For the inexperienced angler, shopping for a new fish finder can be a difficult endeavor; even experienced boaters and fishermen can be overwhelmed by the choices available. There isn’t and never will be a single “greatest fish finder.” Each year, dozens of models are produced, and each brand and model has its unique set of strengths and applications.
The goal of this guide is to help you cut through the clutter and marketing jargon to locate the finest fish finder for the money that suits your fishing style. We’ll go through the many types of sonar and features found on today’s finest fishing electronics, and how they can be used to make your time on the water more enjoyable and help you catch more fish.
2021 Best Fish Finder – Quick Overview
Our top fish finder recommendations for the year include 3 Side Imaging models, 3 Down Imaging, 3 for Kayaking, and 1 Portable unit. There are great units to choose from at any budget and any skill level. This list is a quick rundown of our top recommendations. Keep reading for more info on each type of fish finder.
- HELIX 10 CHIRP MEGA SI+ GPS G4N – Editor’s Choice for best Side Imaging fish finder. MEGA Imaging, big screen, great value.
- Garmin ECHOMAP Ultra 106sv – Great touchscreen unit with mHz SideVu, and LiveScope compatible.
- Lowrance Elite FS 9 Active Imaging 3-in-1 – Affordable touch screen 3-1 Imaging fish finder, compatible with new Active Target live sonar.
- HELIX 9 CHIRP MEGA DI+ G4N – Biggest screen for a dedicated down imaging fish finder.
- Garmin ECHOMAP UHD 73cv – Great budget touchscreen model with DownVu and CHIRP sonar.
- Lowrance Hook Reveal 7 SplitShot – Best Budget Down Scan fish finder.
- Garmin STRIKER Vivid 7sv – Editor’s Choice for best kayak fish finder, perfect size and capabilities for small crafts.
- HELIX 7 CHIRP MEGA SI GPS G3N – Another great kayak fish finder, only 7inch with MEGA SI, and Dual Spectrum CHIRP.
- Lowrance Hook Reveal 7 TripleShot – Affordable and highly capable unit with built-in maps.
- HELIX 5 CHIRP GPS G2 PT – Best Portable fish finder.
1. Top Fish Finders by Price Range
Do you have a specific budget in mind for your next marine electronics purchase? We’ve got you covered with guides for choosing the best fish finder in several price ranges.
- Top Fish Finders Under $2,000
- Top Fish Finders Under $1,000
- Top Fish Finders Under $500
- Top Fish Finders Under $300
- Top Fish Finders Under $200
- Top Fish Finders Under $10
2. Latest Fish Finder Reviews
It looks to be another great year for marine electronics. There are a ton of products to review, and we’ll list them here.
- Garmin ECHOMAP Ultra – A top-of-the-line Garmin ECHOMAP Ultra unit featuring Ultra High Definition mHz SideVu and ClearVu sonar, available in 10 and 12-inch sizes.
- Garmin ECHOMAP UHD – These are the smaller siblings to the Ultra units, and they also have “Ultra High Def” side and down imaging sonars, as well as some new touchscreen features. The Garmin ECHOMAP Plus series has been discontinued.
- Garmin STRIKER Vivid – For the first time, the Garmin STRIKER Vivid series has been expanded to include a 9-inch SideVu variant. These units will replace the Garmin STRIKER Plus series.
- Lowrance Elite FS – New 7- and 9-inch “Fishing System” units that replace the Lowrance Elite Ti and Ti2 finders, which were previously available. These are the most affordable devices that are compatible with the new Active Target live forward-facing sonar technology and feature 3-in-1 Active Imaging, Fish Reveal, and Genesis Live mapping. They are also the most compact units available.
- Lowrance HDS LIVE – The HDS LIVE series, which replaces the HDS Gen3/Carbon devices, includes a huge 16-inch display and a revolutionary All-in-One Active Imaging transducer that provides all-around imaging.
- Lowrance Hook Reveal – This is the latest iteration of the Hook series, featuring all-new SolarMax displays, split-shot and triple-shot configurations, and a number of extremely interesting pricing options. Lowrance Hook2 models that have been discontinued are being replaced.
- Humminbird HELIX G4N – A lot of people were talking about Mega Imaging last year, and so far, only Humminbird has this technology on the market. The images produced by MEGA+ imaging equipment are the clearest and most detailed available. This year, a new 15-inch model will be released, which will be ideal for split-screen MEGA 360 and MEGA Live games, among other things.
- Humminbird HELIX MEGA DI G3N – A new model, the Humminbird HELIX MEGA DI G3N, adds to the MEGA portfolio, which now includes MEGA Down Imaging variants.
- Humminbird SOLIX G3 – When you add a MEGA 360 or MEGA Live transducer to your Humminbird SOLIX G3, you’ll notice a significant improvement in processing speed and performance. SOLIX has established a reputation for producing images with exceptional sharpness, and the G3 is designed to extend that reputation.
- Raymarine Axiom – With the Axiom, Raymarine is launching a new push into the consumer fish finder market. They appear to be of high quality, thanks to their exclusive 3D imaging process.
- Raymarine Element – In comparison to the Axiom, the Raymarine Element is a step down in terms of functions, but it still has many of the amazing fish finder capabilities that Garmin and Humminbird have to offer. Included in this category are Megahertz-based image technologies such as HyperVision, DownVision and Side Vision, as well as the RealVision 3-dimensional technology launched in the Axiom series.
3. Top Fish Finders by Type of Sonar
Every few years, it appears as if a new sonar technology is introduced that pushes the boundaries of what is possible with consumer-grade fishing electronics. In the early years of the industry, flashers were the standard, such as Lowrance’s legendary “Green Box” finder and Humminbird’s equally known “Super 60” flasher. From there, fish finders progressed to paper “graphs,” and eventually to LCD displays, which provided even more information about what was going on below the surface of the water.
Then, in the mid-2000s, Humminbird became the first company to make affordable side imaging available to the general public, and it was an instant hit. Since then, there has been an arms race that has come to be known as the “Sonar Wars,” after the invention of sonar. The information in the following guide will assist you in understanding each of these fish detecting technologies and determining whether or not you require them in the unit you purchase.
- Traditional Sonar – This is the most basic type of sonar, sometimes known as “2D,” and it pings in a cone around the area of interest, with anything comes into view of the cone being displayed on the screen. After then, the screen scrolls to the left, and anything on the right represents updated data or return information.
- CHIRP – Unlike traditional sonar, which operates at a fixed frequency, such as 83 kHz, CHIRP transmits over a wide range of frequencies, such as 70-110 kHz, to detect objects. With CHIRP transducers, more sound energy is transferred into the water, resulting in better returns and greater detail.
- Imaging Sonar – Imagery sonar pings a very narrow beam to the sides (Side Imaging) or straight down (Down Imaging), and when your boat is moving, the sonar returns stack on top of each other to create a realistic image of the lake bottom that shows fish and structure up to 100ft to either side of the boat. Imagery sonar can detect fish and structure up to 100ft to either side of the boat.
- 360 Sonar – When you think of 360 Sonar, think of “sweeping side imaging,” because it is a small side imaging transducer that rotates, creating a full circle view of what is in front of and all around your boat. This technology has been operating beneath the radar for quite some time, and it is only recently that more people have realized how beneficial it is as a fishing gear.
- “Live” Sonar – Bass and crappie fisherman are currently obsessed with “Live” front looking sonar, which displays real-time data. Even though the technology has been around for a long time in the commercial world, Garmin was the first company to offer it to the recreational market with the very popular LiveScope device. Lowrance and Humminbird will now join the party in 2021 with Active Target (Lowrance) and MEGA Live (Humminbird), respectively (Humminbird).
Fish Finders for Ice Fishing
For ice fishing to be efficient, a unique sort of equipment must be used to catch fish beneath the surface of the ice. Given that you are working your bait vertically, it is essential that you be able to see fish under it and see your bait as it drops down the water column.
When shopping for a flasher display, the first thing to consider is quality. Mechanical flashers have a tendency to break down more frequently and require more frequent repairs; as a result, we recommend investing in a digital flasher.
Most 5 inch portable systems now feature a flasher option among the other perspectives that may be selected. To see standard 2D sonar, you can also use a split screen to view it. With these two perspectives, you can see the fish and your bait that are hiding beneath the hole in the ice.
Kayak Fish Finders
In the last five years, kayak fishing has experienced a meteoric rise in popularity. If you’ve been thinking about getting into kayak fishing, now is an excellent time to do so. There has never been a time when there were so many fantastic fishing kayak options available, as well as high-quality fish finders to mount on them. There are some really decent 5 and 7-inch devices available that have fantastic screens, extensive functionality, and are easy on the wallet…. You can browse through all of our Kayak Fish Finder reviews, or you can look at our top 5 recommended Kayak Fish Finder models.
Portable Fish Finders
Portable fish finders are small, lightweight devices that may be readily added to and removed from a boat or other vessel. In situations when you make occasional journeys to the lake, rent boats, or have a smaller fishing boat that is not suited to a permanently mounted fish finder, a portable fish finder may be beneficial. These machines are often supplied with a separate battery, which you may store in the carrying case when not in use.
There are also castable fish finders, which are essentially a transducer pod that floats, as well as fish finders that are accessed by a smartphone app. When fishing from the shore or from a small boat, these types of fish finders are extremely useful.
Best Down Imaging Sonar
Down imaging is a technique that uses a transducer to generate a single extremely thin slice of high frequency sound waves in order to create a lifelike 3D appearance of what is beneath your boat. These narrow slices of sonar returns, when layered together and painted on your fish finder, provide a far sharper picture of what is beneath the surface of the water. In normal sonar, what appears to be a blob of “something” is quickly proven to be brush, pebbles, fish, or other types of structure, rather than a blob of nothing.
Down imaging sonar is available from a variety of manufacturers, including Humminbird’s Down Imaging, Lowrance’s DownScan, Garmin’s DownVü, and Raymarine’s Dragonfly, to name a few. Because the image on all of the brands appears to be relatively similar, it is up to you to carefully examine screenshots and specifications in order to choose which will work best for you. Because imaging capabilities are more or less equivalent across the board, seek for the best and largest screen available, as well as mapping capabilities that are compatible with your fishing style.
Down Imaging Fish Finder Reviews
- Garmin Echomap UHD 73sv
- Lowrance Hook2 7 SplitShot
- Garmin STRIKER Vivid 7cv
- HELIX 7 CHIRP DI Sonar/GPS G3N
- Helix 10 CHIRP MEGA DI
- All Down Imaging Reviews
Best Side Imaging Sonar
Where down imaging uses one sonar beam looking directly towards the bottom, side imaging uses two beams that are angled slightly upward in both side directions. The two beams together create photograph-like images of the lake bottom on both sides of your boat, revealing contour changes, bottom composition transitions, fish, and structure all at the same time.
Side imaging is an extremely useful tool for searching out fish-holding structure on the lake. It can significantly reduce the time it takes to find fish, making you more efficient, allowing you to spend more time trying to catch them.
Side Imaging Fish Finder Reviews
- HELIX 10 CHIRP MEGA SI+ GPS G3N
- Garmin Echomap UHD 93sv
- SOLIX 10 CHIRP MEGA SI+ G2
- Lowrance Elite-9 Ti TotalScan
- Garmin STRIKER Vivid 9sv
- All Side Imaging Reviews
MEGA Side Imaging: Humminbird MEGA fish finders provide the highest quality photos available in a fish detector. They use a frequency of 1200 KHz (1.2 MHz) to obtain extremely clear images on both the side and down looking sonars. Aside from the SOLIX models, MEGA is only available in the HELIX 9, 10, 12, and 15 as well as the HELIX 9.
Garmin’s ECHOMAP UHD and Ultra, as well as select GPSMAP units, are equipped with megahertz capabilities. In order to receive the 1.2 MHz SideVu frequency, you must use the new GT56UHD-TM transducers. The DownVu is still limited to 455 and 800 kHz frequencies.
MEGA 360 Imaging & Scanning Sonar
Down and side imaging have a few disadvantages, despite how effective they are. First and foremost, you must be moving ahead in order to be able to see clearly. Even though it is ideal to use the trolling motor at its idling speed, you can decrease the scrolling speed down to show a good picture while fishing from the trolling motor. The second disadvantage of using a boat is that you can only view what you have already sailed through with your boat. The ability to see the structure is quite beneficial, but it isn’t very useful if you’ve already traveled through it.
With the MEGA 360 Imaging technology, Humminbird has discovered a revolutionary answer to this challenge. Using a revolving transducer, MEGA 360 can sweep in a full circle around you and your boat. This allows you to see everything in front of you, behind you, and to all sides without having to move at all!
Despite the fact that you are standing still, the revolving transducer keeps the screen refreshed, allowing you to view potential casting targets in front of you. You can now clearly identify casting targets such as pockets and turns in the weedline, as well as bushes, stumps, and trees, which were previously difficult to see.
The MEGA 360 transducers are a fairly expensive add-on, but something that will be a huge leap forward for serious anglers, especially bass and panfish anglers. All of Humminbird’s Helix G3N and newer units are capable of displaying 360 data, as long as you have the most recent software updates. We have used and recommended the MEGA 360 Ultrex unit, which you can see in the review here.
CHIRP Fish Finders
CHIRP sonar is one of the most recent technologies to be introduced into fish finders that are affordable to the average Joe. Lowrance and Garmin were instrumental in bringing this form of sonar into the mainstream, and now Humminbird and the other manufacturers are following suit. You’re probably wondering what precisely CHIRP is, how it works, and what the benefits are. Let me explain. You are not alone in feeling this way, so here is a little primer.
CHIRP transducers send longer sweeps across a range of frequencies, as opposed to conventional sonar, which employs a fixed frequency, such as 83 kHz or 200 kHz, for example. Because CHIRP transducers are capable of delivering several times more sound energy into the water column than a typical transducer, they make it far easier to detect things in the water column. As a result, underwater objects can be seen with more clarity and target separation, and at longer depths than previously possible.
CHIRP has traditionally been reserved for saltwater fishing boats, which require greater depth capabilities. However, fish finder manufacturers are finding ways to process the CHIRP signals in a way that is affordable and beneficial to the typical freshwater angler fishing in shallower water, which is a boon for the industry. Check out the post below for some of the top CHIRP devices on the market, as well as the fantastic Lowrance primer video for further information.
Fish Finder GPS Combos
Ordinary two-dimensional sonar works by emitting a cone-shaped sound wave that pings the water column just beneath the boat. The frequency cone becomes thinner as the frequency increases. In general, the narrower the beam, the higher the quality of the image you will see on the screen will be. It is possible to have more coverage area by using lower frequency beam width and a wider cone angle, which is beneficial while looking for fish.
The appearance of an arch can occur when your boat travels over a large fish or when the fish passes across a portion of your sonar cone. An arch will only appear on a fish finder under very precise circumstances, so do not be frightened if you do not see the arches immediately or on a consistent basis while fishing. The shape of the fish might vary depending on the speed of your boat and the location of the fish in the cone. Thin lines, ovals, and balls are all possible shapes for the fish.
“Dual beam” just refers to the fact that the fish finder has the ability to employ both beams at the same time when it is marketed. If you want to better comprehend what’s going on below your boat, you may usually watch them side by side, blended together, or on different screens.
All of the best fish finders on the market today will be GPS combo devices. These machines contain one or two SD or Micro SD card slots, which can be used to store mapping cards such as Navionics or Lakemaster, respectively. Lakemaster map cards can only be used in Humminbird fish finders, whereas Navionics map cards can be used in nearly any brand of fish finder.
In the last several years, there have been some significant advancements in mapping technology, such as DIY mapping software such as AutoChart, AutoChart Live, Navionics SonarCharts, and Insight Genesis, as well as commercial mapping software such as Navionics SonarCharts. Some cards, such as Lakemaster PLUS and Navionics Platinum+, also include Satelite Overlay, which allows you to enhance your lake charts even more.