It’s the kind of fish story that doesn’t come along often—the kind of fish story that starts in a dog park.

That’s where the makers of a revolutionary fish finder were working two years ago before they unleashed a decade of military sonar building experience on the industry.

Their new product is called FishHunter, and it’s one of the best marine electronic devices of the year. In the past 18 months, thousands of consumers have purchased FishHunter, but to understand why, you’ve got to go back 24-months to the dog days of Doggey Datez.

Doggey Datez was an app that—much like it sounds—created a way for dog owners to connect based on their location and the kind of dog they owned. It was a hit. It was featured as one of the top apps for pet owners on iTunes—a feat most developers would be happy to rest their laurels on.

But FishHunter founder Michael Smith says Doggey Datez was just a proving ground for Appetite Lab, the team behind the best new way for anglers to find fish.

A Smarter Way to Find Fish

Smith is an avid fisherman who saw an opportunity to tap into the $400 million marine electronics market by using his experience with military sonar and applying it to smartphones.

True to their vision, FishHunter has grown by leaps and bounds based on the quality of their first product, a military grade smartphone fish finder.

If you’ve been to an industry show in the past year, you’ve likely seen something like it.

FishHunter’s fish finder is a bobber-like sonar ball that attaches to your line. From there, you cast the fishfinder into the area that you’re interested in exploring. Smith says it’s perfect for situations where you don’t have access to a larger boat mounted unit, or you’re using a kayak or canoe. But thanks to it’s military-grade build (which applies to both the internal and external design of the finder), the finder is equally at home in large saltwater bays and inlets. And for anglers on foot or on ice, it’s an incredible weapon to keep in your tackle box.

FishHunter links to your smartphone to display the readout from its military-grade sonar ball.

And much like popular underwater fish cameras, it’s easy to see FishHunter becoming an essential in the ice-hut.

FishHunter is quickly becoming the market leader in a new product category that retailers are excited about, and Smith is adamant that his company’s product far surpasses their competitors.

FishHunter’s finder uses a bluetooth connection to link anglers to a 381khz transducer feed. Thanks to the high frequency and high power output, FishHunter gathers the most accurate sonar data in the industry. Where competitors use algorithms to display a dumbed-down map of “fish” to anglers, Smith’s product gives the smart angler the real sonar feed.

“It takes a team of people months to interpret the data and guess at what could be a fish or what could be a weed.

But fishermen are smart. They’ve been reading sonar for years. FishHunter knows that, and they’ve chosen to give anglers the raw sonar data to interpret for themselves.

It’s a ‘ball don’t lie’ approach that sets FishHunter apart from competitors in the category.

“We believe that fisherman are smart and have experience in knowing how to read raw sonar output,” he says. “The bottom line is that a fish finder is as much about learning the bottom contour, depth and the water temperature to locate possible fishing spots as it is about seeing fish on the screen.”

Sonar has been around for a long time,” he says. And even though FishHunter’s app does give anglers the ability to see a simplified layout of the area, the real advantage comes in when educated anglers head to the raw sonar feed. “If you look at the raw data, at least you’ll know what you’re looking at,” he says. “Most of the other players in the category seem to be focusing on presenting pretty pictures of fish that you don’t know are there, if you cannot see the actual raw data then you are relying on someone else to tell you what is real or not.”

Because the sonar ball works in conjunction with the company’s smartphone app, the product is constantly evolving.

To ensure that they continue their development in the right direction, FishHunter works with communities like GetLargemouth to help with testing their product within the community of more than 200,000 members. FishHunter can update their program in about a week to get that feedback into the hands of all of their customers.  “We’re just releasing FishHunter 3.0,” says Smith. “Because of customer feedback, we’ve added a higher antenna, a lower towing point and anew transducer algorithm for the sonar.”

GetLargemouth tests the product, sends feedback to FishHunter’s development team and watches the product grow in front of them. FishHunter can update their program in about a week to get that feedback into the hands of all of their customers.  “We’re just releasing FishHunter 3.0,” says Smith. “Because of customer feedback, we’ve added a higher antenna, a lower towing point and a new transducer algorithm for the sonar. 

We caught up with Smith as he was testing the latest version of FishHunter in the saltwater lagoons of Mexico—the southernmost proving grounds for trials that have ranged as far north as Canada. In Mexico, Smith was busy collecting more data for his development team. There, he describes some of the challenges FishHunter faces while improving their smartphone fish finder:

“Writing a program that draws fish on the screen is actually very difficult. It involves teams of people sitting in rooms working on an algorithm. Lucky for me though that I love to go fishing. At first, the app was too complicated. We previewed it to about 50 fisherman 18 months ago, and we quickly learned to simplify the clicks. We redesigned the catches interface (where anglers can show off their latest catch) to show bigger pictures of what you catch, made the connection to the sonar automatic, and continue to enhance the mapping interface so that fisherman can actually have the app use GPS navigation to get back to their favorite fishing spot.”

Until now, FishHunter has been relying on online sales to keep the ball—no pun intended—rolling. But Smith says the positive feedback he’s received from retailers this year has led the team to start reaching out to tackle store owners. FishHunter is already offering store owners merchandizing support, including end cap and inline support based on the quantity of units a store wants to carry.

FishHunter, he says, is building a brand similar to action-camera giant GoPro. The military grade smartphone fish finder might be their first product, but it won’t be their last.

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For retailers, it makes sense to bring FishHunter on board. It’s the type of product that brings customers through the door, and it has the potential to introduce an entirely the burgeoning world of marine electronics to anglers who might not even own a boat.

“It’s got the power of a $500 fish finder packed into a $230 package,” said Smith. “Everybody thinks it’s cool once they understand it.”

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