lake Michigan

Most of the Lake Michigan floor has remained unexplored. However, with new portable sonar fish finder technology, a research project is underway to find out what is under the water just beyond the beaches of Jean Klock Park.

Since spring of 2015, a team of research scientists has been cruising Lake Michigan along the Jean Klock Park shore, as well as to the north and south to create a complete map of the lake bed.

A few weeks ago, I had a chance to briefly speak to Robert Klapper, the Chief Scientist for the project. According to Mr. Klapper,  “A traditional nautical chart has a few depth soundings on it, you know, just simple discrete locations. However, our underwater map is continuous. What that means is that we are able see the peaks and valleys, the ledges, and the ridges of the lake bottom. This is all important info for us as researchers to draw the linkages between the lake floor’s habitat and the various types of living organisms which inhabit it.” Mr. Klapper was referring to the portable sonar fish finder that the researchers are using.

Once a week, the boat ‘Tilly Mae’ zigzags across the water, utilizing a portable sonar fish finder to scan the lake floor. The boat emits sonar pings in a wide fan, creating a picture on an LCD screen from data of the lake floor. This is not your average cheap fish finder. This portable fish finder uses side sonar imaging, much like the one in the following video.

After several weeks of back and forth cruising, the sonar fish finder provides traditional chart info, such as depth, in amazing detail. Again, this is not your uncle’s regular old cheap portable fish finder.

The portable fish finders sonar data reveals much more than just depth. Thanks to the advanced sonar echo of their portable fish finder, the scientists can decipher if the bottom is soft, sandy, hard, has seagrass or any other objects on the lake floor. To be sure, I would love to have one of these the next time that I go tiger muskie fishing out on Lake Michigan.

The sonar fish finder technology that they are using is somewhat similar to commercial fish finders, except these fish finders use scientific grade echo sounders.

The portable depth sounder transmits a ping, or pulse of sound. The ping is then transmitted up and down through the lake’s water column and the ping reflects off of everything that is in the lake’s water column which is of a different density than any of the other surrounding media.

Each day and night as the boat cruises back and forth to shore, the sonar fish finder ‘sees’ the fish and plots this important info onto the maps.

By joining the sonar fish finder data with their own direct observations, the research team is able to create detailed maps of the lake bed habitat.

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In addition to the physical habitat, what else are the researchers studying? Robert Klapper explained, “Why are salmon, muskie, and other fish going to a particular location? Can we see certain behaviors common among the fish that are going on? Maybe only certain species of fish are going to that location. So, this is a very focused scientific application. Additionally, we conduct other science and experiments, which we can then apply toward a fishing and wildlife management community.”

Mr. Klapper went on to say, “Clearly, underwater habitats are extremely important, but we would like to better know how the fish are utilizing those underwater habitats. Then we will better understand how we can more effectively manage those natural habitats for the area wildlife.”

All of researchers scientific data that is collected along Jean Klock Park shores will help fish biologists to better understand the fish in the area, in particular salmon and musky, and will provide insight into lake and water changes elsewhere in the state.

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