One of the ways to up your fishing game is by getting a fish finder. This handy gadget is a blessing for all anglers, making it easier to locate the target fish and as a result, increase your fishing haul. However, shopping for a fish finder can be a daunting task since there are so many options on the market. That’s why we’ve created this guide to help you find the best fish finder for the money among the top rated products in 2020. Below the fish finder reviews and comparison, you can also find a buying guide where we go into detail on how to choose the right fish finder that would fit your style of fishing.
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Best Fish Finder Comparison Table
- Humminbird HELIX 5 CHIRP GPS G2
- Display: 5"
- Sonar: CHIRP (77/200 kHz)
- Transmit power: 500 W (RMS)
- Max depth: 1,500 ft
- Connectivity: -
- Deeper PRO+ Smart Sonar
- Display: -
- Sonar: Dual Beam (90/290 kHz)
- Transmit power: 200 W (RMS)
- Max depth: 260 ft
- Connectivity: Wi-Fi
- Garmin Striker 4
- Display: 3.5"
- Sonar: CHIRP (77/200 kHz)
- Transmit power: 200 W (RMS)
- Max depth: 1,600 ft
- Connectivity: -
- Humminbird HELIX 7 CHIRP MDI GPS G3
- Display: 7"
- Sonar: CHIRP, MDI (83/200/455 kHz)
- Transmit power: 500 W (RMS)
- Max depth: 1,200 ft
- Connectivity: -
- Garmin Echomap Chirp 94SV
- Display: 9"
- Sonar: CHIRP ClearVü/SideVü (77/200 kHz)
- Transmit power: 500 W (RMS)
- Max depth: 2,300 ft
- Connectivity: -
- HDS-7 LIVE - 7
- Display: 7"
- Sonar: CHIRP Side Scan/Down Scan (83/200/455 kHz)
- Transmit power: 500 W (RMS)
- Max depth: 1,600 ft
- Connectivity: Wi-Fi and Bluetooth
Top 10 Fish Finders Reviewed
Garmin Striker 4 Fish Finder with CHIRP
The top rated fish finder in 2020 is the Garmin Striker 4. It’s the perfect choice for those that are looking for a high quality fish finder on a budget. It offers multiple features and it even has CHIRP technology, which is surprising for such an affordable unit.
This particular model comes with a 3.5 inch display. However, if you prefer a bigger size, there are also 5 and 7 inch display sizes available.
This small fish finder is equipped with a CHIRP transducer, which shows a lot more detail of what is underwater around your boat. It works by sending a continuous sweep of frequencies, which provides a wider range of information than a traditional transducer, which sends just one single frequency. It provides a higher level of clarity of objects, structure and fish. Moreover, this CHIRP sonar system creates crisper fish arches, which makes easier target separation.
Another great feature is the built-in flasher, which can be used for ice fishing or vertical jigging. It’s a handy addition that makes this fish finder more versatile. However, if you’re looking for a fish finder mainly for ice fishing, you’ll probably find a specialized ice fishing flasher to be more accurate.
This dual beam fish finder with flasher mode also comes with GPS capabilities. So, if you’re fishing in unfamiliar waters, you can easily view the map to find out where you are, as well as how long it will take to get to the final waypoint and to the final destination. Moreover, it shows you your speed and water depth.
On top of that, you can mark the dock that you used to get into the water, so you don’t get lost trying to get back. And in a similar way, you can mark and navigate to other waypoints.
The sonar fish finder is suitable for both saltwater and freshwater fishing. It’s accurate in both deep and shallow waters, though up to 1,600 feet in freshwater and 750 feet in saltwater.
For the best budget fish finder, this is definitely our top pick. It’s a simple fish finder with an intuitive interface, plenty of features and great accuracy in both deep and shallow waters. And due to its compact size, it’s perfect for small boats, pontoon boats and kayaks.
Humminbird Helix 5 CHIRP GPS G2
Another great chartplotter fishfinder is the Humminbird Helix 5 model. This is one of the most user friendly fish finders and it offers top-tier technology with advanced CHIRP and dual beam sonar.
The first great thing about this fish finder is the 5 inch display. It offers a color picture with great definition. The wide screen also makes it easier to see from a distance or to view digital readings from both GPS and fishfinder at the same time.
Another advantage is the advanced sonar technology. First of all, it includes the CHIRP sonar. You can dial in a specific frequency within the available range and it will give you better target separation, better imaging with less noise and just overall greater accuracy.
With the dual beam sonar, you can either use the wider beam when you need to search a larger area or use the narrow beam for more accuracy of fish, structure and bottom profile. Moreover, you can use the two beams combined, which will reveal fish, contours and structure with a wide coverage area.
One more great feature is the SwitchFire sonar. It gives you the option of switching between Clear and Max mode. With the Clear mode, you can remove most of the clutter on the screen, leaving just the strongest targets and the bottom. And with the Max mode, you can view all sonar information at the same time, showing more fish arches and other details.
This particular Helix 5 model doesn’t have side imaging or down imaging. However, there are also a few variations of the Helix 5 model. If you want a cheaper option, you can skip the CHIRP and opt for just dual beam technology. Alternatively, you can choose CHIRP, dual beam sonar, down imaging and side imaging all in one unit.
The dual screen fish finder also comes with a transom mounted transducer with the system’s depth capability reaching up to 1,500 feet. The transducer is also equipped with a water temperature probe that measures the temperature at the upper most water layer.
Additionally, this fish locator is designed with built-in navigation. It offers the UniMap charts, which aren’t very detailed but are still enough if you don’t need an advanced navigation tool. And if you want more navigational capability, you can upgrade the charts.
Deeper Pro+ Smart Sonar Portable Fish Finder
If you’re looking for a portable fish finder, then one of the highest rated fish locators is the Deeper Pro+. This handy gadget is perfect for fishing from shore, boat or even ice fishing. It’s also a great unit for trolling from a kayak.
This fish finder features a castable sonar unit that can be paired with an iOS or Android smartphone or tablet, allowing you to monitor the sonar feedback on your mobile device.
Through the downloadable app, you can view fish, depth, structure and vegetation. In the app, you can also make different adjustments. For example, you can view the map and graph side by side, drag one of them to make it larger or smaller, choose wide or narrow beam sonar, and more.
It operates through a WiFi connection, which means that you get fast data transfer and that you can use it in areas where there’s no cell service.
The casting range of this fish locator is 330 feet, while the maximum scan depth is 260 feet. Once you’ve cast the sonar unit, it will immediately provide you with depth and temperature. And as you slowly reel it in, it will scan the water, helping you locate fish, view vegetation areas, bottom contour, hardness and consistency.
Moreover, the fish finder also offers a flash reading setting that lets you examine the water column that is beneath your hole. So, when you’re ice fishing, you will know what is in your water column and when to prepare for a strike.
If you’ll be using this compact fish finder from a boat or kayak, it also offers mapping functions with its built-in GPS. It allows you to not only view lake maps but to also create bathymetric maps that you can save, retrieve and analyze for later use. All the maps and scans are saved on Cloud, so you can build a detailed record of all the locations where you have fished.
This fish finder is lightweight and compact, making it truly mobile. This gives you sonar fish finder power wherever you go.
Humminbird Helix 7 CHIRP MDI GPS G3
For those who are looking for a down imaging fish finder, the top recommendation is the Humminbird Helix 7 model. It offers plenty of new features and upgrades to the previous generation of Helix 7, providing the user with new sonar capabilities.
The first thing to note about this high quality 7-inch fish finder is the MEGA down imaging feature. It offers three times the output of standard down imaging sonar and provides great clarity of what’s below your boat.
Moreover, this fish finder also includes Dual Spectrum CHIRP that gives you two options of how to search the underwater. You can either choose a wide mode or narrow mode. The first one will give you more coverage and the second one more detail. Additionally, there’s a full mode that allows you to select the preferred frequency within the available interval.
When it comes to depth capability, the system can scan up to 1,200 feet in 2D, 350 feet with down imaging and 125 feet with MEGA down imaging.
In addition to sonar, this device also provides navigation. It includes basic charts with over 10,000 lakes and coastal coverage of the U.S. The basemap also provides a clear view of underwater terrain and marked points of interest.
If you would like to get more advanced navigation features, you can also upgrade this unit with a Navionics or LakeMaster database.
It comes with a 7 inch high resolution display, which provides plenty of viewing room and the ability to choose a split-screen option. The screen also has an adjustable backlight, so you get excellent readability even in direct sunlight.
Garmin Echomap CHIRP 94SV
If you have a higher budget and you’re looking for the best side imaging fish finder, then a really good option is the Garmin Echomap 94SV. It’s a fully-stocked fish finder that combines powerful sonar and navigation capabilities.
The first thing that stands out is the 9 inch display. The huge screen makes it perfect for larger boats since it’s easier to see from a distance. It also allows splitting the screen into 4 sections for viewing different sonar readings at once.
The included CHIRP sonar provides amazing definition and clarity, making fishing an entirely new experience. It offers amazingly clear target separation.
When it comes to structure scanning, this unit offers both SideVu and DownVu, which is basically side scan and down scan technology. So, with a down scan, you can view what is directly beneath the boat. And with a side scan, you can view up to 700 feet on both sides of the boat. It allows you to clearly see structure, objects and fish.
You can also combine CHIRP sonar with a side scan or a down scan in order to get the clearest view of fish and structure both below and to the sides of your boat.
This fish finder also offers sonar recording. It coordinates the time of the sonar return with your current position and saves it. Later, you can rewatch it on your computer using HomePort software.
Coming from a brand that is considered to be a leader in navigation products, this Garmin fish finder also offers an advanced built-in GPS. It comes preloaded with charts of the coastal U.S. and the Canadian side of the Great Lakes. And unlike with smaller fish finder units, Garmin’s charts are a lot more detailed.
In addition to basic charts, it also provides tidal stations, depth contours, currents and fishing charts. On top of that, you can create your own personalized fishing maps by creating HD maps with 1-foot contours.
Lowrance HDS-7 LIVE
The Lowrance HDS-7 LIVE is also one of the most advanced fish finders that come at a higher price tag. It offers the latest fish finder innovations, providing powerful sonar, incredibly fast response time and crystal clear pictures.
This fish finder comes in a sleek design with a 7-inch display. It’s a high resolution HD display that can be easily viewed from any angle, even under direct sunlight or through polarized sunglasses.
If you would like to have an even larger screen, the HDS-7 LIVE is also available in sizes 9, 12 and 16 inches.
The CHIRP sonar provides live views of target fish and its movements. Thanks to the dual core processor, it provides quick response times to easily drive the sonar technology. This results in a smooth, responsive operation with no lag whatsoever.
You can combine CHIRP sonar with other sonar technologies, such as side imaging, down imaging and structure scan. With the structure scan, you get a three-dimensional view of fish, structure and bottom. It makes it easier to locate the fish and structure in relation to the boat. With a side scan, you can view up to 600 feet to the sides of the boat. And down imaging provides high detail images of what is below.
It’s also designed with a wider range of colors, which creates a high visibility contrast. And this creates near photographic images that make it easier to scan fish.
The fish finder also features a built-in GPS antenna. The GPS receiver has a 10Hz update rate, so you get smoother performance and maximum position accuracy. It also offers preloaded high detail maps of over 4,000 lakes in the U.S.
Another thing that sets this fish finder apart from others is the Bluetooth and Wireless connectivity. By pairing it with your phone, you could view your smartphone notifications or texts right on your fish finder. There’s also an option to either keep the notifications on or turn them off for uninterrupted fishing.
Garmin Striker Plus 5cv
For another more affordable fish finder, check out also the Garmin Striker Plus 5cv. This Striker Plus is an upgrade to the old Striker series. It offers more advanced technology and new features, which make this unit more user-friendly and more effective at catching more fish.
A colorful 5 inch display offers high definition imaging. Its crisp, clear images are easy to view even in direct sunlight.
This fish finder is also easy to use thanks to its intuitive user interface that allows you to easily navigate the menu options and tweak the various settings.
The unit combines CHIRP technology with Garmin’s ClearVu scanning technology. The traditional CHIRP sonar emits a sweeping range of frequencies in order to provide great detail and amazing target separation. And the ClearVu provides near photographic imaging of what’s happening beneath your boat. The combination results in clear images of structure, submerged objects and fish.
Similarly to most other Garmin fish finders, this unit also includes sonar recording, so you can rewind your fishing history later on.
With this fish finder, you’ll also be able to keep track of your position on the water thanks to the built-in GPS. Moreover, it will allow you to mark different waypoints, such as fish baiting spots, docks, boat ramps and more. This will make it easier to create a route back to them in the future.
Another advantage of this fish locating system is the Quickdraw Contours software. It allows you to create map bottom contours of the places where you have been fishing. You can create contours with up to 1 foot intervals and with a storage capacity up to 2 million acres.
Humminbird Piranhamax 4
The Humminbird Piranhamax 4 is another great affordable fish finder option. Due to the low price, it skips on some of the more advanced features, such as GPS, down scan or side scan capability. However, it makes a great entry level fish finder for those who are looking for a high quality product without too many bells and whistles.
This fish finder uses dual beam sonar, so you can choose to use either a narrow or a wide beam. It uses conical beams of 16 and 28 degrees wide. The narrow beam provides more detail, while the wider one provides a greater coverage area. By using these two beams, you can identify fish, structure and contours.
There are also a few other useful sonar related functions. One of them is Fish Alarm that emits a sound when the transducer beam hits a target fish. There’s Depth Alarm that lets you preset a certain depth value and then it will emit a sound when you reach that depth. And there’s also a Battery Alarm that will notify you when your fish finder starts running low on power.
The fish finder is equipped with a 4.3 inch LCD display. It also uses LED backlighting, which increases the ease of readability in direct sunlight.
Lowrance Hook2 TripleShot
One of the best buy fish finders is also the Lowrance Hook2 TripleShot model. It’s definitely not the cheapest side imaging fish finder but it’s well worth the price.
It features a 9-inch display that is high resolution and very intuitive. It provides crisp and clear images of what’s underwater and it stays clearly visible in both daylight and low light.
The intuitive display with phone-like menus is also very easy to use. This means that you’ll be able to spend more time fishing and less time adjusting settings.
The TripleShot part of the name refers to its 3-in-1 transducer. It provides CHIRP, down scan and side scan. CHIRP sonar provides detailed fish arch views with a wide angle cone, providing you with more coverage than with traditional fish finders. The SideScan scans the water up to 300 feet on both sides. And down scan sonar sends the beam straight down.
One of the unique features of this CHIRP sounder is the auto-tuning sonar, which can be a big plus for beginners. You can just plug it in and start fishing, without having to deal with dialing in the sonar. However, if you’d like to take over control over the process, you can simply switch to Custom mode, which will give you full adjustability.
Like most of the other fish finders in this price range, this unit also comes with GPS capability. It allows you to navigate by following trails and to add waypoints that you would like to come back to. The unit is also equipped with an SD card slot for saving waypoints and upgrading the mapping.
There are various options for transducer installation. You can mount it on the transom, trolling motor or inside the hull. And it comes with all the mounting hardware, so it’s ready for installation right out of the box.
Lucky Handheld Fish Finder
The last pick for our top 10 fish finders in 2020 is the Lucky handheld model that also offers great value for the money. It’s the cheapest fish finder on this list, which is perfect for fishing beginners. However, it does offer a few features that fishing lovers of all levels will also find useful.
It’s a portable fish finder that is suitable for a variety of fishing environments. You can bring it for kayak fishing, ice fishing, lake fishing or offshore fishing. However, it’s especially handy for kayak and shore fishing. You can even use it on a moving kayak if your speed stays below 5mph.
The unit offers a small LCD display that is easily visible in sunlight. It also offers backlighting that you can turn on when night fishing. On the screen, you can view the fish location and the depth it is at. It also shows weeds and bottom contours.
The fish finder sends a 45 degree cone, while the depth capability is up to 328 feet. It’s powered by 4 AAA batteries that give you about 4-5 hours of continuous use. And if you’d like it to work a bit longer, you can turn on the battery saving mode.
What Is a Fish Finder?
A fish finder or sounder is a type of sonar tool that is used by anglers to detect fish. Sonar is actually an abbreviation for Sound, Navigation and Ranging. For a fish finder to work, it has to have a transducer, transmitter, receiver and display.
Except for showing fish, a fish finder also displays submerged objects and what the bottom looks like. On the provided images, you’ll be able to see how many fish are down there, what depth they are at and what is the temperature beneath the surface.
How Does a Fish Finder Work?
In order to get the most out of your new fish finder, it’s important to understand how they operate. Without understanding the technology, you might not be able to unlock the benefits it provides. That’s why below we’ll discuss in detail all about fish finders.
One of the main components of a fish finder is a transducer. It’s the antenna of the system. And to understand how a fish finder works you need to understand how does a transducer work.
A fish finder is basically an echo sounder that works by transmitting an electrical pulse, which a transducer then converts into a sound wave (sonar wave). When this wave reaches an object within its beam, such as fish or bottom, it’s reflected back to the device. This information is then reflected back to the device and is displayed on the screen in an image. And in the image, you can see the size, composition and shape of the found object.
If the sonar wave doesn’t encounter anything along its way, it strikes the bottom. The fish finder then analyzes the signal to understand the type of bottom that is under the transducer. Soft bottoms tend to absorb the signal. So, it will be displayed on the screen as sand, mud or weeds. Hard bottoms, on the other hand, reflect a stronger signal. So, if the fish finder gets a stronger signal back, it shows a rocky bottom on the screen.
As for measuring the distance to the fish or other underwater objects, the fish finder measures the time lapse between the transmitted signal and the received echo. This process is repeated multiple times per second, which results in an image drawn on the display.
Fish finders also use different frequencies for the sonar waves. They can operate either on just a single frequency, on two frequencies or multiple frequencies. And the more frequencies a fish finder uses, the more detail and less background noise you’ll see on the screen.
Another important aspect of how fish finders work is the cone angle, which determines the coverage area beneath the transducer. And the wider the angle, the more coverage you will get.
A wide cone angle works better in shallow waters. It offers more coverage of the underwater world, but it does so at the expense of depth capability. A narrow cone will do the opposite, it won’t be able to show much of what’s around you but it will be able to penetrate to deeper depths.
Types of Fish Finders
There’s a vast amount of fish finder products available on the market. However, most of them can be categorized into four main types.
- Mountable. These are offshore fish finders that are designed for fixed mounting. They can be mounted on the dash or on a gimbal, which would allow you to easily view the screen from the driver’s seat.
- Portable. If you would like a fish finder that would be easy to transport and that would be quick and easy to mount and dismount, then the best option for you would probably be a portable unit. They usually include a transducer, a temporary mount and a small screen. This is a great option for kayak fishing or fishing from a small boat.
- Castable. Another common option among portable fish finders is a unit that includes a castable transducer and a float. And instead of providing a display, it allows you to view the sonar information right on your smartphone.
- Ice fish finder. This type is recommended for those who mainly do ice fishing. These units use flashers, which then display a graph of the collected sonar data.
How to Choose the Right Fish Finder? – Buying Guide
If you’ve never used a fish finder before, you might get lost in all the technical talk. All the different functions can be daunting to a first-time buyer. So, it’s better to start by making sense of it all. It will help ensure that you’ll make the right decision and choose a device that will meet your standards and needs.
Also, it’s not enough to ask what is the best fish finder on the market? You should also be asking what is the best unit for my fishing needs? Since everyone does different types of fishing and has different personal preferences, the best product for one person might not be the same as for another person. That’s why it’s important to consider different factors that contribute to a high quality fish finder and choose the model that would be the most suitable for your needs.
The first thing to decide on in order to narrow down your fish finder options is the type that you would like to buy. Would you prefer a portable or fixed fish finder?
Portable fish finders are lightweight and easy to transport. They are perfect for ice fishing, shore fishing or fishing from a rented boat. They allow you to enjoy all types of fishing wherever you go.
Fixed fish finders also have plenty of advantages. First of all, they are typically more high-tech with a lot more accurate sonar technologies. This makes them a better option if you’re looking for an offshore fish finder. They also usually offer bigger screen sizes, which make it more convenient to use if you’re fishing from a bigger boat. And they are often equipped with GPS capabilities, which would help you navigate through unexplored waters.
Choosing between one or the other will depend on the type of boat you have and the type of fishing you do. For example, if you do just some occasional fishing, a more basic portable unit might be enough for you. However, if you’re a serious fisherman, you might prefer a more advanced fish finder that would offer a lot more features.
The transducer is the component that transmits and receives the sonar signal. It’s the most essential part of any fish finder and that’s why with a low quality transducer, your fish finder will be all but useless.
There are the main features to consider when comparing transducers. These features include transducer installation type, their frequency and cone angle.
Transducer Installation Type
Most fish finders come with a transducer included in the package. And if the provided transducer requires mounting, you should consider the type of mounting that it requires. The type of mounting required will depend on the type of boat that you have. For example, you might need a fish finder for a Jon boat, bass boat or a fish finder for a pontoon boat. Then, you need to make sure that the fishing spots finder is compatible with the mounting requirements. So, below are the most common transducer mounting options.
This is the most popular type since it’s the easiest to install. For the installation, you need to screw or bolt to the transom an adjustable-angle bracket. Then, the transducer is hung below and behind the hull. And it’s typically placed on the right side of the propeller since that’s the side where the propeller blades are moving downward. Otherwise, the upwash from the propeller would cause bubbles and this would create turbulence.
Transom mount transducers are recommended for outboard and sterndrive boats that are not over 30 feet long. They can be used on wood, fiberglass, aluminum or steel hulls. And they perform best at moderate speeds.
Through-hull transducers are the most challenging to install, but they usually provide the best signal quality. Since they are subjected to the least amount of turbulence, they offer the best performance at all levels of speed. However, the downside is that you need to cut a hole in the bottom of your boat. This type is typically used on displacement, power and sailboats.
These are also called shoot-through hull transducers. They are glued to the inside of the hull bottom. They have no direct contact with the water and instead, they send the signal through the hull.
The mounting location requires solid fiberglass that has no air bubbles or separated layers. It also doesn’t work on plywood or foam coring materials.
This type of transducer is a good option for trailerables. However, also keep in mind that for this type of installation, the transducer should work in 192 and 200 kHz frequencies.
Trolling Motor Mount
This type of transducer is installed to the inside hub of the trolling motor. Alternatively, it can be clamped to the outside of the motor for a less permanent solution.
One more thing that is worth mentioning about transducers is their material. If your boat’s hull is made of aluminum or steel, you should choose a plastic transducer. This would prevent electrolysis problems.
However, plastic transducers shouldn’t be used on wooden boats since wood swells as it absorbs water. And swollen wood can result in cracking the transducer’s housing.
Another thing to note is that bronze transducers shouldn’t be used on aluminum boats. The chemical reaction between aluminum and bronze with the addition of saltwater will deteriorate either the aluminum hull or the bronze housing.
Fish finders operate at different frequencies. Those that operate on lower frequencies, tend to hover around 50kHz or 80kHz, while those on the upper end, operate in the range from 192kHz to 200kHz.
Each frequency offers its own advantages. Higher frequencies give the finest detail resolution. However, they also produce a shorter sound wave. This means that they can’t reach deeper areas and that’s why they work better in shallow waters.
Low frequencies, on the other hand, can penetrate a lot further below the surface of the water. That’s why they work better in deeper waters. However, since they have a wider cone angle, they usually have less definition and more distortion.
Luckily, with most fish finders, you don’t need to choose between having only one or the other. Most units operate on both types of frequencies, allowing you to switch between the two depending on the location where you’re fishing.
On some of the fish finders, you can also display the readings from both low and high frequencies at the same time. Larger displays offer split screen capability with both sonar readings displayed side-by-side.
What does CHIRP mean in fish finders? This is the newest type of sonar technology that carries the acronym CHIRP. It stands for Compressed High-Intensity Radiated Pulse.
Unlike standard sonar that sends only one frequency at a time, CHIRP emits a spectrum of many frequencies continuously. And it interprets all the reflected frequencies individually. This provides a much clearer image with more accuracy at greater depths.
There are substantial advantages to CHIRP sonar. It provides better target separation since they make it a lot easier to differentiate fish from the structure. It also makes it easier to see individual fish rather than just a single mass. On top of that, since CHIRP uses a range of frequencies, there’s less chance of interference from errant noise. It’s better at distinguishing between a real echo and just extra disturbances.
The frequency of a transducer works hand-in-hand with its cone angle. It tells you the width of the beam that is emitted into the water by the transducer. This beam starts narrow at the top and then gradually widens.
The wider the cone angle, the larger the area that is covered by the fish finder. Moreover, the further the beam goes down, the wider the cone angle becomes. However, this happens at the expense of sensitivity.
So, a wide angle provides a wider field of view but it has reduced sensitivity at deeper waters. A narrow cone, on the other hand, can reach deeper but it will have a narrow field of view.
Most fish finder transducers can emit more than one cone. For example, there are dual beam transducers, side beams and so on. With more beams, you can cover more underwater area, which is perfect for fishing in larger bodies of water.
Another factor to consider when choosing a fish finder is its depth capability. All fish finders have a limit of depth that they can reach.
If you mostly fish in shallow waters, a wide beam width would be your priority, which would provide more bottom detail. As for coastal fishing and fishing in deep lakes, you would be better off with a powerful low frequency fish finder, which would be able to produce a narrow beam angle.
Also, keep in mind that the maximum depth readings will be lower in salt water than in freshwater.
Many advanced fish finders offer additional scanning methods, down scan and side scan in particular.
- Down imaging is especially advantageous when fishing in deep waters. It uses high frequency waves to provide a picture of what is underneath your boat, finding fish vertically and not horizontally. However, the downside is when using it in shallow waters, which often provides a sonar result that is an indecipherable blur. On top of that, since it’s focused downward, it misses on what is happening on the sides of the boat.
- Side imaging fish finders allow you to scan more water at the same time. They emit beams on both sides of the boat simultaneously, which results in twice as much water coverage as with down imaging. This type of sonar scan works better in shallow waters and it provides a better picture with more detail. As for the downsides, down imaging fish finders are typically more expensive and they are less effective when the boat travels at high speeds.
Saltwater vs Freshwater
When buying a new fish finder, also consider the type of water you’ll be fishing in. Saltwater is a more challenging environment since, in addition to salt and other debris, there’s a vast amount of microorganisms. All this can throw the fish finder’s sonar off. In this case, you’ll need a high quality fish finder, preferably with CHIRP capability. It does a better job of working through all the debris, returning more accurate readings.
Freshwater, on the other hand, is less of a challenge. Here, you’ll benefit more from a high frequency fish finder. However, a multifrequency fish finder will also work great.
The display is another key feature of a fish finder and there are three factors that contribute to a good quality display. These factors include size, resolution and color.
Fish finder screen sizes range from 3.5 to 16 inches. A bigger screen is obviously better but it usually comes at a higher price tag. So, choose a size that would be within your budget.
At the same time, don’t just settle for the smallest screen since you will miss out on a lot of functions. With a larger screen size, you’ll be able to view it from a distance, you will also be able to view it split screen and overall, you’ll just be able to view more information at a time.
Color Fish Finder vs Black and White
Depending on your budget and preference, you can also choose between monochrome and a color fish finder. A color fish finder will cost more but it will provide a lot more detail and it will make it easier to understand all sonar readings. Moreover, color displays are easier to read in direct sunlight and low light conditions.
However, if you’re shopping on a budget and want just a simple model, there are also good black and white fish finder options available.
One more feature of the display that you should take into account is its resolution, which is measured in pixels. The more pixels, the better the quality of the screen. With higher resolution, you will get crisp images with more detail, making it easier to spot individual fish. However, you do have to pay higher for better screen resolution.
Most modern fish finders also include a built-in GPS. There are a number of benefits that come with having this feature integrated:
- Navigation. The biggest advantage of GPS is that it can help you find your way home. This could be essential for safety if you fish in the ocean. Moreover, a GPS can also help you to navigate to prime fishing grounds or any other pinpointed location.
- Waypoint saving. With a GPS, you can also save waypoints, such as launch ramps, highest fish densities, structures and more. By saving these waypoints, you’ll be able to easily find your way there time and time again.
- Water temperature. Most fish finders also include a water temperature sensor. It can help you find spots where cold and warm water meet. And with the help of a GPS, you could easily navigate there. Moreover, if you’re going after a cold or warm water catch, this would help you track it.
- Depth finder. A GPS also provides more accurate readings of the bottom. You get more insight than with a standard fish finder.
- Other. A GPS can also help you locate shipwrecks, buoys, contour lines and seabeds.
Whether you do need a GPS feature or not depends on your personal preference. You might already have a specialized GPS unit, so it wouldn’t make sense for you to pay extra for this feature.
One more thing to take into account is how many amps does a fish finder draw. The fish finder’s power or wattage determines its performance. It affects the speed and depth capability of the sound wave. A higher wattage device will provide faster and deeper readings.
If you do mostly inland lake fishing, a fish finder with 200 watts would probably be enough. For coastal applications, it would be better to have around 500 watts.
Another thing to note is how the fish finder will be powered. For example, if you’ll be fishing from a kayak and the fish finder requires 12V power, it will be more difficult to accommodate.
A good fish finder should also be durable. It should be able to handle a lot of wear and tear and still continue to work flawlessly. One of the main contributors to the durability is a waterproof design.
Look for an IPX rating, which indicates the unit’s level of resistance to water. An IPX4 means that the fishing sonar device can only take some splashing. IPX5 and IPX6 mean that the unit can stand low to high pressure water jets. And IPX7 means that the fish finder can be submerged up to 10 feet for 10 minutes. So, if you’ll be using your fish finder on an open vessel, look for a rating IPX7 or IPX8.
Price is a crucial factor when shopping for any product and it’s also important when shopping for a fish finder. You should decide how much you’re ready to spend for the new fish finder and set a certain budget. This would help make your shopping experience easier since you would narrow down the options by skipping all the products that don’t fit your budget.
When considering the price, try to find a fish finder that would offer the best value for the money. If you just settle for the cheapest fish finder, you might not get the features you need or the unit won’t last long. And if you opt for the most expensive fish finder, you might end up overpaying for features that you’ll never use.
That’s why it’s important to start by understanding which features are important for your situation and then you can look within your budget for a fish finder that would have those features.
Check out also the warranty that comes with the fish finder. A good warranty will give you peace of mind if something goes wrong with the product. However, unfortunately, most fish finder manufacturers don’t offer the longest warranties. Some of the most known fish finder brands offer only a 1 year warranty.
Top Fish Finder Brands
Well-known brands usually become popular by offering high quality products. There are a lot of fish finder manufacturers today and not all of them offer good quality. So, it’s better to choose a product from one of the fish finder brands that have built a good reputation on the market. And below are a few of the most known brands in the industry.
- Garmin is one of the world’s leading specialists in GPS products and they also offer some of the top quality fish finders. As one would suspect, all of their fish finders are equipped with GPS navigation, so you get the best of both worlds.
- Lowrance is another good fish finder brand that provides some of the highest rated GPS, sonar and mapping systems. They have extensive expertise in these technologies and it is shown in the quality of their fish finders.
- Humminbird focuses specifically on producing fish finders, which allowed them over the years to create an extensive variety of products with some of the most advanced features.
- Raymarine is another pioneer in the industry. Over the years, it has also become a well-respected name in the marine electronics market. With over 80 years of experience in the marine world, they provide some of the most high-end fishing products.
Fish Finder Frequently Asked Questions
What is a transducer on a fish finder?
A transducer is the part that features the transmitter and receiver of the sonar waves. It’s basically the brain of the system.
What is CHIRP sonar?
CHIRP sonar is a technology used in fish finders to transmit a sweeping range of frequencies. By covering a wide range of frequencies, the fish locating device is able to produce more accurate and more detailed readings.
How to read CHIRP sonar?
To get the most out of this technology, it’s important to understand how to use CHIRP sonar. With the crisp clarity of CHIRP sonar, you get a big advantage over the target species. It makes it easier to identify the fish by analyzing the sonar image. So, here are a few tips on how to understand sonar and interpret the display.
A fish will show up on your screen in the form of an arch or a straight line. An arch means that a fish has come and gone from your sonar cone. So, if you see a longer arch, it means that the fish has been in the sonar cone for a long period of time.
Depending on the size and color of the arch, you can also identify whether it’s a big fish or a school of fish. For example, if you see groups of small arches with dense coloring and that are densely clustered together, this usually means that it’s a school of fish.
By analyzing the CHIRP sonar image, you can also find bottom features, such as vegetation, drop offs and depressions. For example, vegetation and weeds, which are a favorite for predator fish, will be displayed in vibrant color and they will be defined from the bottom contour.
CHIRP sonar can also help you understand the bottom consistency. By using different colors and brightness, the sonar will show how hard or soft the bottom is. The brighter the color of the bottom, the stronger the sonar return, which indicates a hard bottom.
Are fish finders worth the money?
If you’re still on the fence about getting a fish finder and not sure if it’s worth the money, here are some reasons to invest in it.
- Locating bait that would otherwise be hard to find from the surface.
- By finding specific bottom information, you’ll be able to target specific species. For example, if you fish for bass, you would be looking for structure. Or if you fish for halibut, you’d be looking for flat areas.
- Since most fish finders also come equipped with a GPS, you’d also be able to navigate to your favorite fishing spots or find your way back home.
How to read side imaging sonar?
With side imaging, the sonar is pointed out to both sides of the boat. This provides you with a better view of surrounding structures. You’ll typically see a screen that is split in the middle for displaying left and right sonar results. The displayed information should be read from top to bottom since the newer sonar details will be on top.
When analyzing side imaging sonar, you should look out for shadows. Fish on soft bottom will give a brighter return, so it will be easier to spot it. However, if it’s located closer to a hard bottom, they will be more difficult to identify since they will blend in.
What frequency is common for fish finders?
Fish locators can operate at different frequencies, which typically range from 50kHz to 200kHz. However, some can operate at even high frequencies, such as 400kHz.
Are fish finders waterproof?
Not all fish finders are waterproof. To make sure that the unit you’re buying is waterproof, check the water resistance rating which is shown in IPX7. If it has IPX7 or IPX8, it means that it is waterproof.
Do fish finders show water temperature?
Yes, on most of these devices you’ll find a water temperature sensor. So, when your transducer is in the water, it will give you the current water temperature reading. Knowing the water temperature can be beneficial for determining the type of fish that is in the area.
What do fish look like on fish finder?
Fish can be shown as round marks, arches or clouds. Larger fish would appear as an arch with solid color in the center.
How to Install a Fish Finder?
Once you’ve purchased your new fish finder, sooner or later you’ll have to tackle the job of installing it. To ensure proper fish finder installation, follow the instructions provided with your particular finder since the process can differ from one device to another. However, typically, it’s an easy DIY job that anyone can handle. All you’ll need is a few tools and a bit of know-how.
Installing a fish finder involves installing the transducer and the display. When installing the transducer, it’s important to find the right spot. It should be placed in the deepest part of the boat and it shouldn’t be too close to anything that can disturb the water.
The display’s position is also important. It should be installed close to the helm of the boat in a location that would be easy to see. Also, make sure that it has the right angle and the right height.
How to Use a Fish Finder?
The most important thing to learn is how to identify fish. If your fish finder is equipped with Fish-ID technology, this step will be a breeze. With this technology, the sonar data is converted into a user-friendly image by displaying tiny fish icons. These icons can also vary in size depending on the size of the detected fish.
Some fish finders will also have icons for displaying rocks, weeds and schools of fish. This makes it a lot easier to read the information since all you need is to identify the icon and look at its depth and you’re ready to cast.
On most fish finders, however, you get raw data. In this case, the received sonar data will be displayed in lines and arches. Lines reflect stationary objects and arches display moving targets. By identifying these arches, you can classify the fish by their size and location. These types of fish finders are more difficult to get a hang of but they do offer a smaller margin of error.
Do fish finders work in shallow water?
Most fish locators can work in both deep and shallow water. However, if you want to check if a particular model works in shallow waters, make sure that it has a sonar frequency of 200kHz or higher.
What battery to use for fish finder?
When choosing a battery for your fish finder, it’s important to consider the capacity that you need. Check the amperes of the finder and consider the needed operating time. Multiply these two and you will get ampere-hours that you need. Most fishing sonar devices use a 12V source and they draw about one amp or even less.
Where to install a transducer on a pontoon boat?
In this situation, a transducer is typically installed on the starboard side of the pontoon boat. This would give you enough cord length to connect the transducer and the display unit, which is usually mounted on the right-hand side of the boat.
Can I use a fish finder on a kayak?
You can definitely use a fish finder on a kayak. However, smaller and portable units might be more suitable for this application.
What is the difference: ice flasher vs fish finder?
Both devices use sonar to show you the depth and the presence or absence of the fish. However, ice flashers display the water column in the form of a circle. It’s perfect for vertical fishing and ice fishing since it offers a narrow cone angle.
Can you mount a transom mount transducer in hull?
Yes, transom mount transducers are meant to be installed on the outside of the boat’s hull. Alternatively, you can bond it to the inside of the hull with epoxy.
How accurate are fish finders?
Computers in modern fish finders are amazing, but still not perfect. It will be accurate most of the time. However, don’t expect it to be accurate 100% of the time. To get better results, adjust also the sensitivity as high as you can without getting distortion. Or just fine-tune it until you start seeing better results.
A good fish finder can significantly improve your fishing game. The device will allow you to get a better idea of what’s going on below you. However, as you’ve probably understood by reading our buying guide, there are a lot of factors to consider in order to choose the best fish finder for the money. However, hopefully, our fish finder reviews and comparison will help you with making the right choice.