Fish finders have become a lot like armpits in recent years – everybody has a couple of them and they usually stink. 2016 has seen the introduction of dozens, if not hundreds, of 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.
- 1 Fish Finder Buying Guide
- 2 Top Rated Fish Finder Reviews in 2016
- 3 FAQ: Frequently-Asked Fish Finder Questions
- 3.0.1 How Do Fish Finders Work?
- 3.0.2 Can I Sync my Fish Finder with my Smart Phone or Tablet?
- 3.0.3 What Do I Do if my Transducer is Broken?
- 3.0.4 What Do I Do if my Fish Finder Stopped Working?
- 3.0.5 What can Cause Interference with my Fish Finder?
- 3.0.6 What Do I Do if my Charger Gets Lost or Breaks?
- 3.0.7 Can I Use the Same Fish Finder for Shallow Water, Deep Water and Ice Fishing?
- 3.0.8 How Do I Update my Fish Finder’s Software?
- 3.0.9 How Much Should I Spend on a Fish Finder?
- 4 Conclusion
Fish Finder Buying Guide
- Read First: Fish Finder Features Explained
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.
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.
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.
- Read More: How to Read a Fish Finder Screen
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.
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.
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.
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.
Top Rated Fish Finder Reviews in 2016
|Lowrance HOOK-3x||3 inch||Traditional Sonar||No||4.7|
|Deeper Smart Portable Fish Finder||Depend Smartphone||Traditional Sonar||Yes||4.7|
|Garmin Striker 4||3.5 inch||CHIRP Sonar||Yes||4.7|
|Humminbird Helix 7 DI GPS||7 inch||Down Imaging||Yes||4.8|
|Humminbird Helix 7 SI GPS||7 inch||Side Imaging|
|Garmin Striker 7SV||7 inch||CHIRP Sonar|
DownVu + SideVu
|Humminbird ICE HELIX 5 Sonar GPS||5 inch||Traditional Sonar||Yes||4.7|
1. Best Cheap Fish Finder
The Lowrance Hook-3X is marketed more towards weekend fisherman as opposed to hardcore anglers, so keep that in mind as you continue to read. If you take your fishing super seriously and want the most cutting edge fish finder on the market, you’ll likely be after a more high-tech fish finder than the Hook-3X.
The Hook-3X has a led-backlit 3-inch color display with detailed 320×240 resolution, making readings easy to see in even bright sunlight. Initially, I found that readings could be inconsistent below about 50 feet and that the device doesn’t deliver accurate results in a moving boat. However after reading the user manual I found that you could remedy these problems pretty easily by tinkering with the device settings.
The Hook-3X overall, is not very intuitive and can be a bit frustrating to set up, but through trial and error you can get accurate readings of up to 70 feet as the device description claims. You’ll definitely need to keep your user manual close by on your first couple of trips out using this finder, but after the learning curve it’s a reliable and handy device. For a fish finder that is marketed more towards new fishermen, I would’ve liked this device to be more user friendly. It takes time commitment to learn to use correctly, which new anglers will likely find off-putting.
| It can add a lot to your fishing experience |
without requiring a major financial investment
Works as advertised even if it takes a
little practice to use
Perfect if you need a bare-bones fish finder
| Requires adjustment to get accurate results|
The interface isn’t user friendly and it takes
some trial and error to get accurate readings
- Read More: Top 5 Cheap Fish Finders
2. Best Wireless Portable Fish Finder
Deeper Smart Portable Fish Finder – This device is unique in that it relies upon an app downloaded to your smartphone or tablet to utilize this small, castable fish finder. This device has the benefit of marking fish anywhere you can cast your line, so if you’re fishing in something not super maneuverable this finder can be a real life saver.
It delivers accurate readings of up to 130 feet at a width of about 16 feet. The reading width is a bit shorter than most other devices, but the device is very easy to maneuver and reposition. I found it wasn’t much of an issue and could actually be quite fun; If you aren’t hitting fish just reel in and re-cast.
The size and portability of the device means that it’s perfect for both boat fisherman and weekend trips to the dock as well. Since it’s attached to your line though, you might have to occasionally throw on some waders and pull it out of the weeds.
The app that goes with the device itself is easy to use and works well pretty consistently. However, for me, there were some issues getting the device to stay connected. You’ll likely have to occasionally shut down the Bluetooth on your phone or tablet and reconnect, but once you get the device to consistently stay connected its reliable and user friendly.
Also, You can’t transfer and view your app data from any device other than the one that you used on your fishing trip. It would be nice if you could transfer your fishing data over to a laptop or a different phone, but no luck with the Deeper fish finder. The mapping program that comes included on the device is pretty unimpressive. It frequently gave me inaccurate positioning results, which made plotting the lake I was fishing frustrating. If you interested in saving your exact fishing locations you’ll need to invest in a more accurate device.
| Highly maneuverable, accurate and portable|
| Initial set up and connection issues|
Relatively easy to lose
Inaccurate mapping software
No data transferring
New Version: Deeper also recently came out with the Smart Sonar Pro+, which in functionality is very similar to the Portable, just a little more refined. There is still some difficulty getting this device to stay connected, but it is worlds better than the Portable and the mapping issue is completely fixed. It can scan depths over 100 feet deeper than the portable and gives you a much clearer picture that the portable. If Deeper Smart Portable is something that appeals to you, I would definitely make sure to check out this device as well. Read Smart Sonar Pro+ Full Review.
3. 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.
Will do exactly what it is advertised to do
Excellent build quality and functionality
| Not a lot of extras to speak of|
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
Higher Model – 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.
4. Best Down Imaging Fish Finder
Humminbird Helix 7 DI – With the Hummingbird Helix 7 you get a lot of bang for your buck. Consistency is king with the Helix 7; you won’t have to deal with any glitchy software or inaccurate readings. If the device is saying there are no fish, there’s no fish. You don’t have to worry about device error, ever.
This is a great device if you’re looking to take the plunge and upgrade from the lower end models. It’s a true workhorse and you can depend on it. The display has an ultra-wide 16:9 ratio which provides ample room to view two screens at once.
The “DI” stands for down imaging sonar, which provides a much clearer picture of what’s underneath the water when compared to standard 2D sonar. The added depth field of the DI sonar comes in really handy if you’re looking for a more detailed view out of your fish finder, but it also accounts for the spike in price. This device is simple and fun to use.
The Helix 7 is a “non-networking” device, which means that none of the data it keeps is transferable to different devices. This is an option most other higher end finders have and it’s something I would’ve liked to see included. It’s not a deal breaker, but it does mean that if you want to try out a new fish finder with the same data you’ve accumulated with your Helix 7 you’re out of luck.
| Reliable, easy to use, accurate, and intuitive|| Not a lot of extra features|
5. Best Side Imaging Fish Finder
Humminbird Helix 7 SI – Like the DI, the Hummingbird Helix 7 SI is a well designed and well built device with a bright 16:9 resolution display. The Helix 7 SI uses Down Imaging sonar just like the DI, but it also uses Side Imaging sonar, that’s the “SI.” So if the Down Imaging sonar alone isn’t cutting it anymore this is the fish finder for you.
The side imaging basically means that the device captures a wider field of view than the DI. The images are just as detailed and the device itself looks almost identical to the DI however, the SI captures images from 240 feet to the right or left of the device which is considerable and cuts out a great deal of guess work when looking for fish. The side imaging does take some time to learn to use well and this feature of the device lacks the intuitiveness of the DI.
The SI also has a faster processor than the DI, which means you can swap between features and screens almost instantly. The difference is noticeable as well. This device felt to me, to be much quicker than the DI.
However, just like the DI, the SI does not come with any pre-loaded maps. You have to buy those separately if you want an accurate, topographical view of the body of water you’re on. Without those there is virtually no detail displayed.
It’s also a “non-networking” device, so count on doing all your plotting over again if you ever upgrade to a new fish finder.
|Wide field of view and a snappy processor|| Functionally very similar to the DI|
Added features can be a bit confusing to get
the hang of
Again, no maps included
6. Best CHIRP Sonar Fish Finder GPS Combo
The Garmin Striker 7SV boasts a rugged, tough design with the familiar and dependable CHIRP sonar. This device is pretty much just a beefed up version of the Striker 4, so it’s marketed towards more experienced anglers. This would be a perfect first “big boy” fish finder. It felt very nice, heavy, and well made in my hands. You can really put this device through its paces.
It has the same high sensitivity GPS, waypoint map, and flasher, however, this device adds CHIRP, Downvu, and Sidevu scanning sonar, which is pretty much exactly the same as the Hummingbird line’s imaging software. This is the only device on the list to incorporate CHIRP, Down Imaging and Side Imaging functionalities. So, you’ll get a much clearer picture of what’s underneath you with the Striker 7SV as apposed to the Striker 4.
The 7SV has a considerably bigger display than the Striker 4, which allows you to utilize split screen functionality. The processor is quicker than the Striker 4 as well and it did feel quicker and lighter to use.
As nice of a device as the 7SV is, there are some definite negative aspects as well. If you have waypoints saved on another GPS device or on a laptop computer there is no way to transfer them over to your striker 7SV besides punching them in key by key. I would have loved to see data transfer capabilities as manual inputting all your data can be frustrating and time consuming.
The transducer that is included with this device is unfortunately only compatible with flat-hulled boats. So, if that won’t do the trick you’ll have to buy another transducer separately. Also, keep in mind this device has no mapping capabilities whatsoever; if that’s something that is important to you, give this one a pass.
Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of this device is that it doesn’t save your sonar setting after it is powered down. Each new trip out on the water saw me having to re-setup the CHIRP, Down Imaging, and Side Imaging functions; a major inconvenience.
| Sharp 3d imaging|
Rugged, Durable, and Accurate
Complete Sonar Functionality with
CHIRP, Downvu, and Sidevu
| No Mapping Capabilities|
Transducer is only for flat-hulled boats
No waypoint data transfers
Doesn’t save settings
- Read More: Top 5 FishFinder GPS Combo 2016
7. Ice Fishing Fish Finder
The Hummingbird ICE HELIX 5 packs a lot of technology into its 13-inch casing. This one is geared more towards ice fishermen, but can be used as a high-powered, all-purpose fish finder.
The Helix 5 has a PTP power output of 4000 watts, built in GPS Chart plotting, and a handy micro SD card slot for loading up new maps and saving waypoints. This is great for fisherman upgrading to this device from an older one. It means you can save your old data to a micro SD card and transfer it right over. Its high-powered design was made to find fish through ice, and can spot fish through a thick top layer of ice, but even if you never use its ice fishing capabilities the other features on this device are top of the line.
Because of the feature density of this device it can be pretty difficult to learn to use, but once you get used to it it really can do anything you ask it to. While, this device might be a bit unnecessarily complex for a hobby fisherman, if you’re a hardcore angler you will love exploring all of its features.
| Feature rich|
|Steep learning curve|
New Cheaper Option – Don’t splurge on this device for a one-time ice-fishing trip. There are other, cheaper options out there that will get the job done. I suggest taking a look at the Garmin Striker 4 with portable kit. It’s not nearly as refined as the Helix 5, but it will offer accurate readings without all the bells and whistles. The Helix 5 is the superior device to be sure, but most anglers can get by just fine using something less complicated and more economically priced.
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.
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.