If only finding the best fish finder was as easy as finding fish with a fish finder. It can be a mind boggling experience. We know, it’s a jungle out there. The search for a trusty fish finder can very well be just as hard as finding fish without one. The bottom line is that finding a good fish finder is worth it in the end. They will make your fishing experience easier and more effective and ultimately result in bringing home more fish.
There is a ton of fishfinder brands, models, and types on the market. We break them down into categories so you can find the best one for your style of fishing. Are you looking for one with GPS or not? What frequencies will work best in deep-water, coastal, or inland environment that you fish most often? What sort of display specifications do you want? We will take a closer look at the important things to consider before making a final purchase. After that, we have included are favorite fish finders that are the top picks of fishers worldwide.
A fish finder (or sounder) is an effective device used to detect the location of fish underwater. It also measures the overall depth of the water. The tool uses sonar technology, where an electronic impulse is converted into sound waves. When the wave hits a fish or any underwater features, it is reflected back and displayed on the fish finder’s display screen. One of the best fish finders will help you identify high potential fishing areas, as well as create routes and maps of your favorite spots with GPS functionality.
- 1 Best Fish Finders of 2018
- 2 Things to Know Before Buying a Fish Finder
- 3 General Thoughts on Fish Finder Usefulness
- 4 Top 5 Most Important Benefits of Using Fish Finders
- 5 A Short History on Fish Finders
- 6 Why are Fish Displayed as an Arch in a Fish Finder?
- 7 Tips on Picking the Best Fish Finder for You
Best Fish Finders of 2018
Now that we’ve identified the main things you should look for when buying a fish finder, we selected the top fish finders of this year. We broke them down by price range so you can see what you’ll be getting for how much you’re willing to dish out. Here are the all around best fish finders currently available.
In this price range you’re going to find greyscale screens with low resolution. These are the simplest units, but it doesn’t mean they can’t get the job done when used correctly. You shouldn’t hope to get too much detail with cover, structure, or thermoclines with these. Sometimes the data and readings will be harder to interpret due to the lack of color, but with experience this hurdle can usually be overcome. That’s what makes Garmin Striker 4 a standout. At just under $100, you get the color screen and GPS functionality.
The transducers in this category have lower power ratings and the deepest they will get is about 80-150 feet. We recommend a fish finder at this price point for fishers just starting out as an angler who stick to shallow waters with a smaller boat. Our winner is this category is the Garmin Striker 4. The runner up is the Lowrance Elite 3X.
- Winner: Garmin Striker 4
- Runner-Up: Lowrance Hook-3X
- Other Options: Lowrance Hook-4X, HawkEye FishTrax 1
There are many options in this price range. On the lower side of this price range, you’re going to get capabilities of about 100-200 feet. Also, some of these will provide limited GPS as well. For example, you’ll be able to save and set points such as waypoints and tracks to help you revisit successful spots. In this category, you’re going to get color screens around 4 inches or so (measured diagonally). You can also find units with “DownScan” or “Down Imaging” capability, which incorporates a high-frequency sonar beam to allow the user to get realistic readings.
- Winner: Raymarine Dragonfly 4 Pro
- Runner-Up: Garmin Echo 551dv
- Other Options: Deeper Smart Fish Finder, Garmin Striker 4cv
If you’re a devoted fisher and are looking for something for the long term, the upper-range fish finders are the sweet spot where you get some of the best value. All the best technology you can find in this price range. Most of these babies can penetrate to depths of at least 500 feet. They are usually stocked with GPS and map navigation where you can zoom in and out. The screens are high resolution, are usually pretty large (5+ inches), and the transducers are powerful.
- Winner: Humminbird 859ci HD
- Runner-Up: Lowrance Elite 5X
- Other Options: Humminbird Helix 5, Dragonfly 5 Pro
The next best thing to fishing with dynamite. Fish finders at this price level have glossy high definition screens sometimes seven inches or bigger. When you take into account that this is measured diagonally, the overall size difference is radical. You’ll be able to get extremely life-like imaging of what’s around you. Of course, you’ll get robust mapping packages with these models too.
This is basically professional type models that all have very powerful sonar. Professional charters and tournament anglers all use units at this price level. When you’re paying this much money, you receive the ability to add peripherals like weather, satellite radio, radars, and special features like networking with other units.
- Winner: Lowrance HDS-12
- Runner-Up: Garmin EchoMap CHIRP 54cv
- Other Options: Raymarine Dragonfly 7 Pro, Raymarine Axiom 9
Here’s some other popular fish finders worth a gander.
The Garmin Echo 551dv fish finder has an in-built all-in-one transducer as wells as an echo and sonar system, making it one of the best GPS fish finders around. It has a colorful VGA display with a resolution of 480×640 pixels. The 77/200 kHz HD-ID/Down Vu transducer simultaneously delivers the scanned images on the vertically or horizontally split display screen. The narrow to wide viewing cone angles gives a broad graphic overview of the area surrounding the boat, from shallow spots up to water depths of a maximum of 2300ft.
When the boat moves from shallow to deep water or vice versa the Echo 551dv’s smooth scaling feature will ensure a seamless transition. It has an audio alarm that signals the fisherman when to cast. This fish finder is made waterproof to prevent any damage from occurring if it accidentally comes into contact with water. The Echo 551dv also features sonar history rewind capability as well as a 4000Watts peak-to-peak power output. This is a great value device, and probably the best fish finder under 500 dollars. If you are looking for the very best fish finder GPS combo, look no further!
This side imaging sonar offers a convenient way to save way points with its inbuilt micro SD card slot. It has a wide 5 inch VGA color screen display with a high resolution of 480×640 pixels. The display screen is guaranteed to show the fisherman a more detailed sonar image than traditional sonars. The Helix 5 SI is a very portable device as the user can easily unplug the power and sonar connectors and leave the mounts in place, making it the best fish finder for kayak use. However, rubber covers should be used on the mounts to protect them from wet conditions. The Humminbird Helix 5 SI provides precision internal GPS chart plotting with an in-built UniMap cartography.
This product comes with a transducer, power cable, a transom mount, a tilt quick-release mount and documentation. A top quality device, and it is no surprise it was voted Best Fish Finder 2016.
The Lowrance Elite-3X fish finder has features such as a 3.5 inch LED-backlit color display with wide viewing angles, dedicated buttons for zooming abilities, a 200 kHz or 83 kHz dual frequency operation, water temperature sensors and Fish ID. The interface of this fish finder is very easy to use and will guarantee an unforgettable fishing experience. It’s no surprise that this is one of the best rated fish finders around.
The Broad Sounder feature allows easy identification of fish targets, bottom terrain, thermoclines among others. Fish I.D. shows fish icons instead of arches thus easy identification. Also, the Lowrance Elite-3X has ASP – Advanced Signal Processing, which reduces the need of manually fine-tuning the settings to see fish and bottom terrain. It comes with a transducer, mounting bracket, installation hardware and power cables. Incredible value, and the very best fish finder under 300 dollars.
The Garmin Echo 301DV gives a high resolution grayscale output on its 5 inch display screen. The Echo 301DV has a power output of 300Watts making it very effective. It has a HI-ID tracking feature that enables the user to get clear and detailed images of everything beneath the water surface. It has a dual beam transducer that can scan water depths of up to 1500ft. Its wide scanning angle range is also ideal for shallow waters. Incredible value in this device, and it is the best budget fish finder around. At just $171, it’s definitely the best fish finder under 200 dollars.
The Garmin Smooth Scaling technology ensures continuous sonar image viewing and regular sonar history logging. The Garmin Echo 301DV can be easily installed using the accompanying quick-release tilt mount. This fish finder goes a step further than others in its range by providing exceptional depth readings even at fairly high boat speeds. The Echo 301DV is available as a portable version or a permanently fixed one.
This is a portable, wireless fish finder specifically designed for fish finding in unreachable locations such as bridges, dock, ice fishing, kayak, shore, float tube and boat fishing. Its portability makes it one of the best kayak fish finders out there. The Deeper Smart Portable Fish Finder uses Bluetooth technology to send sonar readings to the user’s tablet or smartphone from depths of 1.5ft to 130ft below the water surface in both fresh and salt waters. It uses dual-frequency sonar beams 290 kHz/90 kHz to ensure accurate results. This makes it probably the best depth finder on our list. Its accompanying mobile application features up to 15 minutes sonar data logging, online maps, and a fish activity calendar. It is also one of the best fish finder for the money on our list, as it is very reasonably priced.
Its Deeper Smart Imaging gives detailed bottom topography and its temperature sensors give the user precise updates on temperature fluctuations. The highly accurate sonar shots display most of the fish species in a clear manner enabling the angler to cast effectively. The device is powered by a rechargeable battery that can last up to four hours.
Things to Know Before Buying a Fish Finder
These little units get pretty complex. However, once you play around with the thing you’ll find they are very intuitive. No matter what your budget and experience level is there’s something for everyone.
1. There are three primary types of fish finders which include standalone, networked, and combination fishfinder & chart plotter (GPS). The key choice to make is whether you want a fish finder and GPS or just a standalone.
- Standalone. If you are just looking for a good snapshot of what is below, dedicated fishfinders offer the biggest displays. The balance of performance and cost are probably the best in this category, as you aren’t going to be charged an arm and a leg for the unit. This type of fish finder is ideal for fishing on small inland lakes. If you are on a tight budget, this is also your best option. The other time we’d suggest getting a standalone model is if your pilothouse is big enough for multiple displays (or you just bought a brand new GPS) get a serious, large fish finder to complete your fishing command center set up.
- Combination. Combination units are likely the best choice for mid-sized boat owners. Use GPS to navigate to the fishing grounds and back. Upon arrival, switch to the fishfinder screen to locate your bounty. You can enable a split screen to view both GPS and fishfinder at the same time too if necessary.
- Networked. Networked systems are available from all the major suppliers. Many of them include WiFi and Bluetooth capability. But that’s just the beginning. Features get more amazing every year. A few networked fishfinders feature the ability to control them with an Android or Apple smartphone. Networked systems will also usually support a wide range of data sources such as radar, Sirius Satellite Radio, and raster and vector GPS charts. Multi-display networked systems are excellent options for medium to large-sized vessels. The fishfinder itself is generally a black box module and one source of data among many.
2. There are two common types of sonar: down scan and side scan. There is a new emerging technology that combines the best of both, so you get both capabilities in a single unit. The critical difference is that down scan broadcasts signals directly below the vessel and side scan broadcasts in more of a fan like patterned angle to the sides of the vessel.
- Downscan. The benefits of using a down scan sonar are that it will increase the accuracy of your readings at around forty feet or deeper when you are surveying or pattern running. Also, it allows the fisher to see greater detail, such as the individual fish in a school. Some reasons people don’t like them is that they can be too powerful for shallow water and of course that it is difficult to see what activity is happening to the sides of the boat.
- Sidescan.Sidescan sonar is able to scan vast amounts of water in a single pass. The average fishfinder in this category will be able to scan around 100 feet to each side. Another benefit is that you can scan areas without disturbing them, because you don’t need to go directly over the area to scan it. The downsides are that these are less effective in deep water situations. On average, when you go down 75 feet or more things start to get blurry and you’ll notice a decline in imaging quality.
- Combination. Here you get the best of both worlds. You see this technology in units such as the Hummingbird SwitchFire. But, of course, models with this capability are going to cost you a pretty penny.
3. There are a few display specifications to consider. The main ones are color, pixels aka resolution, and size of the screen.
- Resolution. More pixels per square inch will allow you to see greater detail. This will improve the representation of what’s below you. Combined with a larger screen, you’ll be able to see fish that are near the bottom, see the air bladders of smaller fish, and see fish near “bait balls.” Another thing that goes hand in hand with this is contrast ratio, and just like with the resolution you’ll get what you pay for.
- Color. Color only is slowly becoming the industry standard grayscale. Color definitely helps when making sense of imaging. But if you are on a tight budget grayscale models are much less expensive. Being able to discern what is going on in the water under all types of light conditions is ten times easier with a color display.
- Size. The size of the screen is just as important as the resolution. Widescreen displays are especially nice when you are using a split screen feature to view more than one type of data. Most manufacturers show quoted screen sizes using a diagonal measurement in inches across the screen. Anything over 480 x 480 will provide standalone fishfinder units plenty of real estate. But when you move into combo units more pixels are needed. Also, keep in mind that anything 720p and above are considered high definition (HD) and provide an even clearer and greater level of detail.
4. Think of the transducer as a fishfinder’s mouth and ears. It calls into the water around your vessel with its ping then listens for the echoes. The transmit power and frequencies of your transducer are two other important things to think about.
- Power. Many fishers find this one of the most important features of a fishfinder. There is no substitute for raw sonar power. The main reason is it important is because this power is responsible for the signal strength of the sonar that is being sent from the transducer. It is important to examine the Max Wattage and Peak to Peak measurements when looking at fishfinders. The Max Wattage in RMS measures how much power the finder unit can consistently output. Peak to Peak is the measurement of total output. We recommend purchasing a fishfinder with the highest power output you can afford. For deep water applications, look for at least 250W of RMS power and 2500W (Peak to Peak). Keep in mind that the more power output that your transducer has, the more detailed, accurate, and clear the image is on your solar screen.
- Frequency. Fishfinders function by using a single frequency, dual frequencies, multiple frequencies, or a broadband CHIRP system you may have heard about. A good rule of thumb is that the higher the frequencies, the better the details and resolution. Higher frequencies also will give you the best view from a fast moving boat but they won’t penetrate as deeply as lower frequencies. For maximum penetration, use lower frequencies such as 200kHz or higher (up to 800kHz) for water depths of 200 feet. If you’re going deeper than that, 80kHz or 50kHz will be your best bet. Shallow waters call for higher frequencies of 200kHz all the way up to 800kHz.
General Thoughts on Fish Finder Usefulness
The transducer is responsible for the conversion of electronic pulses to sound waves and is usually mounted on the underside of the body of the boat. Anglers are able to see the exact location of fish as the display screen shows the size, composition and shape of the objects underwater. The differentiation of the various underwater features is mainly dependent on frequency and power of the energy pulse transmitted.
Both sporting fishermen and commercial fishermen using fish finders are able to understand the contour at the bottom, as well as determine the location of large schools of fish. As compared to the traditional hook and bait method of fishing, fish finders cut down on time spent on the task, and easily increase the number of fish caught. A fish finder is compact, very portable and takes up little room on the boat or kayak. It enhances efficiency in fishing and makes the exercise even more interesting. Moreover, single or dual beam scanners are able to make wide angle scans of the surrounding area for a conclusive survey.
There are a lot of fish finders available today and hence it is very important to look out for the features that will meet the needs of the fisherman in the environment he intends to fish in. The best fish finders will be able to differentiate between fish, vegetation and debris as well as direct the angler to the right direction. Fish finders are often integrated with additional technology like GPS, Wi-Fi and smartphone applications.
So you are probably thinking, what is the best fish finder for me? Well wonder no more. We have assembled a list of the very best portable fish finders available today.
Top 5 Most Important Benefits of Using Fish Finders
- 1.) Determination of the depth of water – The fish finder coupled with the built-in GPS navigation can help the user estimate the depth of the water around the boat. This feature is very beneficial especially when fishing in the deep sea or lake. Most of the fish finders available in the market can probe 500 feet or deeper, as they are derived from fathometers, whose major purpose was water depth determination. They don’t have to be expensive, just make sure you get the best cheap fish finder you can find.
- 2.) Determining the water temperature – Some advanced GPS fish finders come with features that enable them to display thermoclines. Most fish finders have temperature sensors installed with the transducers. Thermoclines refers to regions where cool water meets warm water, which indicates that a front is approaching. This also identifies where deeper pockets of water are. This information is helpful in identifying species of fish attracted to colder, deeper waters and also helps in easier location of such fishing grounds.
- 3.) Save fishing locations – Most GPS fish finders allow the user to capture and save the sonar image of a newly discovered fishing ground for future use. This makes it easier for the fisherman to get back to the same exact location on a later date. Also, some fish finders come with cloud storage services that enable quick and easy saving of way points and sonar history. This goes a long way in making the fishing experience worthwhile and enjoyable. For this you will want to look for the best Chartplotter/Fishfinder combo.
- 4.) Increases fishing efficiency – The fish finder enables the user to map out the underlying topography of the body of water and detect whether there is fish or not. Additionally, the fish finder can assist the fisherman in getting a rough estimate of the number, as well as the size, of fish in the given area. The fish finder displays all the fish available at the bait point using fish symbols or arcs and may include an audio alarm to alert the fisherman on detection of fish. Thus, it increases the efficiency as well as the overall fishing returns unlike in traditional angling, which involves luck and a lot of time wasting.
- 5.) Global positioning navigation – The built-in GPS functionality enables the anglers and all fishing enthusiasts to easily find their way around new fishing grounds. Additionally, some GPS fish finders come with pre-loaded details on rivers, lakes and other water bodies in the region. This enables the fisherman to get down to their fishing activity in the least time possible. The GPS system may have an additional speed sensor which can help determine the best boat speed that can provide the most efficient fish finder services. If this is what you are looking for, make sure you get one of the best fish finders with GPS you can find.
A Short History on Fish Finders
Generally a fish finder is a kind of SONAR (sound navigation and ranging) instruments. It is mainly used by fishermen to detect fish underwater. Fish finders are also able to detect and estimate the depth of the water as well as distinguish other objects that reflect the transmitted sound beams.
Fish finders were derived from fathometers, which are echo-sounding systems used to measure depth of water. Fathometers were used for navigation and safety to make records of measurements of the depth of water. They derived their name from fathom which is a unit of water depth.
In ancient days, fathometers had a rotating light positioned at the edge of a circle. The light flashed in sync with the received echo wave that in turn corresponded to the water depth. A small flickering flash indicated echoes off a fish. Fathometers, as well as fish finders, use similar frequencies and can detect the bottom and fish hence the two were merged.
The early fathometers were hard to read in bright light and had poor accuracy, especially when used in rough waters. However, they were helpful in giving rough estimates of water depth especially in determining whether the boat was in a safe area. The entry of CRTs led to their merging with fathometers, and eventually fish finders were born together with the advancement of commercial fishing. Due to the high power requirements demanded by CRTs, LCD displays were invented in the early 90s. This led to increased availability and a drop in price of fish finding fathometers in markets all over.
Today, sporting fish finders have color LCD screen displays, charting capabilities and even built-in GPS. However, as compared to high end navigational fathometers found in big ships, sporting fish finders lack the permanent record feature.
Why are Fish Displayed as an Arch in a Fish Finder?
Presence of fish is usually indicated on the display screen by an arch. This enables easier differentiation from vegetation, debris or other objects in the water. However, the main reason fish appears as an arch is because the distance between the fish and the transducer keeps on changing as the fish swims under the boat or the boat passes the fish.
If a fish swims directly through the transducer’s beam, an arch will be formed on the screen. The size of the arch is mainly affected by speed of the boat, the device’s sensitivity, depth of water and the position of the fish within the transducer’s sonar beam.
Luckily, most fish finders in the market have fish symbols to help the user to easily identify fish.
Tips on Picking the Best Fish Finder for You
To narrow down the search for the ideal fish finder the following factors must be considered; frequencies, price, type of sonar, display specifications, power supply, GPS and other additional features.
High wattage units are the most ideal for anglers who constantly fish in the deep waters, while a low wattage fish finder can be ideal for those who prefer fishing in shallow spots. Thus the power supply factor is mainly dependent on the intended use. However, a high wattage unit guarantees other benefits such as quick response and reading of sonar data.
Another important factor is the display specifications which includes screen size, image quality, screen resolution and color of the screen must be put into consideration. A wide screen with a high pixel count will guarantee a clear sonar image, and is the appropriate one for split or multiple views. Fish finders with GPS offer numerous benefits like navigation, saving of new fishing locations and many more. Therefore despite them being more costly it is logical to pick a GPS fish finder. All the devices found on the Best Fish Finder 2017 list are enabled with GPS.
The type of sonar is another factor to consider, there are two main types namely a down scan and a side scan. A side scan transmits fan-like signals to the sides of the boat while a down scan transmits signals directly below the boat. A side scan imaging covers more area and does not require the boat to be over the area of interest thus ensuring the least disturbance. On the other hand, down scan imaging gives a more accurate and focused output of the area of interest. Fortunately, there are fish finders with a combination of the two imaging capabilities that the fisherman can buy.
Lastly, the price is a key factor when picking the ideal fish finder. Portable fish finders are generally cheaper than permanently fixed ones. However, the portable fish finders give inconsistent outcomes due to the frequent motion. Most portable fish finders are mounted using suction cups leaving them unstable and in an insecure position. Additional features like touch screen and backlit display screens or smartphone application integrations can also be considered.