Whether you are just a novice angler or an expert at catching them hook, line and sinker, the best fish finder reviews will help you get great value for your money.
With many innovations, these fish finders have been modified to serve the user's purpose and improve their fishing experience. You can find a lot of fish finders in 2018 that vary in features and size but the important factors are not only the scanning or screen size but also various technology as GPS, CHIRP, Sonar, the fish finding range, and speed sensor...
These reviews will help you pick the best fish finder 2018 for fishing...
Traditional: 50/77/200 kHz CHIRP (mid and high)
ClearVü: 260/455/800 kHz
SideVü: 260/455/800 kHz
CHIRP Digital Sonar, DualBeam PLUS
83 kHz/200 kHz
HD Sonar Imaging:
50/200 or 83/ 200 kHz + 455/800 kHz
If you are in a hurry, then simply have a look at two of these models below.
1. For Professionals:
A premium unit with vibrant touchscreen and minimal buttons. Its StructureScan and Side Imaging functions create a photorealistic image of the underwater fish and contour. The Insight USA maps are pretty comprehensive but they can be upgraded to Insight Genesis. The HDS-9 has a lot of upgradable features along with the already brilliant imaging that can be shared over WiFi and cloud. It’s a find that will really excite high tech professional anglers.
- Humminbird 410210-1 HELIX 5 CHIRP GPS G2 Fish finder - Best fish finder for professional
2. For Beginners:
It’s hard to believe Garmin Striker 4 can have CHIRP and GPS and still be so inexpensive. The broadband and fish symbol ID make it easier to identify and catch the big game. With GPS tracking, you have SONAR history rewind and waypoint mapping to go back to fish-full locations. Not only is it easy to use for novice anglers, it fits most budgets too.
- Garmin Striker 4 Built-in GPS Fish Finder - Best fish finder for beginners
Reviews of 5 Best Fish Finder
1. Garmin 010-01809-00 Striker 7SV with transducer – Best Side SONAR fish finder
Although available in multiple screen sizes, the Garmin Striker 7SV fish finder really comes alive with the 7-inch screen. This high-resolution display occupies most of the face of the device. The color images look pretty vibrant in bright sunlight to calm evening glow. There are dedicated buttons on the right side of the screen which reduce button clicks for every action.
The Garmin Striker 7SV fish finder uses a highly efficient CHIRP transducer. This sends more energy into the water by pulsing a window of frequencies instead of a single frequency. We could see the clear results of the whopping 500W RMS energy it sends into the water column for better target separation and distance range. Under ideal water conditions, the native transducer can scan 800 feet with traditional SONAR.
Side Vü and Down Vü
The Garmin Striker 7SV fish finder offers both side imaging and down imaging. The CHIRP technology comes into play here as well since it uses a CHIRP transducer. The Side Vü and Down Vü also send a CHIRP-like beam instead of a single frequency. You can scan clouds of fish and see their exact shape through these two kinds of imaging and CHIRP.
GPS and Waypoints
The highlight of this feature is that you can mark waypoints on the map where the fish are biting and other important locations. The GPS helps you navigate back to these points with a pathway displayed on the screen. It also shows your position relative to the waypoints. The waypoint maps can be transferred to other Striker or echoMAP models.
The other features of this fish finder include a flasher. We found this extremely useful for fishing when stationary especially in shallow water. Anglers would use it for ice fishing or jigging for crappie. GPS also enables it to calculate your vessel’s speed even if you are almost standstill.
2. Garmin Striker 4 Built-in GPS Fish Finder - Best portable fish finder and value for money
We expected the Garmin Striker 4 fish finder to be portable and somewhat rickety, given the price. It turned out to be compact but otherwise excelled in its physical design. It has a moderate 3.5” screen with buttons below for simple operation with gloved hands. It is IPX7-rated and can be submerged into 1m water for up to 30 minutes without damage.
We were pleasantly surprised to find CHIRP in a small and affordable package. The Garmin Striker 4 fish finder uses a dual frequency CHIRP. The native transducer can be upgraded for a lower frequency beam too since the fish finder itself is capable of scanning at 50 kHz. With CHIRP, we saw much sharper fish arcs and separation compared to traditional single and dual frequency SONAR. It makes it easier to distinguish a school of fish from a ball of clump.
GPS and Waypoints
The Garmin Striker 4 fish finder has built-in GPS module to locate your current position. It can also create a waypoint map where you can mark the hotspots and return to them. This is supported by SONAR History Rewind which allows you to scroll back in SONAR images to mark waypoints from the past.
You can mark up to 5000 points with several icons available for use.
We really liked the Fish Symbol ID feature which enables the unit to display special fish symbols on the targets it identifies as fish. These could also help you identify small fishes from medium and large fishes. This fish finder also has a flasher for ice-fishing and fishing in shallow waters.
3. Humminbird 410210-1 HELIX 5 CHIRP GPS G2 Fish Finder - Best fish finder for professional
Design-wise, the Humminbird Helix 5 CHIRP fish finder is pretty much perfect. The 800x480 pixel display provides high-resolution viewing experience with LED backlights. It has a waterproof removable casing. There’s a microSD card slot to expand memory and NMEA connectivity. A port to connect to GPS accessories is also provided at the back. It is IPX7 rated waterproof.
The Humminbird Helix 5 CHIRP fish finder has a dualbeam CHIRP SONAR which gives you more insight into the fish position than traditional SONAR. This transducer can operate in up to 1500 feet under water. We took it on some deep sea fishing trips and it performed admirably.
GPS and Charts
The Humminbird Helix 5 CHIRP fish finder has an in-built GPS module tracks your location. It is supported by the UniMap charts of US coastline, inland lakes and rivers. You can use the Bird’s Eye view feature for a 3D look at your location. When coupled with a Navionics chart chip, this fish finder can host AutoChart Live. This will allow you to map a complete lake in much detail for professional fishing, providing users with the ability to map the depth of any water source, Includes space for 8 hours of mapping on the hard drive with additional memory available on optional AutoChart Zero Line card.
With GPS, you can save up to 2750 waypoints and come back to them if you want. You can also save up to 47 routes for navigation.
The Selective Fish ID feature assigns fish symbols instead of fish arches. It made fish finder reading that much easier. You also have fish alarms that can ring for large, large/medium or all fish. You can record the underwater structure through SONAR recording on to a blank SD card.
The Lowrance HDS-9 Gen2 Touch fish finder is a sleek little unit operated almost completely by its touchscreen. As most devices are making the switch to screen-based operation, this fits into the trend. It gains two inches on HDS-7 Gen 2 in terms of screen space.
It has an SD card slot, 2 Ethernet ports and NMEA 2000/0183-ready ports.
StructureScan and Side Imaging
The Lowrance HDS-9 Gen2 Touch fish finder has the StructureScan ability which picks up deep and clear images almost as if a camera has been in there.
The HDS-9 Gen2 fish finder has Insight USA maps built into the unit. We found it pretty exhaustive in its mapping functions. The GPS function allows us to store waypoints. We could go back in the SONAR image history and mark points on the places we had already passed over. You also have Depth contour shading to highlight shallow water which helps further with navigation.
GPS and Mapping
The Lowrance HDS-9 Gen2 Touch fish finder has many options to upgrade itself. You can download the Insight Genesis and create your own maps and modify the contour. GPS module can also be upgraded with an external antenna. It is WiFi-ready. With the right WiFi module and GoFree app, you can watch the fish on a device of your choice.
The HDS-9 fish finder has the fish ID function which helps identify the fish type. A flasher for shallow water fishing helped us with ice fishing and stationary fishing. This unit has cloud connectivity which helps you connect and download your resources at any point and share between devices.
Just like the Garmin Striker 4, the Lowrance Hook 3X SONAR fish finder is a budget unit too. It has a 3.5” diagonal with moderate resolution that we found sufficient for our use. It is easily readable in sunlight from different viewing angles. It comes with a transducer suction cup mount and a multi-angle viewing mount. Like any decent fish finder, it is IPX7-rated waterproof.
The Lowrance Hook 3X SONAR fish finder packs an Advanced Signal Processor which alters the SONAR settings automatically, reducing the need for manual tweaking to see the fish and underwater structure more clearly. Its noise rejection feature filters out the noise around the transducer from the boat movement.
The Lowrance Hook 3X has dual frequency transducer. The 200 kHz frequency is great for shallow water fishing. Fish-target separation gets a real boost here. The 83 kHz frequency covers a wider area. This fish finder changes between the 83 kHz and 200 kHz frequencies with a single button press.
The transducer also has an in-built temperature sensor which can track the bottom temperature at up to 75 mph vessel speed.
It has the Fish ID feature which shows fish icons instead of fish arches. This gives you a rough idea of which fish species you are sailing over, though it’s not always accurate. The Fish ID is supported by track and alarm features too.
Complete Buying Guide On The Fish Finders
The newer fishermen and some of the old ones too, are not completely clear on the fish finder technology. With the gap in information, you may end up paying for a device you don’t require or one that doesn’t match all your requirements. Either way, you don’t get the full value of your investment unless you know what to look for in the best fish finders for you. So here’s a complete buying guide on the fish finders.
What is a fish finder?
A fish finder is a device used to locate fish underwater using sound waves. This is called the SONAR technology, wherein sound waves are transmitted and reflected waves(echo) are received to calculate distance. The fish finder has a screen where these electric sound signals are shown as graphical representations of fishes and other objects via small symbols. It also calculates the depth of the water, provided it has the range.
How does fish finder work?
The fish finder device is either mounted or placed on the boat or the vessel. Most of them are portable handhelds. The fish finders have a transducer which produces the sonic wave and transmits it into the water. This wave disperses in the water in a conical manner. As it hits any object, part of it is reflected back and received by the fish finder. The time it takes to receive the echo is measured and the velocity of the wave is known. Determining the distance with velocity and time is easy. The wave could be reflected by any object underwater and the fish finders are equipped to differentiate between them and fish based on the size and shape of its swim bladder. In fact, this information can be used to tell between various fish species too.
The areas where the sound wave doesn’t hit any obstruction, it reaches the sea bed. If the bottom only has dirt, it may get soaked up and return a light echo. If it’s a rock bottom, you get a powerful echo.
This information is displayed on the screen in a more readable format. You can adjust some parameters of the screen while others are fixed like the maximum resolution, display size etc., so you must make a purchase accordingly.
The screen looks something like this:
How to choose the best fish finders?
There are some technical details that help sort through the fish finders and find the best ones for you. We check the following the specs:
1. Transducer Frequency:
The transducer is the part of the fish finder that emits and receives the sound waves. The frequency of the sound wave is determined at the transducer. The usual frequencies range from 50 kHz to 800 kHz. High frequency transducers have shorter wavelengths and hence can discern smaller objects/fishes. In short, they pick up more details of the underwater situation. Higher frequency transducers have lower range, so they are best used in shallow water. A 200 kHz transducer will have a clear range of around 600 feet. A 50 kHz transducer at the same power will range around 2000+ feet but it cannot pick up as much detail. It will only detect fish that has an air bladder larger than 1” (the wavelength of sonar).
These days, most fishermen resort to dual frequency transducers. These emit both a lower frequency wave and a higher frequency wave with Wide Beam and Narrow Beam. This way you can get both depth and detail on the fish finder screen. Multiple-frequency transducers also exist.
2. Cone angle:
A cone angle is the angular width of the sonar wave. This tells you how wide the wave beam travels under the vessel. Lower frequency transducers usually have a wider cone angle, so they cover a larger area and find fishes that aren’t under your boat. They may not be detailed enough to show fishes distinctly if there are more than one fishes crowded at the same point. The higher frequency waves are more focused and used to find fishes right under the vessel. The average cone angle is between 15-20°.
The power and wattage of fish finder is an important measure of its fish finding range. Higher the power, the deeper the wave penetrates. It’s important to understand how power ratings are tied with the transducer frequency. At 50 kHz, for every 100W of power, you get to 400 feet more. But at 200 KHz, with every 100W the range increases 100 feet. The wattage ranges from 600W to 3000W. For shallow waters, you would require a lower power.
In a dual frequency fish finder, the power will break between low and high frequencies based on your requirements. Always note the RMS power of the fish finder. This is the power that it can maintain. Manufacturers often mention the peak power, which is the instantaneous power of the unit, to confuse the buyer. It’s typically much higher than the actual RMS power.
4. Screen Size:
The choice of screen size is based on your preferences. If you prefer a smaller portable unit, the screen would be small. The details would have to be cramped in what space is available. Wider screens are easier to monitor. Wide screens are also useful if you want to split the screens to show more than one kind of data.
For example, if you want to see GPS data and fish finding data on split screens or data from transducers of different frequencies, a wider screen helps.
5. Display Size:
The resolution of the screen determines how grainy the picture looks. Higher resolution results in a clearer and more detailed picture. The minimum resolution recommended for a decent image is 240x160 pixels. Higher resolution fish finders around 640x640 bring truly amazing image quality.
6. Color Screen or Gray Scale?
Black and white screens are the more economic choice. But in fish finders, you have good units with colored screen within small budgets too. Colored screens are easier to read in the sunlight. You may have to peer into black and white screens in bright sunlight.
7. Down Scan and Side Scan:
Fish finder can scan in two ways: side imaging and down imaging. Either they scan directly under the vessel. Or they may scan under and to the sides of the boat. This is closely related to the cone angle concept or beamwidth. Side scans allows you to cover large areas of the sea but their power decreases in deep water. So you must know how deep your fishing destination will usually be, before selecting the scan technology. You also get fish finders with dual scan which can range to the sides and under the vessel effectively.
8. GPS Combos
GPS is a must-have feature in fish finders now. The GPS is used to determine your actual geographical location. A GPS module allows you to mark the points in water where you caught a good haul and save them for later. You can map your location in real time and so can the search and rescue team if you wind up in some trouble. The accuracy of GPS tracking becomes a buying consideration now and not all fish finders are equal in this regard. You can add GPS sensors to some fish finders later.
CHIRP is the new technology in the fish finder block. Short for Compressed High-Intensity Radar Pulse, CHIRP fish finders transmit a range of frequencies than a single of dual frequency. For example, they transmit all frequency in the 40-75 kHz range. They put out more sonic energy into the water and achieve significantly better resolution and target detection that traditional fish finders. You can spot separate fishes within inches as opposed to several feet with normal technology. They also have a deeper range.
What is the difference between a Depth Sounder and a Fish Finder?
A fish finder usually has a relevant and useful mix of features. Whereas the depth sounders are either too simple or too sophisticated. A basic depth sounder will only give your depth of the water body and the temperature. A sophisticated one might only help professional anglers with multiple fishing settings. Fish finders have everything in between. They provide a graphical representation of underwater activity and fishes, not just a digital readout. You can also see the trend in depth over the last few minutes.
Fish finders are generally cheaper than a full-blown depth finder and show more information than a basic depth finder. There are fish finders with plentiful information and features under $100 too. They are simply the better deal.
What is fish finder transducer?
The transducer is that part of the fish finder that sends and receives the SONAR waves. These signals are converted to the findings on the screen display of the fish finder. You can upgrade the transducer that came with your fish finder with one that has matching plugs, frequency and wattage to the fish finder. Transducers differ in the way they are mounted on the boat. The mount determines which type of vessel can use the transducer.
1. Transom mount transducer:
Transom mount transducers are mounted on the transom of the boat as the name suggests. You need to drill holes near the bottom edge of the transom to attach this mount. This is the most common type of mount supplied with the fish finders. It is made of plastic and is more affordable compared to other mounts.
Transom mount transducers remain completely submerged in water and extend a little below the hull. Such transducers are best used on Planing hulls of less than 8 meters. These are sensitive to disturbances around them so they shouldn’t be mounted on large boats because the propeller will obstruct their operation. They are not as responsive as the through-hull transducers so they are recommended for low-speed trailered boats.
2. In-Hull mount transducers:
These are also called shoot-through transducer mounts. The biggest advantage of these mounts is that you don’t have to drill holes in your prized boat. They are glued on to the boat. The constraint is that it can only be used in vessels with fiberglass hulls. The in-hull mounts are epoxied inside the hull. So the SONAR is sent and received through the hull. Consequently, In-hull transducers are generally the least sensitive of the lot. Their range and ability to detect fish is reduced compared to mounts that put the transducers directly in water.
Another disadvantage is that the fiberglass hulls may be reinforced in places with wood or may have air pockets. The in-hull mount can’t be attached in such places or these may interfere with the SONAR.
3. Through-hull mount transducers:
The Through-hull mounts position the transducer right into the water. The mount is loaded on the bottom of the bottom side of the hull by drilling holes. Because of this positioning, such transducer mounts produce the best visuals when connected to a quality fish finder. These mounts can either sit flush with the hull or project outwards into the water. When projecting out, they need a fairing block to keep them properly aligned.
The only constraint with through-hull transducer mount is that it should be mounted in front of the propeller, rudder etc. or the aerated air will interfere with the performance of the SONAR.
4. Tilted Element transducers:
Tilted Element Transducer mounts are mounted much like the through-hull transducers. They are mounted flush on the underside of the hull and projected into water. But they don’t require a fairing block because the element inside the transducer tilts and levels itself to always direct the SONAR beam downwards.
Based on the deadrise of the hull of your boat, you may select between a 12° version or a 20° version of the tilted element transducer. 12° is for boats with 8°-15° deadrise and 20° is for boats with 16°-24° deadrise. The constraints for mounting and the performance are same as through-hull transducers.
How to read a Fish Finder screen?
The fish finder sends down sound waves which reflect back from obstacles on the way. The center of the fish body reflects more waves than the head and the tail. So fishes end up being represented as arcs. The size of the arc gives you the approximate relative size of the fish. With practice, you can even identify the type of fish. Other objects like submerged logs tend to look more like solid lines since they are more substantial. A group of arcs may represent a school of fish or it could be underwater fauna. This is where detailing is important in fish finders.
In traditional fish finders, when you are moving, the SONAR echoes also move from right to left. So, the object on the right side of the screen are the latest ones that just passed under you. If you are stationary, the screen will still move but it will show the same reading go right to left over and over again.
Some of the SONAR waves will go and hit the bottom. If it’s shown in lighter colors, it’s a soft bottom. Hard bottoms will show up as one deeply-colored line as SONAR waves cannot penetrate these.
- How to Read a Garmin Fish Finder Screen?
- How to Read a Lowrance Fish Finder Screen?
What is a CHIRP fish finder?
The CHIRP fish finder uses the CHIRP (Compressed High Intensity Radiated Pulse) technology. To explain this, understand that traditional SONAR fish finders use 1, 2, or multiple distinct frequencies to red underwater objects. Of these the lower frequencies like 50 kHz give the highest penetration but the lowest detailing. 200 kHz frequency gives great detailing but low penetration.
A CHIRP fish finder transmits a long pulse over a range of frequencies at a time instead of a single frequency pulse like traditional fish finders. For example, it will send 130-210 kHz pulsing putting more energy into the water column. This gives you both excellent penetration and detailing. The CHIRP pulses are usually 10 times longer in duration than the traditional fish finder pulses.
There are three CHIRP frequency ranges:
CHIRP fish finders are available in a large price range. The features of the premium units include:
Section 2: Best Fish Finder Brands 2018
An easy place to start when buying a new fish finder is to select the brand and check all the offerings in a selected budget. Each brand has certain characteristics which make them more appealing to their target audience. For some brands, it’s a range of affordable fish finders, for others it’s their customer service.
Understanding these differences considerably narrows down your search. It also helps you find the one brand you can stick to in case you have to make an emergency purchase. Here are the top brands for the best fish finders based on our survey.
The Lowrance brand has some of the best budget-oriented fish finders that bring excellent value for money, features-wise. For an affordable price, you will find their units with CHIRP, DownScan, and Built-in GPS with maps and ability to upgrade to Lake Insights and Navionics. You can find a lot of best fish finder under 500 with Lowrance fish finder brands. The operation of Lowrance fish finders is often well-executed. Many of the higher-end models have both touch-screen and buttons for operation.
The Humminbird vs. Lowrance debate polarizes the fish finder community. The differences are nominal and both brands have their strengths. The Humminbird is best known for their patent for side-imaging and their excellent customer service. The Lowrance fish finders have a larger feature set in many devices but Humminbird are generally much easier to operate.
Humminbird excels in making high-quality fish finders. Humminbird users remain loyal to it for the reliability. Your Humminbird fish finders are supported by dedicated customer service reps and online discussion threads that offer a lot of help to the users. You can find a lot of best fish finder under 300 with Humminbird fish finder brands.
Garmin fish finder brands has become a close contender of the Humminbird and Lowrance in the fish finder market. They are new to this domain but they bring their vast experience of making GPS receivers for marine and golf requirements. They have the technology to build high-quality displays and easy operability. Add that to SONAR and some clever imaging and they have a soaring market share in the fish finder industry too. You can find a lot of best fish finder under 200 with Garmin fish finder brands.
They have a superior customer service to both Lowrance and Humminbird. Garmin is known for their distinguished CHIRP SONAR which performs a sight better than Lowrance and the clarity of their displays.
Raymarine is another long-reigning brand of fish finders. They have some very popular units like the DragonFly. They used to be infamous for their non-responsive customer service but that has changed since they were acquired by FLIR systems in 2010. Customers have better access to customer support now. The screen and detailing of the Raymarine display are noteworthy. They are quite in demand in the UK as it’s the homeland of the company. They have grown more conservative with the prices to compete with Garmin and Simrad.
Garmin has been giving the Raymarines a run for their money since they came to the market. They are relatively easier to use.
Furuno is known to make fish finders that are built like a tank. These are high-quality units that easily last for years without needing any upgrade. They have a limited but pretty high-end line-up starting at $500. These are built solid and prepared for rough use. The closest competition to Furuno are expensive Garmin fish finders. Furuno stands by their products and offer excellent customer service, a strong suit of Garmin. They also have very graphic and vibrant displays. They are unbeatable in creating integrated navigational marine systems.
If you are a one-and-done kind of angler who requires a long-term dependable fish finder, Furuno is a great brand to check out.
Simrad and Lowrance have merged under the banner of Navico. So the under-the-hood technology for both is same. But the fish finders difference in their feature sets. Simrad units have more advanced features and exceptional display. They are designed mainly for saltwater use. But they do exceedingly well in freshwater too.
Anglers are enamored by the detailing and resolution of the Simrad fish finder screens. With features like StructureScan and side-imaging, the imaging is almost photographic. You get some larger screen sizes too for people who fancy that. We think of them as deluxe versions of Lowrance fish finders. If you have the cash to shell out and want the most reliable fish finder with vibrant imaging, Simrad is your brand.
MORE: All Fishfinder Brands
The Garmin Striker 7sv fish finder is conservatively priced for all the features it provides. It’s a CHIRP SONAR with both Side scanning and Down scanning. The high depth capability bolsters its comprehensive ability to scan large, wide and deep areas under water. Its GPS capabilities extend to marking way points but stop short of maps which not everybody needs. It has a feature set with a unique scope and large usable design. The other best fish finders we covered also excelled in their respective price ranges and expectations. The key is to audit your existing devices and vessel and to find the best fish finder that would suit YOUR needs. Hopefully, the fish finder buying guide above will help with that.
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My name is Alex D. Allen, and I’m a professional fishfinder researcher and fishing enthusiast. You’re probably on my website in search of a fishing device that can help make your experience a lot easier and more productive; or perhaps, just trying to glean information to get a wider understanding of what fish finders are and how they can benefit you. Whatever your purpose may be, you’ve come to the right place.
ALEX D. ALLEN // Authority