After hours of research, both on and off the water, we think the Humminbird Helix 5 SI GPS is the best fish finder for under or around 500 dollars. This unit is compact, powerful, and performs as wells as or better than many flashier and more complicated models. It offers big features for a low price. And it does so on a high-res landscape display found in higher-end units. The Humminbird Helix 5 is fun to use. But, beyond that… it delivers consistent, easy-to-read data that helps you catch more fish.
Our Top Pick: The Humminbird Helix 5 SI GPS
This unit comes with the things you need to get out on the water and start landing fish. It comes with a transducer, power cable, side and down imaging, internal GPS, and a high-quality 5-inch LCD display screen. We think it’s awesome, but we’ll get to the finer details later. First, let’s cover some basic info…
Who Needs a Fish Finder?
If you fish from a boat, whether it’s a kayak or a kingfish tournament boat, a fish finder is essential for maximizing your time on the water. Used in both commercial and recreational fishing, fish finders extend your visual ability below the surface of the water and allow you to see what you can’t see with your eyes.
Nothing beats a fishfinder when it comes to locating target game fish, bait schools, underwater terrain and structure. Fish finders all but guarantee fishing success.
What is a Fish Finder?
A fish finder uses echolocation to detect fish and measure water depth under or near your boat. Using sonar technology, a fish finder works by transmitting sound pulses and reading the waves as they are reflected off of solid objects underwater.
When sound waves strike a fish, structure, or bottom, it is reflected back, and the information is converted into a graphic image. With modern advances in technology, this information is most often viewed in easy-to-understand images displayed on a full-color, high-definition screen.
The level of detail depends on the fish finder’s frequency, the power of the sound pulse transmitted, and the screen technology. The screen displays fish as icons or as pixelated arcs.
The Humminbird Helix 5 SI GPS
This unit features an extra-wide 5-inch screen that brilliantly depicts 256 different colors, providing some of the sharpest detail of any fish finder on the market. The screen has backlighting to ensure the clearest crisp images any light conditions for easy use at midday or midnight.
This model provides a feature called adjustable SwitchFire. That means you can switch to either Clear or Max mode when needed. Clear Mode is best used to search for bait or schooling game fish. Clear Mode allows you to filter out weaker signals like debris and suspended silt. Max Mode allows you to see clear underwater detail with images including details like underwater structure, thermoclines, and even zooplankton populations as well as bait and game fish. With Max Mode, anglers can even see their underwater jig action on screen.
The Humminbird Helix 5 SI GPS comes equipped with cart plotting technology and is also preloaded with UniMap cartography. UniMap cartography provides 3D charts for inland lakes, rivers and the United States coastline There is also a microSD slot allowing for the addition of extra map software or convenient storage of personal waypoints, although the unit itself has a large enough storage capacity to save up to 2,500 waypoints or 45 specific routes.
3 Types of Sonar
This device features three different types of sonar – Side Imaging, DualBeam Plus, and Down Imaging. With a possible total view of 180 degrees and depth capability of 1500 feet, you’ll easily spot just about everything underwater.
Additional features include screen snapshot, freeze frame, and a built-in temperature sensor. This Humminbird device also offers sonar recording, enabling you to record sonar recordings for later review.
Whether you are a beginner or a seasoned angler, you are sure to be impressed with this quality fish finder. With superb fish finding potential compared to other devices in this price range, you’ll feel as if you purchased a unit well outside your budget. Humminbird is well-known for offering sportsmen advanced features at relatively affordable prices and the Helix 5 SI GPS really delivers.
Runner-up: Lowrance Elite-5 CHIRP Gold
CHIRP sonar is all the rage these days. However, it’s not “new” per se, but it is becoming more affordable. And, that means it’s trickling down to consumer products. The military uses CHIRP (an acronym for Compressed High Intensity Radiated Pulse) to detect underwater security threats. Now it is available to the recreational angler.
But why would a recreational angler need military technology to find fish? CHIRP devices receive and process dramatically more information than traditional frequency sonar from each energy pulse. This enables CHIRP fish finders to achieve unprecedented resolution and target definition. If you want a clear and precise picture of what is lurking underwater around your boat, CHIRP technology delivers like nothing else.
The screen on the Lowrance Elite-5 CHIRP Gold is bright, clear, and fairly easy to read. However, at times there is so much data displayed on the 5-inch screen that it feels cluttered and confusing. You may need to get up close and focus on interpreting the details to find them useful.
The screen features separate color palettes intended to make reading easy for both night and daytime fishing. The Sonar inverts the selected colors in night mode. However, nighttime reading can be difficult when ambient and cockpit light levels are extremely low.
An impressive additional feature of the Lowrance Elite-5 CHIRP Gold is the track back sonar history, allowing you to scroll back your sonar history to mark fish and underwater structure without having to turn the boat around.
Other Notable Options
The Garmin echo 200 Fishfinder is a reliable no-frills bare basics unit. If you want dependability without all the bells and whistles, this fish finder fits the bill. Installation and usage easy and intuitive allowing you to mount and go. The screen is black and white, but relatively easy to read.
If you want to stream live sonar data to your smartphone, the mobile app available with the Raymarine Dragonfly 4 Pro Navionics lets you save and share your fishing adventures with friends and family on your favorite social media network.
The Humminbird HELIX 7 CHIRP DI G2 offers the same features as the HELIX 5 but with a larger screen. This makes it easier to read from the back of the boat. And, the larger screen is great for those of us with bad eyesight. It doesn’t require reading glasses.