The 10 Best Fish Finders
This wiki has been updated 26 times since it was first published in March of 2015. Using one of these fishfinders can seem a little like cheating to some, but you know what they say — whatever floats your boat. We've included handheld and mountable models to help you determine the location of that elusive honey-hole every angler dreams about. In addition to identifying fish, most of these units can accurately measure water depth and temperature as well. When users buy our independently chosen editorial recommendations, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.
December 11, 2020:
Modern fishfinders and depth sounders often come as part of a chartplotter package, as depth-sounding and sonar are equally important for both categories. The choices we made for this list are primarily fishfinders, but some, like the Vexilar SP200 and the Lowrance HDS-9 Live are as useful for navigation as they are for fish-finding, so there is some crossover between these two lists.
The Joywee FF688C 3.5 makes the cut for the value it offers inshore and coastal anglers. The audible depth and fish proximity alarms are not offered on similar models at the same price point. Although it is not a recognizable brand, it comes well-recommended. Its addition came at the cost of the Garmin EchoMap which was removed for availability issues and the fact that there are similar Garmin products at similar prices on the list, such as the Garmin Striker 7SV.
The Venterior Portable replaces its predecessor for availability issues. The new model is superior in every way. Although the original Venterior Handheld is a very popular choice for fishermen the new model has a color screen, better fish identification, and is wireless. The Humminbird 410940-1 replaces the original Helix model for exactly the same reasons.
We added the Lowrance Hook2 5 at the cost of the Lowrance Hook2 7 because the newer model has better features, stronger CHIRP sonar, GPS, and a split-screen, just like the Hook2 7. It also offers better value, even though the screen is two inches smaller. It is also geared more heavily towards fishing than navigation.
April 18, 2019:
Although we had to remove the Lowrance Elite-5 due to availability issues, we added two new models from the brand in its place. The Lowrance HDS-9 Live is an uber-powerful, high-end option that incorporates cutting-edge technology; in particular, users seem to appreciate its fast responsiveness (even with split screens), its ability to read sonar while traveling at high speeds, and its robust mapping capabilities. The Lowrance Hook2 7 doesn’t come with the same amount of bells and whistles, but it’s straightforward to operate, with an accurate GPS system, tons of preloaded lake maps, and reliable CHIRP sonar imaging.
Reports from users of the Garmin EchoMap suggest that it’s an impressive value for its abundance of features, given its simple installation and ability to store and display maps of thousands of lakes in the United States and Canada. People are impressed with its GPS and fish-finding accuracy as well, though some wish it would provide water temperature, too. Either way, we increased its ranking a couple slots.
Removed the Raymarine Dragonfly Pro as it was out of stock. Also decided to phase out the Lucky Portable after finding complaints regarding inaccurate depth readings.
Raymarine Element HV Raymarine is a well-respected brand within the fishing and boating community world-wide, and the Element HV offers 3D contours of the seabed and side-vision sonar standards that very few of its competitors can. With intuitive touch-screen technology and a reputation for build quality, it also has a class-leading quad-core processor. raymarine.com
Treasures Under The Sea
Low sound frequencies can penetrate deeper waters, but they may not be as powerful as the high-sound frequencies to detect specific targets.
If you consider fishing a pastime, an interactive art form, or even a necessity to keep your business afloat, then a fish finder can be a great tool to help you realize one or all of these values.
A fish finder functions by detecting the reflected pulses of sound energy as they bounce off of objects under the water, very similar to how sonar technology operates. Most modern fish finders feature graphical displays that show measurements of such reflected sounds, the time it takes for the sound echoes to return, and the distance to the object based on that information. Fish finders send and receive signals many times per second.
Individual sound pulses are concentrated into a beam transmitted by a transducer, which takes the electrical signal from your transmitter, converts it into sonar, and then sends it out. The transducer captures all returning echoes and converts them back into electrical signals. When the transducer transmits a sound into deep water (approaching the seabed), the beam expands as it descends, thereby covering a wide range. Imagine this beam in the shape of a large triangle. The apex would be closest to your boat, while the base of the triangle would be represented by the seabed. Everything within the area of the triangle (in between the boat and seabed) represents the detection area. Depending on the consistency of the seabed, the return signal may be weak or strong. Hard, rocky sea bottoms tend to send back strong signals, whereas soft and muddy bottoms tend to absorb the signal. The fish finder displays these signal differences to make a distinction between the sea bottom and everything above it.
Wow. That's interesting, but how do I know the device is actually going to detect fish? Good question. Fish finders detect the presence of fish underwater by leveraging the air in their swim bladders. The conserved air in the swim bladder changes the path of the sound and reflects that energy back to the device, which then displays that detection as an image of a fish on its display screen.
Fish finders also function at high sound frequencies, typically between 20-200 kHz as this helps to define targets, while allowing the devices to display fish as unprocessed sonar return signals, also called arches. Low sound frequencies can penetrate deeper waters, but they may not be as powerful as the high-sound frequencies to detect specific targets.
There are several things to consider when hunting for the right fish finder. If, for example, you tend to fish in shallow waters, one that offers high frequencies is the way to go, since high-frequency signals means greater detail on your device's digital display. Other types of fish finders deliver multiple frequency options, which is useful if you're a business owner and tend to fish in a variety of different types of water.
By contrast, low-wattage translates to slow readings, so if you find yourself in shallow waters, then you can go with a less powerful device.
Increased wattage works to your advantage when fishing in very deep waters because the device can display readings quickly and penetrate deep into the ocean without losing its degree of detection accuracy. By contrast, low-wattage translates to slow readings, so if you find yourself in shallow waters, then you can go with a less powerful device. On the same note, some fish finders feature sensors with auto shutoff capabilities when the device is out of the water, which is great for conserving battery life.
Having a fish finder with a clear and bright color display also makes the detail easy to distinguish in the sunlight as opposed to black and white displays.
Using a fish finder that's compact, lightweight, and capable of being mounted to your boat's hull, floated in the water, or even pole-mounted gives you the best chances for getting the most out of your device's detection capabilities.
A Brief History Of The Fish Finder
Fishfinders were dervied from fathometers, which are active sonar instruments designed for both navigation and measuring water depth. The earliest fathometers used a rotating light at the edge of a circle that flashed in sync with a received echo, which corresponded to depth. The problem with these fathometers is that they did not keep historical depth records, nor were they very accurate when waters were rough.
In 1957, Carl Lowrance, an avid fisherman, shared his love for fishing with his sons, Darrell and Arlen.
As early as 1948, a device for detecting fish underwater was developed in Nagasaki, Japan by the Furuno brothers (Kiyotaka and Kiyokata), who co-owned a small marine electrical company. A private talk with a fellow fisherman lead the brothers to discover that air bubbles could be used to detect the presence of fish. Kiyotaka, the older brother, started developing a fish finder using scrap materials, while Kiyokata, the younger brother, continued to bring the prototype onboard a fishing vessel over and over again to perfect the design. Kiyokata was eventually bestowed with the nickname god of sardine due to his success in finding fish schools everywhere. The Furuno brothers' innovation permanently changed the face of the fishing industry, as it transformed the industry into a scientific practice instead of forcing fishermen to depend only on their past experiences or intuition for success.
In 1957, Carl Lowrance, an avid fisherman, shared his love for fishing with his sons, Darrell and Arlen. Together, they designed the world's first high-frequency, transistorized sonar for sport fishing and boating purposes. In 1959, Lowrance introduced the first Little Green Box portable sonar unit and it became one of the most popular sonars in the world.
Today's fish finders feature state-of-the-art LCD screens, built-in GPS, charting capabilities, and integrated transducers.