Miracle Machine: Simrad CA44

Here's an astonishing real-world, no BS fact: Running at 25 mph in 2,000 feet of water, the Simrad CA44 combination unit on Boating's Albemarle 268 project boat held a solid bottom reading. What's more, in 750 feet of water, target separation was so good I spotted 10-pound tilefish lurking near my baits, before hooking them. Impressive? The CA44 had the best deep-water fishfinder performance I've experienced-ever.

Simrad claims that the CA44's two 1,000-watt transceivers, teamed up with the company's custom Combi-C through-hull transducer ($1,295), allow it to maintain a bottom reading to 5,000 feet. Not sure where the canyon edge is? You will be once you split the screen between this all-in-one box's fishfinder and chartplotter, which displays information with C-Map NT+ cartography. Need to spot lobster pot balls, since they attract lots of gamefish? Just split the screen again, this time with the radar. The CA44's radar spotted these small targets at a mile and a half. Clusters of three to five birds were also visible on this range setting. Set it to heads-up, north-up, or course-up. The Albemarle 268 had a Simrad RB 715A randome installed, which puts out 4kW of power and has a 36-nautical-mile range. Need more? No problem, open-array antennae with ranges up to 72 nautical miles are available.

The CA44 was the perfect machine for the Albemarle 268 because this boat's helm, as on most boats smaller than 35', wasn't large enough to accommodate multiple 10" units. So I appreciated having the DGPS/WAAS chartplotter, radar, and fishfinder all on one display. Speaking of displays: The waterproof, 640-by-480 pixel, 10" TFT LCD screen never blacked out as a result of viewing angle, direct sunlight, or polarized sunglasses.

With a combination unit, there are so many functions and display options that it can be overwhelming. But I could run basic functions including navigation, fishfinding, and radar on the first use. A week later, I was flipping between fishfinder zoom, dual radar, and synchronized radar/chart imaging screens like a pro. Anyone with a basic knowledge of electronics and a little experience will have no problem becoming quickly familiar with this unit. One minor-league complaint: You have to access several screens to erase previous tracks; a track erase option should be in the quick-access menu. There are lower-cost options for this combination unit than the rig on the Albemarle 268. But the fact is, after using it for an entire season, the CA44 is my favorite of any electronics system I've tested.

Price As Tested $9,595 Contact Simrad at 425/778-8821, www.simrad.com