Not so many years ago, anglers used SONAR, sound waves, to mark bottoms of various bodies of water to track and catch fish. It was a crude and elementary tool. A single bar showed the depth of the water based on a meter similar to the speedometer in a car. These depth recorders could not measure depths beyond approximately 100 feet, and so they were not functional for saltwater anglers. Anglers instead had to depend on tachometers, compasses and triangulating visible landmarks and other points to find certain fishing areas. It was a difficult and painstaking operation, especially for commercial anglers.
Move forward a few years, and the fish finder changed the world of fishing.
The fish finder is just what it says: A device, the transducer, that sends soundwaves under the boat. The sound waves bounce back to the boat, and the information appears on a small screen for the angler to see. Fish, structure, water depth and temperature are all seen on a small LCD screen. Modern fish finders also have GPS built into them to mark holes for the anglers to return at other times.
The fish finder has followed electronic technology closely. Advances in pixel density, coloration and improved SONAR has helped the fish finding industry grow. What was once a large, single square pixel on a screen is now a sharp image of potential fish. Some better fish finders will even show 3-D structures and bottoms, something that serious anglers take seriously.
All fish finders do the same task, and some are more expensive than others. Ultimately, the decision is based on the angler’s particular budget, but the following information will give some idea on finding the best of the top fish finder brands.
Lowrance is one of the oldest companies in the fish finder market, and they make excellent products.
For the serious, offshore and deepsea angler, the HDS-12 is a solid choice.
- Touch screen LCD
- 3D Viewing capability
- Full navigational charts and GPS
- Specialized for offshore use
- Cheaper models have similar features
The next in line is the Elite-5X HDI at approximately one-third the cost. This particular model lacks many of the extraordinary features of the HDS-12, but the five inch screen will give any angler plenty of information.
- Not as expensive as the HDS-12
- Solid construction for the price
- Color screen
- High end of the average budget
- Will use a good bit of battery life
- No GPS or plotting capability
Lastly for Lowrance is one fit for the average angler’s budget. The Mark-5x is a bare bones, nothing fancy finder and is perfect for a first time purchaser.
- Sharp detail
- Black and white display
- No GPS
One of the oldest in the market, the Hummingbird company does two things. They make excellent fish finders, and they are not expensive. This is a trade off with many of the bells and whistles of finer fish finders, but Hummingbird is a top fish finder brand.
The 408260-1 is the premiere of the Hummingbird line. This finder is capable of reading to 800 feet, making it ideal for offshore application.
- Two depth setting
- GPS included
- Best for saltwater applications
Some anglers like to remove their fish finders at the end of the day, and some prefer to leave them attached. The 570 is capable of both.
- 800 feet depth capacity
- Black and white screen only
- 5 inch screen
The final model for Hummingbird is the Piranha Max 165. Do not let the inexpensive price fool you; this is a solid model choice.
- Price is a real value
- 600 feet depth
- Small screen
- Black and white only
The Garmin company is better known for GPS units, but they do make fish finders as well. It is fortunate they are known more for the GPS, because each model has a GPS built in.
The 50Dv is priced in the mid-range of the other two models, but it has the added benefit of many U.S. lakes previously installed. This means it is the perfect finder for large, freshwater applications.
- Installed software
- Median price
- Relative newcomer in fish finders
- Not appropriate for saltwater
The 550c has some great features with a 1,900 feet depth view. This is one of the deepest of the finders reviewed.
- Moderately priced
- Depth views
- Discontinued at manufacturer
- Not portable
The last model to review is the 501c. This model scans to an astounding 2,300 feet deep.
- Strong saltwater model
- Full color
- Five inch display
- No transducer
Each of these models will require installation, and those who are not familiar with boats and electronics should enlist a professional for assistance. Those who are savvy with both can find this video to be helpful.
Remember: The best fish finder will find fish, and the cheapest fish finder will find fish. Ultimately, the decision will be based on factors outside of the aforementioned ones, your particular budget and fishing milieu.
The more expensive models are often reserved for professional and commercial anglers who need the fine details and information provided. This does not mean that one of those models is inappropriate for your particular needs, but careful consideration is necessary before such a large investment is made.