Aug 252015

The Lowrance Elite 3X fishfinder is one of the least expensive fishfinders available, there will be a lot of kayak fishermen who are looking for a basic, low cost fishfinder and the kayak fishermen who do not need a $500 fishfinder might be interested in the Elite 3X. The low price and color screen will be tempting, but there are a few things to consider.

By far, the biggest problem we had with the Elite 3X was not the fishfinder itself, but with the terrible Lowrance customer service. We emailed Lowrance at least a half dozen times asking for technical information about the Elite 3X, as well as the Elite 4X and 5X, but not a single email was answered. A company that does not respond to pre-sales inquiries is likely not going to respond to warranty or support requests either, so we got the least expensive model in case there were problems. No response by email, so we called the Navico(the corporation that owns Lorwance) call center a number of times both before and after buying the Elite 3X. The information they gave was useless, nearly always incorrect and they never miss a chance to try and up sell you on a more expensive fishfinder or accessory.

As far as the fishfinder itself, it is a nice looking, small fishfinder and the color screen is attractive, but it’s what’s inside that counts. We did a side by side, on the water comparison with two brand new Lowrance Elite 3X fishfinders and a ten year old Eagle CUDA 168. Lowrance(Navico) purchased Eagle and the Eagle line of products was absorbed into the Lowrance catalog. Overall, we felt the CUDA 168 was more accurate than the two Elite 3X fishfinders. That’s with the CUDA 168 transducer shooting through the hull and the Elite 3X transducer in the water. Both the Elite 3X and CUDA 168 are 200 kHz devices(the Elite 3X is 83/200 kHz) and use a Lowrance HST-WSU transducer. A very important point about the Elite 3X fishfinder is that the transducer that comes with the unit cannot be used to shoot through the hull of a kayak or boat, the Elite 3X transducer must be in the water or the fishfinder will not work.

Lowrance Elite 3X fishfinder review

Since we are doing an in-hull installation and the transducer that came with the fishfinder won’t work, what options do we have? The cheapest solution is a Lowrance Scupper Hole Transducer Mount. That leaves the transducer sticking out the bottom of the kayak. Since we kayak in an area with a lot of rocks, that’s out. Or, according to Lowrance Technical Support which has yet to give us correct information, we need to buy a different transducer, which costs just about as much as the fishfinder. Then, there’s the option we chose; to return the Elite 3X and try something else.

We were concerned about the Elite 3X’s ability to shoot through the kayak hull, that’s a big reason why we tried to contact Lowrance before we bought it. Before the sale, Lowrance phone representatives(we called twice on two different days), told us that the Elite 3X would, in fact, shoot through the hull of the kayak. What they didn’t tell us is that we needed to buy an additional $80 transducer to do it. We wasted a lot of time for no reason other than Lowrance being more concerned with getting us to buy a more expensive fishfinder than providing the basic information we required.

If you want an inexpensive, low power fishfinder and can mount the transducer in the water, the Lowrance Elite 3X is an option. Just hope you don’t have problems.

Aug 182015

After weeks of wind, we finally got a mostly calm day to get out on the Columbia to do a little smallmouth bass fishing. The air was full of smoke from multiple large wildfires in the area, but it was sunny and not too hot. The water level was even a little high for this time of year, the flow of the Columbia River is completely controlled by the many large dams so you never know what you’re going to get.

I got one small bass on one of the first few casts so I thought we might be in for a good day, but it turned out that was the only fish I caught in five hours of fishing. The fish were just not biting at all. I might have done better if I had a working fishfinder so I could find where the underwater dropoffs were. Sometimes, you can tell where they are by the water color, but if there is wind chop and you’re drifting around, a fishfinder helps to keep you in place. Even with a fishfinder, I still might have not caught anything. It was one of those days, where after a couple hours, you knew the fish just weren’t biting. There were a few guys fishing for steelhead, I didn’t see them catch anything either. This past summer has been pretty bad as far as smallmouth bass fishing goes. I don’t know if it was the low river water levels during the spring spawning, the fluctuating water levels because of the drought conditions, the extremely hot weather and warmer than normal water temperatures or what, the usually reliable and active smallmouth bass fishing has been dead. It’s been mostly windy for the past couple months so it’s not like it’s fished out either. Who knows?

If you’re going to fish all day and get nothing, the best fish to go after is steelhead. They are probably the hardest fish to catch around here. Most of the time, if you get one or two a year, that’s pretty good. Last year, I caught more steelhead than I ever have. Maybe it’s beginner’s luck, but I think it’s time to get the heavier gear out and start going after them. Most of the steelhead I caught last year were native fish. They are beautiful fish and strong fighters, but you can’t keep them. Anyway, time to dig out the steelhead/salmon fishing stuff. I’m hoping that all these heat and water issues don’t have an adverse effect on the fall steelhead and salmon runs. Maybe that’s why they are letting more water out of the dams.

We finished up making an inexpensive, removable stern light for the kayak. During steelhead and salmon fishing season, I’m out on the Columbia River in the dark, I want to be sure that power boats will see me and not run me over. I’ll be posting how to make it on the website.

Aug 122015

As you may know, I’ve been trying to install a Lowrance Elite 3X fishfinder on the kayak for nearly two months now without success. I bought the fishfinder from Dicks Sporting Goods because it was on sale. Turned out not to be such a bargain because the fishfinder that I bought was defective out of the box. I’ve been going back and forth with Lowrance Customer Service since then and it’s pretty clear that I am not going to get a working fishfinder from them. When I called Lowrance customer service on the phone since they do not respond to emails and told them about the problem, they sent me a transducer/power cable. Of course, since the fishfinder is defective, all this did was give me another couple weeks of no fishfinder and more frustration.
When I called again and told them the fishfinder was still not working, they told me they might be able to fix the unit OR “for my troubles” I could upgrade to a more expensive model at a “discounted” price. So, Lowrance sells you a defective product and when you request warranty service, they try to up sell you. That’s a pretty messed up way of doing business.

Since the warranty that comes with Lowrance fishfinders is basically worthless, back to Dicks Sporting Goods where I inform them I will be disputing the charge for the fishfinder, do they want me to send the fishfinder back? Dicks Sporting Goods said they would replace it under the 90 day return policy. When I called a few days later, there was no record of this. I’ve just about had enough of Lowrance and Dicks Sporting Goods. If a retailer sells you a defective product, why is it such a hassle to exchange it? I paid for what they advertised; a working fishfinder with a one year warranty and I got neither.

If you are thinking of buying a Lowrance fishfinder or sonar/GPS unit, especially one of their more expensive models, I would strongly advise you to think about it. If you do buy a Lowrance unit online, you better make sure the place you buy it from has a bullet-proof return/refund policy, because dealing with Lowrance warranty service is the road to nowhere.

Aug 012015

We braved the 105° afternoon heat to do a little kayak fishing for smallmouth bass on the Columbia River. A few days ago, water was released from the upstream Columbia River dam which raised the very low river water levels and probably cooled the water off as well, which seemed to make the smallmouth bass more eager to bite. Today, after a couple 100° days, the water is lower and no doubt warmer, so the fishing was a little slow. It’s always harder to find bass in the hot summer months than it is in the spring. The bigger fish are in deeper water, so the best place to fish is along underwater dropoffs. With the new Lowrance Elite 3X on the blink, finding these underwater ridges is much more difficult. We caught a few smaller fish and I managed to get a nice one on one of the underwater ridges before the intense heat forced us off the water.

Columbia River smallmouth bass

I do the best I can to protect myself from the sun using sunscreen, protective clothing and sunglasses, but a couple days on the water in over 100° has left me with some sunburn and feeling pretty drained. The heat and drought conditions are not good for the fish either and the news about the drought’s effect on the local fish is not good. Salmon and steelhead fishing will, hopefully, begin in earnest here in the next week or two, but it doesn’t look like the weather is going to cool down very much, who knows what’s going to happen?

Jul 312015

I installed a Lowrance Elite-3X fishfinder on the kayak and have been very disapointed with the performance, to say the least. I did a super careful installation and documented each step to update the photos on the kayak fishfinder installation page of the website.

Lowrance Elite-3X installation

I tested the fishfinder and transducer before installation to make sure it wasn’t a DOA unit, but there is no way to test the sonar until it is in the water. First time out it was pretty clear the fishfinder was defective. Bummer. On the phone with Lowrance and a customer service representative gave me instructions on how to do a “soft” and “hard” device reset, neither of which did anything. If you own a Lowrance Elite-3X and you see the display in the photo below, your unit is defective.

Defective Lowrance Elite-3X

Another call to Navionics, Lowrence’s corporate entity and they told me they are sending out a transducer for me to test and see if the transducer or head unit is defective. Maybe my standards are a little high since I’ve worked as an aviation and medical electronics technician, but I would hope that companies test their electronic components to see if they actually work before they leave the factory. Heck, the Lowrence Elite-3X only has two components to test, how hard can it be?

When I review and rate products here at, it’s just like you sitting here because I have to buy all this stuff, nobody sponsors us. You can’t wait to get your new thing and when it gets here, you wish you never bought it. I’ve been installing electronics in kayaks for years and in boats for decades; nobody wants to install, then rip out, then re-install a fishfinder a couple times. I guess the people who make Lowrance fishfinders have not spent a lot of time working on boats, maybe never been on a boat.

Anyway, this is an ongoing deal. Maybe the transducer is bad, then I have to tear out the transducer, which is securely attached with Lexel, and install a new transducer, power cable and fuse; a lot of work. Or, the head of the unit is bad, then I suppose I have to send everything back to Lowrance and hope they return a working unit. That will probably take a month. Or, cut my losses and buy a different brand fishfinder with better quality control and customer support. There is not much of a choice if you are in the market for basic fishfinder. I’m really bummed because I got a piece of Lowrance junk, but the truth is I was thinking about buying one of their higher end DSI or CHIRP models. I emailed Lowrance/Navico a number of times for technical information, they never returned a single email, so I decided to not go too big with a company that will not respond to pre-sales information requests. If a company won’t answer questions to get you to buy their products, guess what things are going to be like after they have your money.

Maybe Navico/Lowrance will come through, but if I might try another company. A lot of people will look at this fishfinder because it is inexpensive, but it might not be the best buy in the long run.

Jul 292015

Finally, the wind died down for a day so we could get some kayak fishing in. Thankfully, the water level in the river is a little higher, so the smallmouth bass fishing was a little better than it’s been. The water is still pretty warm and very clear. The hot summer of 2015 continues with more days in the mid nineties and really low humidity. Woke up early to beat the heat(and the afternoon breeze), it was nice and cool to start the day.

Dawn kayak launch on the Columbia River

There was a bit of wind but it died down as the sun came up. As expected for summer, the smallmouth bass are moving into deeper water and the nooks and crannies of rocky shoreline. I just installed a new fishfinder, and wouldn’t you know it, it didn’t work. As a bass fisherman, I don’t use the fishfinder to look for fish, I use it to look for places fish might be. I could have really used it today, so not a good start. More on that later. We did manage to find a few bass, mostly smaller fish, and managed to get one pretty nice fish and one really nice bass. The way the season has been going, it was a pretty good day.

Smallmouth bass fishing on the Columbia River

Next few days could go either way, weather-wise, I might have to get out on the water to test the device reset to the fishfinder. If the reset doesn’t work, I’ll probably have to send it in. Out of the box, turn it on, back in the box for warranty service; welcome to the modern world.

Jul 192015

Normally, at this time of year the blog would be full of photos and fish stories about fishing for smallmouth bass on the Columbia River and trips into the high country for trout fishing, but this year is a little different. The weather determines what you can and can’t do around here and that is the case with the fishing. It has been unusually hot and dry so far this year. Daytime temperatures have regularly been in the nineties and yesterday the relative humidity was 7%, you don’t see that too often in the Pacific Northwest. The water level in the Columbia River is far lower than usual for this time of year and the water temperature is in the mid seventies. The water level changes with the amounts of water let over the many dams on the river, but it’s safe to say there is less water because of the dryer than normal winter and spring.

These conditions are having a major impact on the sport fishing. Prolonged periods of warm and low water are not good for the native fish populations. Conditions are so marginal that the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has started to regulate fishing on most of Oregon’s rivers due to the drought conditions. The smallmouth bass have headed for the deeper parts of the Columbia River, the normally great smallmouth bass fishing has been below average, for sure. Dead fish are starting to wash up on the banks of the Columbia River. On top of all that, as far as kayak fishing goes, it has been windy so the fishing opportunities have been limited.

Dead sturgeon on the Columbia River

The salmon fishing season is coming up and we are wondering how these drought conditions are going to affect the fall salmon and steelhead runs. Environmental conditions change all the time around here, so you never know what’s going to happen. The bigger question is are these dry conditions short term or the initial signs of potential planetary climate change? Many unanswered questions, as there always are.

Jun 302015

Got the fishfinder installed in the kayak and repaired all the scratches, so it’s good to go, but it’s been windy and it looks like it’s going to stay that way for awhile so no opportunity to check out the new finder. It’s been windy, but even more important, is that it has been hot! Really hot. It was over 100°F a couple days last week and it’s been in the high 90’s since. If you want to go out for a bike ride or run, you have to go early in the morning while it’s fairly cool(after a couple 100° days, a 75° morning seems cool). Up at the crack of dawn and out on the trails!

Early morning mountain bike ride

Today we hit a trail that is not heavily ridden, mainly because you have to ride up a pretty stiff and fairly long climb to get to the trailhead. It’s rare to see another rider on most sections of the trail. It was a hot day and this is one of the most challenging climbs around, it took a while to get up to the trailhead.

Good view of Mt. Hood from the trailhead

We had some pretty nasty thunderstorms move through the area night before last that dumped a little rain onto the parched, dry earth so the trails were in pretty good shape considering the weather. Nobody has been on this trail since the storm so it’s in pretty mint condition.

Early morning mountain bike ride

Hopefully, the wind will die down here so we can get some kayak fishing in, but if it stays windy, we’ll be hitting the early morning bike rides. Tour de France starts in a few days, probably start watching the last hour of the day’s stage, then hopping on the bike and do a little riding as well.