The 6 Best Fish Finders to Help Fill Your Creel

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If you’re struggling to catch fish, fish finders can feel like a magic bullet ready to solve your problem and fill your creel. While they won’t make up for poor timing or technique, they can be a valuable tool in your tackle box that at worst give you some intel that you didn’t have before.

While most people focus on their fish-finding capabilities, fish finders’ sonar displays are also helpful in showing you the underwater topography and structures that may hold fish. Once you learn how to read the display, a fish finder will become your eyes underwater. It can take you from fishing blind to applying techniques specific to the underwater landscape where you’re fishing.

Beyond just locating fish, these displays also help pinpoint the depths at which fish are congregating, which is especially important in deeper lakes where you could easily be fishing the wrong depth without feedback from your device. You can also usually pick up your line and lure, so you can keep tabs on both the fish and your lure, making fishing much more exciting than simply casting and hoping.

That said, even the most expensive fish finding device can’t catch the fish for you, and you’ll need to apply effective techniques based on the information you get from your device to find success. You’ll want a device that fits your budget and the type of fishing you do, so read on for our top picks as well as tips for choosing the right device for you.

Best Fish Finders

The Expert:

What to Look for in a Fish Finder

Unless you’re ice fishing, you’ll probably want to have some kind of boat or kayak on which to mount a fish finder for the best results. If you don’t have a vessel but want to try your luck with a fish finder, you’ll need to get a castable model that’s meant for shore fishing—and I’ve highlighted my favorite below. If you’re new to fish finders, you’ll want to make sure to get a user-friendly model because fish finders can be challenging to set up and read for first-timers.

You’ll also want some basic fishing skills and experience on the water before you drop a bunch of cash on a fish finder. It’s tempting for beginners to seek out “cheat codes,” but a fish finder is only useful if you know how to read it and how to react to the information you’re getting about the underwater landscape and the location and behavior of the fish.

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Complete Your Fishing Kit: Best Fishing Gear • Best Fishing Rod Holders • Best Waders for Fishing

Cost

Fish finders are expensive, with the best ones costing over $2,000. If you plan to spend that kind of money, you’re likely a dedicated angler who is willing to spend whatever it takes for any advantage over your quarry. The low end of the price range— between about $100 and $200—usually means sacrifices in performance and screen readability, but low-cost fish finders can be a great way to get some experience without committing several mortgage payments to purchase one.

Lower-priced examples can require more practice, better eyes, and more patience, however, than pricier models with better displays and interfaces.

Screen Size

More money typically buys you a bigger, better screen—and bigger is almost always better. A general rule of thumb is to buy the biggest screen you can afford. Most decent models these days have multicolored displays no matter their size, and the color contrast will help you read the information more easily, especially in bright sunlight or if you’re new to using fish finders.

If you’re usually a solo angler, you can get away with a smaller unit, but if you’re fishing in a group, you’ll want everyone to be able to see the screen while fishing; that naturally gets easier with a display that is bigger and clearer. Note: the size of a fish finder screen is measured diagonally, just like laptop and TV screens.

Resolution

Screen size matters, but also look at resolution. Just like when you’re shopping for a TV, you will notice some screens have sharper displays, regardless of the size. Pixels are the measurement that give you the screen’s resolution—or level of detail on the screen— and more pixels are better. More pixels mean more detail and that detail is what will allow you to see fish, structure of the area, and your lure more clearly on the display.

Transducers

Fish finders are made up of two key parts: the display and the transducer. The transducer sends out sonar waves to gather information about the world within the water and projects that info on the screen in a way that’s useful for fishing.

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You don’t need to understand how these units work exactly, but there are few things to know when evaluating the transducer. First, not any transducer works with any display unit, which is why most displays and transducers are sold as pairs. Don’t try to mix and match your own.

A transducer’s types of sonar beams and those beams’ cone angles determine the type of information displayed. Wider cones cover more territory but are usually lower resolution, so you get less detail. Tighter cones will give more detailed images but only cover a narrow region. This is why many fish finders will have multiple types of sonar and use a split screen to show you a wider region in one display image and a more detailed display in another.

Since even budget fish finders have multiple types of sonar these days, you don’t need to obsess over cone angles because manufacturers cover their bases with multiple cones. If you’re evaluating a fish finder with only one type, don’t look at the cone angle, look at a different model.

Mounting

There are two mounting decisions involved with many fish finders: where to mount the display and where to mount the sonar transducer unit. Mounting the display is generally the easier of the two, as you just need to place it somewhere on your boat or kayak that will be easy to see while you’re actively fishing. Usually, fish finders come with mounting hardware for the display and will often require drilling into a surface for the device to be secure.

Mounting the transducer is a bit more complicated, as the ideal placement can differ depending on the type of transducer as well as by the type of boat. Many fish finders will come with guidance specific to your particular unit, so your best bet is always to follow manufacturer recommendations for mount placement.

Some transducers are “through-hull” and require drilling through your boat’s hull, which should be tackled by a professional. Turbulence, motors, and other equipment on your boat can cause interference, so in general, a good mounting location is one as far away from those potential sources of interference as possible.

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Max Depth

The bodies of water you normally fish can affect the type of fish finder you need. Many fish finders are built for medium depth lakes. If you fish at either extreme (really shallow waters or really deep ones), pay attention to the maximum depth of the fish finders you’re considering. If you fish particularly deep lakes, check if the fish finder’s maximum depth matches or exceeds the deepest parts of the lake you fish. If you’re mostly fishing shallow waters, you may want to look at a fish finder with side imaging, since you care about the width of what you can see on your display and much less about the depth.

Mapping

Many fish finders have the ability to display maps of the body of water in which you’re fishing. Some will employ live mapping, which uses the sonar to create a bathymetric (essentially an underwater topographic map) of the water’s bottom as you go. Other fish finders come preloaded with maps and use GPS to show you where you are on those maps. Some offer both.

Preloaded maps are great, but not all bodies of water, especially those smaller lakes, have been mapped and included in the mapping loaded to your device. If you’re looking at a unit that only utilizes preloaded maps, find out what mapping service your device uses and visit their website to see if your favorite bodies of water are in their database. Live mapping is a suitable option if you don’t see your favorite lakes preloaded, as the sonar can create a map for wherever you’re fishing. The downside here: you have to cover enough of the lake before you have a complete map to work with.

How We Selected These Fish Finders

I’ve tested various fish finders over the years while on guided fishing trips as well as when fishing with friends, and during those times, I’ve made notes on the pros and cons of plenty of models. My recommendations are the result of that testing as well as talking with other avid anglers and brand representatives about the latest offerings. These are the best fish finders you can purchase now.

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>