By allowing you to locate fish easily, fish finders have taken the fishing game to a whole new level. In addition to giving out the fish location, the best fish finders will also tell you their size, water depth, bottom contour, temperature, and other useful information.
Since they first came out, fish finders have become a lot more sophisticated over the years and added great features that boost their performance. In this article, you’ll read about all of these features and discover the best fish finders currently on the market so you can easily pick a model that will maximize your catch.
How To Choose A Fish Finder – Buying Guide
Types of Fish Finders
When looking for the best fish finder for the money, you have three different options – fixed, portable, and castable. Each has its advantages, so we’ll say a few words about them and hopefully help you figure out what you need.
Fixed: This type of fish finder comes with a transducer that is permanently mounted on the hull. You can install it through a scupper hole, drill through the hull, or put the cable on the side of your boat. As for the main unit it mounts somewhere on the deck, preferably in a position that you can easily reach when seated.
Portable: Unlike the fixed models, these can be carried anywhere. They don’t require any mounts and you won’t have to drill the boat. You hold the unit in your hand, while the transducer is attached to a line that is cast into the water to float freely.
Castable: This is perhaps the most convenient option, but the price can be fairly high depending on the model. Most of these are completely wireless and use your smartphone to display the data via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. They don’t have any standard cables but are instead attached to a regular fishing line. You cast them into the water with your fishing rod, and they float on the surface while sending signals.
Display (Size, Color, and Resolution)
Let’s face it, the data that the fishing sonar gives you is only useful if you can read it. Because of this, the unit should have a large and easily visible display. The resolution also plays an important role as it allows you to tell certain elements apart. While some models come with black and white displays, we advise that you pay a little more and get a model with a color display because it will be much easier to read.
Size: The size of your display is perhaps the main thing that determines the readability of the information on your fish finder. A display with a larger diagonal will make it a lot easier to notice the details even if you’re not sitting right next to the unit. All this being said, the display size can vary significantly between different models, so you should pay close attention to the specs when choosing.
On average, the diagonal on a fish finder is somewhere between 3 and 6 inches. While a six-inch model will be easiest to read, these units can often be too bulky and get in your way. Because of this, we’ve found that it’s probably best if the display is between 4 and 5 inches.
On top of this, many newer models come without their own displays but instead use the one on your phone. This can actually be a good thing because modern smartphones have very large displays that are easy to read. In addition, the resolution is excellent too so you’ll be able to distinguish between small details.
Resolution: After the size, we could say that the resolution is the next most important aspect when considering the display on a fish finder. To explain this better, it’s no use if you have an extra-large display if the information on it is grainy and unrecognizable. The resolution of any screen is measured by the number of pixels (dots) it contains on a certain area.
When you see a model that lists the resolution as 200 x 300 pixels, it means that it has 200 pixels horizontally and 300 pixels vertically. Regardless of the size, we don’t recommend that you get a model with under 320 x 240 pixels because the image won’t be detailed enough.
The highest-rated models of our list start with resolutions of 640 x 640 pixels and go up from that point. If you get a unit with this type of resolution, you’ll be able to see not only the fish location but also their size, type, ad many other things. On the other hand, the possible downsides of getting a high-resolution model are that it will cost more and need more power to operate.
Black/White vs Color: Even though most modern fish finders come with color screens, this is not always the case. Generally speaking, color screens are a lot better – they give you more detail so it’s easier to see different features underwater. In addition, they are also easier to read on bright sunny days or when the weather is very cloudy.
As for the black and white screens, most of them are now a thing of the past. Even though some of these models can be pretty well-made, reading a sea of gray dots isn’t very easy. Because of this, we suggest that you invest a little bit more and get a fish finder with a high-res colored screen.
The transducer is the most important part of your depth fish finder – the one that scans the water and allows you to find fish. It goes directly into the water, emits sound signals, and picks up the echoes that the fish finding unit uses to create an image. When choosing a transducer, a few things are important – cone angles, frequency, and power.
Cone Angles (Down and Side Imaging)
The cone angle is one of the most important aspects when looking for the best fish locator. It refers to the angle of the signal that is sent from the sonar, and it can determine whether you see the fish or not. The cone angles range between 9° and 60°, with the average being around 15° to 20°.
While most models come with a single fixed cone angle, some fish finders offer dual imaging which means they have both narrow and wide angle scanning. Even though these units can be a bit costlier, they are excellent if you want your fish finder to be efficient in deep open water.
Side Imaging: A wide (side) angle will cover a much wider area, but the signal will be too dispersed and won’t go very deep. This is excellent for fishing in shallow water and scanning the terrain, but you won’t get too much detail this way.
Down Imaging: A narrow angle will go much deeper into the water, but can possibly miss fish that are swimming right next to it. This type of scanning is excellent for showing you detail but isn’t great for general orientation.
When talking about the frequency of a fish finder, we’re referring to the device’s ability to “see” underwater. Fish finders that work with high frequencies have a much more detailed image on the screen. However, this usually also means a narrow cone angle. On the other hand, a lower frequency usually produces a wider beam. Because of this, we feel that the best fish finder should use dual frequencies.
The wattage of a fish finder determines the strength of the sound wave that it emits. In practical terms, a more powerful unit will send the sound wave deeper while still receiving clear results. Based on this, every fish finder has a maximum depth rating. Keep in mind, however, that salt water slows the signal down so you’ll need a more powerful fish finder for ocean fishing.
The water depth in the area where you plan to fish has a big impact when choosing a fish finder. As we’ve pointed out, not all fish finders are equally powerful which means they can’t show a clear picture at a certain depth. This is closely related to the power we’ve just discussed, as a sonar with a higher wattage will be able to penetrate the water deeper.
To make your choice easier, we’ve listed the maximum specified depth next to every product we’ve featured. However, the depth rating isn’t the only factor that determines how clearly a unit displays data, so take this with a grain of salt. For example, a unit with a depth rating of 400 feet can display a much better image than a model with a rating of 1600 feet.
If you’re planning to fish in very deep waters, we advise that you get a model that works with a dual frequency. This way, the transducer can adjust based on what you want to scan. A good choice is a 77/200kHz fish finder which can use the 77kHz frequency for shallow waters and 200kHz when it needs to extend the range.
Depending on the model you choose, it can either be powered by a rechargeable or a disposable battery. Both types have their pros and cons, so we can’t tell you outright which one is better. Because of this, we are going to say a few words about both so you’ll know what to expect on the water.
Rechargeable batteries are probably a more convenient option. If they run out of power, all you need to do is simply plug them the device in a USB port and recharge them. Most of the top-level fish finders feature batteries that can last up to 10 hours on a single charge. However, when the battery runs out, you’ll have to wait until it recharges.
Disposable batteries usually last significantly longer than rechargeable ones. When they run out of juice, you simply take them out and replace them. The upside in this is that you can bring several packs of batteries with you and not worry about power throughout the entire trip. On the other hand, the cost of the batteries can accumulate over time making this the more expensive option.
The software that is installed on your fish finder unit will have a huge impact on your overall user experience. If the software is bad and you can’t read the data easily, it won’t matter even if the unit is equipped with an excellent transducer.
It’s ideal if the program gives you different viewing options so you can easily see the floor configuration, depth readings, and other parameters. Some models even have the FishID feature so the software automatically shows you the species of fish. In this regard, smartphone apps used by some fish finder lead the way when it comes to features and user-friendly design.
While you’d be forgiven to think that all fish finders are water-resistant, this is usually not the case. Like all other electronics, they need a sealed case that will prevent water from leaking in. If you’re going into an area with plenty of waves and splashing, the best depth finder needs to be at least water-resistant.
GPS Compatibility: Having a GPS-enabled fish finder can be useful for several reasons – you can mark your favorite fishing spots, create waypoints, and even draw maps. It’s a very useful feature if you need GPS for navigation and you don’t want to buy separate units. This being said, GPS is not necessary for the fish finder to work, and it can add to the price quite a bit.
3D Sonar: A 3D sonar is a fantastic upgrade to regular sonars that were common in the past. It will show you everything around you in great detail, instead of giving you a grainy image. With it, you’ll be able to see every feature of the fish, the bottom, and the vegetation. While it does add a bit to the price, we feel like it’s a very good investment.
CHIRP: The abbreviation CHIRP stands for Compressed High-Intensity Radar Pulse which is a transducer technology that is far superior to any standard units. With it, the readings will be a lot faster and more accurate, increasing your chances of landing a good catch.
Depending on the model you choose, it may or may not come with the hardware you need tor mounting it. We feel that it’s a huge plus if the package includes this. While it’s not the main thing to look for when choosing a unit, it can certainly break a tie if you’re having a dilemma between two models.
Mounting your fish finder is particularly useful if the handheld is very large. Even though most of them fit inside your palm, holding them the entire day can be very uncomfortable.
When choosing a mount for a fish finder, we advise that you go with a model with angled arms that can easily be set up on the edge of your boat. Of course, it’s even better if the stand can easily be attached to the gear mounts that you already have. This is probably the best option, and many renowned gear manufacturers offer this type of universal stands.
Portability depends on the design of the fish finder that you choose – some can be carried with you anywhere, while others need to be mounted on a kayak or paddle board. As we’ve pointed out, there are three main types of fish finders, and only the fixed ones need to be permanently attached to the boat.
Mounted fish finders are often more powerful and give a better image, while portable fish finders give you extra versatility as you can even use them on the shore.
It’s worth noting that not every fish finder works equally well in different conditions on the water. Transducers and handheld units can be sensitive to extreme temperatures that can cause malfunctions. Since some models can be pretty costly, it’s worth considering how and where you plan to use it.
If you plan to use your device in summer heat or for ice fishing, make sure it’s rated for that type of condition. This being said, the models in our fishfinder reviews are generally pretty durable and last for many years.
Q: What Is A Fish Finder?
Q: How Do Fish Finders Work?
Q: Why Do I Need A Fish Finder?
Q: What Is The Difference Between The Narrow And Wide Cone?
The difference is in the type of information it gives you. A wide cone uses a lower frequency (for example 80kHz) to give you a broad view of the area beneath you without specific information.
On the other hand, a narrow cone (for example 200kHz) provides higher accuracy and shows the fish and bottom in detail. It’s ideal if a fish finder uses both when scanning.
Q: Can I Sync My Fish Finder With My Smartphone Or Tablet?
Yes, most fish finders can be synced with your smartphone or tablet. Modern fish finders usually have apps that are specially designed to work with them. These apps will display everything from the fish around you to the water temperature, bottom structure, and even the different sizes of the fish.
Q: Can I Use the Same Fish Finder for Shallow Water, Deep Water, and Ice Fishing?
Globo Surf Overview
With the advancements in technology, fishing no longer relies on guessing where the fish are. The best fish finders will not only point you in the right direction, but they will also show you the fish size, depth, and even their species. We hope that our fish finder reviews can help you find a model you like, so you’ll have a good catch every time you cast a bait.
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Have you ever tried a fish finder? Tell us about your experience in the comment section below.