How to choose The Best Fish Finders: Guide and Reviews
Pings, chirps, screens and kilohertz…These don’t sound like the terms of a traditional fisherman. But if you’re in the market for a new fish finder, then you’ve undoubtedly encountered these words.
Finding the best fish finder can be a tough task these days if you’re not the most tech savvy angler out there. We are here to break it all down for you so you can figure out exactly what tech you do and don’t need when shopping for a top rated fish finder.
How does a fish finder “Find Fish” exactly?
Well, it’s really quite simple, you see:
A submerged transducer, also known as a “hydrophone”, takes and electrical signal from a transmitter and converts it to a sound wave. It then sends this sound wave down into the water. When the wave hits something, it bounces back to transmitter.
The distance and shape of the object is then converted into an image signal and displayed on a screen. Quality of the object being displayed largely depends on the frequency and wattage of the signal being transmitted.
Knowing certain setting and statistics such as the speed of a sound wave through fresh water vs salt water can be very important.
If the process is repeated quickly several times per second, then the results displayed are nearly a live view of what is under the vessel.
HAHAHA…You understood all of that, right?
Basically, it’s a small sonar system much like the Navy might use. It sends a sound wave into the water and when the wave hits something and bounces back, it shows as a blip on the screen.
That’s about all you really need to know unless you’re planning on building one yourself (not recommended).
Shopping for a fish finder can lead you through a mess of products with features and specifications that seem suffocating. You need to take a moment to learn about these features so you can better decide what unit will suit you the best.
What Specs to look for in a Fish Finder?
There are a few parts, terms and features that you should be familiar with before diving into the shopping adventure.
Transducer – A transducer is the part of the fish finder that actually interacts witht he water. It sends out the signal. Transducers are formatted in different ways to send signals that are tailored to the type of water you are in.
Angle – The angle refers to how wide the signal is that is sent through the water. A wider angle sees a bigger picture but a more narrow, focused angle goes deeper.
Display Screen – While screen technology has come leaps and bounds in recent years, it is still important to consider the size of the screen and how it affects your ability to see more detail rather than large masses of dots.
Portability – Is this fish finder for multiple boats? Do you want to be able to pack it in and out somewhere? Are you going to be using it on a kayak?
Wattage – A higher wattage translates to faster live results and pings are able to be sent out faster.
Scan – Fish finders can either be down scanning or side scanning. Both have their pros and cons. Down scanning can be limited in only showing fish under you where as side scan casts a larger net. The downside to side scan though is that it doesn’t work as well for deeper water.
GPS Capabilities – This can be extremely important if you wish to mark spots that you’ve had luck or just generally don’t want to fool with multiple devices while navigating the waters.
Armed with this knowledge, we are going to break down some of the best fish finders on the market into categories so you can quickly decide what you are looking for.
Below, is a list of categories in which certain features are considered and weighed in order to find the best unit for several different scenarios.
Best Fish Finder for Lakes and Ponds
When thinking about fish finders that will primarily be used is smaller or shallower bodies of water, there are a few features that you should prioritize and DE-prioritize.
Important: Side Scanning and higher frequency range (above 190KHz)
Less Important: GPS Capabilities (It might be nice to have, but on small bodies of water that you are familiar with, it should not be a “make or break” feature”
Humminbird Helix 7 SI
The Hummingbird Helix 7 SI is a great purchase for several uses but it is particularly great for fishing in shallower lakes and ponds because of it’s superior side scanning and imagery. It boasts a large, color 16:9 widescreen.
The side scanning image not only works great for shallow waters, it casts a huge angle, which can show you everything in your area rather than everything right under your boat.
- Trusted Manufacturer
- Incredibly fast processing / loading
- Features GPS capabilities with waypoints and tracking
- Also is capable of Down Imaging for deeper waters as well
- Maps do not come included and must be purchased separately
- Side scanning can be a bit tricky to get the hang of
Best Fish Finder for Kayaks
Find a great fish finder for your kayak can be as simple as asking yourself how you use your kayak? Is this something that regularly gets broken down and thrown into a truck for trips across state or is it sitting there waiting for your by the dock each morning?
While, a traditional fish finder can be mounted on a kayak, we are going to assume that the kayak is a portable fishing vessel that requires your fish finder to also be packable and portable.
The Garmin Striker 4
At just over 8 oz and about the size of small television remote control, the Garmin Striker 4 is perfect for the fisherman on the go.
The transducer can easily be installed and uninstalled on the kayak hull. It can even be purchased with a nice portable carrying case.
- Durable and designed to survive the elements
- Built in GPS for when your out on unfamiliar waters with your kayak.
- CHIRP Sonar technology. (more info below)
- Small screen may be hard to make out details
- Doesn’t feature all the bells and whistles of a higher end fish finder
CHIRP Technology – CHIRP is a relatively new type of sonar technology to hit fish finders. It can be found in all Garmin models as well as some other manufacturers.
Basically, instead of using one single frequency when sending sonar waves, it uses a range of frequencies to bring you a much more detailed image of what you are seeing.
This can mean the difference between a large mass and counting each individual fish in a school.
Now back to regularly scheduled programming.
Best Fish Finder for a Cheap Price Tag
Who said you need to be Daddy Warbucks in order to enjoy a bit of fishing technology. Not every fish finder needs to run into the several hundreds in order to offer some really great features.
The Lowrance Hook-3X
To be honest, if you are looking for a fish finder that is cheap, you are going to find a lot of crappie. But the Lowrance Hook 3X is an exception to that rule.
It may not have every advanced bit of tech that the high end pricy models have, but it is a great way to break into using fish finders without dropping a whole paycheck.
It features a good color screen, wide angle signal cone, dual frequencies and easily adjustable settings.
- Great beginner model
- This model is durable and water resistant
- Does not function great at high speeds in a boat
- Can take a little time to learn how to use to its full potential
Best Fish Finder for Ocean Fishing
If you are out on the big waters, looking for the big fish, then you need some serious equipment. Things to consider important in this category are:
- Depth range – you want something that can send signals deep…Not some dinky 200 ft toy
- Great Charting and GPS Features
- Large screen with great resolution
Garmin echoMAP 74sv with Transducer
This thing is a beast. Not only does it have a range of 1800 feet into the water but the huge 7″ screen lets you see every little detail.
And this device has some of the best charting features of any fish finder or stand alone GPS on the market.
- CHIRP technology allows for clearer imaging
- Not for beginners (but if you’re fishing on open waters, let’s hope you aren’t a beginner anyways)
Best Mobile Phone App Fish Finder
There is an app for everything these days! And a fish finder is no different. For those of you who are so on the “cutting edge” that you need to latest and greatest, easy to use fish finding tech, then look no further.
Deeper PRO Smart Portable Sonar
Okay, so this thing is pretty cool. It is a small ball that you cast out anywhere around you in the water and then watch on the screen of your laptop or tablet. It doesn’t have the widest angle or clearest imagery but it can be extremely handy in certain situations.
- Can cast it anywhere you want so you don’t have to reposition your boat;
- It is quite possible that all fish finders will go this direction sooner than later.
- Can have set up and connection issues.
Best Overall General Purpose Fish Finder
Maybe you aren’t looking for such a specific use for your fish finder. You are just a die hard fisherman who wants to know that you are getting a great product.
A mix of several high end features, different types of sonar and from a brand that you know you can trust every time.
Garmin Striker 7SV with Transducer
This fish finder wins the “All Around” category because of its range of features combined with its usability and reasonable price tag.
It has a rugged design and great GPS system along with being one of the only finders on the market to feature CHIRP, Downvu, and Sidevu scanning sonar.
- Very versatile having all sonar types covered
- Very usable features
- Limited mounting brackets for the transponder. You may have to purchase separately
- Can take a little time to learn how to use to its full potential
There you have it! The winners in every category this year for best fish finders on the market.
While there are still some other technicalities that can be considered when purchasing a fish finder, it may not make all the difference to nitpick each and every spec.
So now that you have the information you need, there’s no reason to let a little “tech talk” hold you back. It’s time to catch up with the technology so you can get out there and be more effective year after year.