Buying Guide: Shopping For The Best Fish Finders For The Money

In the industry of sport anglers there is no shortage of cool gadgets, tools, and products that are designed to help you catch more fish. One tool, though, stands above them all and its sole purpose is to do that better than any other tool on the market. That one tool is the fish finder. Everything else may aid in attracting more fish but this one actually boasts finding your next wall trophy or main course.

Without this device you are left to taking advice from friends, relatives, and other doubtful sources on where the newest honey hole is at. Or worse yet, you are at the mercy of chance and hope the spot you have chosen is the right one. Fish finders are also an invaluable resource that can make the difference between having a full live well and coming home empty handed.

But even the most seasoned angler can be overwhelmed by the dizzying amount of features and specs that go with this useful fishing device. This guide will help decipher the tech language and cut through all the clutter of expensive extras that can come with a fish finder. Ultimately finding the right one will depend on what boat you have and what type of fishing you are going to do.

Recommendations: Top 10 Best Fish Finders 2016 - 2017

we rate these devices based on performance on the water and value
FISH FINDEROUR RATING
Humminbird 409800-1 Helix 7 DI Fishfinder with Down Imaging Sonar
Humminbird 409800-1 Helix 7 DI Fishfinder with Down Imaging Sonar
4.8 Stars (4.8 / 5)
Garmin Echo 551dv Worldwide with Transducer
Garmin Echo 551dv Worldwide with Transducer
4.6 Stars (4.6 / 5)
Garmin 010-01551-00 Striker 4DV
Garmin 010-01551-00 Striker 4DV
4.7 Stars (4.7 / 5)
Humminbird 409850-1 Helix 7 SI GPS/Fishfinder with Side Imaging Sonar
Humminbird 409850-1 Helix 7 SI GPS/Fishfinder with Side Imaging Sonar
4.6 Stars (4.6 / 5)
Lowrance 000-11448-001 Elite-3X Fishfinder with 83/200 Transducer
Lowrance 000-11448-001 Elite-3X Fishfinder with 83/200 Transducer
4.2 Stars (4.2 / 5)
Humminbird 409620-1 HELIX 5 DI Fish Finder with Down-Imaging and GPS
Humminbird 409620-1 HELIX 5 DI Fish Finder with Down-Imaging and GPS
4.3 Stars (4.3 / 5)
Garmin 010-01550-00 Striker 4
Garmin 010-01550-00 Striker 4
4.3 Stars (4.3 / 5)
Humminbird 409830-1 Helix 7 DI GPS/Fishfinder with Down Imaging Sonar
Humminbird 409830-1 Helix 7 DI GPS/Fishfinder with Down Imaging Sonar
4.5 Stars (4.5 / 5)
Garmin echo 100 Fishfinder
Garmin echo 100 Fishfinder
4.5 Stars (4.5 / 5)
Humminbird 409600-1 HELIX 5 DI Fish Finder with Down Imaging
Humminbird 409600-1 HELIX 5 DI Fish Finder with Down Imaging
4.4 Stars (4.4 / 5)

Types of Fish Finders On The Market

Luckily, when it comes to the different types of fish finders you only have three choices to make: standalone, combo, and networked system.

Standalone: Standalone units are great for the angler who is on a tight budget or who just fish in small lakes. The only function they perform is to show you what is going on underneath and with that they also give you the biggest screen size for the price you pay.

Combo: These units combine a fish finder with a GPS system that prove to be a great help to the fisherman. The fish finder feature does its job while the GPS feature shows your exact location. Marking points on the water are saved for later which means that new sweet spot you found can be revisited any time you want.

Networked: Networked system fish finders are the ultimate prize for the serious angler. They have a vast array of features that include Wi-Fi, Bluetooth technology, XM Radio, GPS, and a host of other functions that can ensure a successful day on the water.

8 Main Features of Fishfinders

Frequency: Frequency is the sonar waves sent out and that come back to a device called a transducer. Transducer usually come in the 50, 83, 192 or 200 kHz range. Why frequency is such a big factor is the fact that the higher the frequency the better picture quality you get.

Power: One of the most important features you want to look out for is what kind of power output does the unit have. Fish finders measure power by wattage. The higher the wattage the faster it can send and receive a signal that translates the signal into the picture on the screen. If the unit has a low power output then picture quality might be fuzzy and images could be delayed. Low powered units only work well in shallow water.

Screen Resolution: How sharp a screen resolution will be determined by how many pixels a it has. A pixel is a tiny dot combined together with other pixels to form an image. The more pixels you have the better the image you are going to have on the screen.

Color or B/W Screens: Color screens are going to be much better at distinguishing objects and distance. A black and white screen is going to cost less but will be more subtle due to the fact it’s dealing in shades of gray rather than contrasting colors.

Transducers: Transducers are the main component that sends the sonar signal out to bounce off objects. It receives the signal back to send to the main unit that forms it into a picture we can understand.

Cone Angles: This refers to what shape the path of the sonar signal is. As the signal travels out from the transducer the shape gets gradually larger mirroring an upside down cone. The larger the cone shape the wider an area that is covered.

Beams: The beams are the cones angles that produced by the transducer. As you upgrade your fish finder you can have many beams that come in dual, triple and sideways. The more beams you have the wider area for the fish finder to cover.

Transducer Material: Transducers can come in a variety of materials they are made of but the most common is a plastic housing. Most recreational fishing boats are made of fiberglass so a plastic housing is perfect match. If you have a wooden boat it’s better to use transducer with a metallic housing such as bronze instead of plastic. Wood expands and would damage the plastic housing on the unit and could cause a leak.

Does Screen Size Matter?

Units that are priced on the lower end tend to have smaller screens but you want a screen size that is large enough to see the area that you are covering. In the end you will thank yourself for opting to get a fish finder with a larger screen even if it means shelling out a few bucks more. Readouts will be easier to see and with a larger area to view you will not be limited to a small amount of fish to harvest.

Do You Need A GPS Unit?

If your budget does not allow for this feature to be on your next fish finder you can still find a great unit and have a great day of fishing. Having a GPS on your fish finder is a must for tournaments and offshore fishing. Its main selling point though is the fact that you can mark points on the map that are saved for later. Any fisherman in any situation finds this feature useful.

Does Picture Quality Matter?

A fish finder will not be useful if you can’t interpret what the signal is sending back to the unit. If a bass, rock, tree, or lake bottom are too fuzzy then all you got is a nice boat ornament. Go for a unit that has an optimal picture quality. Some units with higher frequencies depict a sharp image but are usually on the higher end of the price range. Opting for a medium priced one will give you good picture quality.

Portable vs Fixed

Choosing between the option of having a portable unit or a fixed one comes down to what type of fishing you are going to be doing. If you own a boat, the thought of packing unpacking the unit, connecting the right cables and mounting it would be somewhat of a hassle. A fixed unit would be the way to go. Portable units are ideal for those that rent boats, ice fish or who fish on the banks and shoreline.

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