As you’ll discover from this review, there is no single best fish finder. It depends a lot on the type of fishing that you do and your individual needs. Then there’s always the issue of price. In this review, we’re not simply going to be looking at the single best fish finder, we’ll also review budget, or low cost options that are more affordable.
Your chosen location and type of fishing that you do requires a fish finder that can provide you with the relevant information. Whether it’s bass or ice fishing that has you hooked, a good portable fish finder is going to make the world of difference. A portable fish locator or fish detector will certainly give you the edge. There’s a lot of advanced technology used in modern fish finders. The top brands will usually offer more than cheaper ones. In the end, you’ve got to know what to look for. So before reviewing the fish finders that we’ve selected for this review, it would be a good idea to explain the terminology used when looking at their specs and features.
Fish Finders - A Basic Overview
Typically, these devices use sonar, like the radar used on ships and submarines. So the fish finder will emit underwater sound waves. When the sound wave comes into contact with a solid object, the wave is bounced off this object, creating an echo. A transducer then receives these echoes and converts the information into an image of what lies beneath the water’s surface.
Side Imaging or SideVu (Garmin). Brands may use different terms for this technology, but it’s all basically the same. An ultra-thin radar beam scans an area 180-degrees either side of your boat, up to a distance of 240-feet. The information gathered from either side is used to create a 360-degree image of the lake or ocean floor around your position, up to 480-feet in length. This allows you to zoom in on any area and mark it, using the GPS function on your fish finder.
Down Imaging or DownVu, as used by Garmin, uses high-frequency sonar (sound waves) to produce a two-dimensional image of the area directly beneath the boat.
CHIRP stands for Compressed High-Intensity Radar Pulse. This technology takes traditional sonar fish detection to another level. By using multiple frequencies, a CHIRP enabled fish finder can create a more detailed and accurate image of the underwater area. This allows you to differentiate between different size fish and even schools of fish, using much more detailed information.
SwitchFire is the term used by HumminBird, Garmin call it ClearVu. This can edit the image for you by filtering out unwanted noise that may affect the sonar image. This is particularly useful in turbulent waters.
Dual Beam fish detectors give you the option of a more detailed narrow view or a wider area with less detail. By using a high-frequency, the fish finder can give you a more accurate representation of what’s going on in the immediate area around your boat. If you want a more general overview of the greater area around you, you can switch the fish finder to low frequency sonar that will scan a larger area, but with less detailed information.
1. Garmin Striker Plus 5cv with Transducer, 5" GPS Fishfinder
When it comes to portable GPs devices, Garmin is a force to be reckoned with. Combining sonar with GPS offers you the best functions and features that a fish finder can offer. The Striker Plus 5cv utilizes both CHIRP and ClearVu technology, affording you the best possible image for a multitude of situations.
The 5” WVGA display is bright enough to be used outdoors on a sunny day. The resolution is great – 800 X 480 pixels. Beside the screen are easy to use function buttons. Apart from the benefits of GPS, the Garmin Striker also utilizes Quickdraw Contours. This is mapping software that allows you to create detailed fishing maps based on the places you’ve been. Its intuitive software and you don’t need any specialized knowledge to map an area of up to 2 million acres in HD quality, showing 1-foot contours.
The built-in GPS helps find and store your location. So if you find a good fishing area and want to return to the exact spot, the GPS will be a great aid. It will also show your speed.
Built for the environment in which it works, the Garmin Strike Plus GPS fish finder is pretty tough with an IPX7 waterproof rating. If you’re thinking of getting a kayak fish finder, this Garmin model could the perfect fit. You’ll need to route the transducer wire through one of the scupper holds, that’s easily done. According to the waterproof rating, the Garmin Strike Plus can be entirely immersed in water (approximately 3-feet deep) for up to 30-minutes. I’d think that this is ideal for kayak fishing.
Garmin is certainly not a cheap brand, nor should it be. Along with Hummingbird, this must be one of the top brands in this review. The Striker Plus 5cv is also one of the high-end models on the Garmin list of great fish finders. So it has top rated features, like CHIRP and ClearVu which is pretty much the same as SwitchFire technology. This is definitely a dependable GPS fish finder from a highly trusted brand.
2. Lucky Fish Finder Portable 2 in 1 Wired & Wireless Fishing Sonar
While the Garmin Striker Plus 5cv may be one of the best fish locators from a top brand, it’s probably not within everyone’s budget. As promised at the start of this review, we’re also going to review some of the best low cost fish finders. In this category, the Lucky Portable Fish Finder is a much more affordable option. While it may not have the fancy stuff, like GPS and CHIRP, it is a very reliable fish detector with a color screen and the benefit of a wireless transponder. It’s perfect for ice fishing, kayak fishing and, of course shore and boat fishing. This fish finder offers a lot of quality for not much money. It surely must be one of the top fish finders for people on a budget.
This is a very compact little fish finder, which is great, but this does mean a smaller screen, only 2.8-inches. It does, however, provide a good quality, color image. With the choice of wireless or cable sonar transmission, it has varying capabilities. Using the cable will provide you with more accurate and detailed information, using a 200 KHz frequency. However, this reduces the viewing angle to 45-degrees. The wireless transponder, which needs its own battery, uses a 125 KHz frequency with 180-degree coverage. This gives you a wider scanning range with less detail. The cable transducer is able to scan up to a depth of 328-feet, whereas the wireless system is limited to 147-feet.
One can instantly see that the Lucky Fish Finder is built for marine conditions and can handle a fair bit of knocking about. The rubberized, shock-proof housing is what I’d expect to see on any good durable fish finders. I don’t have a waterproof rating, but it’s clear that this portable fish finder can handle the type of water that you’d get on a kayak, that’s as good as one needs. If there were something that doesn’t impress me too much, this would have to be the antenna for the wireless transponder. You should always be aware that it can be damaged in rough conditions.
You get quite a comprehensive kit with this fish finder. Although it doesn’t have a charger, only a USB cable. I can’t see this as being much of a problem, we all have a bunch of USB chargers lying around – why get another one? Along with the fish finder you get both the cable and wireless transponders, as well as a neck strap and Hull bracket. All this packs into a tough carrying / storage, waterproof box.
If you’re after the basics, this being a fish finder with a reasonable range and not too much else, the Lucky Portable Fish Finder is a great deal. What it lacks in features, it makes up for in its durable and practical design. The way I see it, if you’re buying a budget fish finder, rather get better build quality and less sophisticated electronics, rather than the other way around.
3. Garmin Striker 4 3.5" GPS Fishfinder with CHIRP Traditional Transducer
If you thought you couldn’t get a Garmin fish finder at a very affordable price, think again. The Garmin Striker 4 has many of the high-end features that you would find on more expensive models, without a scary price tag. Okay, this is far from being a top of the range fish finder, like the exceptionally great Striker 5. This is an entry level fish finder from a top brand and this means more technology than most cheap fish finders and the type of quality one expects from Garmin.
The Garmin Striker 4 has most of the cool stuff that you’d find on the Striker 5. But it’s not quite in the same league. So it has the high resolution of CHIRP, but not to the same degree as the more expensive models. It’s nice to see that you can upgrade the Striker 4 to high-performance CHIRP technology for a much clearer, detailed image. This means buying a GT8 or GT15 transponder separately.
You can navigate, quite easily with the waypoint map. But all of this is more limited as it uses echoMap, which isn’t quite as sophisticated as the Quickdraw Contours found on the Striker 5. This model also lacks Clearvu technology. The screen is a little smaller (3.5”), but the resolution is pretty good. Remarkable, in fact, when compared to others in this price range. The maximum depth for fresh water is an incredible 1650 feet, 750 feet for saltwater.
Although very cheap, this is still a Garmin fish finder and that means a good level of quality and easy to use features. It has, like its more expensive stable mates, an IPX7 waterproof rating and easy to use controls. All the standard GPS functions are there, including a speed reading.
It’s really great to see a Garmin, with some pretty impressive specs, in the same price range as cheaper brands. This makes it my personal pick of the bunch amongst the budget Fish Finders. You’re getting quality from a top brand and technology that isn’t far behind the more expensive fish finders. It’s streaks ahead of most cheap fish finders and that deserves some merit.
4. Humminbird 410210-1 Helix 5 Chirp GPS G2 Fish Finder
Comparing top brands isn’t always easy. I guess there are those who will swear by the Garmin Striker Plus 5cv and those who will insist that the Hummingbird Helix 5 is #1. Personally, I couldn’t decide which is best. They are both among the top models from two of the best brands in the business. This means they are both in the higher price bracket, and cost about the same. Hummingbird uses very similar technology in the Helix 5 to that of the Garmin Striker Plus 5cv. They use different names but, essentially, the features are pretty much equal when comparing the two.
The 5” color WVGA produces a vivid, bright image, easily comparable to any of the top models. This is a 480 X 800 pixel screen, identical to the Garmin equivalent, and is every bit as brilliant. Clarity is enhanced by CHIRP, dual beam PLUS sonar. Taking the Humminbird Helix 5 into the realm of the ultimate fish finder. Switchfire allows you to customize your image to account for turbulence, water depth and even temperature. The high-precision GPS is accurate to within 2.5 meters (8.2 ft.).
Top notch mapping software and Smartstrike technology can be rated amongst the very best. Humminbird base maps provides a massive data base of over 10,000 lakes and the entire U.S coastline. Data is supplied from numerous sources, including LakeMaster and NOAA. Not only does this include useful fishing information, like depth contours, you also have access places of interest, navigation aids, and spot-soundings. Autochart Live (similar to Garmin Quickdraw) enables you to create detailed maps of the fishing areas that you frequent in real time and with
incredible detail. The plethora of recordable data is astounding and includes accurate depth contours, vegetation and even the hardness of lake or ocean floor.
Maximum sonar depth is an incredible 1500-feet. If this doesn’t meet your requirements, you always have the option of upgrading to a 2500-foot transducer. There are a bunch of other extras available, like a very versatile mounting kit and a cover for the Helix.
Like the high-end Garmin Striker 5cv, you’re paying top dollar for the remarkable Humminbird Helix 5 G2 fish finder. Though you most certainly are getting what you’re paying for. The features and technology are nothing but outstanding and the unit is durable with a slim design. When you deal with a brand of this caliber, you know that your software will always be upgradable. So the GPS fish finder that you buy today is going to remain just useful in the years to come.
5. Raymarine Dragonfly Pro CHIRP Fish Finder with built in GPS and Wi-Fi
If you think the Humminbird Helix 5 and Garmin Striker 5cv are the only contenders for the top spot, you’re in for a surprise. These two may seem like high-end products at a high price until you check out the Ramarine Drogonfly Pro. This model is available in 3 variants, the 4 Pro, 5 Pro, and 7 Pro. The number preceding the Pro model designation indicates the screen size. So the range-topping 7 Pro has a 7” LCD display. Since the 5 Pro is a little more expensive than either of the 5” models from Humminbird and Garmin, I would rather go for one of the other two brands for this size fish finder. That is, unless you’re sold on the Raymarine brand. Though if you’re prepared to dig a little deeper into your pockets, the Dragonfly 7 Pro will make you the envy of your fishing buddies. It makes all the others seem like second best.
Like any of the best GPS fish locators or finders, the Raymarine Dragonfly Pro series is packed with all that the best of modern technology can provide. The two smaller models (4 Pro and 5 Pro) have technology that’s comparable to the other high-end brands, this would include DownVison CHIRP and mapping. Though many will find the Navionics + mapping used for the Dragonfly Pro fish finders to be much more useful. It’s a comprehensive data base of coastal United States and Canada, as well as over 20,000 lakes. This is a comprehensive and detailed mapping feature, to which few can compare.
While all these Pro fish finders have incredibly good all-weather optically bonded displays of the highest standard, the 7 Pro stands out as the champion in all regards. Not only does this model give you one of the best images on a huge 7” screen, it includes a couple extras like Wi Fi technology. This allows you to stream your fishing information to other devices, like your smart phone, tablet, or lap top. Enabling you to store a virtually infinite amount of data and you can share this information with your friends.
I’d compare the more standard Dragonfly 4 Pro and 5 Pro to any of the similar models from top brands like Garmin and Humminbird. All of them provide a clear bright image with plenty of detail and one of the best mapping data bases in the world. If you want the very best (and are prepared to pay for this privilege), I’d recommend the Raymarine Dragonfly 7 Pro as the ultimate in fish finder technology.
6. Deeper Smart Sonar PRO+ - GPS Portable Wireless Wi-Fi Fish Finder
The Deeper range of sonar and GPS fish finders have a lot of unique features and capabilities that defy their very reasonable price. There are three variants. The entry level Deeper Start is a very cost effective option for shore anglers, with a 165’ casting and depth scanning range. The Deeper Pro is aimed at shore, kayak, boat, and ice fisherman, with a great range of 330’ (casting) and 260’ scanning depth. At the top of the range, is the Deeper Smart Sonar Pro+ which has the same range as the Deeper Pro, but offers the user much more detail for shore fishing, boat or kayak fishing, and ice fishing. All models have GPS and Wi Fi with both Android and iOS compatibility. A castable, wireless transducer like this can make a lot of sense form a savings point of view. You're only paying for a very advanced Wi Fi transducer and not a control module with a screen. Your phone or tablet acts as your control interface by means of a free for download app.
The casting transducer used for both of the Deeper Pro fish finders offer you some of the best ranges for any fish finder in any type of fishing conditions. They offer GPS mapping and you can stream and store as much data as you need to on any Wi Fi enabled device. The two Pro models have dual beam technology, allowing for a 15-degree (more detailed) image, or a wider 55-degree beam angle with less detail. The cheaper Deeper Start has a single 40-degree beam angle with a 0.9” target separation, whereas the more advanced Pro models boast an incredible 0.5” target separation, along with 3 color pallets, bottom hardness display, underwater vegetation and the top water temperature.
Making use of really advanced wireless technology, the Deeper Smart Sonar, GPS fish finder provides any angler with a range that’s hard to beat with good detail. Above all, these are very affordable fish finders for the level of technology that they offer. Even the more advanced Deeper Smart Pro+ is cheaper than one would think for such a capable device.
7. iBobber Wireless Bluetooth Smart Fish Finder for iOS and Android devices
The iBobber is a much cheaper castable Wi Fi transducer that sends an image directly to your Android or iOS device. Along with the very capable transducer, they include a digital scale, so it appears to be a very reasonable deal. Though I would rate this as a cheap fish finder for beginners who don’t have too much to spend.
When comparing the iBobber to the more expensive Deeper Smart wireless transducers, it’s obvious why the iBobber is so much cheaper. It has 100’ range and can scan to a depth of 135’. Some users have said that it has difficulties syncing with your device (phone or tablet). I would think that this would be more of an issue when the range is close to the maximum and it may not always be that great for ice fishing. It has GPS spot tagging with an interactive map and provides you with trip log, indicating date and time, along with water temperature. You can also log data on the type of fishing, species caught and some other useful data.
Although quite basic and limited in its capabilities, it’s highly possible that you could find the iBobber costing less than a hundred bucks. For that price, you’re actually getting a lot for your money. Because of the value that you’re getting, I would think that this is the perfect fish finder for people who are just starting out and are not yet ready to invest much in their fishing gear.
8. Vexilar FL-8se Genz Pack with 19 Degree Ice Flasher - GP0819
The Vexilar FL-8se Genz Pack has been specifically designed for the serious ice angler. Not only is this one of the toughest fish finders, it is equipped with a 19-degree ice flasher and the option of using a number of additional ice flasher transponders.
Ice fishing enthusiasts are always willing to pay a little extra for a Vexilar fish finder. While it doesn’t have the fancy extras, like GPS mapping and a color screen, it has the best capabilities for ice fishing. The Display, with powerful LED back lighting, shows weak targets in green, medium targets in orange and strong or bottom targets in red. There’s no additional information, like contours and all the other stuff that is so popular with modern fish finders. This is a serious fish finder for serious anglers, not gimmicks. The Vexilar FL-8se has 6 depth settings: 20; 30; 40; 60; 80 or 120 and has sensitivity adjustment. It has target identification to within 1-inch.
Although this is one of the cheaper models in the Vexilar range, it is by no means cheap when compared to more standard fish finders. As these fish locators are designed for the intrepid ice angler, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better fish finder for ice conditions. It’s designed and built to withstand the harshest conditions and comes with a 2-year warranty.