Lowrance Explorer Elite FS 9 and ActiveTarget Live Sonar Ice Kit Reviewd

Lowrance Explorer Elite FS 9 and ActiveTarget Live Sonar Ice Kit
Reviewed by: John Baltes
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Lowrance Explorer Elite FS 9 and ActiveTarget Live Sonar Ice Kit Review

Lowrance Explorer Elite FS 9 and ActiveTarget Live Sonar Ice Kit
USAngler Rating: 

Overall, we like the Lowrance Explorer Elite FS 9, and at least at the moment, it’s the most affordable of the three picks on our shortlist. It’s also the lightest and easiest to carry, a huge bonus if you’ve got a long slog off your snowmachine.

Lowrance is the second of the “Big Three,” a perennial competitor with Garmin and Humminbird. Lowrance’s HDS-12 Live, their top-of-the-line model is really something, and we naturally wondered how the Elite FS 9 with the Explorer pack stacks up against the alternatives.

Lowrance isn’t giving much away about the specs of this system, and that’s typically a sign that apples-to-apples comparisons wouldn’t be favorable. That’s only a guess, of course, but if they were proud of the numbers, you’d think they’d make them easy to find.

As far as we can tell, the Explorer Elite FS 9 is the standard Elite FS 9 connected to a new black box and upgraded transducer.

The Elite FS 9 offers a very nice screen, that while not as readable as the amazing HDS Live 12 in direct sunlight or at extreme viewing angles, is roughly comparable to what you get from Garmin and Humminbird.

In our experience, the legibility of Active Target images is reduced by bright sunlight, and you may need to reposition your screen to provide more shade.

Lowrance’s range of fishfinders isn’t known for its user-friendliness, and the Elite FS 9 is certainly no exception in this regard. Despite a touch screen and some basic buttons, it can be frustrating to get this unit to do exactly what you want, and it takes some time to really master the functions it’s capable of.

Lowrance supplies the Explorer with its powerful Active Target transducer, capable of three modes: down, forward, and scout.

Down mode is just what you’d expect, offering moving images of what’s beneath the transducer, and there’s no question that image quality is excellent.

Forward is the FFS setting for this unit, offering an Active Target image that can help you find fish quickly, drill holes right where you need them, and simply catch more fish through the hard water.

Scout mode offers an overhead, forward-facing view, essentially combining down and forward into one picture.

In the real world, image quality and fish detection were limited to a bit less than 100 feet, allowing the Garmin ECHOMAP UHD2 a 10 to 15 percent advantage on this front.

Lowrance Active Target transducer

Lowrance’s Active Target transducer offers three modes: down, forward, and scout.

Within its effective range, Active Target provided great image quality, allowing us to differentiate bluegill from bass and study how they reacted to different lures and presentations.

Lowrance is a world leader in marine GPS, chartplotting, and mapping, and that experience shows. Their C-MAP Contour+ mapping and pre-loaded micro-SD card maps are a fantastic addition, offering ½-foot contour bathymetric maps of most lakes, ponds, and rivers in the US.

This feature can help you plan your strategy before you get on the ice, assisting you in selecting the most likely spots to start drilling.

Overall, we like the Lowrance Explorer Elite FS 9, and at least at the moment, it’s the most affordable of the three picks on our shortlist. It’s also the lightest and easiest to carry, a huge bonus if you’ve got a long slog off your snowmachine.

If the staggering price of FFS is a major obstacle for you, definitely take a look at the Lowrance.

Pros
  • Awesome image quality from the Active Target system
  • Great mapping and GPS tech
  • Competitive price
  • Light and easy to pack around on the ice
Cons
  • Confusing UI
  • Less real-world range than the Garmin

Specifications

Weight: 13 lbs.
Display size: 9”
Resolution: 800 x 480
Frequencies: 550 - 1110 kHz
Maximum range and depth: 200 feet
GPS: Yes
Maps: Yes
Data card compatibility: 1 microSD card; 32 GB maximum size

How We Tested: What to Look for in a Great FFS Fish Finder for the Ice

Image quality

Live, moving images have changed how anglers use fish-finding tech.

Now you can watch fish, studying how your technique, presentation, and lure affect their interest, enabling you to adjust your jigging in real time to better lure fish in for a strike.

Garmin, Lowrance, and Humminbird offer roughly equivalent image quality via powerful transducers that transmit ultra-high frequencies. These quickly oscillating sound waves carry more data than lower frequencies, allowing their black boxes to translate raw information into vivid, real-time, moving images.

The downside to this awesome tech is that high frequencies just don’t penetrate the water column very well, and that doesn’t change when you aim them horizontally, as FFS does.

In our testing, Garmin and Humminbird provided slightly better image quality than Lowrance, as some skipping and lagging was evident with the latter unit.

Range

FFS manufacturers make some pretty boil claims about the range of their products.

These numbers may well be accurate under ideal circumstances, but in the real world, they’re not even close.

Expect roughly half of the stated number in usable range.

In our testing, the Garmin was the best of the three, followed closely by Lowrance and Humminbird, in that order.

Ease of operation

If there’s one thing that most anglers can agree about, it’s that the user interface on a fish finder needs to be simple, inuitive, and easy to master.

Garmin is the clear leader on this front, and their UI is the best by a mile.

Lowrance and Humminbird lag behind, and it’ll take careful attention to the user’s manual and slime practice on dry land to learn to use all the features on offer.

Battery life

Frigid temperatures devour battery life like a hungry dog.

Each of these units comes with a typical battery that’s good for 6 to 10 hours, depending on your use and the ambient temp.

BUt keep in mind that none of these fish finders is rated to work below 5 F. If it’s really cold, you’ll need to be in shelter and keep your fish finder and battery warm.

Portability

Weight matters, and the Garmin is hefty.

Ideally, an FFS comes with a backpack that allows you to tote it out onto the ice and leave your hands free. 

Fortunately, Garmin and Lowrance realize this.

Unfortunately, Humminbird doesn’t.

About The Author
John Baltes
If it has fins, John has probably tried to catch it from a kayak. A native of Louisiana, he now lives in Sarajevo, where he's adjusting to life in the mountains. From the rivers of Bosnia to the coast of Croatia, you can find him fishing when he's not camping, hiking, or hunting.
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