It really doesn’t matter if you have a top-of-the-line rod and reel combo. Or a fully stocked tackle box. Or even the best casting technique on the lake. If you don’t know how to find fish, you certainly won’t be catching any.
You can test your luck on the lake with random casts, but that takes time. You could try asking the old timers at the local bait shop where to find them. Although chances are they aren’t going to tell you. Or you can save yourself the time and hassle, and invest in a good fish finder.
We’re lucky enough to be living in the 21st century, smack dab in the middle of a time filled with GPS and Google accessible at the tips of our fingers. This is the golden age of electronics and technology. And, thankfully today’s anglers can take advantage of this instant-access technology to help them locate fish.
Fish finder technology locates fish by emitting sound waves that bounce back when they hit fish, the bottom of the lake, or underwater structure. Then the return signals are analyzed and displayed on a computer screen to easily see what lurks beneath the water’s surface.
Finding the Best Fish Finder for the Money
However, not all fish finders are created equal. There are variables in sensitivity, image quality, installation, features, and affordability. With so many options available, it’s easy for the average angler to feel overwhelmed. Especially by some of those hefty fish finder price tags.
While there are some amazing fish finders out there that are sure to send you into sticker shock, there are also many simpler models that are surprisingly effective and affordable. In fact, there is a fish finder out there to fit any angler’s budget.
And since we know anglers would rather spend their time catching fish than shopping, we’ve found the best fish finders in each price range. Here is what we’ve come up with.
About 100 Bucks…
Lowrance Hook-3X Sonar
If you are looking for the most basic of basic fish finders, this is it. It isn’t a bad option for someone with a really tight gear budget, but don’t expect many bells and whistles.
The unit does feature an LED-backlit color display screen that makes it easy to read in bright sunlight or from a wide viewing angle. It also has an onboard temperature sensor and supports both 83 and 200 Hz frequencies, which lets you choose the best setting for current water conditions.
The Lowrance Hook-3X Sonar works well for angler fishing shallow water from small boats, and is great if you are mostly concerned with checking depth. However, the screen is sometimes difficult to read and distinguishing between fish and structure isn’t always easy. If you want something fancier, you’re going to have to pay a fancier price.
Features & Quirks
At this price point you can’t expect too much. Does it provide depth readings? Yes. Are they accurate? Not really. But, this unit will get you by in a pinch.
This unit is pretty simple, and that means it’s not only easy to install… it’s easy to operate. We also like how robust this little guy is for the money. It’s simple form factor and easy install also mean that it is quick to remove when you’re done for the day. There’s actually a quick detach feature for when you’re in a hurry.
What about water temp? This unit provides some pretty accurate readings.
The included wiring harness gives you 15 feet of slack so you can use it on a pretty good sized small boat (relatively speaking).
The quirks? Base doesn’t swivel. Your adjustment is basically just tilt up… tilt down. Another quirk is that the battery connections are just terminated wires… you’ll need some heat shrink, terminal connectors, crimpers, etc. To be honest the biggest quirk we can find is that smaller fish are pretty easily lost as depth increases.
These are great if your available space is as limited as your budget. This means you can mount it on a kayak, small aluminum boat, Jon boat, etc. without worrying too much about an ultra robust mounting surface. We’ve also seen people use them on a pontoon boat with great success. Decent depth readings and detection ends before you hit 50 feet, so this is better suited to shallow lakes and smaller bodies of water.
Bottom line if you don’t have much cash… or prefer to spend it on gear and beer for the cooler this is an excellent choice.
Around or Under 250 Dollars
Garmin Striker 4cv
Thanks to growing competition on the fishfinder scene, there are many quality options in this price range. Despite the tough competition, the Garmin Striker 4 still shines like a star.
Featuring CHIRP sonar technology, this Garmin fish finder sends a continuous sweep of frequencies to provide you with better target separation and sharper fish arches. This allows for fast reading and easy interpretation of the data on your fish finder display screen.
One of the best features of this compact and portable fish finder is the waypoint map. With the waypoint map, you can mark the locations of your best fishing spots making them easier to find the next time you hit the water. Or you can use it to help you navigate back to the dock when your fishing day is over.
Because the Garmin Striker 4 is so lightweight and portable, it is a great option for your bass boat, kayak, or even ice fishing. It is a great value for the money. Once you’ve used it out on the water, you’ll think you should have paid more.
Features & Quirks
The big features, as we said above, are GPS and CHIRP. At this price point… that’s pretty impressive. This unit is also much improved over the old DV model (which other sites are still recommending). The new CV adds Garmin’s CHIRP ClearVu scanning sonar… which means a much wider field of view than the DV it replaces.
Another feature we like is that it includes both a hull and transom mount. And, at the other end of the mounting spectrum the device mount tilts and swivels… unlike the first fish finder we mentioned.
It’s also rated for a depth of 1,600 feet… way more than the slightly cheaper Lowrance above.
Quirks… there aren’t too many. At least when you consider the low price. But, we do wish the chart view was a little better. It’s pretty minimalist compared to what you can find in higher end models. The screen could be a little larger, 3.5 inches is a little small. Also if you want to use it for ice fishing the kit will set you back quite a bit. About a hundred bucks.
Basically the same as the fish finder above but its way better in deeper bodies of water. So canoes, kayaks and small boats are where this unit shines.
Half a Grand of Less
Humminbird Helix 7 DI Fishfinder with Down Imaging Sonar
This fish finder is packed to the gills with performance and technology. The 256 display colors deliver jaw-dropping resolution to give you clear and precise pictures of fish and the underwater structure they love. And the Down Imaging Sonar with high-frequency sound waves allows you to have a fish-eye’s view of everything that happens under your boat. You will get such detailed images that you’ll be able to see rocks, branches, and fish that many other less sophisticated finders just won’t pick up. If you are an angler who likes to fish structure, you won’t find a better performing fish finder.
With its quick-release gimbal mount, the Humminbird Helix 7 DI fish finder couldn’t be easier to use. It is sturdy, easy to adjust, and a breeze to mount and disconnect. With this level of painless uncomplicated use, you’ll be able to spend more time catching fish and less time fiddling with your fish finder.
What you’ll get for around $750
Simrad GO7 XSE Chartplotter/Fishfinder
(w/TotalScan Transom Mount Transducer)
In this price range, we’re getting into some serious technology. With a full 7-inch display screen, CHIRP-enabled broadband sounder, WiFi, and Bluetooth, the Simrad GO7 XSE has the intuitive touchscreen controls that are already familiar to the average smartphone user.
This is a full-featured chart plotter to help you navigate to your favorite fishing spot. It also enables you to store and label your spots as waypoints so you can easily return to any destination, whether across the lake or on the open ocean.
Great for any angler from freshwater lakes to deep sea fishing. This fish finder will put you on everything from largemouth bass and walleye to bluefin tuna and wahoo.
A grand fishfinder for about… a grand.
Humminbird Helix 9 SI GPS KVD Finders
If you have the cash on hand; spend it on the luxury sports car of the fish finder world. Humminbird’s Helix 9 has a bold 9-inch display with amazing detail and pixel resolution. It offers both side-imaging and down imaging sonar. Humminbird even includes an internal precision GPS, Ethernet connection, and a 1500 foot depth capability with DUalBeam Plus. They even built in two microSD card slots allowing you use of custom charts, and saved waypoints and snapshots.
One of the best features of the Humminbird Helix 9 SI GPS KVD is the sonar recording capability. With the capability of recording the sonar log, you can rewind it backwards to view past waypoints. An incredibly useful tool on the water, you can rewind the sonar to get a second look at a spot. You don’t need to reverse or turn the boat around to travel over the spot a second time. Snapshot and freeze frame functions are also available on this model.
With so much attention to detail, advanced technology, and durable quality, this really is one of the best fish finders that money can buy.
A View from the Surface: Ultimate Fish Finder Buyers Guide
Q: I need a fish finder for a float tube for a good price. What should I look for?
A: The good news is that pretty much all of the fish finders for float tubes are pretty reasonably priced. They’re also small and pretty easy to use. The big questions are how will you mount it and how is it powered. Most mounts will involve a nylon strap that you wrap around the tube. They don’t typically come with the device so you’ll need to do some digging. As far as batteries are concerned look for rechargeable fish finders or ones that use AA or AAA batteries. The latter is becoming less common though.
Q: How much should I budget for an ice fishing fish finder?
A: We recommend getting something on the more affordable side from any of the major manufacturers. As long as you can split the screen to high detail your target depth and low detail the entire water column you should be fine. We wouldn’t spend more than a couple hundred.
Q: Are castable finders a good value?
A: This is really a question of what do you want to pay for and what represents a good value to you as an angler. For most, a castable transducer isn’t comparable feature-wise to similarly priced portable fishfinders. So for boat fishing we’d say no. However, if you’re casting from shore… it’s sort of the best option. And, since they’re all similarly priced… in that use case we’d have to say yep they’re a good value.
Q: I’m on a tight budget; which fish finder should I buy?
A: If money is tight we’d say go without. Fish finders help… a lot. But, they aren’t as important as time on the water. Spend your money on gas, tackle, and licenses. Save up a little here and there and get a good fish finder down the road. Don’t waste hard earned money on some bargain basement, no-name, fish finder just to have one.