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!
Benefits of GPS Fish Finder Combo Units
For most open water or deep water fishermen, a GPS unit is a must-have. As soon as land is out of sight, navigation becomes a real issue as everything looks the same. Even for experienced fishermen in large lakes or bodies of water, it can be difficult or impossible to get back to your favorite spot every time.
When using a GPS combo unit, not only can you navigate accurately and quickly to great fishing spots, but you can save and locate multiple spots later. You might not fish a certain area for months or years at a time, but when it’s time to head back you’ll be fishing the same area with precision. Combo units also allow you to gather data about water conditions, depth, and schooling behavior in combination with location.
To top it all off, using a combo unit will result in less overall clutter and gadgetry which can get in the way, break down, or use up energy from the boat. If you’re going to be using a GPS and a fish finder, there’s really no reason to use separate units. If for no other reason than simplicity, they just make sense.
How to Choose a GPS Fish Finder Combo Unit
Frequencies: Fish finders may operate under a range of frequencies when scanning and locating underwater objects such as surface features and fish. Advanced fish finders may even be able to send and receive multiple frequencies at the same time. Why is frequency such a big deal? Because higher frequencies yield greater detail but fail to work in deep waters. Lower frequencies carry further but yield less detail on the screen.
If you’re a shallow water fisherman, a high frequency output is in your best interest and will yield the best results. If you’re a deep water or commercial fisherman, a low frequency emission is probably the better choice.
Power: Fish finders operate under a wide range of power output measured in watts (W). Higher power output means better and deeper readings. Lower power units won’t be able to send readings out as far and the images received will be significantly poorer quality when compared to higher power units. When you combine the power output and frequency output of your fish finder, you’ll have an overall understanding of the unit’s ability.
A low power, high frequency unit won’t be able to scan very deeply while a high power, low frequency unit will scan very deeply. Remember, this is a balance between your needs for depth, power, and image clarity.
Visual Display Considerations: When choosing a GPS fish finder unit, you’ll definitely want to spend some extra money for a decent screen. Because your screen will often serve double duty as GPS, fish finder, or even split-screen fish finder (dual frequency) it’s critical to have a large enough screen with good color and resolution.
Since most readers will likely purchase the GPS fish finder combo unit as their main screen, it’s pretty important to go for the largest and highest resolution screen size that your budget will afford. This will give you the ability to use split screen functionality, color variance, and easily spot, mark and navigate with the unit on the fly. Without a doubt this is one of the biggest overall factors which will impact your long-term enjoyment of the unit as a whole.
4 Best High-end Fish Finder GPS Combo Reviews
1. Lowrance HDS-9 Gen 2
This 9” display high resolution screen is touch compatible and comes with preloaded cartography. On top of that, it’s compatible with most any maps on the market and can easily be upgraded or changed after you receive the unit. Cursor assist and snap-to-setting features make the touch screen easier to use than some older models and Lowrance has taken weather and water into consideration making this unit easy to use in any conditions.
With an aftermarket StructureScan HD transducer, the unit is capable of overlaying live bottom imagery on top of any charts loaded into the device. This means you can combine what the unit is seeing with what the charts are showing for a full picture perspective. Pair that with the 5Hz GPS antenna on board with the unit or upgrade to the 10Hz external antenna for accurate and correct overlays all the time. You can even scroll back through images and records to find structures, plots, and fish after the fact with history recording.
Among other cool things about this awesome high end unit, I really like the GoFree cloud integration where you can control and view the finder on compatible tablets and wireless devices. You can update, purchase, and change maps right from the home screen of the unit using wifi availability which makes things a thousand times more simple than older models. Multi-view screen means you can select and adjust which views, colors, setting, and overlays you’re seeing and combine them side by side for all the info you need in one spot!
2. Garmnin echoMAP CHIRP 94sv
Garmin has been a huge name in GPS for ages and now they’re well known for their fish finder units which combine advanced GPS capability with high end fish finders. This unit features a 500W output with a 5Hz internal GPS sensor which can update more than 5x a second! This allows seriously accurate direction, speed, and movement information for your fishing trips. Out of the box, the 94sv comes with one transducer at 50/200 kHz and down / side view scanning perspectives.
Garmin’s 94sv comes preloaded with BlueChart g2 maps which cover, in detail, most of the US and the coastal areas. One of the coolest innovations here is that Garmin has built this unit around a “docking station” concept where the unit can be plugged in by simply snapping it into the dock and removing it overnight with ease. Possible upgrades include advanced charts, maps, and navigation you can use to auto route your boat to destinations with accuracy while taking into consideration things such as marked obstructions and water depth. The unit will automatically use the specifications of your boat to help navigate you safely.
The integrated software map editor allows you to use the screen any way you want to view charts by depth, or create and edit your maps on the fly. You can split the screen up to four ways at a time. Take advantage of navigation, down and side sonar, and many other variations using the high resolution full color monitor on the device. This 9” diagonal screen is a 480×800 pixel display which should be a high enough pixel density for anyone’s fishing needs.
3. Garmin GPSMAP 741xs
While the screen is a bit smaller than the echoMAP 94sv, this unit is fully touch screen and features pinch to zoom capability and an advanced processor. On board 10Hz GPS receiver is one of the most powerful standard units you’ll find at this price range and it can update your position and heading up to 10 times per second! It’s even capable of wireless connectivity for compatible devices – which is pretty sweet!
For some serious automation, the unit is compatible with autopilot vessels and can handle all your media in one place if you need to play some tunes while you’re fishing. Radar support and NMEA 2000 make the unit incredibly powerful at a reasonable price tag! You’ll find preloaded LakeVU HD maps for the United States are highly detailed and cover more than 17,000 US lakes, rivers, and reservoirs. On top of all of that, the unit can network to other compatible units to share mapping details and data between devices and can be controlled from tablets and smartphones.
Hook this unit up to precision Panoptix transducers for up to 5 advanced dimensional images to really get some perspective. Realvu 3-D Down imaging means you can be sitting still and see a 3-dimensional live image of exactly what is happening under the boat. This technology is like something out of a sci-fi movie and will give you more perspective than you even thought possible about what’s happening under the boat. It’s even capable of projecting 3-d forward facing images by digitally scanning the areas in front of the boat.
4. Humminbird Helix 12 CHIRP SI GPS
This is a serious behemoth of a unit meant only for those who won’t compromise with their fishing needs. Are you ready for a 12” screen with 1280×800 px resolution? You might as well have a small HD TV hooked up because this is a major step up in performance and visual clarity.
This unit can support just about every advanced feature on the market such as HD Radar, NMEA 2000, precision GPS, external GPS sensors, sonar recording, and 3d chart viewing. With a 1000 W power output, this devices is capable of 3,500ft of depth viewing so you’re covered in even the most extreme waters. Side imaging, down imaging, and dual beam imaging can be viewed in any configuration you want by splitting the screen into exactly the displays you want and nothing you don’t. You’ll even be able to individually zoom each split screen for the perfect view.
One of the coolest features on this powerful unit is the ability to create maps and charts on the fly. AutoChart Live technology allows you to create detailed maps while you’re out there on the water and even enhance the charts you’re already using. This unit can translate the data it’s reading into useful information that can be used to refine and upgrade your maps based on areas you visit often.
Which unit is really the best? It’s a close call between these high-end units and the advanced features on all of them absolutely knock my socks off! Without a doubt, however, the Humminbird Helix 12 has the strongest presentation of features for the most advanced fishermen and anglers out there. This unit is capable of keeping up with and adapting to even the most demanding situations and the large screen and compatibility with advanced software and hardware make the unit a cut above.
For those who might want something a little tamer, there’s no denying that the Garmin echoMAP 94sv is packed with features. I’d go for this unit if you’re looking for something a with great capacity and less advanced features. Many of us don’t need the top-of-the-line but we’re always looking for a unit that can keep up with evolving demands of our skills and knowledge. This device will keep up with you for a very, very long time. I’m a huge fan of the docking station model for ease of use on the fly! This is a great feature if you’re docking your boat at a public launch as you can quickly remove the GPS when coming and going in the morning and at night.
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.