Are you tired of getting skunked? Fed up with spending all day on the water, only to go home with no fish to show for it? If so, then it might be time to get yourself a good fish finder. Keep in mind though that all fish finders are not created equal! The best fish finder for shallow water anglers will not be the best for offshore fishermen.
As anglers, we do everything that we can to improve our chances of landing the big one. We make sure our gear is up to par, we read our charts, check the weather, look at the fishing reports, and make sure that we are wearing our lucky shirt. While all of these things are important for catching fish (especially the lucky shirt), they're not going to show you where the fish are.
For this, you need a fish finder! Lucky for you, we've taken the time to find some of the best on the market and reviewed each one in detail. We've included everything from the best fish finder with a GPS to the best portable fish finder for kayak fishermen. All you have to do is decide which one is for you!
Quick Comparison: The Best Fish Finders for The Money
Buyers Guide: Things to Consider in a Fish Finder
Before dropping your hard earned cash on a fish finder, there are a few things that you should consider. Our detailed buying guide will help walk you through the important stuff, so that you can make a more informed buying decision.
Lowrance vs Garmin vs Humminbird
There are several industry players claiming to offer the best fish finder, but a few names tend to rise above the rest: Lowrance, Garmin and Humminbird.
Garmin has a pretty solid reputation in the world of navigation. In recent years, however, it has also been making waves in the aquatic world (pun intended). Garmin has managed to integrate its world-class navigation with the ever prevalent CHIRP technology. The result is a device that displays both intuitive on-water navigation and detailed sonar images - simultaneously.
Of course, we’re not trying to undermine the industry veterans. Lowrance has been providing fishermen small, portable sonars for over 50 years. Their line of fish finders spread the gamut on price and quality, meaning that they really do offer something for everyone. Unless, of course, your needs are particularly unique. In which case, you may want to consider Humminbird.
Humminbird has also been in the industry for a while now, and excelled at providing customized displays (though this has become pretty common since). They also offer fish finders for pretty much everyone, even kayakers. In fact, they arguable offer some of the best fish finders under $200.
Types of Sonar
When it comes to fish finders, it’s all about the sonar (obviously). Sonar technology can be pretty technical, so we’ll break it down here. These descriptions may see oversimplified, but that’s only so that we can take out the redundant tech stuff and just focus on what matters.
For a few decades now, the best of the best fish finders have been using frequency transducers - although this has started to change in recent years (more on that later). Basically, these devices would send their sonar (energy pulse) into the water using one to three frequencies (the more, the better). It then bounces off of objects below, thereby sending a rather blurry and colorful image back to the user for interpretation.
When scouring a modern device’s specs, you’ll routinely see a description of its CHIRP - which is basically what sonar has become in the modern world of fishing. It’s certainly a necessary feature among the latest and greatest fish finders, so much so that it’s even making its way into low-end selections.
But what does this mean? Basically, it condenses, simplifies and enhances traditional sonar technologies found on older devices. It’s as if you could take the best attributes from previous generations of fish finders, then combine them into one.
It uses ranges of frequencies for a much longer duration than traditional frequency sonar. Thus, they are able to process and display more information with more detail (especially with the accelerated pace of computing power in smaller devices).
Down Imaging and Side Imaging
Down imaging and side imaging (both often referred to by several different names) refer to the manner by which a fish scanner’s sonar sweeps through the water. Basically, side imaging covers a larger area by sending signals throughout the side of the boat. However, down imaging provides more detail on the objects below your boat, making it much easier to find the fish and avoid obstacles.
The most budget friendly option tends to be down imaging. The most expensive options actually integrate both, but almost always cost well into the thousands.
Water contours are one of the most important considerations for fishermen. Ultimately, understanding them ensures a safe, fun and fruitful fishing trip. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to find contour maps for many obscure bodies of water. However, fish finders can help with this. Many will take advantage of the onboard sonar and display a GPS overlay of contour lines as well, typically in a split-screen view.
A fish finder’s “water column” simply refers to the underwater area that can be scanned by a fish finder. Sometimes, certain objects can impact the search area. It’s important to read the owner’s manual to determine what may cause interference and limit the water column’s size.
While GPS tends to remind us of cars and smartphones, many popular waterways are also navigable by GPS. So it’s only natural that we’re beginning to see them integrated with fish finders. Typically, they offer a similar interface that we use when navigating our cars.
However, some also display useful information, such as labels for nearby obstacles. And for the multi-tasking fishermen, some displays can even split to show both navigation and sonar readouts. Some units will also show the boat’s current speed within the GPS display.
As with most modern electronics, some of the best fish finders benefit from extended functionality via Wi-Fi connections. Typically, this means connecting with a mobile app; everything from software updates to social media shares are offered through smartphone applications.
Some fish finders also allow you to use another device as its screen. For example, if you need to set up your device in one area of the boat but monitor it from another, you can connect it with a smartphone or tablet via Wi-Fi to share the display.
Set up Routes and Trails
Exploring new territory? As GPS becomes more prevalent with fish finders, we’re naturally seeing location-based features increasing as well. These vary greatly among different devices, but here’s a quick look at mapping features to consider:
Product Reviews: The 5 Best Fish Finders for Any Fisherman
While there are plenty more fish finders on the market, we feel that the ones that made our list are a few of the best. We've included something for the inshore fisherman who love paddling the flats in search of redfish and also included a fish finder that will make any offshore fisherman envious. The choice is yours!
Enthusiasts will find that the Helix 9 is pretty solid choice among feature-packed devices. Using its CHIRP technology, the Helix 9 produces a near photo-realistic image that allows fishermen to easily identify fish and potential obstacles without attempting to translate blobs of color or ambiguous shapes. With an impressive 9 inch widescreen display, the view can be easily split between the water column and GPS.
In fact, it can even split the water column view with both side and down imaging. A third split offers information about the boat itself, including its current GPS speed.
Granted, the buttons are a bit small in order to accommodate the larger screen, so it can take a little longer for larger hands to adjust (especially when multitasking). Still, overall, we’d probably rate Hummingbird’s Helix 9 the best fish finder for the money.
A world-renowned leader in land navigation is now helping us find our way in the depths below. Garmin’s Striker uses its trademark intuitive interface to help fishermen easily discover fish hidden deep under the water’s surface. The display makes use of both traditional and ClearVu scanning CHIPR sonars.
Even better, it can be displayed to show both scans and a map of the local area, all simultaneously. Fishermen can customize their experience further by mapping their own course. You can then store your own maps, including points of interest, for up to 2 million acres of waterways.
Connect it with your smartphone and access an app that drastically extends its functionality. For example, you can benefit from the work of others and download contour maps shared by the fishing community.
The three-way split screen can take a little time to get used to, but once you’ve learned it, you can enjoy the benefits of both side imaging and down imaging simultaneously. This alone probably makes the Garmin Striker Plus 7SV it the best fish finder for under $500.
For an industry leader at an entry-level price, Garmin’s STRIKER 4cv offers a pretty solid start. It offers intuitive controls just below the display to help rookies get up to speed quickly. It also features a compact design, allowing it to fit almost anywhere.
The 3.5” screen may seem small, but it’s designed intuitively. It also features a colorful high resolution display. Half of its screen is dedicated to an innovative sonar display, shows a map of the local area. And while it forgoes the CHIRP sonar technology (unlike its aforementioned counterpart), it does offer one of the easiest frequency readouts found on non-CHIRP devices.
As for the 4cv’s local map display, users can easily take a quick look at potential obstacles (such as large rocks and stumps) labeled from an aerial view relative to the boat’s current position. The Garmin Striker 4 cv also displays additional useful information, such as the water temperature and boat’s speed.
If portability is an issue, it’s hard to beat the Deeper Smart Sonar PRO+. This thing is actually designed to float in the water, providing a much clearer (and broader) view of the fish and obstacles below. But how can you see the output while it’s floating around the water? With the PRO+’s onboard WiFi connection and its impressive 330ft range.
Oh, and don’t worry about purchasing a separate screen; it connects easily with Android and iOS devices. Even better, it includes GPS mapping for easy and accurate navigation. This is the perfect setup for fishermen with larger boats (even yachts) who have found that traditional fish finders simply cannot penetrate their own hull.
And with a smaller price tag than many inferior devices, the Deeper Smart Pro is quite possibly the best portable fish finder for ease of use. Just be careful not to let its line cross your own, as a tangled mess will likely ensue.
Fishing from a kayak? If so, it’s hard to beat Humminbird’s Fishin’ Buddy Max. It includes a C-clamp that offers easy attachment to any hook, groove or handle on your kayak’s hull. Once attached, the adjustable rod allows you to easily find the perfect height for balancing viewing, maneuvering and (of course) fish finding.
It features an intuitive interface that can be easily controlled with a single finger, meaning less time fickling with the thing and more time paddling. And, of course, it’s all brought together in one lightweight 3lb package (including the rod, C-clamp and device).
Granted, the C-clamp can sometimes be a bit difficult to tighten down enough to prevent loosening. But hey, kayakers are known for having a bit more elbow grease to spare, right? Bring that into the equation, and you’ll easily find the Buddy MAX to be the best fish finder for kayak fishermen.
Fish finders aren’t always a one-size-fits-all solution. Differing bodies of water, boats and fishing preferences are just a few of the common factors that will drive the decision (along with price, of course).
However, we’ve listed enough options here to help identify the best fish finder for most fishermen. And we’ve even included a few specialties (such as the Buddy MAX for kayakers). We’ve also provided enough information to make an informed decision based on the many features available, and included a few surprises for the prices (such as the Garmin Striker Plus 7 sv, offering both side and down imaging for less than $500).