Shopping for a new fish finder can be a daunting task for the novice angler, even experienced boaters and anglers can be overwhelmed by the options available. There really is no one “best fish finder”, and there never will be. There are dozens of models manufactured each year, and each brand and model has its own strengths and place for best use.
The purpose of this guide is to help you cut through the confusion and the marketing buzzwords to help you choose the best fish finder for the money that fits your style of fishing. We’ll walk you through the different types of sonar and features found on today’s top fishing electronics, and they can be used to help you enjoy your time on the water and 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 – The 10 and 12-inch top of the line units with Ultra High Def mHz SideVu and ClearVu sonar.
- Garmin ECHOMAP UHD – The smaller siblings to the Ultra units, also with “Ultra High Def” side and down imaging sonars, plus some new touchscreens. Replaces the Garmin ECHOMAP Plus series.
- Garmin STRIKER Vivid – This popular series has added a 9-inch SideVu model, These units 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. These are the lowest cost units that are compatible with the new Active Target live forward-facing sonar, and sporting 3-in-1 Active Imaging, Fish Reveal, and Genesis Live mapping.
- Lowrance HDS LIVE – The LIVE series is replacing the HDS Gen3/Carbon units, and now has a massive 16-inch unit and a new All-in-one Active Imaging transducer.
- Lowrance Hook Reveal – This is the latest refresh of the Hook series, with all new SolarMax displays, SplitShot, and TripleShot configurations, and some very interesting prices. Replacing the discontinued Lowrance Hook2 models.
- Humminbird HELIX G4N – Mega Imaging was HUGE last year, and so far only Humminbird has this technology. The clearest, most detailed images around come off MEGA+ imaging units. This year brings a new 15-inch model, which will be great for split-screen MEGA 360 and MEGA Live.
- Humminbird HELIX MEGA DI G3N – An expansion of the MEGA lineup, with MEGA Down Imaging only models.
- Humminbird SOLIX G3 – The new G3 SOLIX series boasting new processors, which are going to come in handy when you add on a MEGA 360 and MEGA Live transducer. SOLIX has become well known for crystal sharp imaging, the G3 looks to build further on that reputation.
- Raymarine Axiom – Raymarine is making a new push into consumer fish finders with the Axiom. They look fantastic, with their own 3D imaging technology.
- Raymarine Element – The Element series is a step below the Axiom, with many of the great fish finder features of Garmin and Humminbird. This includes HyperVision DownVision and SideVision imaging (Megahertz frequencies), as well as RealVision 3D introduced in the Axiom series.
3. Top Fish Finders by Type of Sonar
Every few years there seems to be some type of new sonar technology that pushes the envelope for consumer grade fishing electronics. For many years, flashers were the deal, like Lowrance’s famous “Green Box” locator, and Humminbird’s equally renowned “Super 60” flasher. From there, fish finders turned to paper “graphs”, and then LCD displays that revealed more information about what was below the boat.
Then in the mid-2000’s, Humminbird was the first company to release affordable side imaging to the consumer, and it was a smash success. From that point on there has been an arms race that some have come to call the “Sonar Wars“. The guide below will help you understand each of these fish finding technologies and help you decide if you need them in the unit you purchase.
- Traditional Sonar – Also known as “2D” sonar, this is your basic sonar that pings in a cone, and whatever comes into view of the cone is displayed on the screen. The screen then scrolls to the left and anything on the right is newer data/returns.
- CHIRP – Traditional sonar uses a set frequency, such as 83 kHz, but CHIRP transmits over a range of frequencies such as 70-110 kHz. CHIRP transducers put more sound energy into the water providing better returns and more detail.
- Imaging Sonar – Imaging sonar pings a very narrow beam either to the sides (Side Imaging) or straight down (Down Imaging), when your boat is moving the sonar returns stack on each other creating a realistic image of the lake bottom and shows fish and structure up 100ft to either side of the boat.
- 360 Sonar – Think of 360 as “sweeping side imaging”, because it is basically a small side imaging transducer that rotates, creating a full circle image of what’s in front of and all-around your boat. This technology has flown under the radar for a long time, and only recently have more people discover how valuable a tool it is for fishing.
- “Live” Sonar – The newest rage among bass and crappie anglers is “Live” forward facing sonar. The technology has been around commercially for a long time, but Garmin was the first to bring it to the recreational market with the incredibly popular LiveScope. Now in 2021 both Lowrance and Humminbird will join the party with Active Target (Lowrance) and MEGA Live (Humminbird).
Kayak Fish Finders
Kayak fishing has exploded in popularity in the last five years. If you are looking to get into kayak fishing, now is a great time. There have never been so many awesome fishing kayak options and quality fish finders to put on them. There are several really good 5 and 7-inch models that have awesome screens, full capabilities, and are easy on your budget. See all our Kayak Fish Finder Reviews, or check out our Top 5 recommended Kayak Fish Finders.
Portable Fish Finders
Portable fish finders are units that are easily attached to and removed from a boat. A portable unit can be useful if you make infrequent trips to the lake, rent boats, or have a smaller fishing boat that isn’t conducive to a permanently mounted fish finder. These units typically come with a separate battery that you stow in the carrying case
There are also castable fish finders, which are basically a transducer pod that floats, and a smartphone app is the fish finder. These kinds of fish finders are excellent for fishing from shore or from small watercraft.
Fish Finders for Ice Fishing
Ice fishing requires a special type of unit to be effective in catching fish under the ice. You are working your bait vertically so you want to be able to see fish under your bait, as well as see your bait as it drops down the water column.
The first thing to look for is a good flasher display. Mechanical flashers tend to breakdown more frequently and require repairs, so for that reason, we suggest getting a digital flasher.
Most 5 inch portable units now have a flasher option in the available views. You can also do a split screen to see traditional 2D sonar. With these two views, you can see fish and your bait under the hole in the ice.
Best Down Imaging Sonar
Down imaging uses a transducer that emits a single extremely thin slice of high frequency sound waves to create a lifelike 3D appearance of whats below your boat. When stacked up and painted on your fish finder, these thin slices of sonar returns make it much clearer as to what is below the boat. What might look like a blob of “something” in standard sonar, is instantly revealed to be brush, rocks, fish, or other kinds of structure.
Each manufacturer has their own version of down imaging sonar; Humminbird’s Down Imaging, Lowrance’s DownScan, Garmin’s DownVü, and Raymarine’s Dragonfly. The imaging looks very similar on all the brands, so it’s really up to you to look closely at screenshots and specifications and decide what will work best for you. With imaging being more or less equal, look for the best and largest screen, as well as for the mapping capabilities that will meet 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: If you are looking for the best possible images in a fish finder, there is nothing better than the Humminbird MEGA units. They utilize 1200 KHz frequency (1.2 MHz) to get ultra clear images both side and down looking sonar. MEGA is only available in the HELIX 9, 10, 12, and 15 as well as the SOLIX models.
Garmin has megahertz capability in the ECHOMAP UHD, Ultra, and some GPSMAP units. You need the new GT56UHD-TM transducers to get the 1.2 MHz SideVu frequency. The DownVu still only supports 455 and 800 kHz.
Best Side Imaging Fish Finders
MEGA 360 Imaging & Scanning Sonar
As great as they are, down and side imaging have a few drawbacks. First, you need to be moving forward to be able to get a clear picture. Idling speed is best, but you can slow the scrolling speed down to show a good picture while fishing from the trolling motor. The second drawback is that you can only see what you have already passed over with your boat. It’s great to see the structure, but it doesn’t do you much good if you’ve already passed it.
Humminbird developed an innovative solution to this problem, called MEGA 360 Imaging. MEGA 360 uses a rotating transducer to sweep in a full circle around you and the boat. This allows you to see in front of you, behind you, and to all sides without moving at all.
The rotating transducer refreshes the screen even while you are stationary, allowing you to see targets in front of you to cast to. Now you can clearly see casting targets such as pockets and turns in the weed-line, as well as brush, stumps, and trees.
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 newest technologies to come to fish finders that the average Joe can afford. Lowrance and Garmin and helped push this type of sonar into the mainstream, and now Humminbird and the others are starting to follow. You are probably wondering what exactly is CHIRP, how does it work, and what are benefits? You aren’t the only one, so here is a short primer.
Where regular sonar uses a fixed frequency, such as 83 kHz or 200 kHz, CHIRP transducers transmit longer sweeps across a range of frequencies. CHIRP transducers are essentially putting many times more sound energy into the water column than a traditional transducer, making it much easier to detect objects in the water column. This also means objects in the water can be viewed with better clarity, with better target separation, and at greater maximum depths.
CHIRP has been normally been relegated to saltwater fishing boats, where they need greater depth capabilities, but the fish finder manufacturers are finding ways to affordably process the CHIRP signals in a way that benefits the typical freshwater fisherman in shallower water. For some of the best units with CHIRP, check out the below article, as well as the excellent primer video from Lowrance.
Best Fish Finder GPS Combos
Regular 2D sonar uses a cone shaped sound wave to ping the water column directly below the boat. The higher the frequency, the narrower the cone. In general, the narrower the beam, the higher definition you will see on the screen. The lower frequency beam width and a wider cone angle will give you more coverage area, which can be helpful when searching for fish.
When your boat passes over a large fish, or the fish passes through part of your sonar cone, it can appear as an arch. It takes a very specific circumstance to display an arch on a fish finder, so do not be alarmed if you do not immediately or always see the arches. Sometimes the fish look like thin lines, ovals, or balls, it just depends on the speed of your boat, and where the fish are in the cone.
When you see a fish finder advertised as a “dual beam”, this just means it has the ability to use both beams at the same time. You can usually view them side by side, blended together, or on separate screens in order to help you understand what’s happening below your boat.
All of the top fish finders today will be GPS combo units. These units have 1 or 2 SD or Micro SD card slots for using mapping cards such as Navionics or Lakemaster. Lakemaster map cards are exclusive for use in Humminbird fish finders, while Navionics can be used in almost any brand.
In the past few years there have been exciting advances in mapping technology coming out, such as DIY mapping software like AutoChart, AutoChart Live, Navionics SonarCharts, and Insight Genesis. Some cards like Lakemaster PLUS and Navionics Platinum+ are also offering Satelite Overlay as a way to enhance your lake maps.
- Humminbird HELIX 5 CHIRP GPS G2
- Humminbird HELIX 7 CHIRP GPS G2/G2N
- Garmin ECHOMAP UHD 53cv
- Lowrance Elite-5 Ti & Elite 7 Ti
- Garmin STRIKER Vivid 9sv & 7cv
*Last updated 2021-05-06 at 10:30 / Product Links & Images from Amazon Product Advertising API