2017 has seen the introduction of dozens new fish finders. We’ve taken it upon ourselves to sift through the muck in order to locate the best fish finders currently available on the market today.
Fish finders are not “one size fits all.” After all, even rookie fishermen know that each fish has its own necessities, preferred food, depth, water temperature, etc. Why should a single fish finder be labeled the “best” when there are so many variables involved?
The best fish finder will provide you with the components you need to safely navigate and successfully find the type of fish for which you are looking. It should also be durable and reliable. Before purchasing a fish finder you should compare the features of different models and determine how each feature could benefit you and help you achieve your fishing goals. Now we’ll dive into each of the factors that one should consider when shopping for the best one.
How to Choose the Best Fish Finder
Fish finders are much more than sonar-equipped boxes. A lot goes into the development, design and production of fish finders that many outdoorsmen don’t take into account. Savvy fishermen will compare fish finders in each of the following categories before making a decision:
The transducer is the part of the fish finder that sends out and receives sonar signals underwater. Each type of fishing requires a properly-configured transducer. If you’re heading out to sea then you’ll want a transducer that sends signals deep into the ocean. Anglers on smaller bodies of water usually prefer transducers that send sound waves out at a wider angle (see the section below entitled “Cone Angle” for more information).
You should also be interested in the frequency at which a transducer operates. Do you need ultra high-quality sonar images of fish that are 25-50 feet below your boat, or are you more interested in finding large schools much deeper in the ocean? Many of the best fish finders utilize transducers that operate on multiple frequencies. Alternatively, you can use more than one fish finder at a time to increase your coverage area and depth.
You can mount the transducer on the transom or on the trolling motor, although the latter could cause some interference. Depending on your boat you might be able to perform an in-hull mount. Portable transducers do not need mounting as you simply cast them into the water.
2. Cone Angle
The cone angle of a fish finder represents how wide of a “net” the signal will cast once it’s been deployed from the bottom of your boat into the water. The deeper the water, the wider the cone will get (but it will also decrease in sensitivity). Cone angles usually range from 15-20 degrees, though many fish finders’ cone angles can be as narrow as 9 degrees or as wide as 60 degrees. Advanced fishermen often use fish finders that have multiple cones so they can cover different angles while overlapping in some spots.
The higher the frequency of your fish finder, the more details will be transmitted to your screen. Higher frequencies work better in shallow waters, while commercial fishermen and deep-sea trawlers usually use low-frequency transducers. Frequencies of 50-200kHz are the most common, and many modern fish finders have multiple frequencies that you can switch back and forth or use simultaneously to view split-screen results.
4. Display Screen
Many of today’s fish finders have full-color screens. These are a huge advantage over black/white screens as the details are much clearer. Fortunately, color screens are quickly becoming the norm and so they aren’t much more expensive than a fish finder with a black/white display.
You should also take screen size and resolution into account when shopping for a fish finder. Larger screens will make it easier for you to pinpoint the exact spot where the fish are. Screens with high resolutions make that task even easier because you’re less likely to end up with a jumble of confusing, blurry dots on your screen. The lowest recommended screen resolution is 240 x 160 but you might want to take those numbers up a few notches to really benefit from the display screen’s capabilities.
Fish finders are measured in terms of wattage when it comes to power. A fish finder’s power determines how fast the sonar can operate. The higher the wattage rating of your fish finder, the faster the unit can relay live results to you. As a general rule, fish finders can show readings of up to 400 feet for each 100 watts (based on a 50kHz frequency). At a frequency of 200kHz you can count on readings from up to 100 feet away for every 100 watts of power. As we mentioned above, a lot of fish finders work on multiple frequencies. If this is true of the fish finder you’re considering then you can focus strictly on the wattage rating instead of calculating the distance based on the frequency.
6. GPS Capabilities
The best fish finders often have GPS capabilities. After all, why purchase a separate tool for navigation when you can combine navigation and fish finding into one convenient device. GPS-enabled fish finders allow you to save spots where you were successful previously, and you can use them to mark points of interest or other areas that have submerged obstacles.
Fish finders scan in one of two ways: side scan and down scan. Down scan fish finders are powerful and focused, but they could cause you to miss fish that aren’t passing directly underneath. Side scan fish finders allow you to scan vast amounts of water, but they aren’t as effective in deep water. This is why it’s important to know exactly where you plan to fish when buying a fish finder. Recently, fish finders with dual-scan technology have been innovated. These are meant to provide you with the best of both worlds, but they are still in the developmental stages. Currently, your best bet could be to use multiple fish finders.[/toggle]
The brand name of the fish finder isn’t the most important factor to consider, but it can tell you a lot about the product you’re buying. Has the company been in business for a long time? Is it common to see other fisherman using fish finders produced by this company? Is the company well-respected among your peers and according to online reviews? Does the company offer a warranty, product guarantee, or any sort of reduced-price replacement program? Get the answers to these questions for every brand of fish finder you compare.
Portable fish finders have become especially popular in the last few years. In many respects, a portable fish finder is preferable in certain situations. If you’re fishing from a kayak or small boat a portable device could work in your favor. You simply cast the transducer into the water and view the results on your phone, tablet or the fish finder’s portable LCD display screen. Portable fish finders are often used in ponds and lakes, as well as other relatively small and still bodies of water. If you’re heading into the open ocean, you’ll probably want to stick with traditional fish finders.
10. Design & Durability
A fish finder’s design might seem to be of little importance, but the shape of the device, as well as button placement, are extremely important. You should have a good idea of where and how to mount the device on your watercraft. Durability is vital. The fish finder needs to be rated as waterproof and weather-resistant. If you plan to fish in saltwater then make sure potential fish finders are built to prevent corrosion.
It’s never a good idea to buy something based on price alone, but you shouldn’t ignore the price tag, either. If a fish finder is purported to have all sorts of advanced, top-of-the-line features then it should cost more than an entry-level model. As with most things in life, if a fish finder price seems too good to be true then it probably is.
On the other hand, there’s no need for you to empty your wallet if you only require one of the best basic fish finders. Pay for a model that provides you with what you need because in many cases all of those extra features can get confusing and frustrating.
No matter what kind of fish finder you decide on, always compare prices. Visit different outdoor supply shops and compare multiple vendors online. If you think you’ve found a lower price make sure it is the exact same model and includes the same hardware and warranty, and is in the same condition.
8 Best Rated Fish Finder Reviews 2016-2017
1. Raymarine Dragonfly 7 Pro – Best Down Imaging Fish Finder
For the modern fisherman, there are not many gadgets that can top a GPS / fish finder combo. The Dragonfly 7 Pro features built in GPS, Wi-Fi, and an LCD display. This unit centers around the CHIRP sonar technology which is leaps and bounds beyond scanning and imaging tech of the past. The all-weather bonded LCD display has great contrast and clarity any time of day and can be adjusted with a built-in mounting system for any viewing angle.
With reliable high speed bottom tracking and CHIRP down vision, the device is reliable up to 600ft of depth. Split the screen to use one of several built-in navigation maps and charts while also taking advantage of side by side live sonar imaging. Built in Wi-Fi means you can update, download, and upload sonar logs to improve your experience and contribute to improving the community.
- Split screen capability
- Ball-and-socket mounting hardware
- CHIRP down imaging
- Wi-Fi for uploading and downloading data
- Lower display resolution
- 7” screen
- GPS routes not available
- 900ft max depth
2. Garmin Striker 7SV – Best Fishfinder GPS Combo
With a 7” 800×480 pixel screen you’re not going to be able to watch the game in HD, per se, but the resolution is reasonably dense for the small screen. The CHIRP sonar supports a range of frequencies in both “traditional”, ClearVu, and SideVu modes to help you make the best of the 500W power output on the device. One nice feature is a constantly updating water temperature log and graph for a more robust picture of what the fish may be doing under your boat.
Split screen zoom, a max depth of 2,300ft in freshwater, and IPX7 waterproof ratings make for a well-rounded fish finder. Don’t forget that the integrated GPS can be used in split screen mode for navigation and fish finding capacity at the same time which is always a welcome feature! Mark waypoints and use the GPS for simple navigation to and from your favorite fishing spot.
- ClearVu and SideVu imaging technology
- Tons of transducer frequencies
- Split screen
- Low resolution
- Low-tech navigation capabilities
3. Deeper Smart Sonar PRO+ | Best Portable Fish Finder
This little 2.5” ball of tech is quite a departure from what we’ve seen. At a featherlight 3.5oz this unit combines bathymetric map making, integrated Wi-Fi, and fish finder capability all with onboard GPS. Castable with the right reel setup, you’ll literally toss the unit into the water where it will float along and scan an area 330ft in width and up to 260ft deep. You’ll even be able to connect with the unit using your smartphone or compatible tablet from up to the max range of 330ft.
With real time map-making features, you can archive and access maps even in offline mode at any time. This will enable you to eventually create layers of valuable navigation and fishing information that your device can use to improve efficiency and accuracy. This little guy would make an awesome choice for anglers fishing in shallow water, narrow corridors, or using angler kayaks and smaller boat setups. It’s compact, light, efficient, and powerful.
- Full color viewing uses your phone as a screen so the visual quality is as good as your phone
- Adjustable sonar sensitivity for cloudy or muddy water
- Lightweight and compact (3.5oz and 2.5”)
- Low depth penetration (max of 260ft)
- Limited maps in offline mode
- Limited options and features compared to more robust boat-mounted options
4. Humminbird Helix 7 SI GPS – Best Side Imaging Fish Finder
Another 7” adjustable GPS fish finder combination unit, the 7 SI is a good balance of features and function. With a max depth capability of 1500ft, 500W power output, and a handful of sonar frequencies, this unit can be tuned into just the exact information you’re looking for and nothing else. Side imaging, down imaging, and dual beam imaging mean that you can select the sonar type that’s best for your situation or split the screen and view more than one at a time.
Built in GPS means you’ve got access to routes, tracks, and GPS points. Humminbird mapping and Navionics+ are supplemental navigation overlays that can take this unit up a notch in reliability. Integrated card reader with room for up to one card and compatibility with multiple transducer styles makes the 7 SI good for a range of needs and uses.
- LED backlit screen
- 800×480 px full color screen
- 1500ft max depth
- Low-tech navigation
- Mapping not included standard
5. Garmin Striker 4 – Best Kayak Fish Finder
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 every day 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 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.
If you like this device also consider taking a look at the 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.
- 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
6. Simrad GO7 XSE Chartplotter TotalScan – Best Featured Fish Finder
Bright high contrast touch screen helps this device look as sleek as it operates. Chart plotter technology with built-in GPS and Wi-Fi to access maps, charts, and updates makes the device as easy to upgrade as it is to operate. NMEA 2000 access means you can control and monitor your engine, speakers, and onboard accessories from one single interface.
Another awesome feature is forward-looking sonar called ForwardScan which projects in front of the boat as you travel to search for obstructions and potential obstacles. CHIRP sonar, StructureScan, SideScan, and DownScan imaging provide you access to all the views, data, and images you’ll need to get a full picture of exactly what’s under the boat. This is the perfect unit for dayboats, party boats, and sportboats. The GO7 XSE also comes preloaded with 14 languages which makes it a great international choice for anyone.
- NMEA 2000 allows full control of your boat
- Touch screen
- Slim design
- Bluetooth Capable
- 800x400px is relatively low for this high-end unit
- Transducer not included
7. Humminbird HELIX 5 SI GPS – Best 5″ Screen Side Imaging Option
This side imaging sonar is made to give you a rounded view of the world under your boat. Down imaging, switchfire, and dual beam sonar tech make available a wide range of viewing types and visible images for you to choose from. Don’t worry about the devices getting outdated either, as Humminbird has made the onboard software upgradable like most units currently available. Humminbird’s “Unimap” is standard for this device and comes preloaded, it even has color charts with great detail for inland lakes, coastline, and rivers of the US.
800×480 pixel resolution, 256 colors and a 5” screen mean that you’ll be looking at some high-density resolution when we compare that in pixels per inch. In this case the small screen and relatively low resolution are a good matchup for one another. Because the screen is small, you’ll have more pixels per inch compared to larger screens of the same resolution – this means a crisper looking image.
With three available sonar frequencies, you can fine-tune your transducer to capture the images and detail you want while avoiding false positives. 500W max output means depths of up to 1500ft in many conditions so you can fish some relatively deep water!
- Smaller screen means higher pixel density
- Upgradable software
- 1500ft of max depth on this compact unit
- Smaller screen may be difficult to see with ease from all parts of the boat
- Temperature graph not supported
- External GPS receiver not supported
8. Lowrance Elite-7 Ti Touch Combo – Best Lowrance Fish Finder for the Money
Touchscreen tech at 800×480 pixels on this 7” full color display is a great compromise between high-end and high function. LED backlighting means an adjustable, crisp light for viewing in all conditions including bright sunlight.
500W max output and multiple operating frequencies can yield great scanning depth with the CHIRP sonar, StructureScan, or DownScan imaging settings. With optional chart upgrades and software updates, you can run just about any high-end chart for navigation or information. It’s even easy to scroll back through the sonar history to find and mark fish and structure targets with GPS waypoints for future ease of navigation. Internal 10Hz high sensitivity WAAS GPS antenna makes accurate navigation possible with ease. Tons of custom mapping options are available to supplement the “Enhanced Elite Basemap” such as Lake Insight, Nautic Insight PRO, and HD as well as Insight Genesis.
- Up to 31 available language options
- Storage for up to 3000 GPS waypoints
- Depth and shallow alarms
- One year warranty
- Touchscreen may be finicky
FAQ: Frequently-Asked Fish Finder Questions
Fishing is a combination of art, science, and luck. Part of becoming a better fisherman is knowing how to use fish finders and other tools. We scoured the Internet and talked to some fishermen to find out what they would most like to know about fish finders. Below, we’ve answered some of the most common questions. This FAQ is updated regularly so bookmark this page to get new answers to fish finder questions on a regular basis.
How Do Fish Finders Work?
The fish finder sends an electrical pulse to the underwater transducer. The transducer transmits the pulses as sound waves. When a sound wave strikes something it reverberates back to the transducer. The captured sonar is then relayed back to the fish finder on deck, which translates the information into sizes, shapes, and compositions.
Can I Sync my Fish Finder with my Smart Phone or Tablet?
Apps exist that allow you to sync your mobile device with your fish finder. Models with this capability are extremely convenient as they allow you to save and analyze data collected over time. You can map the waterbed and receive alerts when fish are in a specific area, and you can also adjust your fish finder’s settings remotely.
What Do I Do if my Transducer is Broken?
If your transducer broke off on the mount, then it may be possible to remount the device. If the transducer itself is physically broken, most situations call for buying and installing a brand new model. If you dry-dock your boat, be aware that most boatyards can’t be held liable for damage done to transducers during the docking process. If your transducer doesn’t seem to have sustained any physical damage but it isn’t sending/receiving sound waves, consult your owner’s manual and contact the manufacturer and/or the company where you purchased the device.
What Do I Do if my Fish Finder Stopped Working?
You need to determine the source of the problem. Try charging the device, and plug it into an Internet-connected computer to see if the computer recognizes the device. If the screen freezes or is slow to respond, try powering the device down and restarting it. You might also want to try downloading updated firmware for your model. If you suspect water damage, consult your owner’s manual for warranty information and instructions on contacting their customer service department.
What can Cause Interference with my Fish Finder?
Run your transducer cables separately from other wiring to minimize interference. Transducers can receive interference if they are mounted to active trolling motors, especially if the trolling motor has not been properly grounded. To reduce interference issues, lower the fish finder’s sensitivity to 60-75% and consider using an RF choke to your transducer cable.
What Do I Do if my Charger Gets Lost or Breaks?
Any charger that has the same output as your original charger should work. You should always confirm the power output is the same before attempting this method so as not to damage the device. If you invested a lot of money into your fish finder then you might want to consider buying a factory replacement, or having your charger repaired, to avoid any sort of voided warranty issues.
Can I Use the Same Fish Finder for Shallow Water, Deep Water and Ice Fishing?
The technical answer is “yes” but savvy fisherman employ different tactics in different situations. Some fish finders are better out in the open ocean while others are more suited for your local lake. Ice fishing is a completely different animal, so it’s highly advisable to purchase a fish finder that was designed specifically for such conditions.
How Do I Update my Fish Finder’s Software?
Fish finder manufacturers occasionally provide software and firmware updates for their models. This is done to fix minor system bugs and help your device run more smoothly. Update instructions vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, and usually involve downloading data from your computer onto an SD card. You then insert the SD card into the fish finder and turn the device on. At this point, the device will prompt you to install the update and walk you through the process. You should visit the manufacturer’s website for more details.
How Much Should I Spend on a Fish Finder?
You can find fish finders under $100 as well as more than $2,500. How much you spend should correlate with how often you fish, the type of fishing you do, your personal budget, and the features you require your fish finder to have. For more about fish finder pricing see the “Price” section of our Buyer’s Guide above.
You now have all the information you need to compare the best fish finders of 2016. Study each one closely to make sure it will meet your needs and provide you with the results you demand. If you have further questions about any of the fish finders mentioned in this article, or if you would like to see us add your fish finder question to our FAQ, we’d love to hear from you. Don’t forget to let us know what you think of these fish finders in the Comments section below.