To catch great fish you first need to find them

When fishing, the hardest part can be actually locating your desired target species. With the use of a Fish Finder and GPS unit it makes this task a whole lot easier – some would say it’s practically cheating due to how good the fish finder technology is today.

So what Fish Finder is the best?

The range of fish finders on the market these days is incredible. Something to consider when purchasing a fish finder is whether you require just the sonar technology or you would like a GPS component as well. Fish finders come with many features:

  • simple sonar fish finder
  • sonar plus GPS
  • single beam, dual beam, chirp, downscan, sidescan, etc etc
  • portable/handheld or transom mount.

In this article we will review the best fish finders readily available on the market today.

Best Fish Finders 2017: Our Top 5 Picks

Lowrance Elite 5 HDILowrance Elite-5 HDI Combo5" HorizontalHybrid Dual with DownscanYes3.5lbsFixedLowrance Elite 5 HDI ReviewFrom $500
Garmin Echomap ChirpGarmin echoMAP CHIRP 43dv4" VerticalChirpYes14.4ozFixedGarmin echoMAP ReviewFrom $260
Humminbird HELIX 5Humminbird HELIX 5 SI/GPS Combo5" HorizontalDual / Side & Down ImagingYes4.1lbsFixedHumminbird HELIX 5 ReviewFrom $500
Deeper ProDeeper Smart Sonar PRO+ Portable GPS/Wireless Fish Findern/aNarrow & WideYes via Phone3.5ozPortablen/aFrom $200
SimradSimrad GO7 XSE Chartplotter/GPS/Fishfinder with Totalscan7" HorizontalChirp/TotalscanYes7.8lbsFixedn/aFrom $649

“The crew at VFM don’t just love fishing, it’s our job, but we also love getting out on the water in our spare time whether in be in the open water or the lakes chasing bass! The common factor in all the fishing we do is the use of quality fish finders. We have taken some time to check out the latest and greatest fish finders on the market today. Enjoy”

Matt, Pro Fisherman. VFM.

Fish Finder Comparison: Our Top 5 in detail

1. Lowrance 000-11146-001 Elite-5 HDI Fish Finder GPS Combo

This is a great unit! The Elite 5 features a quality 5″ color TFT display with superb resolution and the adjustable screen and backlit keypad allows for improved usability day or night.

The main features on the Elite-5 would have to be the Hybrid Dual Imaging (HDI). This provides amazing imagery using the Downscan technology to highlight structure, bait fish and more importantly predatory fish in great detail. Combine this technology with the GPS chartplotter that can store 3,000 waypoints and 100 routes and you will never lose your spots or get lost again!

Overall the product is a great unit, smart looking design and more importantly is easy to use. With Sonar, Downscan, GPS and a quality 5″ screen, the Elite 5 is definitely our top pick!

Lowrance Elite-5 HDI Fish Finder GPS Combo

2. Garmin echoMAP CHIRP 43dv

Great quality for a small unit! If you are looking for a small fish finder for your tinny or kayak, then the Garmin echoMAP is perfect. It might be small, but the CHIRP sonar technology provides quality clear imaging and the built in GPS will keep you on track when navigating to your favorite fishing spot.

A very handy unit that will fit anywhere and won’t blow the budget.

Garmin echoMAP CHIRP 43dv

3. Humminbird HELIX 5 SI/GPS Combo

For the more serious fishos. The Humminbird HELIX 5 has all the features you would want in a fish finder / GPS combo. The large 5″ screen allows you to have charts and depth scans on screen at the same time and still be able to read both clearly from anywhere on your boat. The big selling feature of the HELIX is the side + down imaging, which means you can find more fish more often!

A great combo with all the bells and whistles.

Humminbird HELIX 5 SI/GPS Combo

Searching for the best fish finders: What Are They?

Fish finders are instruments used to locate fish that are underwater by using sonar. This means that the device detects the reflected pulses of sound energy. The findings of the fishfinder appear on its screen as a graph which allows an operator to decipher the information and determine where there are schools of fish, the bottom of a body of water, and underwater debris. Fish finders are utilized by fishermen who work both in the commercial field but also those who dabble in sport. Modern fish finders are equipped with other electronics to help with accuracy of devices like a compass, GPS navigation systems, and marine radar.

The history of fish finders goes back to the device known as the fathometer. Fathometers are sonar instruments that are used to determine the depth of water and for navigation. It measures the depth of the water in a unit known as a fathom, hence its name. Since both fathometers and fish finders operate the same way, fish finders, along with other advances in navigation, have replaced the need for fathometers.

Fish finders work by converting an electrical impulse into a sound wave. They do this using an underwater transducer, sometimes referred to as a hydrophone, that sends the sound wave into the water. When that sound wave hits an object like a fish, it’s reflected back to the device which displays the composition, shape of the object, and size. The distance to the object can be found by knowing the speed of the wave in the water. Water can distort the speed of sound and depends on the pressure, salinity, and temperature of the water. The process has the ability to be repeated up to 40 times per second. More recent functions in modern fish finders can also contain trackback capabilities that allow you to see changes in movement so you can switch location and position while fishing.

For more details on the display screen, frequencies of the fish finders have to be high. While commercial fishermen use normally lower frequencies, modern fish finders have a wide range of frequencies and can be seen as split screen results.

Finding the best fish finders: Types

Shopping for the right fish finder can be tough with the many different options on the market. While you may want to grab any of the best fish finders available, the fish finder you choose should be based on your budget, your needs, and any special features you may want. You should always do your research and be aware of the different types of fish finders and how they work differently from each other.

While a traditional fish finder is usually mounted to the boat, there are fish finders that fit with new fishing trends and different types of fishing. Some of these specialty fish finders include kayak fish finders, ice fishing fish finders, and portable fish finders.

Kayak fishing has become increasingly popular as a sport and the fish finders that are for kayaks are targeted for different types of waters which makes it differ from traditional devices. Where traditional fish finders normally operate in deep waters, ones for kayaks are designed to either work in the shallow ends or offshore structures such as deeper reefs, humps, and weedlines. For shallow water fishing, sonar only fish finders will work best. For offshore structure fishing, a device that is equipped with GPS should keep you over the structure. Kayak fishing is a great option if you want to get into fishing. Compared to traditional fishing, it’s more affordable, exciting due to close quarters, versatile in that you can go anywhere, and is great exercise.

Ice fishing has always been a popular sport way, way up north. Obviously, the variables involved in ice fishing makes the using a traditional fish finder impossible. It requires a special unit that can be effective and efficient in catching fish swimming under the ice. For this type of fishing, you want to not only see the fish in the water but also your bait as it drops into the water column. For this reason, it’s recommended that the device chosen has a split screen. You’ll also want a good digital flasher, the name for a portable sonar unit.

Portable fish finders are perfect for those who take infrequent fishing trips or just want to rent a boat to fish. They don’t differ much from traditional fish finders besides the fact the can be taken anywhere and their battery comes separately. There are also fish finders that you can cast into the water and the display is seen via an app on your smartphone. This portable option is great for people who fish from shore or a smaller watercraft.

Best Fish Finders: Features To Look Out For

With so many types of fish finders and so many extra features, you may get lost and choose a fancier device that just doesn’t suit your needs. Knowing what features to look out for is the key to finding the best fish finder that meets all of your standards.


The transducer is the part of the fish finder that sends out the sound wave to see what is underneath the water. It functions like an antenna does for a radio; it sends out sound waves and receives the returning echoes.  Features that are essential to the transducer include the type of installation, cone angle, and operating frequency. Transducers can be mounted in a variety of places and the transducer you choose should be able to be mounted where it best suits you. They can usually be mounted on the transom, or even mounted to a trolling motor, or the inside of the hull for smaller boats. There’s also a thru-hull unit that is available for fiberglass boats that are larger. Your choice in transducer also depends heavily on the cone angle. You want one that accommodates the type of fishing that you do. The wider the angle is the less effective it will be in deeper waters, but it can give you a wider view in shallow waters. These are key features to look at when looking for the right transducer.


The display is a key feature in a good fish finder that most fishers find to be one of the most important aspects when choosing a fish finder. The display’s detail, contrast, color, and monochrome are just some aspects that determine the best fish finders. These aspects determine how well a fisherman can discern the returning sonar signal. The unlikely, but also obvious, feature that is most important is the number of pixels the display has. With fewer pixels, the image will appear blocky. An image with more pixels will be smoother and can be easily deciphered. Color displays are definitely the way to go if they’re in your budget. It allows images to pop and can be seen more easily under the bright light of the sun. Screen size can also determine whether you want a fish finder. The bigger the screen, the easier it is to decipher what’s on the screen. It all comes down to preferences though.  Frequency. Most fish finders operate on either very low kilohertz or very high ones. For those who operate on the lower scale, they usually work at 50kHz. For those on the high scale, they operate from 192kHz to 200kHz. The range depends on where you are fishing, and each frequency has its advantages. Water can absorb high frequencies so units that operate at 50kHz can penetrate deeper but they have wider cone angles so there is less definition and more chances of distortion. Higher frequency units are better in shallow water. They perform the opposite of low-frequency units. So while they don’t go as deep, they’re less susceptible to distortion and have more definition. Luckily, there are units that operate on both frequencies so in deep waters you can get a crisper image.


Most fish finders operate on either very low kilohertz or very high ones. For those who operate on the lower scale, they usually work at 50kHz. For those on the high scale, they operate from 192kHz to 200kHz. The range depends on where you are fishing, and each frequency has its advantages. Water can absorb high frequencies so units that operate at 50kHz can penetrate deeper but they have wider cone angles so there is less definition and more chances of distortion. Higher frequency units are better in shallow water. They perform the opposite of low-frequency units. So while they don’t go as deep, they’re less susceptible to distortion and have more definition. Luckily, there are units that operate on both frequencies so in deep waters you can get a crisper image.

Cone Angle

Cone angle has been mentioned a few times before in regard to transducers and frequencies and that is because without the cone angle neither would work. When looking at a fish finder’s transducer, many people consider the cone angle to be the most important feature.  Cone angles also work hand-in-hand with frequency.  To put it simply, the cone refers to width of the beam that is sent out down through the bottom of your boat. The term is used because of its shape which starts out narrow at the top and widens as it goes deeper. It is also referred to as the transducer beam angle. The wider the angle, the wider the field of vision for the sonar signals. Understanding how it works fully requires a lot of physics and math. It’s easier to remember that while a wide angle lets you see more, it reduces the sensitivity in deeper waters and can allow distortion.

Portable vs Fixed

Portable fish finders have been mentioned before and may seem like a perfect affordable alternative to the more expensive fixed fish finders. Portable fish finders work better for specialty fishing or for fishers who don’t go out to fish very often. While portable fish finders continue to advance, there’s no beating a traditionally mounted fish finder. Fixed units can be mounted the exact way that the user intends and the wires attached can easily be hidden under the floorboards. Fixed fish finders are more stable than portable ones, which use suction cups for mounting and can easily fall at high speeds. Fixed units also are more consistent. It’s tough to tune the settings of a portable device and many find inconsistent readings each time they go out with one. While portable fish finders are more convenient, fixed fish finders are the way to go for those who fish constantly.

GPS Integrated

Global positioning systems have become very handy in the modern world, and the world of fishing is no exception. It can be used to easily find your way back to the shore, map out coordinates of local ponds and lakes through mapping software, and mark spots that have a high density of fish so you can come back again and again. Many modern fish finders have GPS in them, and whether you need one or not is personal preference. Most GPS fish finders are combo units that are both a chart plotter and a depth sounder. The depth sounder is the fish finder itself and the chart plotter will show your location at all times so you don’t need to buy a separate device or rely on spotty cell phone service to know your location. GPS units also allow for easy entering of waypoints so you can mark launch ramps, structures, or fish that you can select at any time to be revisited.


There are two types of scanning that fish finders are capable of doing. The first is a Down Scan. Down Scans allow the user to see in greater details. This aspect means fishers can see just an individual fish within a school or a structure like a reef or something else. Down Scans are also very accurate for surveying or pattern running. They are unfortunately too powerful for waters that are more shallow, and using them in shallow waters can result in an unreadable blur. It’s also too focused and can cause fisherman to miss the activity that can be happening at the sides of the boat. Side Scans are the other type of scanning that can be done. Side Scans can scan a vast amount of water, covering more area in a single pass than a Down Scan. You don’t have to move your boat directly over the area you want to scan so you scan undisturbed water. Side Scans are less effective in deep water. There are units that have a combination of Down Scan and Side Scan if you are unable to decide or if you know that both can benefit you.


Durability is a key feature to look out for. The best fish finders will be able to take a lot of wear and tear. You want to make sure that it’ll be securely mounted. It shouldn’t easily break and the screen should also be able to last. While other features are determined by preference, every fisher should want their fish finder to be durable.

Fish Finder Brands

The are many brands of fish finders on the market today, but there are really only a handful of high quality trusted manufacturers who have been producing fish finders for many decades. These brands offer a wide range of products both standard sonar and also GPS units. Whilst the overall function of a fish finder remains the same, the technology is getting more advanced with every new model released. The inclusions of downscan and sidescan make finding structure and ultimately fish much easier, and new 3D technology is bringing clearer imaging to the screen. The most trusted and famous brands include: