Fish are crafty. You can spend an entire day casting over and over yet never get a nibble if you aren’t sure where they’re congregating. With fishing on the rise it is becoming harder and harder to find decent pockets where your bait doesn’t go to waste. To combat the sneaky nature of fish and stay competitive against your fellow fishermen you need to outfit yourself with a decent fish finder.
The primary things to consider when choosing one of these devices are the readability of the screen, the portability of the unit, the number of beams it uses, and the frequency range necessary for the different depths you intend to plumb. More beams and a better frequency are always desirable, but that isn’t to say you can’t get consistently impressive results with basic units so long as you use them the right way. Whether you intend to criss-cross the globe seeking the best bass or just want to find the lake trout in the reservoir down the way, one of the 5 best fish finders can help you.
Garmin Echo 500c
What’s to Love: Works at high speed.
What’s to Hate: Short transducer wire.
On the Move: With a 500 watt transducer that can penetrate up to 1900 feet in freshwater and nearly 700 feet in saltwater you’ll be sufficiently impressed with the 500c options. It is a single beam but it has embraced that by using a narrow scanning range to capture results. It isn’t as fast as multi-beam operators but its accuracy cannot be denied. If narrow doesn’t do it for you then you can switch to the wide-angle option to find clearer waters. When you can’t find anything in your immediate area, all you need to do is cruise around. The Ultrascroll option gives you basic soundings even at speed.
The imaging is very basic, but that is a small sacrifice to make for accuracy and a comfortable price tag. You’re better off flush mounting the device instead of using the included mounting bracket because it rattles and seems to do more harm than good by vibrating the device and screwing up readings. The transducer wire needs to be at least twice the length, but for an affordable model this runs well. [Purchase: $220]
What’s to Love: Easy to use.
What’s to Hate: Small display.
Go Anywhere: Don’t expect to go rolling in the deep or trolling for swordfish but do know that whether you’re on your home lake or standing on an unfamiliar shore you can get decent readings and a simple no frills sense of where the biters are. The unit hits up to 240 feet with deadly accuracy. The display is only 3 and a half inches and doesn’t give you many options but does track the floor and any organics in the area well, you just might need to squint to see them. It has SideFinding sonar that you can point in any direction to help you plot a course.
The unit is built for portability. It has an ergonomic clamp mount rather than a permanent bracket that you can screw into the side of your boat and leave. There are only three buttons and a very limited arrangement of menus. With a few clicks it will scan the area but nothing more. You’re not going to find in depth analysis of the lake bottom but the 140C can differentiate between living creatures and drifting bits and pieces without any trouble. [Purchase: $245]
What’s to Love: Tons of available add-ons.
What’s to Hate: Too bright for night fishing.
One to Grow On: A lot of cartography went into the HDS-5 fish finder. The GPS locator is so accurate that it practically comes equipped with turn-by-turn directions. The dual scanner system and transducer jumps to life when mounted on the transom. There are numerous bells and whistles that can be added to the core unit and synced up. You can go so far as to snag the option of Sirius satellite radio for those lonesome days on the lake. You don’t need any special equipment to put it in place. With just a drill and the mounting screws you can have it in place in minutes.
You’ll get a surprisingly good picture out of the 3.6 inch screen but it will sometimes try to find a wireless network or give you GPS locations even when not asked to do so. It does a good job of making details visible even in direct sunlight though night fishers will probably not love the stark display. It’s too bright even at the lowest setting. You can accomplish a lot with the menu including a man overboard setting, course charting, and exact orientation. It works well when you get used to it, but has a very steep learning curve. [Purchase: $513]
What’s to Love: Sonar.
What’s to Hate: Terrible mount.
Easy Reader: Floating along at over six hundred dollars this choice is much more than most casual anglers will want. Those that do take the plunge will be thrilled. The display is nothing short of gorgeous. It won’t just show you where the fish are but after you get used to it you’ll be able to determine whether they are bass or bluegills. The DownVision sonar technology of the Dragonfly gives you the ability to map the floor of the lake and capture not only stationary schools of fish but the outlying individuals. The 5.7 inch screen is tremendous and gives you outstanding detail.
While the sonar is a nice touch the actual CHIRP range is limited to 170 to 230 kHz or 320 to 380 kHz. You’ll get used to it, but don’t expect graphic detail even with the larger screen. Raymarine obviously spent their money on the screen since the mounting apparatus is weak plastic. Even when screwed in right and tight to your transom it’s going to feel ready to fall off. Dragonfly includes a 50-channel chartplotter and GPS that will help you follow a path for a whole day of fishing. It’s definitely worth the money if you are serious about exploring uncharted waters but much more than you need for your average fishin’ hole. [Purchase: $640]
Lowrance-HDS-7 Gen 2
What’s to Love: Touchscreen.
What’s to Hate: Navigation can be difficult.
Full of Features: When you eat, sleep, and breathe fishing then you don’t just want this, you need it. It has a GPS system keyed in to the entire U.S. of A which makes it ready to handle everything from the great salt lake to the Florida keys. It has a chart redraw that works in real time. Forget waiting around as it gathers data and guesses. The HDS-7 is primed to go now. The touchscreen is nice and makes navigation through menus fast and simple, even if you’re covered in guts. With constantly up-to-date Navionics Charts you’ll always know where to go without needing to think about it.
The scanning and detail are second to none. More importantly the unit comes equipped with a broadband sounder which can catch your fish at almost any depth whether working in fresh or salt water. A down scan overlay makes changing position easy and intuitive. The screen is bright enough for day and nighttime viewing. The 7″ screen is great, but still feels limited since it is the only interface you have. It is easy to make mistakes or fat finger options as you go. [Purchase: $1,167]
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