Fishing can be a challenge, especially if you dream about catching big fish. You need all the right equipment to lure the fish to get it out, but the thing we often forget is finding where our catch is. Whether you are fishing in deep or shallow water, the best fish finder can make your angling trip more efficient and help you to find your dream catch quickly.
If you do not have any experience with these tech gadgets, you’ve come to the right place. We selected the most reliable units on the market in our fish finder reviews, and we also included a detailed buying guide on this gear piece. This guide will tell you everything you need to know about fish finders, such as how to choose and use them, as well as what are their most important features. But first – let’s start with the reviews!
Table of Contents
Best Fish Finder Reviews – Top-Picks 2020
1. Lowrance HDS-7 Live – 7-inch Fish Finder
If you are looking for a modern fish finder of exceptional quality, Lowrance designed one that can fit that category. The device has a compact seven-inch size to fit even on small boats, and it is equipped with a bunch of advanced features.
These include the CHIRP technology and the StructureScan that secured 3D imaging. The dual-core processor secures almost instant response for the most accurate and detailed image of both fish and the water structure.
The fish finder also comes with preloaded maps that cover many areas throughout the US. The maps could be better, but their quality is improving with each new version of the software. You can use the route planning tool to plan the easiest course.
The extensive color range is another feature that secures top-quality imaging, and the contrast will assist in making a clear difference between fish and other objects.
2. Lowrance HOOK2 12 – 12-inch Fish Finder
Here is another fish finder made by the same manufacturer. Unlike the previous one, this is a large 12-inch sounder with a spacious screen to show various information.
The transducer uses the TripleShot technology to ensure CHIRP sonar, as well as Down and SideScan sonars. That gives you a choice to look at multiple sonar views and get a better idea of the underwater surface around your boat.
The unit is simple to install, and the instructions are easy to follow even if you are a beginner. You can choose between several installation options for the transducer.
More than 9,000 lakes are included in the preloaded mapping, and you will also receive the GPS plotter feature. It will allow you to know your location at any point, as well as to follow trails and insert waypoints. The unit uses an SD card that enables easy software upgrade.
3. Humminbird 410160-1 PIRANHAMAX 4.3 DI Fish Finder
Humminbird is a premium manufacturer, and this is one of their entry-level solutions for a fish finder. The gadget has a compact size, and it is fairly light. It also looks modern and packs an LCD screen with 4.3 inches in diameter.
The device will show you what’s going on below your boat, which means it utilizes down imaging. The graphical fish ID+ display will make it easy to know where your fish are.
The product has a peak power output of 2,400W and the depth capability of 320’ (DI) and 600’. You can choose between two beams depending on your preference. The wider beam will secure that the finder covers more area.
You may need to adjust the angle to see the screen in strong sunlight, but that is a small price to pay for a product that is a great value for money.
4. Elite-7 Ti2-7-inch Fish Finder
We are returning to Lowrance now and presenting another compact-sized unit. This 7-inch fish finder belongs to the Elite-7 series, and it includes the active imaging transducer.
You can choose between a 2-in-1 sonar with DownScan and SideScan, or activate the 3-in-1 feature and use the CHIRP sonar, too. The latter is great if you are fishing in a deep-water environment.
The quality of the image is incredible, and it seems that the device has excellent speed. The display is easy to read even in direct sunlight, and the software is easy to use even if you are a newbie.
Users will receive the US and Canada mapping card, but feel free to map any area that may be unmapped. You can use the chart plotter feature to do that in real time. The wireless support will enable you to share data between devices easily.
5. Hummingbird 410950-1 Helix 7 Fish Finder
The TFT 7-inch display offers a generous 800×480 resolution for outstanding image quality. The maximum reach of both down and side imaging is 125 feet. When combined, that gives you excellent coverage while ensuring plenty of detail on display.
You can choose between narrow and wide beam angle, and the transducer uses CHIRP technology to give you accurate results regardless of the depth. The ultra-bright display ensures optimal viewing, even when it is very sunny. The display is not touch-based, but you control it with the buttons on the sides. However, the interface is simple, and the buttons make it look like you are controlling a camera, which means it should be easy to use.
The product has integrated Bluetooth for sharing data, and it comes with upgradable software. The fish finder includes a GPS locator, LED backlight, and the screen will display the temperature of the water surface.
6. Garmin Striker 4cv Fish Finder with Transducer
If you have a kayak or a small boat, this fish finder can be the perfect fit for it. Its compact size makes it look like a smartphone rather than a sounder, but its capabilities are exceptional. The device has an IPX7 water resistance rating, which is another vote in favor of using it on kayaks.
The product uses a CHIRP sonar for detailed imaging, and you can check out the underwater map at a display that has a diameter of 4.3 inches. The integrated GPS will show current boat speed, and allow you to insert waypoints. The map drawing software has generous storage space to keep your maps safe for a long time.
If you are a newbie, you may want to look for detailed instructions online as the manual is not that detailed. Fortunately, you should easily use how to learn the fish finder and utilize its navigational directions.
7. Garmin Striker 4 Fish Finder with Transducer
The final fish finder we present is similar to the previous one as it comes from the same manufacturer. Moreover, it is a smaller model of the same series, and it features an ultra-compact 3.5-inch screen.
It can be a great fit for kayaks, but you should be aware that the screen only has a limited waterproof rating. It cannot be submerged, and you should even consider putting it in a zip-lock bag in case of moderate rain. Garmin Striker 4, however, has some excellent features. For starters, it is a dual-frequency sonar that uses 77kHz and 200kHZ frequencies depending on your needs. That should enable you to reach the depths you wanted while maintaining a high-quality image.
The device also has additional features, such as a waypoint map, GPS locator, and boat speed. The maximum depth is set at 750 feet in saltwater, and 1,600 feet in fresh water.
Best Fish Finders Comparison Chart
Lowrance HDS-7 Live – 7-inch Fish Finder
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Lowrance HOOK2 12 – 12-inch Fish Finder
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Humminbird 410160-1 PIRANHAMAX 4.3 DI Fish Finder
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Elite-7 Ti2-7-inch Fish Finder
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Hummingbird 410950-1 Helix 7 Fish Finder
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Garmin Striker 4cv Fish Finder with Transducer
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What Is a Fish Finder?
A fish finder is an advanced piece of fishing gear that serves as a helping tool to locate the position of fish in the water. It does that by using SONAR technology. The abbreviation stands for a Sound Navigation and Ranging, and it is a reliable approach in identifying where you may find your catch.
Fish finders are often used by professional anglers, as well as in commercial fishing purposes. However, those that see fishing as a relaxing activity can also resort to using this device. The finder also has a display that may show various data, such as the depth of the water in a particular spot. Although the more common name for this product is a fish finder, you may also encounter the term sounder. The latter term is particularly popular in Australia, but the important thing for you to remember is that it is the same product.
If you are fishing in a boat or kayak, a fish finder can be useful if you go for a swim or dive. You will know the structure of the bottom before you dive, which means you can choose spots worth exploring in advance.
Fish Finder Buying Guide
Now that we know what a fish finder is, here is an overview of its basic features and specifications. The list below should largely help you to learn more about these devices.
A List of the Most Important Fish Finder Features and Specifications
– this is an integral part of every sounder out there. The task of a transducer is to emit and receive waves so that you can get an accurate idea of what is in the water. Transducers largely vary from one unit to another, but you can learn more about them later in this guide.
Cone angles and beams
– this is technically a feature of a transducer, and it describes the area that a finder can cover. A wide angle can cover a larger area, but a narrow-angle setting can reach extra depth. The idea is finding the right balance, but if you are only starting, a 20-degree cone will cover all your needs.
– the information that your transducer collects will be displayed on a screen. You can choose between classic black and white screen or an LCD. The latter is a pretty common choice these days, especially because they ensure better visibility in low-light conditions.
– the resolution will directly affect the ease of use of a product. A large screen resolution means that you can see the information even from afar, but small screens are more affordable.
– your fish finder will have the capability of working at a single frequency or using two or more frequencies. The most common frequencies are 50 and 200 kHz, although you may find units with additional ones like 83 or 192 kHz. We suggest going for a high frequency in shallow water, and low frequency for deep-water fishing.
– the wattage of a fish finder will determine how quick it is in collecting and displaying information. In other words, the more powerful your sounder is, the quicker it will be. The general rule is that 100W of power reads up to 400 feet of depth at 50 kHz and up to 100 feet of depth at 200 kHz.
Apart from the features mentioned above, make sure to check the water-resistance of your desired product. You might not use it in the water, but you will keep it near the water, and the chances are it may get splashed occasionally. That especially applies if you are in a kayak, which is why the best kayak fish finder must have excellent water resistance.
If you are looking for some bells and whistles, look for units with 360-degree imaging, CHIRP (compressed high-intensity radar pulse) for deep-water scan, or a chart plotter to allow you to plan and track your course in detail.
Questions to Ask When Buying a Fish Finder
We covered the basics with the important features and specifications of a fish finder. However, you may still be baffled when it comes to the specifics that would meet your expectations. That is why you should take a look at the below questions to ask during the buying process.
Where do you plan to fish?
The first thing to consider is your preferred fishing location. When we say that, we do not think about the actual location, but rather the depth of the water. If you plan to fish in shallow waters, you should look for a finder that fits that preference. That means a 200kHz frequency should have you covered in most situations. As for the cone angle, even a 20-degree angle should do the job for most angling trips.
On the other hand, if you dream about being a deep-water angle, the features you look for may be different. For starters, you might want an increased angle (for example 60 degrees), and you may even need the option of the 50kHz frequency. Naturally, you may want to aim for a fish finder that is versatile and can be used in all types of fishing regardless of the water depth.
Do you need different fish finders for freshwater and saltwater environments?
When it comes to performance, fish finders will behave equally in both environments. However, the difference can be in their waterproof rating, which directly affects their durability. You probably know that salt can cause your fishing gear to rust, which is why you need premium quality rods, reels, and other equipment pieces.
The same applies to fish finders since the chances are the water will splash them at some point. Also, keep in mind that the chances are a finder will have a somewhat better penetration capability when the water is fresh.
How to choose the right screen for your fish finder
The majority of fish finders these days use an LCD screen, although you may still find some old-school sounders with a black and white screen. The only advantage of the latter is the price, but it is obvious that the experience of using the finder would be better and easier with an LCD. Once you choose the type of screen, it is time to pick the size. It is only natural that the larger, the better rule applies, but your budget may force certain restrictions.
If you want optimal experience, you should aim for a screen that has a resolution of 240 x 160 pixels or more. Apart from the resolution, make sure to test how well the screen acts when it is sunny outside. A reliable display will reflect the glare and show a clear image despite the strong sun rays.
Do you need an integrated GPS?
If you ask us, the short answer is yes. You might think that a GPS locator on your phone is enough, but there are many advantages of having one built into your fish finder. For starters, you do not have to take out your phone to check the location, and you do not have to worry about your cell battery. Additionally, you may choose to turn off your phone if you are taking a couple of days for yourself.
Some GPS locators on fish finders are packed on useful features, such as memorizing a particular position. If that spot proves to be a great place to catch fish, you may want to return there the next time you go fishing. Thanks to the GPS, it will be simple to find the location.
Price and Brand
It would be a dream come true if you wouldn’t have to consider your budget for buying fishing equipment. However, the chances are the reality is different, which is why the price should be one of the factors to keep in mind when buying a sounder. If you are a beginner, you may start with affordable models until you are experienced enough to tell which features are most suitable for you. If you decide to splash your cash, make sure you get enough bang for the buck.
Additionally, you should always purchase a fish finder from a reliable brand. If you go with an unknown manufacturer, you may get an unreliable unit that can break apart quickly. That is why you should stick to reputable companies, such as Lowrance, Humminbird, or Garmin Striker.
You should also stick to a reliable brand for the rest of your fishing equipment. If you need a durable backpack to pack all those items, you can check out the tackle bag reviews and find a suitable option for you.
How Does a Fish Finder Work?
Fish finders use sound navigation and ranging to detect fish and identify their location. In short, these devices emit sonar signals that can reach certain water depth and area (it depends on the unit). Once the signal encounters an object, it estimates its characteristics, such as the size and the depth where it is located. The signal then returns to the transducer of the device, and the signal ends up shown on the screen of your finder.
The information quality and accuracy are determined by the specifics of your finder, but also how well you adjust it. You should use different approaches for shallow and deep-water environments. A fish finder can make a difference between various objects, which means it can differ fish, rocks and logs, and plants. It displays the information in the form of lines and arches, but modern sounders have the option to transfer it to graphical showings of fish and objects.
How to Power a Fish Finder
If you are wondering how to power a fish finder, the ideal way is to connect it to the battery directly. You can choose batteries of different strength depending on the unit you use. For kayaks and moderate-strength fish finder, a 12V, the 7Amp sealed lead acid battery should do a great job.
In essence, you should connect the wires from the device to the battery, and everything should run smoothly. Follow the markings to make sure that the connectors are placed properly.
What Is a Fish Finder Transducer?
A transducer is an integral part of every fish finder out there. It is the component that is in charge of sending sound waves into the water, which means that the transducer is the part that you can thank for finding where your catch is.
Different Transducer Types
When purchasing a sounder, you can choose between different types of transducers. These are different based on their mount type and include:
- Thru-hull – you should pass a stainless steel, nylon, or bronze shaft through a hole in the hull bottom. It may be tricky to install, but this transducer form will probably show the best results when it comes to signal quality. Sailboats and powerboats tend to use this option.
- In-hull – the biggest advantage of these transducers is that they do not require direct contact with water. You can place them on the inside with the use of epoxy or silicone. However, you can only use them on solid fiberglass holes. They are a great choice for trailerable boats.
- Transom mount – you bolt or screw the bracket that has an adjustable angle to the transom. As a result, the transducer is located behind the hull. The installation is fairly simple, but turbulent water flow can be expected. They can provide great results at high speeds.
- Trolling motor – you permanently set them up inside your motor’s propeller hub.
When it comes to frequencies, here are the most common choices available:
- 50 kHz or lower – these are excellent if achieving maximum depth is your priority. You should make sure that CHIRP technology is integrated for more accurate results. Make sure that your finder has at least 1kW of power.
- 80 to 160kHz – these are considered medium frequencies. They are great for waters that are not too shallow, and they will provide a high level of detail.
- 160kHz or more – 200kHz is the most common choice here. You will get an incredibly detailed picture of what is going on in the water, but the maximum depth will decrease as the frequency increases.
How Does a Transducer Work for a Fish Finder?
A transducer creates an electrical wave and uses the transmitter to send it through the water. Once it encounters an object, it performs an evaluation and returns to the fish finder unit. The transducer will estimate size, shape, and depth (altitude) of the object.
The cone angle will determine the area your finder can cover, as well as the maximum depth it can reach. The accuracy will depend on the adjustment, but a transducer will display different information for fish, rocks, and other objects.
The way how a transducer calculates the depth is by measuring the time between the transmission of the wave and the moment the main unit received it. The default way of presenting information is by using lines and arches. Until you find it comfortable to read those, you can always use the graphical interface that most fish finders have nowadays.
How to Use a Fish Finder
A fish finder is an amazing gadget that can be truly helpful for all anglers out there. If you don’t have previous experience with these devices, you may need some advice on how to use them. Take a look at our guide on how to use a sounder for the first time. Please note we will assume everything is installed properly.
- The first time you turn the unit on, the chances are the finder will ask you for preferred settings. For now, we suggest going with the default preferences, and you can adjust the device later once you have experience using it.
- Go ahead and use your fish finder for a while. Once you see how it performs with the default setting, try making some adjustments. For starters, choose the highest possible frequency if you are in shallow water (or the lowest one if in deep water). It may take some trial and error, but it will be worth it once you get maximum accuracy from your unit.
- Take advantage of its features. For example, experiment with different types of fish IDs, or turn on automatic depth option.
- Always perform upgrades. The manufacturer may offer software upgrades, and you should always update your device.
How to Read a Fish Finder
You successfully turned on your finder, but it doesn’t seem like you know how to decipher the information on the screen. Here are some tips that you may find useful:
Two Ways to Identify Fish
Most beginners go with the option of using fish icons, which means you are using the fish ID technology. That means the finder will collect the information about the location of the fish and display in on the screen in the form of icons. Furthermore, you can see icons for rocks and plants, too. There is no doubt this is the easy way to see where the fish are.
However, you may want to try fish arches, which are a replacement for fish ID technology. In this case, you will only see arches and lines on the screen. It may take some getting used to, but this is a more accurate way to clarify both the size and location of your desired catch.
The general rule is the larger and fuller the arch, the bigger the fish. However, if you see a half-arch, it would mean that the cone angle only caught a part of the fish, which means there could still be a large catch waiting for you in that spot.
Your fish finder may also display some additional information, such as:
- Water depth
- Location and map
How to Install a Fish Finder
Have you already bought a fish finder? Or you are worried that you won’t be able to install it and that is why you are refraining from the purchase? Either way, take a look at this fish finder installation guide that should resolve all your dilemmas.
- Step 1: Pick the right location
The first thing you want to do is to find the right location for your fish finder. It will depend on the specifics of your boat, such as length. The majority choose to mount it somewhere at the helm of the boat. That way, you can easily check out all the information shown on display.
Don’t forget to choose the right angle, too. You want to maximize the user experience, which means you shouldn’t have to lean on any side to read the finder. Picking the ideal location is essential because it will optimize comfort and minimize the chances of eye strain and spine issues.
- Step 2. What Is the power source of your finder?
The chances are you already have one in mind, but what you need to ensure is that the wires of your sounder can reach it. The easiest way is to attach the wires to the battery directly, and it also offers the highest level of safety.
Make sure not to make the wires too tight, but they shouldn’t be too loose either. That increases the odds of tripping over them, which can be dangerous. If necessary, adjust the wire length until it is optimal.
- Step 3. Time for some drilling
The next step is to drill in the spot to make room for the wires and the device. Make sure to predict points of entry and exit for the wires. If it is not your first fish finder, perhaps you can use the holes you made for the previous one on that boat. Use a reliable drill and apply high-speed drilling to avoid splinters.
- Step 4. Adding Sealant
It is important that your fish finder is sturdy and doesn’t move around. That is why you may want to add some sealant to make sure it remains in position. Please note that you shouldn’t be too generous with the sealant –add as much as you think it is necessary.
Now, run the power leads and see whether wire length adjustment is necessary. Make sure everything is connected properly and proceed to place the transducer.
- Step 5. Installing the Transducer
You should place the transducer in the deepest location in your boat. Keep the mount against the transom, and install wires based on the desired mount position. Next, place the transducer where you planned to position it and use a sealant to ensure it remains in place.
This time, be generous with the sealant. You don’t want to risk the water getting into your boat because you drilled holes for the transducer.
- Step 6. Hook Up and Check Everything
The final step is to make all the necessary connections and check if you set up everything properly. Once that is completed, you can proceed to switching on your fish finder. If it turns on, you successfully finished the installation of your sounder.
Do not forget to register your fish finder and update its software. You want to use the latest version to get the most out of your device. Also, make sure that the SD card works properly as you may need to format it.
Where to Mount a Fish Finder?
We already covered how to choose the right spot for mounting a fish finder in the installation guide above. But what if you need to mount it on a kayak?
You will need to be a bit creative, but consider placing it behind the bulkhead and aiming through the hull. It is a great way to keep the desired level of accuracy, although the temperature may need a bit of time to even out. If you want to make it removable, choose a portable transducer mount, or use duct-seal.
- Q: How to test a fish finder?
A: The bad news is that you can’t test a fish finder out of the water. When it comes to testing it once you mount it on your boat, you should start by ensuring that it powers up properly. The display should show the starting screen after loading, and many modern finders will immediately show if anything is wrong.
From there, it will take a bit of trial and error until you perfectly adjust it. Make sure to take some time to learn how the device works, and that it suits your needs.
- Q: Are fish finders waterproof?
A: Fish finders are water-resistant, but most of them are not waterproof. That means they can’t be fully submerged into water, especially not for a long time.
However, being resistant to water enables them to endure splashes that may happen, especially if you are kayaking. Please note that each fish finder should have a water resistance rating. You should look for a high rating if you plan to fish in a saltwater environment. That will improve the finder’s durability.
- Q: Do fish finders work in shallow water?
A: Yes, fish finders work in shallow water. However, you should make sure to purchase devices that are optimized for shallow water. The chances are a high frequency (192 or 200kHz) is a better choice than a low frequency. You are also recommended to use a wider beam to cover more surface and get reliable information.
- Q: How accurate are fish finders?
A: Yes, fish finders are accurate and reliable devices. Their power, as well as other features and adjustments, may affect the accuracy. However, if we assume that everything works optimally, you can expect the finder to be 100% accurate.
- Q: Can you use one transducer for two fish finders?
A: In theory, you can use a single transducer for two fish finders, but it depends on the units you select. You will also need to have a network or transfer switch, and you will probably be able to use only one fish finder at a time.
Don’t forget to check out our roundup of the high-quality polarized fishing sunglasses.
We have reached the end of our guide, and we can only hope it helped you to find the best fish finder out there! Although they do not belong to primary fishing equipment, sounders can be incredibly useful tools for both beginners and commercial fishers.
Having a tool that will show you where to look for fish will save you a lot of time and effort, and boost your chances of catching something. However, if you want to maximize your fishing experience, you should pick a sounder that is the most fitting for you.
We hope that you can find that unit in our fish finder reviews. Now that you read our guide, and you know what features you need, check out the reviews once again and pick your favorite!