List of Good Fish Finders: My 5 Reviews of Top Rated Locators
Land a Monster: Get the Best, Most Precise Fish Finder
A hundred years ago if you wanted to catch a fish, you had to hope and pray that you'd be in the right spot at the right time.
Nowadays, technology has caught up with the oldest sport in the world. You may be a purist, but remember that a fish finder doesn't haul it in for you or make it bite. Why waste your time trolling where there's no action?
The best fish finders today will locate fish of all sizes. They're user friendly, accurate, and some will even give you a detailed image of the lakebed, so there's no surprises.
But what is the best fish finder anyway? This article seeks to answer that question. We're going to take a close look at a few of the best and most effective options. We'll be looking at units ranging from as low as a hundred dollars, so there's room for anglers of all budgets here.
Want to find the best fish finder for your money? You're reading the right article!
Side Imaging Fish Finders, Dual Beam... I'm Confused!
Before we get to the fish finder reviews proper, I wanted to clear something up. Top rated fish finders feature impressive technology. However, that tech can be pretty confusing to someone who isn't in the loop. Here's a breakdown of what you're likely to find out there.
Oh man! Which Is The Right ONE!?!
SINGLE BEAM, DUAL BEAM:
All fish locators make use of 'beams'. These are the sonar beams emitted from the transducer. Beams come in varying cone angles, and multiple beams ensure that more of the lakebed or seabed is covered by your finder. You'll find that cheap fish finders tend to be single beam, while more expensive units have multiple cones.
DOWN & SIDE IMAGING FISH FINDERS:
These are usually higher end (expensive) units, but they're pretty incredible. Rather than simple beam the cone straight down, an SI fish finder beams outwards to the left and the right. It then converts that data into an image on your screen. It's almost like having an underwater camera that isn't affected by cloudy water or silt. A down imaging fish finder also creates a digital image, but only directly below you.
This refers to how often sonar waves are sent and received by your transducer. The higher the frequency, the more detail your fish finder receives. Remember that a high frequency typically won't travel as far down. The best fish finder units will offer multiple frequencies.
With these features in mind, let's take a look at five serious options.
Lowrance Elite 3X: A cheap, colour fish finder, top seller with great reviews
Lowrance is an industry leader in the fish locator industry, mainly because they've been at it for such a long time. They have experience in professional VHF radio, radar and depth sounders as well.
Lowrance Elite 3X In Action
The Elite 3X is an eminently affordable, and provides a fantastic value for your money. If you're hoping to fish on a budget, this is your answer.
It's a colour fish finder, which is a great bonus at this price point. It features a bright 3.5 inch LCD display that's easy to read even in grey weather. It's backlit, in case you want to fish at night.
It's a dual frequency fish locator. At 83kHz, you have 60 feet of coverage in a cone around your boat, and it provides a broader picture of what's happening down there, with easily identifiable fish schools. For greater precision, you can run it at 200kHz in a 20 foot cone, which is much better for picking out individual fish and different sizes.
It's portable, and releases easily from the mounting bracket to take inside. It has an array of audio signals to let you know what's down there even when away from the display.
It's one of the best fish finders on a budget, and with the included transducer the Elite 3X is a fantastic value.
Hummingbird 561: One of the best fish finders for under $200
The 561 is an inexpensive fish finder, one of the top rated and most popular items in this category. So what's it all about?
Humminbird 561 Dual Beam Plus & Switchfire Demo
It's a dual beam, dual frequency fish locator that has a range of both 83kHz and 200kHz. With the 83 range, you have a depth range of up to 800 feet. The 200kHz has a cone area of 20 feet, while the 83 has a cone area of approximately 60 feet. Used in concert, you get a lot of coverage with great accuracy.
It has a large, 5 inch screen (in black and white) which displays the submerged world with accuracy. It does feature a backlight, which is nice for early morning or night.
The 561 takes advantage of Hummingbird's Switchfire technology, which allows you to switch quickly between two modes, a clear mode which shows a simple image of fish and depth, and max mode, which allows you to see the underwater world in far greater accuracy. In that mode, you can even monitor your lure!
The unit also features a trip log, a fish ID system for identifying common species, and selective audio tones to alert you to arcs while doing something else.
It also happens to be very affordable since it includes a transom mounted transducer, and it's one of the best fish finders under $200.
Echo 551DV: A feature rich down imaging fish finder from Garmin
The Garmin Echo 551DV is among the top down imaging fish finders around due to its versatility, reasonable price tag and excellent user interface.
Garmin Echo 551dv
Garmin Echo Series Demo
The unit has a colour split screen that lets you monitor two things at once. You can choose to have it display split vertically or horizontally. You can view both the down imaged readout and the standard sonar display simultaneously. The Garmin DownVu lets you see a nearly photographic quality image of the lake bed.
The 5 inch display has enough room to let you get a clear picture, and the dual system is very responsive, nearly in real time. It features Garmin's AutoGain technology which reduces visual clutter, as well as AutoScroll, which allows the fish locator to operate well even at higher boat speeds.
It's a powerful unit, and as such it can scan to depths of up to 2300 feet. Because it's a dual frequency sonar fish finder, it is a great choice for both shallow and deep water.
It's certainly a step up in price, but the Echo 551DV is a top quality fish finder with fantastic reviews from customers. It's well worth taking a peek at.
Hummingbird 398ci: A good, affordable side imaging fish finder
As a general rule, side imaging fish finders are pretty pricey, but Hummingbird has answered the call for a more affordable alternative with the 398ci.
Humminbird Side Imaging Demo
It is a colour unit with a backlit display, and it has features that really make it stand out. Once you've gotten used to SI fish locators, you'll have a tough time going back. It's just so handy to see visually what's happening on either side of your boat. The Hummingbird 398ci is one of the top reviewed fish finders for that one feature.
It's also a chartplotter / fishfinder combo, meaning that it has an integrated GPS unit with an integrated cartographic map. If you prefer your own maps, you can add any card loaded maps or waypoints. Since you often need both a good fish finder and a good GPS, it's nice to save space and double up.
As for the sonar unit, you get both a side imaging and a down imaging fish locator that lets you locate underwater structures and seabed details in a surprising amount of detail. In addition, you have access to a standard 2D sonar fish finder as found on other units.
It's a 'swiss army knife' type fish sonar unit, and the added imaging and GPS features make it a top rated fish finder that I'd recommend.
Elite 7X CHIRP: A high end, powerful fish finder; best features, high price
The most powerful fishfinder unit that I'll be reviewing today is the Elite 7X CHIRP, a Lowrance product. It features clarity and precision that the other units here can't touch, but the price tag is understandably a lot higher.
Lowrance Elite CHIRP Series Demo
The first thing you'll notice is the large LCD screen, which is not only bright but detailed and defined. It's a screen that will positively spoil you and ruin you for lower end fish locators!
It features CHIRP sonar, which is broadband and allows for much more clarity in the data and the corresponding image. As such, you can distinguish between different types of fish rather than just seeing arcs. You can also operate it accurately at high speed. It's a triple frequency fish finder, with 50, 83 and 200kHz.
The unit also features down imaging, and this fish finder will allow you to overlay that data over your sonar for a better picture. It operates at dual frequencies, 455 and 800kHz for superior detail and a camera-like final image.
This unit may be more expensive than the others reviewed, but it's one of the best fish finders for the money, and it's definitely a step above the competition.
Very Fishy Poll
What kind of fishing do you do?
Save Money: Use Your Own Transducer
Every one of the fish finders reviewed here today come with a transducer.
If your boat already has a transducer, there's a good chance you can use it with whichever fish finder you pick. Most modern units are compatible with a good range of transducers, and you typically have the option to purchase one without the transducer for a reduced cost.
Make sure to research your brand and model, and ensure that it's compatible with whichever depth sounder / fish finder you end up going with.
On the other hand, if you're replacing an old depth sounder, it might be a good opportunity to replace that transducer with something a little more modern!