When I first became serious about fishing (as a way of life rather than a simple hobby), I knew the time had come to invest in a fish finder. The question was, which one would give me the most bang for my hard-earned buck? The results of my search for the best fish finder for the money can be found below.
Important Things to Consider When Shopping for a Fish Finder
Why should I invest in a fish finder in the first place?
A fish finder, also known as a sounder, utilizes sonar (sound navigation ranging) to help you determine whether there are any fish nearby. They can also provide information on the water temperature, depth, and structure (the underwater environment, including obstructions such as rocks and strainers). If you’ve never used a fish finder before, you might be surprised at how effective they can be.
How do I go about choosing the best fish finder for the money?
If affordability is a primary factor for you, you’ll want to check the product’s specifications carefully to ensure that the unit doesn’t include any features you’re unlikely to take advantage of. Some of the more sophisticated models, for example, include built-in GPS technology and mapping systems. While these features can certainly come in handy, they aren’t necessary for shoppers on a budget.
On a related note, you should invest in a unit with the biggest screen you can afford. The larger the screen is, the easier it will be to read, and readability is arguably the most important feature when it comes to fish finders. Not only are larger screens more visible from a distance, but their resolution is also usually higher, making for a sharper readout.
What’s the best way to use a fish finder?
I have several tips that might help you get the most out of your fish finder. The first one might seem obvious, but it bears mentioning: Read the instruction manual. There’s a good chance that you’ll find information you weren’t even looking for, and it will give you a good idea of where to look should you have questions about one or more of the device’s more complicated functions.
Second, be sure you understand what each readout on the display is referring to. If you consistently misread the temperature gauge as the depth readout, for example, you’re bound to become frustrated. Make yourself as familiar with the screen and scrolling functions as possible before you set out on a real expedition.
Finally, understand that there are two different ways to read the screen, depending on whether you’re using the side-imaging or down-imaging function on your transducer. For side-imaging, you’ll want to read the display from top to bottom, since the older data drops toward the bottom of the screen while the newer info is closest to the top. If you’re using the down-imaging function, you should read the screen from right to left. This might take some getting used to, as our minds are programmed to read from left to right (the way you’re doing right now). However, with a bit of practice, the action will seem more natural.
Check out this YouTube tutorial for a practical demonstration on how to get the most out of your fish finder:
What are some of the features I should look for in a fish finder?
If this is your first time shopping for a fish finder, then you might feel slightly out to sea (pun intended) as you search through all the different brands and models. Here’s a guide to help you understand some of the different terms you’re likely to come across.
Some units will come equipped with mapping technology that allow you to create detailed facsimiles of the underwater environment for future reference. If the company claims that the mapping feature allows you to create maps with “1′ contours,” it means that you should be able to illustrate any changes in the terrain measuring as little as 12 inches.
Low-frequency transducers (see below) use longer, less frequent waves to show larger fish, and are best suited for deep-sea fishing. High-frequency units work well in shallow water, with short, rapid waves that are capable of showing more detail; the screen resolution is often better at this frequency as well. If the transducer is advertised as “dual-frequency,” it’s capable of emitting both frequencies—at once, if desired.
A fish finder can be attached to your boat using one of several methods: transom mounting, in which a bracket is bolted to the transom with the transducer floating below or behind the boat; in-hull, for units whose transducers don’t require submersion in order to work; thru-hull, which is generally used on sailboats; and trolling motor mounting, in which the device is permanently affixed to the hub of the trolling motor’s propeller.
Since these methods vary depending on what type of craft you have and what kind of fishing you’ll be doing, it’s important to know which mounting system the device is equipped for before making a purchase. Finally, note that some handheld versions are available also; see our Product Reviews section for more details.
The transducer is the “working” part of the fish finder—the device that emits sound waves into the water to retrieve information about the surroundings. For more information on the types of sound waves that transducers might use, see the Frequency definition above.
On many fish finders, you’ll find either a JIS or IPX water rating. This number refers to the amount of water resistance the device is capable of, with 1 being the lowest (some slight protection from vertically dripping water) and 8 representing the top of the scale (protected when submerged in water more than one meter—or three feet—deep).
Best Fish Finder for the Money: Product Reviews
#1 Garmin Striker 4
The Striker 4 unit is equipped with high-frequency sonar, a user-friendly keypad, and depth readout capabilities of up to 1600 feet in fresh water and 750 feet in salt water. This model is available in several different versions, including a portable kit option and an upgraded unit offering a dual-beam transducer and built-in GPS. On the standard model, the screen measures 4.3 inches across, but one version offers a variety of sizes, with the largest measuring 7 inches across. Special features include a built-in GPS system and a mapping feature that allows you to store up to 2 million acres of maps with a 1′ contour.
- Relatively low price point
- Built-in GPS
- Impressive mapping software
- IPX rating of 7
- User-friendly interface
- Variety of screen sizes available
- Portable kit option
- Setup instructions only available online
- Performance can be spotty
- Customer service department is sometimes difficult to deal with
#2 Humminbird PiranhaMAX 4
The PiranhaMAX offers dual-beam sonar, meaning you can choose from either a wide beam (for expanded coverage of the underwater environment) or a narrow one (which will not cover as much ground, but give you a more detailed picture). The design is simple and easy to use, even for beginners. The screen measures 4.3 inches diagonally, which is standard for this type of unit. Be forewarned that the screen is covered by a sticker that should be removed before first use; otherwise, there’s a chance it might melt in the sun and get stuck in place, making the screen difficult to read. Overall, this is a no-frills option that won’t win any points in the sophistication department, but if you’re simply looking to catch more fish and are hoping to find an inexpensive device that can help you find them, the PiranhaMAX could be just the toy you’re looking for.
- Affordable price point
- Dual-beam sonar offers some versatility
- User-friendly keypad
- Provides accurate depth and bottom readouts
- No built-in GPS function
- Down-imaging ability only (no side-scanning available)
- Resolution is on the low side; the fish icon is fairly basic, with few variations
#3 Humminbird HELIX 5
The standard version of the HELIX 5 comes equipped with a five-inch color screen, which could be good news if you have vision problems or if the configuration of your boat means your fish finder must be installed some distance away. This unit also features dual-beam sonar technology and a slot for a Micro SD card, giving you additional options for storage. However, depending on which version you buy, there may not be all that much to store. GPS and mapping functions are available, but only on upgraded versions of the device—the standard unit covers only the basics, which makes the price seem fairly steep when compared to some similar models. Finally, note that that the transducer is outfitted for a transom mount—suitable for most watercraft, but something to be aware of nonetheless.
- Large, easy-to-read color screen
- Suitable for use in kayaks or other small crafts
- User-friendly keypad
- Easy to install
- Some of the secondary hardware is noticeably low in quality
- Transducer doesn’t work well in shallow water
- No side imaging
- GPS and mapping functions not included in standard version
#4 Venterior Handheld
The first thing you’re likely to notice about the Venterior Handheld unit: It’s one of the smallest units on our list, measuring 9.6 inches long and 5.9 inches across and weighing in at just over one pound. It’s also one of the most affordable options, with a price tag significantly lower than those of its more sophisticated counterparts. That said, it offers many of the standard features you’d expect in a fish finder. It has a depth range of 3 to 328 feet, with a backlit LCD display and a sensor beam angle of 45 degrees. A side-scan adapter is included in the purchase, along with a neck strap to give you a hands-free option for casting. Venterior also offers a two-year warranty. While the resolution isn’t as high as you could expect to find in a higher-priced model, it provides a fairly adequate rendering of the surrounding environment.
- Impressively low price point
- Handheld device suitable for dock, boat, or ice fishing
- Two-year customer warranty
- Side-imaging adapter included in purchase
- Lightweight and portable
- Low resolution
- Does not work effectively at speeds over 5 mph
- No mute function
- Not always effective at differentiating structure (i.e., rocks and weeds) from fish when finder is in motion
#5 LUCKY Portable
The 2.8-inch LCD screen on this handheld unit is capable of displaying water depth, temperature, and bottom contouring and structure, as well as the location of the fish. Its depth capability is only 147 feet, but considering how portable the device is (just 5 inches long and 2.8 inches across, weighing in at a feather-light 6.7 ounces), that isn’t likely to be a major complaint. If you need greater depth capability, there’s a good chance you’ll be using the fish finder in a sturdy watercraft, and this one is better suited for dock or ice fishing. The unit features a 90-degree beam angle and a wireless operational range of 100 meters (328 feet). The color palette for the screen isn’t the broadest one you’ll find, but it distinguishes clearly enough between the bottom contouring and the fish themselves.
- The most lightweight and portable model on our list
- Impressive array of features considering its small size
- Easy to operate
- Relatively high price point for a handheld model
- Water temperature display is not always accurate
- Screen resolution is fairly basic
So, after reviewing all of the fish finders listed above, was I able to select a clear favorite?
Based on the available information, I would have to give the edge to the Garmin Striker 4. There are a wide range of options available for that model, for one thing, but it also delivers in all of the basic categories: It carries a water-resistance rating of 7, making it suitable for use on just about any watercraft; it has an impressive depth readout capability, and the dual-beam transducer offers versatility across a range of fishing types. The only negative quality that might impact your ability to fully enjoy the product is the lack of an instruction manual, but all the information you need can be easily found online.
I hope you’ve found all the information you need in your search for a decent and affordable fish finder that offers the best value for the money. May your purchase bring you great success on the water in the days to come!