Picture this: your boat is finally de-winterized for the season, you’re up before the rooster caws, you’ve got a big thermos full of coffee, and you’re ready to hit the water. But all of these details are secondary to the most important detail of all: a trustworthy instrument for finding exactly where those fish are at.
Fish finders are one of the most beneficial tools in you tackle box, along with all of your bait, hooks, and of course, your pole. Fish finder do exactly what you’d expect: they find fish.
Through the use of extensive maps and sonar detection, fish finders give you an idea of where the fish are at, and where they aren’t. That being said, not all fish finders are equal. And not all fish finders are ideal for the style of fishing that you prefer. Read on to learn more about fish finders and how to choose the one that is best for you.
Comparison of the Best Fish Finders
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Are All Fish Finders the Same?
Though you may start to see similar features in all the different fish finders that you shop around for, not all of them are the same. In general, you will notice commonalities like screen size and quality, water depth, and how the system uses sonar, but certain fish finders may be good for one type of fishing but not another.
The 3 major types of fish finders you’ll encounter include standalone, combo, and network fish finders.
A standalone fish finder is exactly what it sounds like: it’s a stand alone unit that serves no other purpose than seeing what’s going on around your boat. Standalone options typically have a larger screen and is ideal for the casual angler on a budget.
A combo fish finder is the next step up, offering users a GPS navigation system to aid them in their fish finder endeavors. Typically the screen will be split with one half showing the GPS map while the other half displays the fish finder.
Networked system fish finders are basically the whole shebang. You get the fish finder and GPS plus all sorts of other additions such as radar, vector GPS charts, satellite radio, and more. Many networked systems offer WiFi and Bluetooth, and are offered with multiple screens. These are the fish finders meant for truly dedicated anglers.
Qualities of Our Top Fish Finders
With all that being said, not all fish finders are built the same. As with anything that you’re making a big investment in, you’ll want to select a high-quality product that will be able to stand the test of time and whatever rough seas you throw at it.
That being said, a good fish finder will not come cheap. You pay for what you get with fish finders, and one of the biggest mistakes you can make is opting for a cheap fish finder, especially if you’re going to be relying on its GPS system to get home safely.
When you’re trying to sort through a plethora of fish finders to find a high-quality option, there are a few identifying features that will help you know if what you’re looking at is worth the investment.
First off, you’ll want to consider what kind of fish finder technology you want. Standard sonar is the traditional option, but new technologies like scanners and CHIRP offer a more precise view of what’s going on around your boat. CHIRP is the first indicator of a high quality fish finder.
Screen Size and Quality
Another element that makes a fish finder high quality is its screen size and quality. After all, there is no use in having a fish finder if the screen is poor quality and you have a hard time using it. You’ll want to look for a screen with a high-resolution (higher number of pixels) in color.
Number of Watts
The number of watts you fish finder offers is another indicator of the level of quality you’re working with. Essentially, the higher watts, the stronger a ping your fish finder transmits. A higher transmission will allow you to see through murky waters.
However, a lower transmission allows you to view down to a deeper depth underneath your boat. So if you’re a shallow-water inland angler, you’ll want more watts and if you’re a deep sea fisher you’ll want lower watts. It all depends on your preferences and what fishing you’ll be doing.
Pros and Cons of Buying a New Fish Finder
If you’re on the fence about investing in a fish finder, you’re probably interested in knowing the pros and cons of making the plunge. The first major advantage of utilizing a fish finder is that you’ll have a increased chance of actually catching something.
Having a set of eyes underneath and around your boat provides you visibility that you simply wouldn’t have otherwise. Another pro is that a fish finder allows you to track down a specific kind of fish you’re looking to catch, as you’ll be able to see how deep, shallow, or flat an area is, and where the fish you want resides.
Many fish finders also provide you with some basic details such as the temperature of the water, how deep the water is, and how far you are from land. These are all beneficial details that go beyond helping you find fish.
As for cons, there isn’t much of a reason why you wouldn’t want a fish finder. However, you won’t want to purchase a cheap option as it won’t work as well and will be a waste of money. On the other hand, if a fish finder isn’t installed properly it won’t do you any good.
Review of the Best Fish Finders
Now that you have an idea of how to identify what a good fish finder looks like, we’re going to cover our picks for the best fish finders, based on your fishing preferences.
Best Fish Finder Overall:
Garmin Striker 4 with Transducer
Let’s say you don’t necessarily have a preferred method of fishing. No problem! We’ve identified the best fish finder overall for the everyday angler. The Garmin Striker 4 covers all of you bases: a CHIRP Sonar, simple yet effective dedicated buttons, and a manageable 3.5” screen. This fish finder has a maximum depth of 1,600 ft in fresh water and 750 ft in salt water, making it a good option for the deep sea fisher.
The Striker 4 offers an transmision of 200 W and a GPS, offering you the benefit and safety of knowing exactly where you are when you lose track of the shore. Garmin’s CLEARVÜ scanning sonar provides images that are practically photographic, making it a breeze to see where the fish are around your boat.
Reviewers rave that this fish finder is a great budget-friendly option that is very accurate in all depths of water. However, another reviewer mentions that this unit does require a 12-volt battery to function, which can be a bit cumbersome.
The Garmin Striker 4 is easy to use with its dedicated buttons, and provides users with an easy to read screen that’s both accurate and clear. However, it does require a 12-volt battery. It’s a good option for the recreational angler.
Best Kayak Fish Finder:
Venterior VT-FF001 Portable Fish Finder
Now, if you’ve found yourself a bit overwhelmed by the size of the previous fish finders, check out this option from Venterior that is just perfect for smaller vessels, such as a kayak. Though this fish finder may not feature a fancy LED screen, you’ll have all the portability you need to get the job done.
This fish finder detects fish and gives you an idea of how deep they are. You’ll also be able to see short and tall weeds as well as any sand or rocks on the sea bed. The Venterior fits perfectly in the palm of your hand and can be used with floats, on ice, on a pole, or fixed to the boat hull.
Reviewers mention that this fish finder works exactly as intended, providing users with the flexibility of using it in smaller vessels. This unit is also raved for being very accurate and providing users with plenty of visibility in even the murkiest of conditions.
This fish finder is the ideal size for the kayak, but still packs a big punch in terms of visibility and accuracy. Though there isn’t a screen included, your smartphone will do the job perfectly.
Best Fish Finder for Ice Fishing:
Deeper Smart Sonar PRO+
Is ice fishing your specialty? Then this super portable, easy to use, Deeper Smart Sonar PRO is for you. This fish finder is a bit different than the previous options we’ve shown because there is no attached screen. Instead, you’ll utilize your smartphone screen to see what’s going on both under and around your boat.
Don’t have a boat? No problem. This fish finder can be cast from the shore, or for the ice fishers out there, from the frozen pond. Complete with WiFi capability, all the data you store on your fish finder can be seen once you’re back home.
GPS-powered mapping from the shore provides you with a quick and accurate display of the water, while castable SONAR technology offers you a clear and easy to understand picture. Reviewers mention that you should be careful with casting, however, as throwing it out too far may damage the unit.
The perfect fish finder for ice fishing, the Deeper Smart Sonar plus is a must. It’s durable, castable from the shore, and super portable. Though it doesn’t have an included screen, it has a long lasting battery and offers clear and photographic-like images.
Best Ice Fishing Flasher:
Humminbird ICE-45 Three Color Flasher
As you probably already know, ice fishing is nothing your standard boat fishing. It requires different gear entirely. The Humminbird ICE-45 Three Color Flasher gives you an idea of what’s below the ice.
A dual beam SONAR allows you to use either a narrow or wide beam to get the best view of what’s under the ice. It has a depth of 400 feet and features a 3-color flasher display that indicates depth digitally. It includes both a transducer and a carrying case, and has a battery life that will last for the long haul.
One reviewer mentions that this unit is so helpful and accurate that they feel like they’re cheating! Another mentions that the zoom feature makes finding fish a breeze and they were able to fish for 5 hours and the battery dropped only 20%.
The Humminbird ICE-45 three color flasher is a must have for ice fishing. The narrow and wide beam sonar allows you to see a variety of views while the zoom features makes finding fish so easy that you’ll feel like you’re cheating.
Best Castable Fish Finder:
ReelSonar Wireless Bluetooth Smart Fish Finder
If you’re the type of angler who can fish anywhere this castable fish finder is for you. On the boat? No problem. On the kayak? Perfect. Hanging out with some friends on the beach? Yup. This castable fish finder fits in the palm of your hand and features sonar readings up to 135 feet deep.
With a battery life of up to 10 hours, this unit is rechargeable and will let you know when the battery is low. The patented sonar technology provides waterbed and structure contour mapping to see exactly where everything is. Bluetooth technology allows you to log your trip including date, time, water temperature, and fishing conditions. Download the iBobber app to track everything in real time.
Though the iBobber doesn’t have an included screen, it has a long lasting battery and is a portable, castable option that works for a variety of fishing styles.
Best GPS Fish Finder:
Raymarine Dragonfly Pro CHIRP Fish Finder With Built in GPS
When you’re out in the middle of nowhere, a GPS is easily your most important tool, alongside your fishing rod of course. If you’re looking for a fish finder that doubles as a GPS, check out this option from Raymarine. The Dragonfly Pro features 4.3” all-weather, high definition screen that’s backlit by a LED light.
With dedicated buttons, you won’t have to fumble around with this fish finder to get it to do exactly what you want. Featuring CHRIP Downvision sonar, you’ll be able to see photo-quality images of what’s going on under your boat. Download Raymarine’s “Wi-Fish” app and you can stream your sonar live. Rewind, save, and share all of your trip on the app as well.
Reviewers mention that the dedicated buttons make using the fish finder a breeze, while the down-vision sonar provides clear, beautiful views. Setup is a easy an approachable: you’ll be out on the water in no time.
The clear visible down-vision sonar makes this fish finder a serious standout. The dedicated easy to use buttons make operation easy and fuss-free, and easy installation gets you out on the water quickly. While there isn’t a touchscreen, the high quality imagery makes this a solid unit that will last for many seasons to come.
How to Use a Fish Finder
Of course, before you hit the water and get going on your fishing journey, you’ll need to learn how to use your fish finder! Otherwise, you’ll have a beneficial equipment that will probably never be used!
Though every fish finder has a different display, in general, you’ll want to adjust the sensitivity so that you only see arches on the bottom of the screen--this gives you a good idea of what's going on below the boat.
If the fish are smaller, you can zoom in to get a better view. You can also adjust the scroll so it updates faster, giving you a more accurate reading of what’s really happening under water.
The video below covers this and more in detail:
Whether you’re a serious, experienced angler or just starting out your recreational fishing hobby, we can all benefit from a little bit of help. Fish finders let us see what’s going on underneath the boat, providing us with a more efficient and effective trip.
Depending on what type of fishing you’re doing, you’ll want to choose a fish finder that meets your needs. Be on the lookout for a quality unit that will provide you clear easy to read images that will benefit your fishing rather than hinder it.
More Fish Finder Reviews
Below are all our buyer guides surrounding fish finders. Thanks for reading.