Best Fishfinders for 2017
2017 brings a new crop of fishfinders that are better than ever – both in value and in technology. Two common themes for 2017 are the unprecedented quality from photo-like views of the lake bottoms, contours, and structure and the increased usability that will let you optimize your time on the water. The sounder technology has come a long way. All new fishfinder models provide color displays, support either down-imaging or side-imaging, incorporate CHIRP sonar. The choice has become relatively simple – you have to pick the display size and decide on down imaging vs side imaging. Here are our picks for the best fishfinders in different categories:
|Down-Imaging 4 Inch|
Garmin echoMap 43cv
|Down-Imaging 5 Inch|
Raymarine Dragonfly 5 PRO
|Side-Imaging 5 Inch|
Humminbird Helix 5 CHIRP SI GPS G2
|Down-Imaging 7 Inch|
Raymarine Dragonfly 7 PRO
|Side-Imaging 7 Inch|
Garmin echoMap CHIRP 73sv
|Down-Imaging 9 Inch|
Humminbird Helix 9 CHIRP DI GPS G2
|Side-Imaging 9 Inch|
Lowrance HDS 9 Gen3
Best Down-Imaging Fishfinder 4 Inch Display
Garmin echoMap 43cv
The Garmin echoMAP CHIRP 43cv fishfinder/chartplotter is an easy-to-install and easy-to-use unit that comes complete with LakeVu HD Maps to help you zoom in on fish. The 4.3 inch color display screen with keypad control offers 480W x 272H pixels at WQVGA resolution and has a tilt-swivel mount for easy removal to take with you wherever you go.
The included transducer boasts CHIRP sonar capabilities, the most sophisticated sonar technology available for the fishing and boating public at 50/77/200kHz for traditional sonar and 260/455/800 kHz for CHIRP ClearVu. The maximum depth at 77kHz is 2,300 feet of freshwater or 1,100 ft. in saltwater. The high wide CHIRP sonar puts more energy onto the target than traditional sonar, and includes sonar recording capabilities that coordinate the returns and the boat position for playback on a home computer. In addition, Garmin CHIRP ClearVü™ supplies a wide, nearly photographic image of bottom, structure, submerged objects, and fish passing underneath your boat.
The highly detailed LakeVu HD freshwater maps include more than 17,000 US lakes, rivers and reservoirs. 13,000 HD lakes are supplied with 1-foot contours shoreline to shoreline, while the maps include interstates, highways, general roads and bridges, docks, boat ramps, designated fishing areas, marinas and campgrounds. You can create your own HD fishing maps onscreen with Quickdraw Contours and share them. Up to 5,000 waypoints, 100 routes, 50 tracks and 50,000 trackpoints can be stored.
Best Down-Imaging Fishfinder 5 Inch Display
Raymarine Dragonfly 5 PRO
The Raymarine Dragonfly 5 PRO is a 5″ Dual-Channel CHIRP DownVision Sonar fishfinder and chartplotter offering exceptional photo-like underwater images together with Navionics Nav+ charting of the coastal waters, inland lakes, and rivers of the US and Canada. Optical bonding LCD display technology guarantees that Dragonfly units are all marine weather performers with fog-free brighter colors and sharper contrast thanks to IPX6 and IPX7 waterproofing. You’ll be able to view dual channels of traditional sonar and CHIRP DownView images at the same time on the brilliant 800H x 480V WVGA resolution screen.
The transom mount DownVision and conventional CHIRP sonar transducer transmits a conventional conical sonar beam capable of a maximum depth of 900 feet while the DownVision sonar will penetrate 600 feet of depth. Wide spectrum CHIRP sonar technology illuminates targets with a range of frequencies in each pulse instead of the conventional single frequency, and the differential echoes are decoded electronically to give a clear, uncluttered picture at depth in more detail for individual target fish, bait fish, and bottom structure. At the same time, the 10Hz GPS lets you track at lake bottom and targets smoothly at high speed.
Simplified controls and compact ball-and-socket mounting makes the Dragonfly 5 PRO easy to install and operate anywhere on your boat. Built-in GPS gives you the choice of Raymarine LightHouse compatible charts, Jeppeson C-MAP, or Navionics. Built-in Wi-Fi allows anglers to stream sonar data to a smartphone or tablet using the Raymarine Wi-Fish mobile app. You can generate up-to-date depth charts with the Navionics SonarChart Live, stream sonar to the Navionics Boating app for live sonar on your phone or tablet, and create your own bathymetric chart. Your sonar logs can be uploaded to Navionic.com to create SonarChart updates.
Best Side-Imaging Fishfinder 5 Inch Display
Humminbird Helix 5 CHIRP SI GPS G2
Humminbird’s second generation of the Helix 5 family brings compelling value, a new intuitive Reflex interface, and new features for anglers in a compact form. The Helix 5 CHIRP SI GPS G2 is the Humminbird’s flagship 5-inch screen model. The original Helix 5 best-in-class, ultra-bright 5-inch diagonal HD widescreen color display is now accompanied by an updated user interface for easy viewing and operation and state-of-the-art capabilities like CHIRP digital sonar at an accessible price point. Units feature a 800H x 480V 256-color TFT screen, allowing for gimbal mounting, with in-dash mounting available with an optional kit. Sonar frequencies are 83 kHz: 75-95 kHz, 200 kHz: 175-225 kHz, 455 kHz: 420-520 kHz to a maximum depth of 1500 feet. An optional 50kHz transducer is available for extreme deep-water use. A water temperature gauge is built into the transducer for finding fish-holding locations. The Helix 5 SI CHIRP GPS G2 includes both CHIRP Down Imaging and CHIRP Side Imaging with 1,500 feet depth broadband sonar, 350 feet Down Imaging capability, and 120 feet Side Imaging capability on both left and right sides. The second generation Helix 5 G2 family is upgradable with software updates for users whenever they are available.
Anglers will appreciate enhanced capabilities offering fish-finding technologies like CHIRP digital sonar, AutoChart Live and Smart Strike. AutoChart Live gives users the ability to map the depth of any body of water, structures, and bottom contours. 8-hours of mapping can be stored on the hard drive, and additional storage is available on an optional AutoChart Live Zero Line map card. GPS is compatible with all Navionics Gold/HotMaps and all Humminbird LakeMaster charts. The SmartStrike feature identifies the best places to fish based on species, time of year/day, weather, and bottom contours. The CHIRP digital sonar and GPS chartplotting with the internal GPS receiver allow 2,500 waypoints, 45 routes, 50 tracks and 20,000 track points. With GPS also comes a Micro SD card slot to save screenshots, sonar recordings, waypoints or for use with advanced cartography.
Best Down-Imaging Fishfinder 7 Inch Display
Raymarine Dragonfly 7 PRO
The Raymarine Dragonfly 7 PRO delivers sharp, photo-like images with wide spectrum CHIRP DownVision sonar, and best-in-class fish targeting. Offering the same advanced features as the award-winning Dragonfly 5 PRO, the 7 PRO boasts an extra-large 7-inch display for maximum visibility and the same high resolution and super-bright 800×480 WVGA images with viewing angles of 70 degrees at top/left/right and 45 degrees at bottom.
The dual-channel transom mount CHIRP transducer includes a temperature sensor, wide-spectrum DownVision sonar and narrow-band fish targeting sonar operating at all boat speeds. Employing a wide range of frequencies in a 1.4 deg. forward/backward and 60 degree lateral fan-shaped beam, the DownVision CHIRP sonar returns high-resolution photo-like images of fish and bottom structure. The second narrow-beam CHIRP channel with its 25 deg. conical beam targets moving fish within the water column underneath your boat and in deeper waters automatically optimizes the sonar frequency to improve bottom lock.
A built-in fast 10Hz 72-channel GPS/GLONASS receiver keeps track of your boat motion on the compatible Navionics, Lighthouse or Jeppeson C-Map charts. Once you download the free Wi-Fish mobile app to your iOS7 or Android device, Dragonfly 7 PRO built-in Wi-Fi will stream sonar data to your mobile device. Both conical sonar and DownVision images can be displayed in the palm of your hand. Pause, zoom, rewind multiple sonar data on your device independently of your Dragonfly PRO. Save sonar logs, data and screenshots on microSD storage cards. You can also generate up-to-date bathymetric charts in realtime with the compatible SonarChart Live app on Apple iOS devices.
Best Side-Imaging Fishfinder 7 Inch Display
Garmin echoMap CHIRP 73sv
The Garmin echoMAP CHIRP 73sv, introduced in 2016, is one of the easiest 7-inch fish finders to operate for getting realistic views of the lake bottom and fishing within structure. The 7-inch 800H x 480V keypad controlled color display includes a tilt mount with quick release cradle, an in-dash flush mount, a travel cover, and a microSD memory card slot. The color display intensity is adjustable for better visibility of fish and bottom details, as is the depth range and split screen dual-frequency beams for simultaneous shallow and deep water views of the water column.
The included GT52HW-TM SideVu transducer is loaded with capabilities that enable support for low/medium/high traditional CHIRP sonar at 50/77/200 kHz, and ClearVu and SideVu CHIRP sonar at 260/455/800 kHz. The maximum depth capacity at 77kHz, depending on water conditions and bottom type, lies at 2,300 feet in freshwater and 1,100 feet in saltwater. CHIRP sonar sweeps each sonar pulse through a range of frequencies, allowing you to obtain better target separation in deep water, especially useful for separating individual fish in a school or target fish from bottom structure. In addition, the traditional sonar emits a conical beam whereas the ClearVu or SideVu sonar beam is shaped in a narrow high and wide slice on each side that enables an almost photographic image quality of bottom structure, submerged objects, and fish.
The echoMAP 73sv has about 17,000 LakeVu HD maps of US lakes, rivers and reservoirs pre-installed when you power up. About 13,000 US inland lakes are mapped in 1-foot contours from shoreline to shoreline. The Quickdraw Contours mapping app allows you to created 1-foot contour personalized maps of your own. Your boat’s heading and position are refreshed by 5Hz GPS making your movement across the screen more smooth and fluid. The echoMAP allows 5,000 waypoints, 50 tracks with 50,000 trackpoints, and 100 routes for recording your personal fishing hot spots.
Best Down-Imaging Fishfinder 9 Inch Display
Humminbird Helix 9 CHIRP DI GPS G2
The Humminbird Helix 9 CHIRP DI GPS G2 joins state-of-the-art CHIRP sonar technology, best-in-class brightness displays that deliver maximum clarity even in direct sunlight, a second generation intuitive user interface with flexible split screens, and upgradable software that keeps the unit up-to-date whenever new software is available. The 9-inch HD screen offers 800H x 480V pixels with 16-bit color TFT resolution.
The standard transducer works at 200/455/800 kHz for 350 feet of CHIRP Down Imaging capability, 600 ft. sonar depth, and a maximum of 3500 feet depth with the optional 1000W deep water transducer. SwitchFire split screens show a picture of the total sonar echoes received side-by-side with the sonar echoes cleaned up by advanced noise-reducing software for maximum clarity. The Wide/Narrow cone split screen shows the DualBeam PLUS views from a narrow 20-degree beam optimized for bottom detail as well as a broad 60-degree beam that illuminates an area as wide as it is deep. Down Imaging shows the total sonar echoes received by the transducer from the bottom contour, structure and fish, illuminated by a thin front/back transducer beam extending far out to each side.
Advanced cartography features such as AutoChart Live draw a map of the lake depth contours with depth labels while you drive your boat with the sonar measures and charts bottom hardness giving you tips on likely fish hotspots. Even vegetation such as weeds and brush is instantly mapped. CHIRP sonar gives you the ability to distinguish between sport fish, bait fish, and weeds, not to mention greater target separation, and greater clarity identifying the subtle structural details that cue you where the fish are.
Best Side-Imaging Fishfinder 9 Inch Display
Lowrance HDS 9 Gen3
The Lowrance HDS 9 Gen3 is a very complete, advanced 9-inch diagonal fishfinder/chartplotter combination system that offer top notch sonar capabilities, fast and accurate GPS, fantastic charts, and wireless connectivity, with the capacity for additional upgrades. The third generation HDS (High Definition System) has been updated with a roomy multi-touch or touch-keypad control display especially tuned to deliver visibly better definition of sonar returns and striking on-screen detail while providing enough space for three split screen views. The new faster interface is driven by a remarkably speedy processor and responsive buttons that let you fish as you want.
This high-tech third generation improves Lowrance’s award-winning target separation by combining leading-edge CHIRP sonar with StructureScan HD for unparalleled viewing of bottom hugging fish and fish near structure. Built-in CHIRP sonar supplies greater sensitivity, improved target resolution, and superior noise rejection, while delivering multiple CHIRP and Broadband frequencies from a single transducer. The HDS 9 Gen3 StructureScan bundle includes both a broadband 83/200 kHz transducer and a StructureScan HD transducer to produce SideScan, DownScan and broadband sonar with CHIRP. The Built-in StructureScan HD enables high-definition 180-degree views of structure and fish beneath your boat. FishID+ interprets sonar fish arcs as multiple-sized fish icons for your convenience. TrackBack allows you to record sonar to quickly review waypoints or key spots.
The internal 10 Hz GPS gives increased position accuracy and fluid movement onscreen. Full boat integration is available for control of the trolling motor, outboard motor, and the entire electronics system for seamless motoring on the water. Lowrance has traditionally dominated in freshwater angling, with built-in Insight USA charts for Coastal and Inland US waters, a worldwide map base, and compatibility with an expansive selection of cartography from Insight, Navionics, Jeppeson, and more. The optional Insight Genesis software enables you to create your own maps using sonar logs, add vegetation or bottom-hardness overlays and download to a SD card for use on the water or to share with the Insight Genesis Social Map community. Built-in Ethernet allows you to plug and play other devices such as broadband radar, Sonic Hub, and DSC VHF. The GoFree wireless download and upload of maps, new software and fishing apps provides a cloud-enabled experience. GoFree will also allow you to use a compatible tablet or smartphone to control your HDS 9 Gen3 while away from the helm.
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 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 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.