Best fish finders: 6 all-around favorites

Even the best fish finders can’t guarantee a successful day on the water, but these marvels of angling technology will certainly increase the odds.

Some anglers have a sixth sense for finding fish. They know when and where to go based on weather, water conditions, and instinct. But even experienced fishermen need an edge to consistently locate gamefish. A modern fish finder is their secret weapon.

These devices have been on the commercial market for decades, and in that time have seen myriad technological advances. Today’s best fish finders may be integrated with radar, chart plotters, GPS systems, engine controls, drones, smartphones, and a dizzying array of other devices.

But all of the best fish finders are still based on the same principle of sound waves converted to a visual display.

Looking for gifting inspiration? Check out our guide to the best Christmas gifts for boaters

The underlying technology, called sonar, was developed during WWII to locate enemy submarines. Inevitably, that technology made its way to the recreational fishing market in the form of crude “flashers,” which got their start on the U.S. bass-fishing circuit of the early 1970s.

Today, off-the-shelf fish finders are so powerful that an angler can see minute detail underwater, right down to their line and lure! Whether you chase fish in a center-console boat, from an offshore vessel, or even a simple paddle craft, here’s how to choose the best fish finder for your style of angling.

6 of the best fish finders on the market

Best Fish Finders_Garmin EchoMap UHD 72SV

Garmin Echomap UHD Series

Best overall fish finder

Reasons to buy:

• A preeminent brand in electronic navigation
• Supports side-view technology
• Includes some built-in maps
• Networkable and expandable

Reasons to avoid:

• Moderately expensive

When it comes to navigation on land or water, few brands have the reputation of Garmin – its marine products division has won the national Marine Electronics Association’s Manufacturer of the Year award for seven years running.

The Echomap UHD series is a workhorse in the Garmin product line. It may be purchased with or without a transducer, which means you can match the head unit to a transducer of your choice for upgraded performance, including Garmin’s proprietary ClearVü and SideVü technologies. Note that only the 7- and 9-inch screens offer SideVü compatibility.

The GPS and touchscreen enabled multi-function display (MFD) features built-in maps and charts for both coastal (BlueChart) and inland (LakeVü) areas. There are also loads of optional charts sold separately.

EchoMap UHD is available in 4- 6- 7- or 9-inch screens. All feature high-contrast color resolution to separate fish from structure and help you make every cast count.

RRP: £760/$850 and up

Buy it now from Garmin

Buy it now from West Marine

Buy it now from Walmart

Note: We may earn a commission when you buy through links on our site, at no extra cost to you. This doesn’t affect our editorial independence.

Best Fish Finders_Humminbird Helix 7

Humminbird Helix 7 CHIRP MDI GPS G4

Best value fish finder

Reasons to buy:

• Affordable entry-level fish finder
• Clear down-imaging technology
• Includes transducer

Reasons to avoid:

• Not a touchscreen unit
• No ethernet port for hard-wire networking with other components

Ever since American bass-fishing pioneer Tom Mann helped develop the first “flasher” type sounder for recreational anglers in the early 1970s, the Humminbird brand has been synonymous with fish finders.

Today’s versions are light years ahead of those early models, but the goal is still the same: Put anglers on fish.

Humminbird’s Helix series is a popular mid-range sounder with many of the features of its pricier cousins. Out of the box the Helix 7 offers Humminbird’s MEGA down imaging for crystal clear views down to 125 feet. The unit’s dual-spectrum CHIRP sonar allows anglers to search a wide or narrow cone, depending on the target, down to 1,200 feet.

The Helix 7 is a GPS fish finder that comes loaded with base maps covering more than 10,000 US lakes and coastal waters. Additional premium charts, including Navionics, are optional.

RRP: £510/$570

Buy it now on Amazon

Buy it now from Cabela’s

Buy it now from Walmart

Garmin Striker Plus 5CV

Garmin Striker Vivid 5CV

Best budget fish finder

Reasons to buy:

• Good price for basic fish finder
• Includes transom-mounted transducer and swivel mount for head unit
• Built-in GPS for routing and waypoints

Reasons to avoid:

• No built-in charts
• 5-inch screen not compatible with side-view technology

When shopping for a fish finder on a budget, you have to make some concessions. One of those is likely the built-in maps featured in more expensive fish finder and chart plotter combos. The other is side-imaging technology.

If you can do without those features, then Garmin’s Striker Vivid 5CV has about every other feature you would need at a price that won’t break the bank.

The 5-inch version comes in at around $300 and includes both traditional CHIRP as well as ClearVü sonar in a GT20 transom-mounted transducer. With that you can read bottom structure and pick up fish arches either with traditional sonar or by using one of seven vivid color displays in ClearVü mode.

And while the Striker Vivid does not include maps, it is GPS enabled with Garmin’s QuickDraw technology. That means you can create your own contour maps of favorite fishing holes, set waypoints, plot routes, and monitor your speed and direction.

All this is at your fingertips on a keyed, high-resolution screen that can split for side-by-side views of bottom features and GPS functions.

RRP: £268/$300

Buy it now from Garmin

Buy it now from Bass Pro Shops

Check price at Cabela’s

Buy it now from Walmart

Garmin Striker 4 Portable Kit

Garmin Striker 4 Portable

Best portable fish finder

Reasons to buy:

• Big tech in a small package
• GPS-enabled fish finder
• Comes with carrying case and rechargeable battery
• Optional premium transducers available

Reasons to avoid

• Screen perhaps too small for larger boats
• GPS is only for waypoints. Cannot upload charts

The basic function of a fish finder is to define the bottom and display anything between it and the boat. With that knowledge an angler can identify depth, structure, vegetation, and even the fish. Everything else is bells and whistles.

The Garmin Striker 4 Portable fish finder checks all those boxes and more. It is perfect for use on fishing kayaks, while ice fishing, or even transporting to a friend’s boat who might not have electronics.

The Striker 4 Portable bundle includes the head unit and CHIRP sonar for better target separation. The transducer is mounted by a suction cup, which can be affixed to virtually any vessel.

A deep menu of display modes include color graphic views as well as a flasher mode for ice fishing. There is also an auto-zoom mode that automatically adjusts the display according to depth.

Split the screen between wide and narrow sonar cones, or switch to GPS mode and mark fishy locations or plot a route to favorite waypoints.

The unit comes with a handy carrying case, as well as a rechargeable 12-volt, 7 amp-hour battery. It’s all you will need to start catching more fish on any body of water short of the open ocean.

RRP: £197/$220

Buy it now from Garmin

Buy it now from Cabela’s

Buy it now from Walmart

Best Fish Finders_Humminbird Helix 7

Humminbird Apex 19 MEGA SI Charplotter

Best high-end fish finder

Reasons to buy:

• Super versatile multi-function display
• Large screen for split views
• Down- and side-imaging sonar are standard
• A total-boat control station

Reasons to avoid:

• Very expensive!
• Do you truly need all that to catch a fish?

The Humminbird Apex 19 is more than a fish finder – it’s a command center from which the captain can control everything from fishing location to engine operations.

When you get into this price point, fish finding, navigation, radar, sound systems, weather, and other functions become integrated into one unit, all of which can be networked wirelessly or over ethernet cable.

The Apex 19 literally puts all this at your fingertips in a touchscreen interface with supplementary keypad controls. Whether you are reading sonar, navigating charts, monitoring radar, or selecting a playlist, the full HD display renders every function in vivid detail.

Factory standard includes both down imaging up to 400 feet and side imaging out to 800 feet, along with traditional dual-spectrum CHIRP sonar for the most complete picture of what lies beneath. And you won’t miss anything on the high-resolution 18.5-inch color display.

Create your own charts with GPS chart plotting, or mark locations on the Garmin basemap, which includes freshwater lakes as well as coastal waters. The unit also accepts premium charts from LakeMaster, CoastMaster, and Navionics.

RRP: £4,472/$5,000

Buy it now on Amazon

Buy it now from Bass Pro Shops

Buy it now from Walmart

Best Fish Finders_Lowrance HDS Live 7

Lowrance HDS-7 Live with Active Imaging 3-in-1

Best fish finder/chartplotter combo

Reasons to buy:

• Loaded with GPS features, including built-in maps
• Top-end performance at a mid-range price
• Side-imaging and down-scan sonar

Reasons to avoid:

• Pricey if you do not need chartplotter functions
• About the smallest screen size that will serve as a chartplotter

These days, most mid-range and higher fish finders are enabled with GPS, which is used either to display onboard maps or for creating your own contours and routes. But when it comes to choosing a fish finder with GPS, one of the main challenges is keeping the screen size up and the cost down.

A 5- to 7-inch screen is about the minimum size for a readable chart plotter, and the Lowrance HDS-7 Live packs top-of-the line performance into a relatively compact unit.

Although the HDS series goes all the way up to 16 inches, the HDS-7 still boasts many of Lowrance’s premium features. These include a touchscreen display, mapping down to 6-inch contours, built-in charts for inland lakes and coastal waters, side-viewing and down-imaging capability, and real-time imaging of fish moving beneath your boat.

It also includes Lowrance’s nifty FishReveal technology, which combines traditional “fish arch” blips with colorful bottom details to make it easier to separate fish from structure.

RRP: £1,118/$1,250

Check price on Amazon

Buy it now from Lowrance

Buy it now from Bass Pro Shops

Buy it now from Walmart

What you need to know about choosing the best fish finder

There are two basic elements to a fish finder: the head unit and the transducer. The transducer creates a signal composed of sound waves, or sonar, and the head unit interprets that signal on a multi-function display (MFD).

The two most important considerations when shopping are fishing application and budget. Do you need only a fish finder, or do you want the unit to network with radar, engine, and other systems? A weekend bass angler does not require the same technology as a saltwater guide dropping baits over offshore wrecks. So first, home in on your angling needs, and then cost.

Beyond price range and performance, choosing the best fish finder comes down to a matter of size. What is the biggest screen you can you fit (and easily read) in your vessel?

Picking the best transducer for your fish finder

Most head units are sold with a transducer, and some without. Depending on the brand and model, you may be able to exchange the stock transducer for another according to your sounding needs and mounting preferences (i.e. on a trolling motor versus the transom). Study the transducer options as carefully as the head unit.

CHIRP sonar has become ubiquitous on all but the cheapest models. CHIRP simply means that the transducer emits a variable range of frequencies rather than a fixed frequency, thus offering more target detail.

Also take note of transducer’s cone angle. A wider sonar cone produces larger fish arches, which means they are easier to read, but it depicts less detail in shallow water. A narrow cone provides better detail in shallow water, such as inland lakes, but it covers less area at depth.

The best fish finders have GPS

GPS is common on most mid-range units, but it may be limited to marking waypoints and tracks or building your own charts contour by contour. On high-end models, the GPS is integrated with onboard charts for true navigation.

If it is a fish finder/chart plotter combo, be sure to understand which charts are included. Is it a world base map, inland lakes, or coastal charts? What premium charts will the unit accept as an upgrade?

Lastly, prioritize your needs over the brand name. Marine electronics is a highly competitive market. Garmin, Lowrance, Humminbird, and Raymarine lead the pack in the recreational fish finders, and they all make excellent products. Choosing the best fish finder for you comes down to fishing style and personal choice more so than brand.

Didn’t find what you’re looking for? Head to Amazon’s dedicated boating page for more marine products.

Latest

Latest videos