Fishing is known throughout the world as the patient man’s sport. You cast your line, take a seat, and wait for the fish to bite, until you finally hook the big one and reel it in. What’s not to love about it?
However, it’s not always that simple, sometimes the fish just aren’t biting and you just can’t figure out why they aren’t taking the bait. You did your research, brought the best bait possible, and even went to your favorite spot… and nothing. What can you do?
Trying to look at the water doesn’t work because it’s too muddy and that’s when you remember to break out the fish finder! But, how do you find the one for you? Well, lucky for you we did the research in order to help you find the one that suits your specific needs.
How to Find the Best Fish Finder for You
Now, you might be asking yourself, what exactly is a “fish finder”? Well, a fish finder is a wonderful tool that helps you find the location of fish through the use of a SONAR (Sound Navigation and Ranging) system.
This little gadget originated back in the 90’s and while they used to be rather simplistic, the technology behind them seen increasing developments in recent times. Upgrades to the sonar system have made fish finders these days unquestionably more reliable and some of these gadgets even come with digital compasses, GPSs, and even radars integrated into them.
But, with all these bells and whistles, how do you find the best one for you? Well, it really depends on your specific needs. Are you looking for the most high-tech gadget in the market or simply interested in a rudimentary one that will help you find fish while you do the rest of the work? Well, if you’re still curious as to what to look for, consider the following aspects before making any final decision:
1. Color or Black & White Display
Fish finders were originally made with only black and white (B&W) displays. These days, however, you have a choice between color display or a B&W one. Each of them still have their place in the market, but you should consider the pros and cons of each one before buying one.
Fish finders with color display tend to offer more information at a quick glance as the display can vary with each shade referencing a distinct bit of data. You’ll have an easier time reading and understanding the information on the display screen, and they tend to have better visibility in sunny environments (some even feature backlight for visibility regardless of time). However, they do tend to be pricier than B&W models, and the battery life can vary due to how much energy these displays tend to use.
Black and white displays, however only have so many shades of the same colors to display all of the information. Additionally, if you’re in an environment with bright light, you’ll have a hard time looking at the display. But they tend to be an economical alternative to the former and are a good starting point for someone who’s only into casual fishing.
The color of the display doesn’t matter unless you can see the information it’s trying to display clearly. For effective use of the fish finder, you’ll want to have one whose resolution can reach a minimum of 240 x 160 pixels at the least.
A higher resolution means you’ll be able to see everything clearer and a bigger screen with higher resolution means you’ll understand everything with ease. While, you should always consider your budget when buying a fish finder, also remember that if you can’t see/understand the display, it will not do you much good.
If you want to know what the most important part of a fish finder is, then look no further than the transducer. These are the parts than launch and receive the sonar waves used to find fish and other objects in the water. Once the waves are received, the information is passed on to the Central Processing Unit (CPU) and finally displayed on the screen as readable data.
Normally, these transducers bring with them a mount you can attach to your boat, but depending on the size of you ride, you might need a bigger or more complicated model. A transom mount for example is relatively easy to install, but if you’re going for “the big one” in a large boat, you’ll definitely be looking for a thru-hull mount.
Additionally, transducers aren’t all made out of the same material, depending on the mount you’re using you’ll want to know what type of boat works well with them. Kayak fishermen who use small boats for example will do just fine with a plastic transom mount on their ride. But, the people who are using wooden hull ships or those made out of fiberglass would do better with a bronze housing.
Alternatively, a transducer with a in-hull, metal, fiberglass or thru-hull mount will require a plastic housing. Finally, boats made with steel hulls or aluminum metal will require stainless steel housings to function properly.
Most transducers in the market can come with 50, 83, 192, or even 200 kHz frequencies; this will ultimately affect the cone angle of the gadget. Dual frequency fish finders for example, normally have a 20 and 60-degree cone angle.
What you need to know, is that the higher the frequency, the better it works on shallow water. You might be surprised to learn this, but in fact the 200 or 192 kHz frequencies are recommended for people who aren’t fishing in deep water.
On the other hand, if you are indeed looking for fish that like to hide in the depths of the lake, try a 50 kHz transducer for the best results.
Another difference between these is that higher frequencies provide you with more details, as your fish finder is release more sonar waves, and some of the high-end fish finders in the market can achieve ranges that are double the ones mentioned here. But, while those are more costly, they also show an incredible amount of details, and have more options available for them.
5. Cone Angle
The cone angle is the width of the beam that is emitted from the boat (and therefore the transducer) into the water. Knowing this can help you determine the effectiveness of your fish finder based on the depths of the water.
For example, a wider cone will actually hit a larger area of water, but as the beam expands while traveling down it will lose sensitivity and will not see past a certain threshold.
You can find fish finders on the market that offer anywhere cone angles of anywhere from nine to sixty degrees, and the majority of them will have something around the twenty degrees (which works very well).
As a final piece of advice, some of the more advanced fish finders come with multiple beam cones. You can even find a few that have three beams at once in order to cover a large radius. But, you’ll find that these are better for large bodies of water and instead of something like a pond where a single beam will do just fine.
6. Wattage and Power
This one is simple; a more powerful fish finding unit will consume more energy. High wattage means that your fish finder will provide you with information quicker and better readings even in deep waters. On the other hand, lower energy consuming units will instead be slower and better suited for shallow depths.
Why does it work like that? Well, because transducers use energy to emit waves, and less power means slower waves, high power means faster waves and accurate readings. It’s all fairly simple logic.
For a gadget that is meant to be used in the water, sometimes you’ll find that not all fish finders are water proof, but thankfully their IPX or JIS ratings will tell you how resistant they are to liquids. Keep in mind the following if you want to know more:
- A JIS/IPX rating of eight means the fish finder can actually be submerged to no ill effect.
- Seven means the unit can withstand being submerged for about half-an hour with depths of around ten feet without being damaged.
- Five or six can withstand water jets, but don’t let it fall overboard or submerge
- A rating of four can take splashes of water, but should not be submerged for any reason.
- Ratings of three and below are not recommended
10 Best Fish Finder Reviews 2020
The Raymarine Dragon 7 Pro is a solid fish finder, with plenty of details and information on display in its 7” screen. You’ll certainly be catching fish in no-time with this gadget thanks to its wide range and fast update rate, allowing you to view your prey with up-to-date information.
The Dragonfly 7 Pro is outfitted with GPS tech that includes Navionics charts and the coveted Spectrum CHIRP technology (an extremely precise type of sonar that forms clear underwater images). Additionally, the device can reach depths of around 600 feet, so you’re certain to get what you need.
Mix these great features with a screen that doesn’t fog up thanks to optical bonding, can be seen clearly at any time of the day due to a bright screen, plus is extremely durable, and you got yourself a fantastic fish finder on the palm of your hand.
However, while this fish finder’s sensors are awesome, what with the amount of information you can see on the display thanks to the cone angle of the transducer, there are a few caveats.
The unit comes with a Wi-Fi feature that allows you to share information with other fishermen on the boat by displaying the screen on smartphone devices. Normally this function would be great if you’re fishing with your friends and want everyone to know what’s going on… but, it doesn’t have and on/off switch to turn it off when you’re fishing by yourself.
This has the unfortunate side-effect of taking a bit of battery life away from its primary purpose, but it’s still not enough to detract from the overall quality of the finder.
It’s no secret that GPS technology and fish finders go together like peanut butter and jelly go in a sandwich. But, while the HELIX 5 is not particularly scrumptious, does incorporate some of the best GPS technology into an already fantastic fish finder.
Let’s start with the basic, the five inch screen on the HELIX 5 has a backlight feature that will let you see regardless of how sunny or dark it is outside and can display up to 256 colors at once. Additionally, you’ll be impressed at the amount of details that can fit clearly into this screen at once.
The use of a broadband CHIRP, imaging sonar, plus the Auto Chart Live and imaging sonar let this fish finder create a map of your area. Furthermore, you’ll be able to save your favorite spots on the map thanks to a feature that uses an SD card (that you can swap out) in order to save any waypoints or even upload more maps.
As far as the information that the fish finder can display, you’ll find measurements of the surface below the boat, any fish in the area, and information regarding the bottom water floor.
Still, if I had to say anything against this particular model it would be that the display is rather simplistic and the GPS is fairly rudimentary with no particularly unique features.
Reliable, high-quality, and with an user-friendly interface you’ll find that the HELIX 5 is a great purchase for beginners or intermediate fishermen who want to try their hand at using a fish finder.
We recommend this model for people who want to go fishing on a boat instead of something smaller like a kayak. Due the required space necessary for this larger setup with a 7-inch screen display that provides you with all the information you need to catch as many fish as possible.
The Lowrance Elite-7 has three distinct sonars these will give you plenty of information on what’s around the ship and not only that, it even comes with side imaging.
The benefits to these displays is that you’ll always be aware of your surroundings and finding fish will be an absolute cakewalk, the setup is fairly simple and effective meaning that it will work in most ships with relative ease.
Featuring dual-channel technology and a high-definition display on a decent sized screen (4.3”), you’ll be finding fish in not time with the Raymarine Dragonfly Pro.
One of the most noticeable features of the Dragonfly is its ability to stream data to your phone via an app called Wi-Fish. This will help you track all the information you need without having to leave the comfort of your phone and you can even share data with any fellow fishermen in the area to maximize the fun for the whole group.
You’ll be surprised to know that the screen is also very bright and provides a clear image of the information display thanks to its fairly high resolution. You’ll also appreciate knowing that the gadget has quite a speedy power up whenever you turn it on.
A removable mount allows you to take this fish finder anywhere, simply by removing it and putting it in another boat and before you ask, it is indeed compatible with most aftermarket mounting systems.
The dual-channel sonar provides you with a wide array of information regarding the surrounding area and a feature called the CHIRP DownVision sonar will give you insight of it through the use of images. Finally, a secondary CHIRP system offers even more information regarding the fish within range of the sonar.
For those fishermen who are looking to cast their rods from the safety of land, look no further than the Deeper Smart Fishfinder 3.0, a castable fish finder for those looking for an easy day of fishing.
The Deeper Smart Fishfinder 3.0 is known for its amazing performance, and the amount of detail it can provide you with, you’ll learn more than you ever wanted to know about the waters nearby thanks to this little apparatus.
The way it works is simple, you toss it into the water and connect it to your smartphone via Bluetooth, from there ensure that is stays around 130 feet (any farther and the signal will be lost). The Deeper Smart Fishfinder 3.0 will take it from there, probing depths of around 130 feet using its dual-beam sonar transducer to feed your iOS or Android device with all the information you need!
The STRIKER comes to us from Garmin, one of the most popular fish finder manufacturers in the market, and a name you will see often on this list. This is one of the most portable units in the market and is extremely light weighing in at around half a pound. But, don’t let its weight fool you as it is quite the heavyweight, when it comes to practicality.
You see this particular model comes equipped with the CHIRP a patented Garmin Transducer and the CHIRP ClearVu, both of these provide you with amazing Sonar scanning technology (with up to depths of nearly 1,800 feet in freshwater and about 830 feet in the ocean water). But, that’s not all it is capable of, as it also features a GPS and with the ability to mark spots such as your favorite fishing zone, docks, etc. All of this on a display that is updating information relatively fast.
All of this information is displayed on a 3.5 inch full color screen that works well in tandem with the 500 watts of power output on this relatively small unit. However, the screen does have a bit of an issue with glare when it’s sunny outside, and doesn’t offer zoom in/out capability on the screen display.
As far as durability goes, it’s got an IPX-7 water rating, so even if you drop it or it falls into the water, you’ll have a bit of time to grab it before it can be damaged.
If you’re on a budget and looking to get a simple fish finder that will still get the job done, then look no further than the Hook-3X. This is a simple tool that provides all the necessary information you need to at least bring a good haul home without some of the more complicated options of higher-end models.
Its minimalistic display only has one type of sonar, and the screen is fairly basic. You’ll want to take your time with this fish finder until you’re familiar enough with the display to understand it fully, but otherwise it works well for what it does.
The instructions that come in the box will provide you with all the information that you need to read the display, but still this is as simple as it gets.
We recommend using it a few times on a leisure run if you ever plan on taking it with you on a big trip, but as a starter product, it’s definitely a solid purchase albeit an economical one.
All the bells and whistles you want in the palm of your hand, with this 9” touch screen fish finder known as the HDS-9. You’ll find its large screen is a perfect fit for a touch panel that you can easily use to display all the information you need.
This means you can adapt the display to suit whatever purpose you want, and thanks to its high-definition resolution you’ll be able to get a three-dimensional view of whatever body of water you’re in. As far as tech goes, this is an excellent example of fish finding done right!
You’ll find yourself navigating and charting your course with ease, and with the view of the whole area, you’re certain to catch as many fish as you want. Its solid build means that this gear can handle a few falls without suffering any ill-effects.
Four channels of sonar mean you’re getting the information you want when you need it, and the scanning technology gives you more than most fish finders in the market. However, this does come at the expense of a high price-tag.
Still, if you’re looking for some of the best tech available in the market, we recommend the HDS-9.
Those who are looking for a high tech piece of equipment that is also convenient and comes in a suitably sized 9” display check out the Helix 9. Featuring an user friendly interface, a backlit screen for ease of viewing regardless of time, and all of the bells and whistles you might want the Helix 9 does not disappoint!
Humminbird outfitted the Helix 9 with plenty of power and technology. You’ll find that you can see everything around the ship including the sides, and you’ll be able to see them without having to chase them down. Additionally, the GPS will help you find yourself regardless of where you are in the water; additionally you have the option of marking any zones that you like so that you can come back for a round two at a later point.
The 4000-watt power output means that you’ll be reaching some amazing depths with this device’s transducer, and if you’re trying to get some convenience, then you’ll happy to know that it comes with a Gimbal and a dashboard mount.
If I had to point out any weaknesses in this fish finder it would be the lack of a 360-degree view transducer. But, that really doesn’t detract from the overall performance of the HDS-9.
10. Garmin Striker 4
We mentioned the CV model of Garmin’s repertoire earlier, and you might be curious as to why we’re putting this one here, but trust us there are some difference that warrant the spot.
The first thing you’ll notice about the Striker 4 model in comparison to the CV is the price tag. You’ll find that this version is a lot cheaper and if you’re looking for a fish finder on a budget, you’ll want to go with this version instead.
Featuring a full color display on a 3.5-inch color screen, and the typical bells and whistles that Garmin is known for, this model includes the ability to mark any hot spots you’d like to remember or waypoints. The CHIRP transducer is in full effect here as well, but you’ll find that this one only produces around 200 watts of power. What does that mean? Well it will reach around 1,600 feet in depth in any body of fresh water and around 750 in the ocean.
It also comes with a speedometer on the screen and can even show you the temperature of the water around you! However, there have been known cases where it has difficulty in open waters when it comes to the GPS and other times when the unit simply decides to shut down for no apparent reason.
While still a solid purchase, you should consider the Striker 4 over the Striker 4CV only if you’re trying to spend less money and are willing to sacrifice a little bit of convenience.
How to Read Fish Finder (Complete Video Guide)
Fish finders are a fantastic investment for any aspiring or expert fisherman looking to increase their haul. It’s true that not all fish finders are built the same and some are definitely better than others, but you should consider your needs (both financial and hobby-wise) before making any purchases.
Doing the research is just the first step in the ladder, but you should also consider the location you’re fishing in, the finder’s specs, and your equipment.
At the end of the day, all you want is to get a good haul and not catch a cold, and for that you need to know where the fish are hiding at. Fish finders are simply tools to facilitate these tasks, but ultimately it is up to you, to determine whether today’s haul is a good or bad one.