Fishing tech has come a long way in the years since I saw my first fish finder. I can still remember seeing the big and small fish icons on the viewing screen and, as a kid, I was certain there was a man-sized fish directly under the boat! Well… it never seemed to help me much, but these days the sonar and depth imaging technology has come so far that it’s really possible to up your game with a nice fish finder. On top of that, we’ve now got access to great geolocation technology (GPS) at reasonable prices. Combo units gather location data and merge it with underwater imaging data to create a holistic picture of where and what you’re fishing!
Why Buy a Chartplotter Fishfinder Combo
A chartplotter fishfinder combination unit offers powerboaters, sailors, and fisherman a number of advantages over purchasing a separate chartplotter and sounder to meet their marine electronics needs.
First off, you’ll save a bundle of cash when going with a combo because you’ll only be paying for one display screen, one component chassis, and one case.
You will also be significantly simplifying your life when it comes time to install the display and wire things up.
The operational learning curve will be reduced too because you’ll only have to learn how to operate one unit instead of two new pieces of equipment.
One frequently mentioned downside of a combination unit is the fact that you are now putting all your marine electronics eggs in one basket.
For most boaters, this is not that much of a problem since outright failure is fairly rare. However, you should still have a means to navigate to a safe haven if the unit does fail.
The most important factor when choosing a chartplotter fishfinder combo is the display screen. We always opt for the largest highest-resolution screen we can afford.
Big screens offer more details that are easier to read on a fast moving bouncing boat. A very common scenario today is for even small screen units to carry fairly high pixel resolution.
For instance a couple new 5-inch screens weve tested have resolutions of over 150 pixels per running inch. A screen like that will be capable of displaying incredible detail, but must be viewed from close range.
Look for a chartplotter fishfinder combo that meets your connectivity needs. If you have an older boat that is not likely to get rewired with a NMEA 2000 network backbone you certainly wont need to worry out having that capability in the chartplotter you buy.
On a new boat where its possible the network backbone was factory installed youll be giving yourself a lot of options for future upgrades if you buy an N2K compliant combo unit and connect it to the network.
A number of newer chartplotter fishfinder units are capable of displaying AIS targets when connected to a receiver. This information is generally passed back and forth using a NMEA 0183-HS network. This is a 38400 baud network that is not compatible with the older slower 4800 baud NMEA 0183 system.
If you need either of these types of data to talk to other gear already on your boat check to make sure the unit you are buying is compliant.
Cartography is another item to consider prior to purchase of any chartplotter fishfinder combo unit. You may already own or be able to trade up on a certain brand of chart card.
If so, it might be in your best interest to choose a plotter brand that uses your preferred cartography.
Sometimes though it’s cheaper and easier to start from scratch and pick the system you like then add the chart cards as needed.
Today many chartplotters are available with top notch pre-loaded cartography for very little additional money.
If you rely on your sounder to supply important depth and bottom composition information, or even more importantly if you fish, your needs will be best served by choosing a combo where the maker has properly integrated a capable fishfinder.
If you always operate in water less than 300 feet deep you can stick to units with lower output power and a single frequency transducer.
Look for a unit with at least 500 watts of power and the ability to use a dual frequency transducer if you regularly operate in the deep water arena.
Doing so will allow you to use the high frequency, normally 200 kHz, to read a wide swath in shallow water and provide intimate details of the bottom. Using the low frequency, typically 50 kHz, will let you probe the depths with ease.
Typically you can expect to read bottom in a minimum of about 2 feet of water with a high frequency transducer and about 5 feet when using the low frequency.
Maximum depth capabilities with 500 watts of output power would be about 500 feet when using 200 kHz and somewhere between 1000 and 2000 feet using 50 kHz.
Going with a more powerful 1000 watt sounder and transducer could add a couple hundred feet to the maximum depth with high frequency and over 1000 additional feet using low frequency.
Most all combo sounders will have water temperature capabilities. This can be valuable information when trying to determine whether youre riding a current channel in an otherwise open sea. Fishermen frequently use slight variations in temperature to find pockets of water that might hold large pelagic species like marlin.
Another transducer add-on you see is the speed wheel. This paddle wheel is supposed to supply water speed to the display unit. In our experience, these paddle wheel units are notoriously inaccurate and prone to failure. Wed choose a transducer without this option whenever possible.
Fish Finder GPS Combo Reviews – Best Value for the Money
Lowrance HDS-7 Gen 3 – Best Fishfinder GPS Combo under $800
HDS series has been continually improved and enhanced over the last decade. As always, the units offer superior hardware and software. Unique features of the latest version include the fact that the device has a multi-touch screen in addition to the standard button navigation. The HDS series fishfinders, in particular, are some of the most reliable and stable tools available to the novice or the experienced angler.
• A 7-inch widescreen, which displays images in HD 800x400p 16:9 format. The screen also comes with LED backlighting to ensure clear visibility regardless of lighting conditions.
• CHIRP and StructureScan sonar
• Depth coverage of up to 750 feet
• Software stores up to 100 tracks with up to 10,000 points, 200 routes and 5,000 waypoints
• 10Hz GPS antenna
• Flush mount and bracket mounts
• 2 micro-SD card slots
• Ethernet connectivity
• GoFree Wireless connectivity
The Lowrance comes with two transducers, which function on 83/200 kHz and 455/800 kHz frequencies. Structure scan enables anglers to operate the fishfinder in either the SideScan or DownScan modes with amazing photographic image quality. The Temperature Graph provides water temperature in real time.
CHIRP technology regulates sonar pulses over a wide spectrum of frequencies to provide optimal target differentiation. CHIRP enables anglers to clearly see underwater structures, vegetation and bait clouds along with varied sizes and species of fish.
Use the traditional multi-color sonar in combination with the DownScan or the SideScan using the split-screen function. With TrackBack, the unit records the journey along the way, which provides the option of reviewing past locations. Store favorite waypoints easily on a micro-SD card.
Fish ID displays a fish icon when sonar returns locate fish. The Flasher sonar function provides more of an abstract view, which is ideal for ice fishing enthusiasts. Use Split Zoom to magnify a particular portion of the sonar view. You can also use the function in tandem with a regular view using the split-screen capability. The Bottom Lock feature focuses the sonar pings and returns to the bottom of the water mass.
The optional SpotlightScan requires a separate transducer mounted on a trolling motor. The function provides a full 360-degree picture-perfect view of the water’s bottom and the area directly beneath the vessel.
Each unit comes with Insight USA charts preloaded for inland and coastal locations. However, the software additionally features a generic reference map. Venture to the Lowrance website and download the Insight Genesis application to configure and customize personal maps using your recorded sonar destinations. Or, use one or more of the maps shared by other anglers.
The HDS-7 Gen3 also contains a powerful internal GPS system featuring a 10 Hz position update rate along with WAAS/EGNOS corrections for incredible accuracy.
The Lowrance is compatible with Broadband Radar, Class B AIS and SiriusXM Marine Weather. You can also connect the device to Lowrance Outboard Pilot, MotorGuide, Pinpoint GPS and SmartSteer navigating systems.
Humminbird Helix 9 GPS – Best Fishfinder GPS Combo under $600
When you desire an affordable fishfinder without all the bells and whistles that down-imaging and side-imaging provide, the Humminbird Helix 9 GPS is the perfect device. Introduced in 2016, the Helix 9 features a sizable tablet-like screen for great visibility. But, the unit does come with a number innovations.
The large 9-inch screen has a 16:9 widescreen ratio. You will appreciate the images displayed in 800 x 480 p HD resolution. Backlighting ensures you get high-quality images day and night. The Helix 9 was also constructed using IPX7 waterproofing, which protects the device from rain or short-term accidental water submersion. The Helix comes equipped with:
• DualBeam Plus sonar with SwitchFire
• Depth coverage of up to 1,500 feet
• Software which capably stores up to 2,750 waypoints, 45 routes with 50 waypoints per route and up to 50 trails with up to 20,000 points per trail. The trails can also be converted into routes.
• Gimbal mounting kit
• Protective unit cover
• 2 micro-SD card slots
• Ethernet connectivity
• NMEA 0183 and 2000 ports
The supplied transducer uses a transom mount and comes with a built-in water temperature probe and a 20-foot cable. The unit additionally features a temperature graph function, which displays the difference between surface temperature and the water currents beneath the surface.
The sonar functions using 83/200 kHz frequencies. However, the optional XNT 9 DB 74 T transducer uses 50/83/200 kHz frequencies and increases the depth capability up to 3,000 feet. The DualBeam Plus sonar can function using both frequencies simultaneously to create images in split-screen or blended displays. At 83 kHz, the sonar covers a 60-degree cone. The 200 kHz covers a narrow 20-degree cone.
The Real Time Sonar features a vertical flasher, which can be viewed in conjunction with the 2D sonar display. The Selective Fish ID+ feature converts traditional fish arches into fish icons in addition to showing anglers the depths of their targets. Use the SwitchFire option when wanting clearer images. Turn on the Bottom Lock function to only view what lies immediately beneath your boat.
GPS and Navigation
The Helix 9 has the same high-quality GPS system found in other Helix models. You get fast position readings, which are accurate to within 7 feet of your physical location. As with other Helix units, The GPS version comes equipped with ContourXD maps, which were created to display more than 3,000 lakes, boat accesses, depth contours and other site points of interest. Scan the maps in 2D or 3D as a bird’s view over or behind your boat. If you decide to extend your charting options, the Helix 9 is also compatible with Autochart Live, LakeMaster charts, Navionics Gold/HotMaps and Navionics Platinum+.
Other optional features include the A S RC1 wireless remote, which lets you perform a variety of Humminbird functions using Bluetooth. The remote has seven keys to enable you to mark waypoints, zoom in or out of maps and sonar images. You can also use the device to adjust the sonar sensitivity or deploy your transducer.
Garmin Striker 7sv – Best Fishfinder GPS Combo Under $500
The Garmin Striker 7sv is the ideal choice when looking for an affordable fishfinder with a wealth of features. Each unit comes equipped with GPS and traditional sonar in addition to CHIRP DownVu and SideVu. The impressive 7-inch, backlit screen is more than large enough to locate the fish. Striver 7sv is the best side-imaging unit with a 7inch screen. Each package comes with:
• The Garmin Striker unit
• The GT52HW-TM transducer
• The 12-pin transducer to 4-pin sounder adapter cable
• The transom and trolling mounts
• A tilt mount
• A protective cover
• The power cable
• Instruction manual
Installing the Garmin Striker could not be easier. All sonar frequencies travel through the single transducer. In this way, you need not worry about managing multiple sensors. One device handles it all. Garmin units also come with the trolling mount adapter, which keeps you from having to drill holes in your vessel. Simply snap the transducer onto the trolling motor mount and put the mount on the motor.
Garmin also gives you the option of making your Striker 7sv fish finder portable. Merely pack your unit into an optional portable conversion case. Now you have the luxury of using the device on your boat, aboard a canoe or kayak or during the winter months for ice fishing. The technology contained within the Striker means you need not purchase a separate flasher unit, as the device also functions as an ice flasher.
The DownVu and SideVu sonar technology provide photographic-quality images either 750 feet below your boat or 750 feet off to each side. The CHIRP accomplishes the feat by sending multiple signals simultaneously ranging from 50 to 800 kHz. The sonar rewind feature lets you rewind the history, review images or mark destinations you might have initially missed.
The GPS feature enables you to mark your favorite spots whether fishing from the dock or from the middle of the lake. You can also share your routes and waypoints with other Striker and echoMAP units.
Raymarine Dragonfly 5PRO – Best Fishfinder GPS Combo Under $400
The Dragonfly was created to provide aquatic environment information in order to help anglers find the fish while navigating on the water. The unit comes with a number of features despite having a reasonable price. Raymarine makes the devices easy to install and use. The high-definition, backlit 5-inch screen provides clear, crisp images during each mode function. The screen is also guaranteed to resist fogging. The Dragonfly 5PRO is the best down imaging unit with a 5inch screen.
The easy-to-use technology makes the Dragonfly perfect for novice and seasoned anglers. Change views and mode functions using zoom in/out, back and the buttons around a central dial. You need not be tech savvy to use the device.
The DownVision feature is undoubtedly the main reason anglers own a Dragonfly. The unbelievable 3D images of the underwater environment are amazing. You also have the option of combining sonar, DownVision or mapping in split-screen views.
The ball and socket mount enables you to angle or turn the display screen to the best position for optimal viewing. With the MicroSD reader slot, you quickly record locations by inserting a card or navigate the water by inserting your favorite map card. In a pinch, you can also send your data to your Smartphone or another portable device via the built-in WiFi technology.
Lowrance Hook 5 – Best Fishfinder GPS Combo Under $300
The Hook 5 is essentially an upgraded version of the Lowrance Elite-5 HDI. The devices have all the same features, however, the Hook 5 provides CHIRP sonar. The images displayed on the 5-inch screen are crisp and clear thanks to the HD resolution and CHIRP.
The budget-friendly Lowrance uses 455/800 kHz frequencies for DownScan and 83/200 kHz for traditional sonar. The updates include the inclusion of CHIRP, which emits pings in a pulsed, fan-like configuration. The transducer thus receives more information simultaneously for better output images. The transducer provides great images whether trolling or cruising along at 70 mph. The transducer also has the capability of helping to create 2D images in depths of up to 1,000 feet or 300 feet for the DownScan mode.
The Hook 5 also gives you the option of reviewing previous sonar readings, adjusting the sensitivity and the view. The clear display provides the water temperature. You can also set depth and GPS alarms. The button system and menu have been redesigned to make the Hook series easier to use. Simply navigate between screens with one finger.
The internal GPS antenna allows anglers to monitor their position and displays a map overlay, which contains information for more than 3,000 lakes in the country along with topographical contours of up to 1,000 feet. Using Insight Genesis Maps, anglers also have the opportunity to modify existing maps or create their own. If the mapping system is too basic, use the MicroSD card slot and insert Fishing HotSpots PRO, Lake Insight, Nautic Insight or Navionics maps, which are all compatible.
Today’s fish finders and GPS units are lightyears beyond the ones I once used with my grandfather. With 3-d digital mapping and scanning, autopilot integration, and advanced navigation and charting, these units are absolutely a new generation. Don’t get left behind with old technology when there’s so much power at our fingertips these days. There’s nothing like being able to see a “picture” of what’s under your boat in real time and it will surely help take your fishing from a hobby to a passion.
There’s no reason to stick to old tech or go without a fish finder and these units give you advanced GPS capability with no extra gadgets to juggle. Every unit has upgrade capacity for hardware and software so it can evolve with you and your boat. Be careful not to put your friends to shame, however, because these units will absolutely crush the technology available to most fishermen. If you’re ready to take it to the next level, you’ll be completely immersed in the best tech available with these advanced GPS fish finders.