Best Fish Finder 2020 – [Buyer’s Guide]
Of all of the innovations in fishing over the last several decades the fish finder has had probably the biggest impact on just how successful a lot of anglers have become.
Whilst there has been big improvements in reel technology and rod design/materials, having the ability to map out the contours and structures of the bottom has changed the game forever.
A fish finder allows the angler to peer beneath the surface and actually see what is going on down below
Being able to read and map out contours, drop offs, identify underwater structures and the exact depth and location of individual fish will considerably increase your catch rate.
Integrated GPS and map packs now allow you to map out previously never before scanned lake bottoms and record exact locations and way-points for future use.
Unfortunately with so much complicated technology going on inside each unit it is not uncommon when choosing a fish finder to become confused by all of the marketing blurb and acronyms.
There are some basic features and specifications to consider before you buy a fish finder.
Once you understand these you can cut through the marketing hype and really understand what you are buying.
In our individual fish finder reviews we have made sure to point out the type of sonar and imaging used in by each fish finder brand.
A lot of websites really do not understand what they are talking about when discussing fishing sonar technologies.
Below is a no BS brief rundown of what you need to consider when choosing the best fish finder for you budget.
Most modern fish finders will have a color display. There are still cheaper units being produced with black and white screens but really your best choice will always be to opt for a full color display.
Full color displays make it much easier to distinguish between objects and are easier to read in both poor light and under strong sunshine.
Size and screen resolution are the two most important aspects of a display.
A basic sonar(SOund NAvigation and Ranging) works by focusing specific frequencies of sound waves downwards from the transducer and interpreting both the strength of the returning waves and how long it took for them to be reflected off of an object below.
The most basic types of fish finders will use a single frequency as the beam of sound that they emit for their sonar.
Each frequency creates a beam of the sound emitted, the beam has a specific angle depending on the frequency.
This beam angle is commonly referred to as the cone shape. It starts narrow at the transducer and widens into a cone like pattern.
The angle of the cone is determined by the frequency.
Smaller frequencies are much more accurate, but have a narrower range of focus.
Higher frequencies have a much wider cone but suffer from reduced detail.
Put simply CHIRP(Compressed High Intensity Radar Pulse) is a type of sonar that uses a range of frequencies instead of a fixed frequency.
Some objects will reflect better when a certain frequency and others with another, by using a pulse of different frequencies you can get a much clearer picture of what is below regardless of what objects are there.
It also performs better at deeper depths than a standard 200 kHz sonar unit.
You can think of CHIRP as a more versatile and advanced version of basic sonar.
Down Imaging Sonar
It is easy to confuse down imaging sonar with regular sonar as all sonars are downward facing in a sense.
The key difference here is the word 'imaging'.
Down Imaging Sonar uses a high frequency very thin cone shaped beam of sound waves to create a very high resolution near picture like image of underwater objects.
It is almost like viewing a real-time high resolution video of what the boat is currently moving over.
Side Imaging Sonar
Although the technology has been in existence for over 50 years in naval applications it's one of the more recent innovations to be made available to the general public.
Side Imaging Sonar as the name suggests is a side ways oriented version of down imaging sonar.
Using similar high frequency super focused beans to map out the structures and objects out to the side of your boat and create a crystal clear picture like image.
Just like down imaging sonar, side imaging sonar works best at lower speeds.
Side imaging works particularly well at showing small bait fish in shallow waters.
A fish finder transducer converts electrical signals from the head unit into sound waves and then converts the reflected sound waves back into electrical signals so that the head unit can interpret them and produce images from them.
The type of transducer that you use needs to be suitable for the head unit.
Be careful when buying a fish finder as sometimes they are sold without a transducer!
There are a number of different ways to mount your transducer and this will be influenced greatly by the type of boat or kayak that you are using:
Larger boats will generally fit a thru-hull transducer so that it is permanently placed in the best spot for running a high end fish finder.
Thru-hull mounting gives you the best possible position to ensure there is little or no interruption from the hull to the sonar beam.
Smaller boats may not want to drill through the hull and are perfectly adequate to use a transom mount on.
A lot of bass boats for example will use a transom mounted transducer whereas an offshore sport fishing boat would use a thru-hull transducer.
GPS gives you a means to not only plot your route to a specific location but it also allow you to record a particular hot-spot so that you may find it easily again in the future.
They allow you to track your course over a given heading and are particularly useful when trolling.
It is also used when you are mapping or scanning a particular stretch of bottom for the first time.
Never before has an individual had the technologies available to be able to map and create their own stretches of water with such great detail using off the shelf consumer technologies.
Best Fish Finder
1. Humminbird Helix 5
2. Garmin Striker 7SV
3. Lowrance HOOK2 9
4. Garmin Echomap Chirp 94SV
5. Deeper Pro+
When choosing a fish finder it is really easy to get overwhelmed by all of the different types of technologies and specifications especially when the different fish finder brands can use a different name on the same type of tech.
When buying a fish finder there are a few basic specifications and features that should be considered.
A fish finders display is arguably one of it's most important features.
Regardless of how accurate or powerful the transducer and unit is if the display is of low quality then you won't be able to determine what is going on down below.
The majority of modern displays will range from 4 to 12 inches.
But size isn't everything.
Clarity is far more important and I'd happily trade a larger screen with poor resolution for a smaller screen size on a fish finder that has a really sharp display.
Saying that smaller is not always better regardless of the size of screen you choose always make sure that the screen has a high pixel count which is what gives a much sharper resolution.
Like most things the high specification screens will come on the more expensive models so always try to get the best screen possible for your budget even if it means a slightly smaller unit.
One of the most basic choices to make is color vs black and white or monochrome.
Clearly a full color screen is going to give you the bet possible feedback.
With a full color range it is much easier to distinguish between different underwater structures and objects including fish.
They are also a lot easier to read in both poor light conditions and in very bright sunshine.
Choose that size of screen that suits your boat and always try to get the highest resolution possible that your budget will allow for.
For most larger boats a thru-hull will be the better option. The best fish finders have both down and side imaging and if you want to get the absolute best performance from them then a thru-hull transducer will give the best results possible.
Next to that will be a transom or stern mounted transducer. This are mostly added to smaller fishing boats particularly fresh water boats that do not want to drill through the hull.
Drilling through the hull is a lot easier on a larger vessel that may have much better access to the bilge area.
On smaller boats space can be a issue and you may need a specialist to fix it.
That's what makes a tramson mounted transducer so appealing as all you need is to screw on a mounting plate and then mount the transducer to it.
The plate will allow you to level the transducer which is incredibly important to getting the very best performance from it.
Sonar, Chirp or Imaging
For most anglers the choose between buying a fish finder with basic sonar, CHIRP or either down/side imaging will largely be dictated by what kind of price they are willing to go to.
You can do a hell of a lot of good fishing with just a basic sonar model once you know how to read it and understand how certain objects will be displayed on it.
But basic sonar is still basic sonar and the difference between a low end fishing sonar and even a mid-range unit is like night and day.
CHIRP gives much better clarity and object identification than a standard single frequency fishing sonar.
Imaging however really ups the ante and once you have a unit with either down-imaging or side-imaging you really will never want to go back.
I'm a big fan of GPS/chart-plotters on fish finders as they are an extra safety measure when it comes to navigation.
However, they are no substitute for basic navigational skills and knowing familiarizing yourself with the body of water that you most regularly fish on.
Having the ability to mark an exact location of a fish finder with GPS means you can no have a digital record of where you found fish.
Keeping a log of where and when you caught fish in the past can mean knowing where to fish at any given time of the year and can take a lot guess work out of the future.
Recording water temperature is also a big advantage and is something that is often over looked by a lot of anglers.