Fishing on the water demands a quality fish finder, thats a known fact amongst any anglers today, but to make a good decision on what type of machine you need is another matter altogether. The market includes Chartplotters, portables, combo units etc., so lets start from the bottom and learn about the technology before you go out and purchase.
The old technology is called sonar is what every fishfinder operates by. A sonar produces a sound wave shaped as a cone and goes straight down to the bottom. It is also called a beam, and when this beam hits a structure or fish it reflects back and is registerred and displayed on your screen. The unit measures the time the sound wave was sent and received, calculates the difference and “paints” the object on the screen.
Todays machines have several features to consider and you should have at least a working knowledge of them so you purchase a machine that suits your specific needs. Think about the type of fishing you do, you do not need a high-end Chartplotter when you are actually fishing in small lakes.
LCD displays are measured in pixels and as in photos, the more pixels the more clearer and better display. The type of display you choose is most important so pay close attention to different models and their specific features. There is two main types of displays, color display and grey scale LCD`s. Be aware of that some greyscale displays make it even easier to read your display and determine what structures and what are actual fish. The costs can be held down considerably by picking the right display.
The Transducer And Cone Angles
A transducer is a unit that turns the electrical signal from your transmitter to sound waves and beams it out in the shape of a cone. It is attached to the fish finder with a thin cable and it operates with a certain cone angle which simply is the wideness of coverage in the water. The higher the cone angle, the greater the coverage. The cone angles vary from model to model so have this in mind when you look at all the features on the models you are considering.
Some models have higher frequencies that gives you a superior resolution, different beam angles etc. Be sure to purchase a transducer that has a frequency that is the same as your sonar measured in KHZ.
The transducers are usually mounted at the stern of the boat, right in front of the engine and with no obstructions, which is very important. It is vital to select a transducer that suits your unique situation when it comes to installation on your boat.
Pay close attention to the way your unit is installed in your boat and transom mount transducers are usually associated with stern-drive and boats with outboard motors. Other types are mounted through the hull and as a rule have to be a high-frequency model while others are mounted on your electric trolling motor.
Sonar Update Speed
In basic, the faster your sonar updates, the clearer and better your image and you will see a more detailed report on your screen. Also notice that the deeper the penetration the slower the update speed and the shallower the speed will be faster. Certain models update the machine at 40 times per second in about 50 feet of water.
Some models have this great feature and thermoclines is simply the line where colder and warmer water meets. Some fish finders shows this and it is useful as some fish prefer colder water as some warmer. Identifying thermoclines are an important feature is you are hunting a specific specie of fish and how they react during the day.
Best Fish Finders for Type
1. Best Cheap Fish Finder
Lowrance Hook 3X Review
The Lowrance Hook 3X is marketed more towards weekend fisherman as opposed to hardcore anglers, so keep that in mind as you continue to read. If you take your fishing super seriously and want the most cutting-edge fish finder on the market, you’ll likely be after a more high-tech fish finder than the Hook 3X.
The Hook 3X has a led-backlit 3-inch color display with detailed 320×240 resolution, making readings easy to see in even bright sunlight. Initially, I found that readings could be inconsistent below about 50 feet and that the device doesn’t deliver accurate results in a moving boat. However, after reading the user manual I found that you could remedy these problems pretty easily by tinkering with the device settings.
The Lowrance Hook 3X overall is not very intuitive and can be a bit frustrating to set up, but through trial and error, you can get accurate readings of up to 70 feet as the device description claims. You’ll definitely need to keep your user manual close by on your first couple of trips out using this finder, but after the learning curve, it’s a reliable and handy device. For a fish finder that is marketed more towards new fishermen, I would’ve liked this device to be more user-friendly. It takes the time commitment to learn to use correctly, which new anglers will likely find off-putting.
- It can add a lot to your fishing experience without requiring a major financial investment
- Works as advertised even if it takes a little practice to use
- Perfect if you need a bare-bones fish finder
- Requires adjustment to get accurate results
- The interface isn’t user-friendly and it takes some trial and error to get accurate readings
2. Best Wireless Portable Fish Finder
Deeper Smart Portable Fish Finder Review
This device is unique in that it relies upon an app downloaded to your smartphone or tablet to utilize this small, castable fish finder. This device has the benefit of marking fish anywhere you can cast your line, so if you’re fishing in something not super maneuverable this finder can be a real life saver.
It delivers accurate readings of up to 130 feet at a width of about 16 feet. The reading width is a bit shorter than most other devices, but the device is very easy to maneuver and reposition. I found it wasn’t much of an issue and could actually be quite fun; If you aren’t hitting fish just reel in and re-cast.
The size and portability of the device means that it’s perfect for both boat fisherman and weekend trips to the dock as well. Since it’s attached to your line though, you might have to occasionally throw on some waders and pull it out of the weeds.
The app that goes with the device itself is easy to use and works well pretty consistently. However, for me, there were some issues getting the device to stay connected. You’ll likely have to occasionally shut down the Bluetooth on your phone or tablet and reconnect, but once you get the device to consistently stay connected its reliable and user friendly.
Also, You can’t transfer and view your app data from any device other than the one that you used on your fishing trip. It would be nice if you could transfer your fishing data over to a laptop or a different phone, but no luck with the Deeper fish finder. The mapping program that comes included on the device is pretty unimpressive. It frequently gave me inaccurate positioning results, which made plotting the lake I was fishing frustrating. If you interested in saving your exact fishing locations you’ll need to invest in a more accurate device.
- Highly maneuverable, accurate and portable
- Initial set up and connection issues
- Relatively easy to lose
- Inaccurate mapping software
- No data transferring
New Version: Deeper also recently came out with the Deeper Pro Plus, which in functionality is very similar to the Portable, just a little more refined. There is still some difficulty getting this device to stay connected, but it is worlds better than the Portable and the mapping issue is completely fixed. It can scan depths over 100 feet deeper than the portable and gives you a much clearer picture that the portable. If Deeper Smart Portable is something that appeals to you, I would definitely make sure to check out this device as well.
3. Best Kayak Fish Finder
Garmin Striker 4 Review
The Garmin Striker 4 is a classically styled, utilitarian fish finder. It has reliable sonar and a built-in GPS waypoint marker so you can catalog fish activity at specific spots, which I found to be very helpful; if you’re getting good bites at a certain spot you can mark it and come back the next day. This will make your overall fishing more productive as you can see, over time, which spots are hitting and which spots don’t seem to ever get much action.
Its rugged build means it can handle the everyday wear and tear of being on a boat and keep on working. You won’t be getting a lot of extra frills with this device. If you’re looking for all the bells and whistles, you’ll have to search out some higher-end models, but what it does offer works well, so if you’re after something that can simply get the job done with no flashiness this is a good option.
A couple of times when I was out on the water the Garmin Striker told me I was moving when I was anchored and sitting still. This is the only inaccurate reading I got during my time with the device and it quickly corrected itself, but it’s always concerning when a fish finder shows noticeable bugs in the software design. It shouldn’t affect your fishing and can be written off as a minor inconvenience.
It has reliable CHIRP sonar (which I’ve always been fond of and is consistent throughout Garmin devices), high sensitivity GPS, and a built-in flasher which lets you view your data in the classic flasher format. At the end of the day this is a well-built device that will get results out on the water.
- Will do exactly what it is advertised to do
- Excellent build quality and functionality
- Not a lot of extras to speak of
- Occasionally buggy
- Apparently some issues with no transducer being included in the box; a phone call to customer service and they’ll send you one, but still frustrating if you have to deal with it
Higher Model – If you like this device also consider taking a look at the Garmin Striker 4DV; this device can see a little deeper that the 4, and also incorporates Downvu technology, which we’ll talk about in more detail later, but basically gives you 3D view of what’s under the water. For a moderate step up in price you get a few extra features that you’re likely to get a lot of use out of.
4. Best Down Imaging Fish Finder
Humminbird Helix 7 DI Review
Humminbird Helix 7 DI – With the Hummingbird Helix 7 you get a lot of bang for your buck. Consistency is king with the Humminbird Helix 7 DI GPS; you won’t have to deal with any glitchy software or inaccurate readings. If the device is saying there are no fish, there’s no fish. You don’t have to worry about device error, ever.
This is a great device if you’re looking to take the plunge and upgrade from the lower end models. It’s a true workhorse and you can depend on it. The display has an ultra-wide 16:9 ratio which provides ample room to view two screens at once.
The “DI” stands for down imaging sonar, which provides a much clearer picture of what’s underneath the water when compared to standard 2D sonar. The added depth field of the DI sonar comes in really handy if you’re looking for a more detailed view out of your fish finder, but it also accounts for the spike in price. This device is simple and fun to use.
The Humminbird Helix 7 is a “non-networking” device, which means that none of the data it keeps is transferable to different devices. This is an option most other higher end finders have and it’s something I would’ve liked to see included. It’s not a deal breaker, but it does mean that if you want to try out a new fish finder with the same data you’ve accumulated with your Helix 7 you’re out of luck.
- Reliable, easy to use, accurate, and intuitive
- Not a lot of extra features
- No networking
5. Best Side Imaging Fish Finder
Humminbird Helix 7 SI Review
Humminbird Helix 7 SI – Like the DI, the Humminbird Helix 7 SI is a well designed and well-built device with a bright 16:9 resolution display. The Helix 7 SI uses Down Imaging sonar just like the DI, but it also uses Side Imaging sonar, that’s the “SI.” So if the Down Imaging sonar alone isn’t cutting it anymore this is the fish finder for you.
The side imaging basically means that the device captures a wider field of view than the DI. The images are just as detailed and the device itself looks almost identical to the DI however, the SI captures images from 240 feet to the right or left of the device which is considerable and cuts out a great deal of guess work when looking for fish. The side imaging does take some time to learn to use well and this feature of the device lacks the intuitiveness of the DI.
The Humminbird SI also has a faster processor than the DI, which means you can swap between features and screens almost instantly. The difference is noticeable as well. This device felt to me, to be much quicker than the DI.
However, just like the DI, the SI does not come with any pre-loaded maps. You have to buy those separately if you want an accurate, topographical view of the body of water you’re on. Without those there is virtually no detail displayed.
It’s also a “non-networking” device, so count on doing all your plotting over again if you ever upgrade to a new fish finder.
- Wide field of view and a snappy processor
- Functionally very similar to the DI
- Added features can be a bit confusing to get the hang of
- Again, no maps included
6. Best CHIRP Sonar Fish Finder GPS Combo
Garmin Striker 7SV
The Garmin Striker 7SV boasts a rugged, tough design with the familiar and dependable CHIRP sonar. This device is pretty much just a beefed up version of the Garmin Striker 4, so it’s marketed towards more experienced anglers. This would be a perfect first “big boy” fish finder. It felt very nice, heavy, and well made in my hands. You can really put this device through its paces.
It has the same high sensitivity GPS, waypoint map, and flasher, however, this device adds CHIRP, Downvu, and Sidevu scanning sonar, which is pretty much exactly the same as the Hummingbird Fish Finder line’s imaging software. This is the only device on the list to incorporate CHIRP, Down Imaging and Side Imaging functionalities. So, you’ll get a much clearer picture of what’s underneath you with the Striker 7SV as apposed to the Striker 4.
The 7SV has a considerably bigger display than the Striker 4, which allows you to utilize split screen functionality. The processor is quicker than the Striker 4 as well and it did feel quicker and lighter to use.
As nice of a device as the 7SV is, there are some definite negative aspects as well. If you have waypoints saved on another GPS device or on a laptop computer there is no way to transfer them over to your Garmin striker 7SV besides punching them in key by key. I would have loved to see data transfer capabilities as manual inputting all your data can be frustrating and time-consuming.
The transducer that is included with this device is unfortunately only compatible with flat-hulled boats. So, if that won’t do the trick you’ll have to buy another transducer separately. Also, keep in mind this device has no mapping capabilities whatsoever; if that’s something that is important to you, give this one a pass.
Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of this device is that it doesn’t save your sonar setting after it is powered down. Each new trip out on the water saw me having to re-setup the CHIRP, Down Imaging, and Side Imaging functions; a major inconvenience.
- Sharp 3d imaging
- Rugged, Durable, and Accurate
- Complete Sonar Functionality with CHIRP, Downvu, and Sidevu
- No Mapping Capabilities
- Transducer is only for flat-hulled boats
- No waypoint data transfers
- Doesn’t save settings
7. Best Ice Fishing Fish Finder
Humminbird ICE HELIX 5
The Hummingbird ICE HELIX 5 packs a lot of technology into its 13-inch casing. This one is geared more towards ice fishermen, but can be used as a high-powered, all-purpose fish finder.
The Helix 5 has a PTP power output of 4000 watts, built in GPS Chart plotting, and a handy micro SD card slot for loading up new maps and saving waypoints. This is great for fisherman upgrading to this device from an older one. It means you can save your old data to a micro SD card and transfer it right over. Its high-powered design was made to find fish through ice, and can spot fish through a thick top layer of ice, but even if you never use its ice fishing capabilities the other features on this device are top of the line.
Because of the feature density of this device it can be pretty difficult to learn to use, but once you get used to it it really can do anything you ask it to. While, this device might be a bit unnecessarily complex for a hobby fisherman, if you’re a hardcore angler you will love exploring all of its features.
- Feature rich
- Expandable Maps
- Waypoint Saving
- Steep learning curve
New Cheaper Option – Don’t splurge on this device for a one-time ice fishing trip. There are other, cheaper options out there that will get the job done. I suggest taking a look at the Garmin Striker 4 with the portable kit. It’s not nearly as refined as the Humminbird Helix 5, but it will offer accurate readings without all the bells and whistles. The Helix 5 is the superior device to be sure, but most anglers can get by just fine using something less complicated and more economically priced.
A fish finder is an essential tool and can be a costly investment in your fishing equipment so do your research properly and pick the best fish finder for your needs. Our store has a variety of units so go through our fish finder reviews to get a clearer picture of what’s on the market.