Best Fish Finders For The Money – Top Selections For 2017!
Where’s the darn fish?
That’s the classic line uttered in anguish by millions of frustrated anglers throughout the history of fishing. It doesn’t matter if you have an excellent reel and tackle, that you have a wide range of baits and lures, and that you have an expensive fishing boat. If you don’t know where the fish are, you’re screwed.
In the old days, perhaps the most reliable way of finding the fish is to ask the old timers in the area where the fish are. If you’re lucky they’ll give you an honest answer, though historically anglers have the same reputation for honesty as politicians and used car salesmen.
But not it’s the 21st century, so asking and praying for an honest answer is obsolete. Today you have fish finders that can use sonar to find the fish for you. The best fish finder sends out sound waves that reflect back when they hit the fish, and then the advanced computer technology in your fish finder analyzes the return signals and displays then info on a screen.
While some can be very expensive with their top-of-the-line features, the simpler models can be effective and are still affordable.
Table of Contents
- 7 Best Fish Finder For The Money
- Buying Guide - Best Fish Finder
- Final Verdict
7 Best Fish Finder For The Money
Here are some of the best fish finder models you can buy today:
1. Lowrance 000-12635-001 Hook-3X Sonar
Let’s start with something that’s simple and affordable, in case you just want to dip your metaphorical toes in the fish finder pool.
The Lowrance 000-12635-001 Hook-3X Sonar is one of the more affordable models you can get since you can buy this without reaching 3 digits in the price tag. Yet it’s very useful and quite superior to most in this price range.
Despite its low price, this can offer 2 frequencies you can choose from. The 83 kHz offers you a cone angle coverage of up to 60 degrees, which lets you to cover large areas in the depths of the water. The signal also goes deeper into the ocean. But you can also switch to 200 kHz so that you can see much more accurately while you still have a 20-degree cone angle.
Its system interprets the signals it gets back, so that you can see the details beneath the waters. On the display, you will see the bottom contour, the details in the structures, the hardness of the sea bottom, and the thermoclines. Of course, it also displays where the fish are, and it shows you their locations using clear fish icons.
All the information is displayed on the 3-inch display, which isn’t really all that small when you’re close to it. It’s actually in color, with the resolution at a decent 320 x 240. You can also conveniently read the display even in full sunlight or at a wide angle from the display.
The gadget has lots of buttons you can press so it’s easy enough to set and use the many extra functions it offers. With this you can have an alarm set for fish or for particular sea floor depths so you don’t run aground.
You have special buttons that let you zoom up to 4X on the screen so you can focus on a particular area where the fish are. This comes with a skimmer transducer, which sends out the signals. It also has a water temperature sensor built in which can track the bottom even if you’re going up to 75 mph.
This is easy enough to install and use. You can adjust the angle of the display as the bracket enables tilting and swiveling. It also has a quick-release feature so that when you’re done, you can uninstall it and store it safely at home.
- It’s inexpensive, and it’s a great way to start out with fish finders.
- It’s easy enough to install and use.
- It’s very accurate when used to tell the depth of the water, which is why some people buy this so they can use it as a depth finder.
- The display is very easy to read.
- Since it’s very inexpensive, its programming isn’t really all that reliable when it comes to identifying fish. It can show fish when there aren’t.
- Its power output is only 180 watts, so it’s not exactly high powered for deep waters.
2. Humminbird 409970-1 HELIX Fishfinder
Now what if you have money to spend and you want to get one of the truly premium fish finder models? If that’s the case, you’ll want to take a look at the Helix 10. T
The Helix line is among the premium models offer by Humminbird, and it has lots of advanced features.
To start, this offers 5 frequency options. Aside from the 50 and 83 kHz frequencies, you also have 200, 455, and even 800 kHz frequencies to work with. You can use dual frequencies so that you can get a wide beam of up to 75 degrees cone angle down to 600 feet or a high frequency that gives you accurate info. This is powered by 500 watts RMS, with a peak output of up to 4,000 watts.
That’s just the start of its sonar capabilities, since the Helix 10 also has side imaging capabilities. It even rotates, so that you actually have 360 degrees of viewing available. The sonar goes up to 150 feet across the water, and you can choose between 5 speed settings. The lower speed settings offer higher quality image, though if you go faster you have faster refresh rates.
Still, that’s not the end of your sonar views, since this comes with Down Imaging using the higher frequencies. This is so accurate and it can go down so deep that it virtually gives you a “fish eye” view of the water. This means that you can accurate determine what’s really underneath. It’s so accurate that you can tell targets apart when they’re separated by just 2.5 inches.
Then you also have Switch Fire, which gives you 2 different modes to view the info offered by Down Imaging. If the water is full of so many details and the water is rough, the Clean mode reduces the clutter from your screen and then you can have just a view of the fish and other important details underneath.
However, you can also use the Max mode if there isn’t much to see under the water. This is the mode that gives you data about the fish, the cover, the thermoclines, the various structures, and even the water currents. You even have radar! This lets you see other boats around you, along with land details and bad weather conditions. Now let’s look at the screen, which is frankly stunning.
Instead of a tiny screen with low resolution, you get a display that measures 10.1 inches across. It’s clear and bright and the resolution is extremely sharp at 1024 x 600. This comes with a very precise GPS, and it comes with nifty accessories like 2 SD cards so you can input the maps you download online.
There’s already a built-in map with lots of locations, and you even have maps of 3,000 lakes with depth contours provided. It has an AutoChart function that lets you make your own maps of the waters you’re in, and you can update your maps as well.
This GPS is really advanced, that it can provide an autopilot feature. Now you won’t ever get lost, as it can tell you what route to take to your target area.
Other features include AIS capability so that you can share data with other boats with AIS. The display can show your engine performance and your gasoline consumption. It also has Bluetooth for wireless control and Ethernet so you can have several Humminbird fish finders work together.
There other less advanced Helix models with smaller screens denoted by a lower number attached to the Helix model, and they have some or even most of the features noted here. They’re more affordable since they have fewer features, but the Helix 10 has them all.
- It has just about every sort of sonar technology there is to find fish and other stuff under the water.
- It’s extremely accurate when finding fish, structures, and depth.
- It has radar too, so you can be safe on the water.
- It has GPS with advanced features that include autopilot.
- The screen is large, very colorful and clear, and has lots of viewing modes and options.
- It’s very expensive.
- There are a lot of features to try out, so it’ll take a while to master it so you can make full use of its capabilities.
3. Lowrance Elite-7 Ti Touch Combo
This is another expensive premium model, but then again this is a list of the best fish finder models after all. It’s a bit less expensive than the Helix 10, but it does come with a lifetime tech support for the gadget.
What makes this a lot different from other units is that it’s like a modern smartphone in how you use it.
Even the Helix 10 works like a cellphone, with a screen and separate buttons for controls. The Lowrance Elite-7 Ti does have a few buttons on the side, but for the most part you access the features using the touchscreen. It’s big enough at 7 inches and it comes in full color and an 800 x 480 resolution.
This is not your ordinary sonar fish finder, however. It uses CHIRP technology, which stands for “compressed high-intensity radar pulse”. It’s different from your usual sonar that uses a single frequency to find the targets. The single frequency often has difficulty in differentiating separate targets.
Instead, CHIRP modulates the signal frequency within a given range, such as the low frequencies from 28 to 60 kHz or from 130 to 210 kHz. This means that when you have 2 fish swimming in the water, they will be hit by the ever-changing frequencies.
Each will be hit by a different frequency since there apart, and therefore the program can note that you have 2 separate targets down there. This also has Down Imaging as well. It powers the signals deep into the water that it will seem like you’re seeing the structures and the fish from the fish eye’s perspective.
All the info you get through your sonar is saved, and you can use the “TrackBack” feature to scroll back through the targets and structures and mark the location. This also comes with a very accurate GPS which can work with the charts you download.
You can access the cloud through this gadget wirelessly, or you can use your smartphone and connect to the fish finder through Bluetooth. There’s also a microSD card slot, so you can upload maps and save info.
- It’s very easy to install and use.
- The touchscreen display is also modern and very handy.
- It uses the CHIRP technology that’s astoundingly accurate in finding fish.
- It comes with very effective Down Imaging too.
- It has a microSD card slot.
- It uses GPS.
- It offers lifetime tech support.
- It’s really costly.
- To make full use of the features, you need to make sure that your purchase comes with the right advanced transducers.
- The warranty is just for a year, which is disappointing when compared to the lifetime tech support.
4. Humminbird 409600-1 HELIX 5 DI Fish Finder
Now if you don’t want the full list if Helix features in the latest model, you can save money and just get the best features, which can be found here in this Helix 5.
As the name suggests, this comes with a 5-inch screen, with a backlit LED display with 256 colors and an 800 x 480 resolution.
The Humminbird 409600-1 HELIX Fish Finder has 5-inch screen is clear enough to read, but it also uses larger digits so you can glean the info with a quick glance. It also offers split screen, zoom, various custom readouts and views, and freeze frame as well.
This does have 4 available sonar frequencies, and you can use 2 of them with the Dual Beam Plus feature. This lets you use a narrow and a wide beam at the same time. The cone angles range from 16 to 75 degrees.
This also uses Down Imaging that can help determine if the object down in the water is really fish or not. If it is, you’ll see the fish icons on the screen. You even have the Selective Fish ID+ feature that gives you an approximation of the size of the fish. The size of the fish icon on the screen gives you the size of the fish under the water.
This also has the Switchfire Sonar that’s surprisingly available in this more affordable model. This offers you options as to the display mode you want. In rough water when the sea bottom offers a rather murky view of what’s happening, you may get a lot of clutter in your signals.
Or you can switch to the Max mode if the waters are smooth and you can have as much detail as you need. You’ll know about the cover, structures, thermoclines, and of course the fish. The fish finder has a power output of 500 watts RMS, so you can go up to 600 feet.
This has a temperature alarm which will tell you when the sensors detect the water temperature you’re looking for. It also has real time sonar. You can upgrade the then programming of the fish finder, but you will have to connect it to a PC first.
- The display is very clear, and it offers several view modes.
- It’s easy to use and install.
- It’s affordable, especially when you note the features.
- It offers accurate data, especially with the fish.
- It can be a while before you become familiar with all the features available here.
- It can’t go online on its own so you can get updates.
Only the newer and the more expensive models come with CHIRP technology. This makes the Dragonfly 5 Pro from Raymarine somewhat of an anomaly, since it’s not really expensive and yet it uses CHIRP. In fact, it uses 2 types of CHIRP technology.
The first type is the more conventional method of using CHIRP, which means that it uses a modulating frequency signal to search the waters. It doesn’t just use a single a particular frequency signal that bounces off a target.
This time the frequency changes constantly, so the fish finder also notes what frequency hits a particular object underneath the surface of the water. Since even 2 objects that are near each other can be hit with different frequencies, the Dragonfly 5 Pro can readily identify 2 targets instead of just one, at depths of up to 600 feet.
However, this also uses the wide-spectrum CHIRP Downvision sonar. It’s like the Down Imaging feature, except it uses an ever-changing frequency. As a result, you get images of the deep so accurate that they’re virtually photographs.
All the info and images are displayed on the optical bonding LCD screen. Optical bonding laminates cover glass on the LCD screen with silicone gel. This improves the readability and clarity of the display because you don’t get the annoying reflections. Also, it makes the display weatherproof and resistant to shock, moisture, and dust. The screen measures 5 inches and it’s easy to read in bright sunlight or from an angle.
Mounting the Dragonfly is simple enough, and the fish finder display is quite compact. But you can also use aftermarket ball-and socket mounting systems if you want. You don’t have to be right by the fish finder to use it, since it has built-in Wi-Fi. You can download the Raymarine Wi-Fish mobile app (such a clever name!) and you can stream the data to your smartphone or tablet.
This is the Pro version of the Dragonfly 5 as it also features a GPS chartplotter. It uses the built-in GPS and compatible maps so you can make your own charts and maps. You’re able to save up to 15 tracks and 3,000 waypoints on a microSD memory card.
- It’s easy to mount and you can use aftermarket mounting options if you wish.
- The display is very bright and clear, and durable as well.
- The CHIRP technology is very effective in finding fish and other underwater details.
- The GPS works well and updates quickly.
- The screen is somewhat polarized, so it may not be easy to read when you’re wearing polarized sunglasses.
- The user interface should be more intuitive.
6. Garmin 010-01569-00 echoMAP CHIRP 55dv
Garmin is another well-known brand in the fish finder industry, and this particular fish finder is a good example of how they’ve made their mark.
The 010-01569-00 ecoMAP offers a 5-inch screen, though you can opt for 7 or 9 inches, or even 4 if you want to shave off the price.
This is a bit expensive for a 5-inch fish finder, but that’s because it also uses CHIRP technology. This means that it uses a modulating (changing) frequency signal to find objects underneath the water, and the different frequencies that hit these objects helps to differentiate them from each other.
It comes with a transducer that emits high wide CHIRP signals with 250 watts of power. You also have the CHIRP ClearVü scanning sonar with 500 watts that really provide almost photographic images of what’s happening in the water.
It’s great to see all the info on the screen in great detail. Even the 10 different depth ranges are marked with different colors. Thus at a glance, you can see where the best areas are for fishing, and the areas where the waters are too shallow.
This already comes with preloaded freshwater maps of rivers, lakes, and reservoirs in Canada. There are at least 13,500 of these maps (including those for the Great Lakes), and 1,600 of these maps are HD with 1-foot contours.
The maps also show useful out of the water details including marinas, boat ramps, docks, campgrounds, and most helpful of all, the designated fishing areas. It even shows you the highways and roads that lead to these areas.
But that’s not all when it comes to maps. Your fish finder also has a pre-installed program that lets you create your own maps, which is quite useful when you’re not in Canada and in the US instead.
You don’t even need specialized knowledge about surveying to create these maps, as it’s pretty much done automatically while you’re fishing. The program is so advanced that the maps you create are also in HD with 1-foot contours, and the maps you make are yours which you can share (or sell) online.
You can’t make a map without the GPS installed here, and this one is fast and responsive. It refreshes your position on the map 5 times per second so that your movement on the display screen is very fluid. You can mark off up to 5,000 waypoints so you can always find your way back to the fishing spots you’ve discovered.
This even has Auto Guidance features, which suggests the pathway to take so that you can avoid charted obstructions, shallow waters, and even low bridges. You can adjust these suggested pathways by putting in interim waypoints or landmarks to include in your route, and you can see any hazards along your projected path.
You can even calculate your arrival time at any point of your route, given your speed. These pathways can also be saved for future use through an SD card.
This even has features that assist with sailing! At a glanced, you can see info about the set and drift, the true and apparent wind speed and angle. It can be the decisive edge you need for sailing competitions.
- It’s easy to use and install. You can also just remove it from the mount, because the cords are directly on the mount instead of connected to the unit.
- The display is very readable even in sunlight. It has auto-dimming features and the keypad is backlit.
- The CHIRP technology is fantastic, as it offers sharper images of what’s underneath.
- The maps are excellent, and you can make your own HD maps.
- It has auto guidance to help you find the best route to your fishing spot.
- It even has sailing-assist features.
- The GPS is very reliable. It refreshes constantly and it doesn’t lose the signal too frequently.
- If you’re lucky, you can find US maps instead of just Canadian maps. But very few sellers offer these maps.
- It’s a bit on the expensive side, and it gets even more expensive if you opt for the larger screen.
7. Garmin 010-01550-00 GPS Fish Finder
If you want a fish finder from Garmin that’s a lot more affordable, this Striker 4 can do just fine. The price doesn’t go far past 3 digits, yet it has a built-in GPS.
What’s even more startling is that it already uses CHIRP technology, which goes to show that not all CHIRP fish finders are costly.
This is quite rugged as well, and it’s eminently suitable to put on your fishing kayak. The Garmin 010-01550-00 GPS Fish Finder has CHIRP (77/200 kHz) transducer, which doesn’t just use either the 77 or 200 kHz frequency to find the fish and structure beneath the water.
I instead, it emits a continuously changing frequency from low to high and then back again to low. It notes what frequencies hit the objects underneath the water, so that you get a more accurate image. This also comes with a GPS, which you can use in conjunction with a map.
You can use it to mark the spits where you found your fish so you can go back to it again. You can also use it to mark other landmarks on the lake, such as boat ramps and docks as w2ell as hazards like rocks and shallow water. You can use this to set your route when you go out into the water.
With this, you can tell at a glance what your speed is, which helps when you’re in wake-affected areas. You’ll be able to see right away if you’re trolling at the right speed for the fish you’re looking for and for the lure you’re using. This is very easy to mount, and in fact it’s easy to bring with you if you get the portable kit.
That means it’s suitable for ice fishing and for canoeing or fishing. The rechargeable battery is sealed in and you have a charger that comes with it. It also offers a suction cup transducer mount and float. You also have transducer cable management built-in.
This also has a built-in flasher, which helps you if you’re not moving when you’re fishing. When you’re jigging for crappie or ice fishing, your flasher can tell you whether the bottom is muddy or solid.
You can tell the depth of your weighted bait or jig, and see how the jig lifts and drops. You can determine the depth of the fish that swims into the path of your sonar beam, and you’ll even be able to tell if the fish are moving towards or away from your jig.
- It uses CHIRP sonar technology. It was only a few years ago when none of these best fish finder lists included these things. Even recently, they were too expensive. But now you get extraordinarily accurate sonar info at such an accommodating price tag.
- The built-in GPS is very helpful, and pretty soon you won’t be able to stomach a fish finder without one. It helps you mark various locations such as great fishing spots, as well as useful areas like docks and dangerous hazards in the water like rocks.
- It’s extremely easy to mount and use.
- It’s portable too, and this isn’t just for convenient storage. You can actually use it when you’re not on a boat. You can be ice fishing it can still be useful, as it shows the status of your jig and of the fish nearby.
- It’s also very rugged, so that you can use this on a kayak. Some fish finders are rather fragile, and you can even find some that aren’t all that waterproof at all. But this one is certainly tough enough to stand getting splashed and knocked around.
- The display is only 3.5 inches.
- You may want to improve the CHIRP performance with a GT15 or GT8 transducer, but that’s an additional expense.
Buying Guide - Best Fish Finder
So how exactly do you determine the best fish finder for you to use? Here are some of the factors that you will have to consider to arrive at the right choice:
This will always be a crucial factor for any consumer item, but it’s especially important for fish finders. That’s because the price can vary by a lot. Some of the simpler models may go for less than $200, but you can also find expensive fish finders that will cost you more than $1,600.
So it depends on your budget, and also your needs. You may not want a cheap model that doesn’t work well, doesn’t have the features you need, and doesn’t last long. But you also won’t want to pay extra for features that you won’t need at all.
A fish finder has 2 basic components, and one of them is the transducer that sends out the sonar signals that find the fish. This can be mounted on the transom. You can also mount them on your trolling motor, although that sort of setup may result in interference.
If your boat allows it, you can even mount the transducer in your hull. Other transducers are portable, which means you don’t have to mount them at all. You just cast the transducer into the water.
Transducer signal cone angle
The transducer signal goes down to the depths of the water shaped like a cone. Usually the angle is within 15 to 20 degrees, but the range can go from 9 to 60 degrees depending on the model.
With a large angle for the signal, you cover a larger area under the water, but it’s not as sensitive as the signal goes deeper. A sharp angle can detect the fish deeper under the water, although it covers a smaller area of the water.
With advanced fish finders, you can have several cone angles operating so that the signals can go deep and wide.
The frequency can be as low as 50 kHz, which offers a wide angle for the signal. But it can also be as high as 200 kHz so that the signal can go deeper. The best fish finders can offer several frequencies so that you can switch from low to high frequency or use both at the same time.
The signal doesn’t have to go down directly from the transducer. You can have the signal go sideways through the water, which helps a lot if you have powerful signals and you’re fishing in shallow waters.
This tells you how powerful and fast your sonar signals are under the water, so you’ll want to get as high a wattage as possible. The more power you have, the better you can view through silt-laden water, see down to greater depths, and better able to differentiate the fish from the bottom structure.
So if you’re only fishing in shallow waters, 200 watts can suffice. Coastal fishing can do with 500 watts, though if you’re a dedicated bluewater angler you’ll need at least 1,000 watts.
Here you can choose whether to go for grayscale or full color and pick the size of the screen. A high resolution and sharp contrast makes it easier to read, and it also helps if the screen can be read in full daylight or at an angle.
Nowadays, screens offer many different features to really help you out. The fish finder may use fish icons and you may also have split screen capability.
Some fish finders have alarms that ring out when they find fish. This can be an annoying feature when it gives you lots of false alarms. What you don’t want is a fish finder that can’t differentiate fish from other stuff in the water.
Many of the more advanced fish finders offer this feature, although you have to hope that they have a map of the particular waters you want to fish in. Sometimes you may even mark the spots where there are fish so you can find your way back.
The fish finder should be weather-resistant and waterproof. You’d be surprised to know that there are actually fish-finders that aren’t all that waterproof at all. For saltwater fishing, you also need a fish finder that’s corrosion-resistant. You also may want to check the length of the warranty period.
Well-known brands in the fish finder industry are popular because they tend to offer higher quality and their customer support is better. If you’re faced with a choice between 2 fish finders with the same features and price, you should go with the more well-known brand.
Admittedly, this is an extremely long list of factors to consider. But then again you have a multitude of options when it comes to fish finders. A single company like Humminbird can offer more than a dozen models! At least with this list, you can narrow down your choices significantly.
You can also just pick one of the models on our list of the best fish finder models. Just pick the one that matches your budget and the features you need, and you’re good to go. Good luck, and have fun, and may the fish be with you!
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