When it comes to outdoor activities, much of the appeal consists of reconnecting with nature and getting out of a busier environment, whether you live in the city or the country. Regardless of whether you’re interested in hunting or hiking, there is plenty of fun to be had out in the wilderness.
One of the most popular activities that would be grouped up with the rest of these is fishing, and there are many reasons for the hobby being so widespread. Finding the best fish finder will help you immensely as a fisher, but it helps to know which situations they are best used in.
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Unlike other outdoor activities, you will find that fishing is a little more versatile in that it can be an experience that matches your preferences.
For example, if you’re into a more intense fishing experience, you could always go fishing on the coast, but you will need an impressive boat that will be able to handle the actual sea. Most fishing will take place on lakes and rivers, where the depth of the water isn’t as excessive as it can be elsewhere.
While crappie fishing on calmer waters makes for a more straightforward and safer experience, it also allows you to use some tools that you otherwise wouldn’t have access to. For example, fish finders tend to only be useful when they are used in relatively shallow water for a few different reasons.
Sonar that is capable of scanning deeper water will end up costing you quite a bit of money, and many fishers aren’t willing to install a comprehensive sonar suite on a small boat. Many smaller craft won’t even have the power available to run more advanced sonar systems than rudimentary models.
By the end of this guide, you’ll be an expert on finding the best fish finder, as we will be doing more than just presenting the top ten fish finders on the market. Before introducing our reviews, we’ll give you a comprehensive guide on fish finders including what they are, what to look for in the best one, and much more.
What is a Fish Finder and How do They Work?
Let’s start off by laying out the foundation for the whole article, as it will make little sense if you don’t exactly know what a fish finder is in the first place. A fish finder is essentially a small sonar device that is similar in concept to the technology that submarines use to navigate underwater without visibility.
Now, you may be wondering exactly how sonar works, and it is quite simple, as well as being very closely related to radar. Sonar is an acronym that stands for SOund Navigation And Ranging, and it describes a system in which sound waves are used to detect objects and provide information on surroundings.
Sonar doesn’t necessarily have to be used underwater, as bats use a natural form of sonar that is called echolocation, and as we all know, bats don’t fly through water. So how exactly does sonar work apart from using sound waves? This is where things really start to get interesting.
A sonar emitter essentially creates a very loud ping that is propagated into the water that surrounds your boat (or whatever the sonar is attached to). As this ping goes through the water, it impacts objects, and it is reflected back towards the sonar emitter, which also catches the return transmission.
When the sonar emitter receives the return ping from a detected object, the length of time between the initial ping and the return sound is calculated and used to represent distance. This is the exact same concept as radar, except those devices use radio waves instead of sound for detection as they can travel further and faster in the air.
How does this relate to fish finders? Depending on the type of device that you have purchased, it will likely operate in a very similar manner to more powerful sonar devices, but it will have less range, and it will be less capable.
In the end, a sonar emitter isn’t necessarily a complicated piece of technology, but it gets more and more complicated as the scale rises, which is why submarines have entire sonar suites. When you’re hunting a nuclear sub with hunter-killer torpedoes, subpar sonar won’t get the job done.
Benefits of Using a Fish Finder
There are many advantages to using a fish finder, and some of them may surprise you. While the obvious benefit of these products is being able to find some fish while you are out on the water, let’s take a detailed look at some of the reasons fish finders are so popular.
It Takes the Guessing out of Fishing
While some may argue that sitting around and waiting for a nibble is an integral part of fishing, others prefer making faster catches, and that’s one of the things a fish finder can do for you. Since it will be easier to see where the fish are in the surrounding water, you won’t waste nearly as much time waiting for them to bite.
A fish finder will allow you to navigate your boat over to an area where there is a higher density of fish, meaning that you’ll be nearly certain to get a bite. Anyone who has been out on a fishing trip and has come back empty-handed knows that the guesswork involved in fishing does not always make things more enjoyable.
Fish finders can tell you crucial information like the temperature of the water and much more, making them more than just fish detectors. As you may know, hotter and colder water is home to different fish species.
If you find that you are often short on time while fishing, a fish finder will make it easier for you to see results from an experience that would otherwise be frustrating.
You can just turn on your fish detector, find yourself some fish, bait them appropriately, and hope for the best as fishing is never an exact science. If you are trolling, a fish finder can even give you the optimal speed to travel at.
In the end, the primary purpose of a fish finder is to make things more convenient for you as a fisher. If you are tired of putting in so much effort for few results while you are fishing, one of these products will ensure that all of your labor is rewarded with some catches, at the very least.
Many modern fish finders will come equipped with some form of course charting software so that you can use them to find your way around the lake with ease. There are a few different ways that you can use a fish finder to plot your course, but most of them will use GPS due to its reliability.
It is for this very reason that many GPS manufacturers also make fish finders, as many of them are essentially GPS trackers that have an added sonar function. Of course, the reality is a little more complicated than that, but one of these products can still help you immensely when it comes to navigation.
If you already have a GPS course plotter on your boat, you may want to invest in a fish finder that is more affordable as you will not need that added capability. We’ll take a closer look at the inclusion of charts in fish finders later on when we’re going over the features to look for.
Seeing as a fish finder will typically paint a picture of what is beneath your boat, you can use its sonar for more than just finding fish. Some of the best fish finder models will come equipped with collision avoidance programs that will detect obstacles in the way of your boat and warn you of them.
Even those that don’t have provisions for collision avoidance will still give you the info that you need to make the right decisions when you are steering your boat. If you want to avoid any sudden rocks or other underwater hazards that could damage your boat, a fish finder can help more than you know.
There are different types of fish finders that we will go over shortly, but some of them will present a clearer picture of what you will find beneath your boat. You will also have to consider the depth of the water as you will need a fish finder that is sufficiently powerful for your needs to reach the bottom.
Ideal for Beginners
For all of these reasons and more, you may have noticed that a fish finder seems like a perfect purchase for someone who is new to fishing. We wouldn’t recommend going out and getting one of these products before you even try fishing in the first place, but you should get one if you know you’re dedicated.
There are some who will argue that a fish finder makes fishing unfair, but nobody is forcing you to use one of these products, even if you have one. If you’re in the mood for some traditional fishing, you could always turn off your fish finder so that you can do things the old-fashioned way.
While fishing can get frustrating for newer fishers, it helps to learn the patience that is needed in this hobby, even when you are using a fish finder. Just because you have sonar available to find your fish doesn’t mean that things are necessarily going to be easy for you since there are so many other considerations when fishing.
Choosing the Best Fish Finder Around
When it comes to purchasing the best fish finder, we understand that things can be a little bewildering at first, especially if you have never bought a product like this before. It is critical to pay close attention to the models that are available, as they will all have fundamental differences.
The first thing that you should consider is what you need out of your fish finder, as everyone fishes differently and in different waters. There are many advantages to using a fish finder while you are out on the water, but you will have to choose the right model to be able to benefit from any of them.
Ending up with a subpar fish finder for your money can be discouraging, and you may end up having to return the product, which entails a hassle that nobody wants to deal with. The best course of action is to ensure that you get the right fish finder for your needs the first time, and the best way to do that is with knowledge.
Knowing about the following products as well as what you should be looking for in the best of them is the ideal way to ensure that you are getting the right fish finder. To that end, let’s take a look at some of the most critical features to search for in the best fish finder.
The first thing to consider when choosing the ideal fish finder is the amount of power that it has available. A more powerful model will be able to provide more detailed results, but the most crucial reason why you would need a more powerful model is to be able to see deeper underwater.
If you tend to fish in water that is deeper than average, you will need to invest in a more powerful fish finder so that the sound wave doesn’t die out before reaching the bottom. If a sonar ping isn’t loud enough, it simply won’t be able to propagate throughout the water with enough momentum.
The exact component in a fish finder that requires additional power is the transducer, and it is this part that is responsible for creating and receiving the sound wave. A more potent transducer will necessitate a more significant power draw, which will ensure that you can see deeper than others.
Another feature to consider when you are choosing your fish finder is the frequency that it operates at. This can determine just how effective your fish finder is in a range of different situations. There is a bit of a challenge when it comes to choosing the right frequency for your fish finder.
While low-frequency models will have an easier time going deeper in the water to provide your information, the data that they will give you will be less detailed than high-frequency models. If you want a complete image of the bottom with a high-frequency fish finder, you will need comparatively more power.
You may find yourself having to choose between range and detail if you are searching for the best fish finder on a budget. Of course, the ideal choice will depend on a wide range of factors, including the fish that are present in your waterways, the average depth, how much you want to spend, and much more.
We have already discussed the inclusion of GPS systems in fish finders, so we’ll keep this one brief. Many models will come equipped with GPS (global positioning system) support, and this will provide you with accurate data on where you are located, provided you have the right charts installed.
If you want to make it easier to plot a course on the waterways that you frequently travel, a GPS system attached to your fish finder will make things much easier for you. Of course, if you stick to small lakes where everything is visible to the naked eye, GPS becomes more of a waste of money.
You will also want to account for the size of your fish finder, as that will often determine whether or not it is a portable model. While portable fish finders are convenient, you will find that they often have inferior capabilities to models that are designed to be mounted to your boat.
Since a handheld product will likely be powered by batteries, the power draw can’t be nearly as strong as it would be for a fixed fish finder model. Of course, this means that a portable product won’t be able to detect fish at a level that is as deep as one that is fixed, and the detail will be diminished.
The definite advantage of smaller products is that they will be less expensive than fixed models and you will be able to bring them around with you even on small craft. If you are going to be using a buddy’s boat to go fishing, it will be easier to bring a handheld model along with you than having to dismount and remount a full-size model.
Keep in mind that a fixed fish finder will typically need to draw power from the boat itself, so you will need a powered watercraft to use one. If you are going kayak fishing, for example, you will be restricted to portable fish finders as you will not have a power source available for a fixed variant.
When you’re choosing the right fish finder for your needs, you will want to pay attention to the size of the display. A model that is equipped with a larger screen will be able to display more information at once, which can save you time as you won’t have to press buttons to navigate the interface.
Keep in mind that a larger display will make for a bigger fish finder, so many portable models will be equipped with a small screen that provides less detailed info. Keep in mind that the size of your screen is not always the best way to determine whether or not your product has a well-made display.
Display Quality and Resolution
If you want to make sure that all of the details on the bottom of your body of water are clearly visible, the power and frequency of your fish finder aren’t the only things to consider. A model that is unable to display the information that results from its scans is just as one with diminished capabilities.
You will want to be able to make out the fish and obstacles around you with relative ease instead of having to guess what a blob-like return may signify on a fuzzy display. Most fish finders make feature LCD screens, but many of them are moving to LED displays that are clearer and provide better color definition; speaking of which…
Color or Black and White?
Another thing to account for when it comes to the screen that is featured on your fish finder is whether it will display its results in color or in black and white. You may be wondering why color would be so important when you’re examining things underwater, but it has more to do with what color differences can represent.
Many fish finders will be able to display the depth of the surrounding water by providing a color-coded chart of the floor. Some advanced products will also give you temperature ribbons so you can see where to most likely areas to fish for certain species are with relative ease.
Downwards-Looking Sonar vs. Side-Looking Sonar
These two terms can also be referred to as DownScan and SideScan sonar, and the latter is widely seen as the more advanced sonar variant. Side-looking sonar doesn’t scan directly sideways, but it scans at an angle that gives you a much broader area to examine than the alternative.
Of course, downwards-looking sonar only scans what is directly beneath your boat so it will be a little harder to find the fish that you are looking for. The advantage to DownScan is that it is proven technology that is more affordable to implement than sonar that is angled.
Last but not least, you will want to consider the user interface (UI) that is featured on your product. The best fish finder models will be equipped with a touch screen, which will make it much easier for you to navigate the system and program your device.
Other products will feature simple multifunction buttons that may take some getting used to. Whichever product you buy, choose one with intuitive controls.
Best GPS Fish Finder – Humminbird Helix 5 Chirp GPS G2 Fish Finder
- Backlit color display is highly detailed
- Features Chirp DualBeam sonar at 4000 watts PTP
- Equipped with precise UniMap GPS
- Compatible with SmartStrike
If you’re looking for the best fish finder around and you insist on superior GPS capabilities, the Helix 5 from Humminbird is one of the best options available.
Since this model uses a Chirp DualBeam system, you’ll have a range of different options when it comes to how you want your results to be displayed. Versatility is the name of the game for this fish finder, and that becomes evident from the moment you power it up.
One of our favorite features on this product is SmartStrike, which makes it easy for even beginners to use the Helix 5. All you have to do is input the parameters such as the time, weather, species of fish you are searching for, and the water type and the system will provide you with the ideal sonar settings.
Of course, you are probably also interested in the advanced GPS capabilities of this model. This is one of the finest GPS and fish finder combos because of how easy it is to use the GPS. The included Humminbird basemap is already more detailed than many other charts, and the Autochart Live program works excellently.
Best High-End Fish Finder – Lowrance HDS-7 Gen3 Fish Finder with 200 KHz Transducer
- Comes included with a 200 KHz transducer
- Capable of StructureScan, SideScan, and DownScan
- Features a multi-touch touch screen
- Equipped with a built-in GPS antenna
- Autopilot capabilities
- Wireless compatibility
For those of you who need the best fish finder, no questions asked, you won’t come across many products that will be able to compete with the HDS-7 from Lowrance. While this model may be pricey, we will argue that it is worth every cent that you spend on it.
Keep in mind that this product doesn’t typically come equipped with a transducer, but we reviewed the package that comes bundled with a 200 KHz that performed admirably.
The 7-inch touch screen features multi-touch capability, making it more intuitive to use. The screen also doesn’t have the odd feel that is common to cheaper touch displays.
You have a range of sonar types available when using this model, including StructureScan, SideScan, and DownScan, depending on what works best for the situation. This product can even helm your boat for you as it is compatible with Lowrance’s SmartSteer program.
Best Portable Fish Finder – Venterior VT-FF001 Portable Fish Finder
- Features a depth range from 3 to 328 feet
- Transducer features a 25-foot cable
- Features 5 different sensitivity levels
- Comes included with a two-year warranty
- Versatile mounting options
Perhaps you need something a little more affordable, and if that is the case, the Venterior VT-FF001 is a reliable enough option. While it may not feature the same capabilities as larger fish finders, this product is more than sufficient for kayak anglers and those who stick to the shallows.
Of course, the rudimentary display will give you nothing resembling the 3D images that you’ll find on the best fish finders, though it is still backlit so that it can be used at night. Keep in mind that the backlighting will drain the four AAA batteries faster, so you may wish to bring some spares along.
You have a choice of five levels when it comes to choosing your sensitivity, ranging from battery saving mode to a setting that will alert you when there are nearby fish.
You also have a range of choices when it comes to attaching your transducer. Thanks to the 25-foot cable, it can be mounted directly to your boat, on a pole, or on the included removable float.
Best Chirp Fish Finder – Garmin STRIKER Plus 7sv with CV52HW-TM Transducer
- Wifi compatibility allows the use of ActiveCaptain
- Features a 7-inch sunlight-visible display
- Works with traditional sonar, SideVü, and ClearVü Chirps
- GPS features Quickdraw Contours for improved chart-keeping
Returning to high-quality fish finders, let’s take a look at this model from Garmin, specifically the STRIKER Plus 7sv. The model we reviewed came equipped with a transducer, but this product can also be purchased in standalone form.
This seems like it is a fish finder for the future, as it makes use of technological advancements that other products are still catching up on. For example, you can link this fish finder to your phone for use with the ActiveCaptain app that will provide notifications and access to the community.
ClearVü is Garmin’s proprietary down-looking sonar, and we have to admit that the images were surprisingly clear, to the point that they were almost of photographic quality. SideVü, on the other hand, is just as effective as other forms of side-looking sonar, and the returns are just as detailed.
Even if you prefer traditional sonar, you won’t get the jumbled mess of returns you can expect from cheaper products.
Best Fish Finder for Your Money – Garmin STRIKER 4 GPS Fish Finder
- Features ClearVü sonar
- Comes equipped with a 3.5-inch display
- Map is compatible with waypoints
- Comes with a 200KHz chirp transducer
- Battery is sealed and rechargeable
If you have a small budget and you are looking for the most versatile fish finder around, this model from Garmin has you covered. While the STRIKER 4 may not have the most advanced features on the market, it is available at a reasonable price point, it is self-contained, and it is capable.
The 3.5-inch screen may be a little small for some users, but we found that it displayed all of the needed info concisely and effectively. The interface also made it much easier to navigate this device’s functions.
The GPS is as advanced as you would expect from a Garmin product, allowing you to set up waypoints and points of interest.
The sonar itself consists of Garmin’s ClearVü system, which has proven itself time and time again. The inclusion of rechargeable batteries that are sealed against water damage also means that you won’t have to waste money on disposable ones.
Deeper Smart Portable Fish Finder
- Bluetooth-compatible fish finder works with your smartphone or tablet
- Features a casting and depth range of 130 feet
- Adjustable sensitivity with a 3-inch object threshold
- Displays contours of the bottom
- Allows you to tag fish
The first of our alternatives is notable in that it isn’t a standalone fish finder. Instead, this product is meant to be used with a tablet, smartphone, or another, similar device. While this may not be the cheapest fish finder on the market, it is certainly more convenient than most.
Convenience isn’t the only reason why you may be interested in this product, however, as it is capable detecting fish up to a depth of 130 feet.
The smallest object that this device can detect is 3 inches across, which is an impressive level of sensitivity for something so little. You also have a choice of different modes, such as ice fishing, bottom mapping, and more.
The sheer convenience of this product makes it one of the more versatile fish finders that you will come across. The Deeper Smart fish finder can be used on a fishing boat, canoe, kayak, or from anywhere else.
Simrad GO7 XSE Fish Finder with TotalScan Transducer
- Features a multi-touch screen
- Comes included with Insight charts for American users
- Compatible with auto-routing systems
- Features built-in wifi
- Allows for audio integration over Bluetooth
This product from Simrad is our alternative for those of our readers who are searching for the best of the best and who are willing to pay more than most. You will find that this model comes equipped with everything you can expect on an advanced fish finder.
For example, you have a choice between StructureScan or SideScan sonar due to the TotalScan transducer that comes included with this model. Since it operates on chirp, this transducer emits frequencies in the medium to high range.
The built-in wifi compatibility of this product means that you won’t have to worry about staying connected to a network, regardless of whether you are at home or on your boat. Of course, you will still need a connection source when you are on the water, like a tethered phone.
The LED backlighting of the GO7 means that you won’t have any issues seeing details in the sunlight. Overall, this is an impressive fish finder for the money, but it just doesn’t offer enough to beat the Lowrance HDS-7 which won our high-end category.
HawkEye Fishtrax 1C Fish Finder
- Features a backlit display for ease of viewing
- Fish and depth alarms alert you when fish are detected
- Comes equipped with 100 sensitivity levels
- VirtuView display is colored and easy to interpret
- Allows you to use fish indicators coupled with depth targeting
When it comes to relatively affordable portable fish finders, the HawkEye Fishtrax 1C is one of the more impressive products we have seen. Unfortunately, there are simply too many other compact models in the same price range that feature expanded capabilities.
Even though some would prefer other options, this workhorse is still one of the more versatile portable fish trackers. For starters, you have a choice of 100 different sensitivity levels, allowing you to spot even smaller fish than the other variants of this fish finder.
The VirtuView display will provide you three different options when it comes to how you want to see things. The Fish Finder setting is the default mode. Data mode, on the other hand, will make it so that water depth and temperature are easier to see from a distance.
The final mode is designed for ice fishing, in which the device operates like a flasher. You can also set your parameters manually if you are a more advanced user so that you can get the best results for your particular needs.
Raymarine Dragonfly 4 Fish Tracker
- Chirp DownVision provides detailed images
- Optically-bonded LCD
- Wi-Fish app compatible
- Includes transom-mount transducer
The Dragonfly 4 from Raymarine is a quality product that can often be found at a relatively reasonable price for such a fish tracker. This middle-of-the-line product is an excellent option for the intermediate angler who is looking to take a step up from a portable model.
This fish tracker has a range of features that make it suited for many different applications. You have a choice between fish-targeting and bottom-mapping modes when you are using this model, and you can switch between them with ease.
The included transducer is powerful enough to give you information on fish that are up to 600 feet deep, and the chirp frequencies ensure that you will be able to catch everything.
You will also appreciate the inclusion of an optically-bonded LCD screen that is still visible in direct sunlight. Raymarine’s Dragonfly 4 is an excellent choice of fish tracker for those who want something that isn’t too high-end but is still capable.
Docooler Portable 3.5″ LCD Fish Finder
- 3.5-inch display can be seen in the sun
- Features 100 sensitivity options
- Bottom tracking has auto-zoom and manual zoom
- Features 200 KHz and 83 KHz dual-beam capabilities
- Comes programmed with a sonar charting mode
The last product we will be reviewing today is the Docooler 3.5-inch portable LCD fish finder, and it is a reasonable enough option for the price. This fish finder is in the middle of the pack when it comes to capabilities.
For instance, you will find that this model has dual-beam functionality that allows you to specialize it for either shallow or deep use. The color display is easily visible in the sunlight, and it makes it easier to interpret the color-coded sections.
The bottom tracking capabilities of this model are rather impressive, featuring a choice between auto-zoom and manual zoom and providing more data than you would expect.
Of course, a fish tracker has to be able to identify fish in the first place, and we were not disappointed by this product’s results. While it may not be as precise as some models that are worth six times more, the Docooler fish finder is an excellent choice for a beginner.
We hope that this guide has helped you find the best fish finder for your needs. We know that finding the right product can be a challenge, but with the help of this guide, you shouldn’t have any more difficulty choosing the fish finder for you.