What's New in 2016
2016 brings a new crop of fishfinders that are better than ever - both in value and in technology. Here's the quick rundown of what's new this year, see our fish finder reviews to find out which is the best fishfinder for you:
Humminbird is expanding their Helix series. There are now 9, 10 and 12 inch Helix models. Each display comes with a choice of sonar only, down imaging or side imaging transducer. The down imaging and side imaging transducers are the 1000W versions. MSRP varies from $699 for the 9 inch sonar only unit to $2299 for the 12 inch CHIRP side imaging version.
Garmin adds CHIRP functionality to their echoMap series along with the more competitive pricing. For the budget oriented customers, Garmin introduced the new Striker series. The Striker units don't have mapping capability, they offer only basic chartplotting. The low end model has a 4.3 inch display and costs $119, the 7 inch side imaging unit has a very attractive price of $499 and should be a big hit this season.
Lowrance is introducing the new Touch Imaging lineup. The 5 and 7 inch displays have touchscreen capability. There are 2 types of transducers available - TotalScan transducer provides side imaging and down imaging while DownScan supports down imaging only. Prices vary from $449 for the 5 inch downscan unit to $749 for the 7 inch totalscan version.
Here are our picks for the best fishfinders for 2016
Best Overall Fishfinder
Lowrance Elite 7 Ti
Lowrance Elite 7 Ti Totalscan is hands down the best fishfinder this year. This unit has it all: touchscreen, CHIRP, down imaging, side imaging, Wifi connectivity, 10Hz GPS. The output is detailed and clear and the interface is user friendly. The unit features the same microprocessor as the one found in the HDS Gen 2 series. If you ever wanted to buy an HDS unit for half the price - here's your chance.
Best Fishfinder Under $500
Garmin Striker 7sv
The clarity of the output produced by the Garmin Striker 7sv is outstanding, better than any other mid-range priced fishfinder. Garmin has mastered the sonar technology. However, the Striker doesn't have map support which is ironic considering Garmin is synonymous with GPS. Striker 7sv would have been the best overall fishfinder for 2016 if it supported contour maps.
Best Fishfinder Under $300
Garmin Striker 5dv
Garmin Striker 5dv is a great choice if you don't need detailed maps. None of the other fishfinders in this price range give you a nicer output than the one displayed by the Striker. When using this unit it's hard to believe it costs only $300.
How Fishfinders Work
A fishfinder uses sonar echoes to locate and define objects such as fish, underwater structures, bottom contours and composition, and determine the depth measured directly beneath the boat. Sonar technology is based on the emission and reflection of sound waves. Sonar uses precise sound pulses or "pings" which are sent into the water as a cone-shaped beam. The pings echo back from objects in the water, and the pings are picked up by a transducer.
A fishfinder sends out a sound wave and determines the distance to the object by measuring the interval between transmission and detecting when the wave is reflected back from an object. It can use the reflected signal to interpret the relative location, size, and composition of objects in the water.
These sound waves and echoes move very fast. A sound wave can travel from your boat to a depth of 240 feet and back again in less than a quarter of a second. It's highly unlikely any boat or fish could move fast enough to confuse the sonar signal, so the results are quite accurate.
The returned echoes are interpreted and displayed on the LCD screen of the fishfinder. Each time a reflected ping is received, the old echoes are moved across the screen and the new signal is added, creating a scrolling effect. When these echoes are charted one after the other, you get a rough graph of objects below, and of the bottom of the lake, ocean, or other body of water.
The sonar pulses are transmitted at different frequencies depending on the application. Very high frequency (VHF) signals are around 455 kHz (each kilohertz is 1,000 cycles per second). VHF signals give the best definition, but operating depth is limited. High frequencies of around 200 kHz are common on consumer sonar equipment and provide a balance between image resolution and the depth of the pinged target. Low frequencies, (around 83 kHz) achieve greater depth capability but some loss in detail.
The power output is the amount of energy in the sonar transmission signal, commonly measured as either Root Mean Square (RMS, or power output over the entire transmit cycle), or Peak to Peak (the highest points of power output).
Increased power output provides such benefits at the capability of detecting smaller targets over greater distances and overcoming background noises, as well as better performance at high speeds. It also allows enhanced depth capability.
Many fishfinders also support GPS (global positioning system) technology and chart plotting. It uses GPS satellites and sonar to determine your position and display it in the grid along with detailed underwater features.
GPS relies on a network of satellites that constantly send radio signals to the earth's surface. The GPS receiver can get signals from any orbiting satellites that are available at a line-of-sight angle not blocked by the curve of the Earth. Based on the time differential between signals, the GPS can determine the distance to each satellite, and with these known distances, it mathematically triangulates its own position. Getting 5 - 10 updates per second, a GPS receiver can reliably plot its velocity and direction of movement.
GPS technology was developed for the military, but today anyone can take advantage of its accurate positioning calculations. They are typically correct within plus or minus 4.5 meters, depending on atmospheric conditions. This means that your GPS receiver can determine your exact location on Earth within 4.5 meters (under 15 feet). GPS receivers may also use information from WAAS (Wide Area Augmentation System), EGNOS (European Geostationary Navigation Overlay Service), and MSAS (Multifunction Transport Satellite Augmentation system), if they are available in your area.
GPS makes the following functionality available to view on the fishfinder display:
* Current positon
* Current track
* Precision speed and heading
* Saved tracks, waypoints, and routes
* Navigating a route from one point to the next
Down Imaging Fishfinders
Down imaging fishfinders send a high frequency sound wave that is directed downward to get images of what lies directly beneath the boat. The images are displayed using specific Down Imaging software interprets the sonar return in a realistic fashion that produces picture-like images. "Down Imaging" is a registered trademark of the Humminbird company, but other manufacturers make similar fishfinders that operate in the same way (Lowrance calls it DownScan, Garmin - DownVu). Down-imaging works best in relatively shallow waters (up to 100 feet), where anglers can see clear images of not just fish, but rocks, timber, and other structure around which fish may gather.
Side Imaging Fishfinders
Side imaging fishfinders send sonar signals to either or both sides of the boat to provide a wider field of view. They use the beam-type sonar to sweep the water and collect "slices" of reflection that are then assembled into the picture you see on the fishfinder screen. Side imaging will cover more area in a single pass, anywhere from 75 to 150 feet depending on the model. One advantage over traditional fisfinders is that it you can spot fish without having to go directly over them in the boat. Side imaging is typically less effective in deep water, with signals degrading deeper than 75 feet, but of course that depends on the model you're using, as well as the quality of the water. Very murky, debris-filled, or eddying currents can affect the signal somewhat, as can soft, muddy beds that tend to absorb the signal. Whether you choose to go with down or side imaging fishfinder may depend on the type of fishing you're doing and the characteristics of the body of water your boat is in. However, best fish finders include both, giving anglers 180-degree views of what lies below and around the boat.
CHIRP stands for compressed high-intensity radar pulse, and represents a new technology in fishfinders. CHIRP generates a modulated pulse. Instead of firing the usual sonar beam beneath the boat to bounce off objects, it modulates the pulse across a range of frequencies. The return signal depends on which frequency was being sent, so the result is improved separation of signals giving finer and more accurate detail than you get with a single-frequency sonar ping. This gives you a more complete picture of what objects are in the water and their relation to each other. With a good CHIRP fishfinder, you can see your lure in the water and how far away it is from the fish at all times.