Trying to decide on a new fish finder can be a daunting task. Even experienced boaters and anglers can become overwhelmed by the options and features available.
The Reality? There is no one “best fish finder,” and never will be.
There are over one hundred models to choose from each year. Each brand and model have its strengths and place for best use.
The purpose of this guide is to help you cut through the confusion and the marketing hype 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 in today’s top fishing electronics, and they can be used to help you enjoy your time on the water and catch more fish.
How to Use this Guide
- Use the Table of Contents to jump to the most applicable sections.
- Read our other articles about models that interest you.
- Still not sure which unit is right for you? Ask us a Question!
2023 Best Fish Finder – Quick Overview
Our top fish finder recommendations for the year are mostly the same as last year. Nothing drastically new has been released. We’ve included several Side Imaging, Down Imaging, Live Sonar units, and Kayaking and Portable units.
There are great units to choose from at any budget and skill level. This list is a quick rundown of our top recommendations. Keep reading for more info on each type of fish finder.
- HELIX 12 CHIRP MEGA SI+ GPS G4N – Editor’s Choice for best Side Imaging fish finder. MEGA+ Imaging, big screen, great value. Compatible with MEGA Live and MEGA 360. If you can’t afford the 12, the 10 and 9 are also fantastic.
- Garmin ECHOMAP Ultra 106sv– Great touchscreen unit with GT56UHD-TM transducer for improved SideVu, and compatible with LiveScope.
- 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– Large screen for a dedicated down imaging fish finder.
- Garmin ECHOMAP UHD2 73cv– Great budget touchscreen model with DownVu and CHIRP sonar.
- Lowrance Hook Reveal 7 SplitShot– Best Budget Down Scan fish finder.
- Garmin ECHOMAP UHD2 93sv– Editor’s Choice for best kayak fish finder – the perfect size and capabilities for small crafts.
- HELIX 7 CHIRP MEGA SI GPS G4– Another great kayak fish finder – the only 7-incher with MEGA SI and Dual Spectrum CHIRP.
- Lowrance Hook Reveal 7 TripleShot– Affordable and capable unit with built-in maps.
- Garmin ECHOMAP UHD 73cv Bundle– Best Portable fish finder.
1. Top Fish Finders by Price Range
Do you have a specific budget to stick with for your new marine electronics purchase? We’ve got you covered with guides for choosing the best fish finder in many price ranges.
- Top Fish Finders Under $3,000
- Top Fish Finders Under $2,000
- Top Fish Finders Under $1,000
- Top Fish Finders Under $500
- Top Fish Finders Under $200
- Top Fish Finders Under $100
2. Latest Fish Finder Reviews
We look to be headed for another great few years in marine electronics. There are a ton of products to cover, and we’ll list and link to them here, broken out by brand.
- ECHOMAP Ultra– The 10 and 12-inch touch units with Ultra High Def MHz SideVu and ClearVu sonar. Great units for utilizing LiveScope.
- ECHOMAP UHD2 – The smaller siblings to the Ultra units, with “Ultra High Def” side and down imaging sonars, plus some new touchscreens. Replaces the Garmin ECHOMAP Plus series.
- STRIKER Vivid– This popular series has added a 9-inch SideVu model. These units replace the Garmin STRIKER Plus series.
- Livescope – The first and still best forward facing sonar system.
- Elite FS – New 7 and 9-inch “Fishing System” units are the lowest-cost units compatible with the new Active Target live forward-facing sonar and sport 3-in-1 Active Imaging, Fish Reveal, and Genesis Live mapping.
- HDS PRO– The high-end HDS PRO series replaces the HDS Live units and now has a massive 16-inch unit and a new all-in-one Active Imaging transducer.
- HOOK Reveal– This is the latest refresh of the Hook series, with fresh new SolarMax displays, SplitShot, TripleShot configurations, and some very attractive prices. Replacing the discontinued Lowrance Hook2
- Active Target – The Livescope clone for Lowrance owners.
- HELIX G4N– The sharpest, most detailed images come from MEGA+ imaging units. This year brings a new 15-inch model, which could be great for split-screen MEGA 360 and MEGA Live.
- SOLIX G3– The new G3 SOLIX series boasts new processors, which will be helpful when you add on a MEGA 360 and MEGA Live transducer. SOLIX has become well known for crystal clear imaging. The G3 builds further on that reputation.
- MEGA 360 – The only sonar system for imaging all around the boat. 360 is still an underrated tool many anglers would never want to be without.
- MEGA Live – Humminbird’s first live sonar product. It’s had a rocky start, but if you are already in the Bird ecosystem, adding Live is an affordable way to get into forward looking sonar.
- Axiom+– Raymarine is making a new push into consumer fish finders with Axiom. They look fantastic, especially with the 3D imaging technology. Worth a look if you can find one.
- Element– The Element series is a step below the Axiom, with many of the same excellent fish finder features of leading brands. This includes HyperVision DownVision and SideVision imaging (Megahertz frequencies) and RealVision 3D introduced in the Axiom series.
3. Top Fish Finders by Type of Sonar
Modern fish finders have a wide range of features and capabilities. We often don’t need a unit that does every last thing – but we need it to do a few particular things.
At the Console – You need good side and down imaging, CHIRP sonar, and excellent maps for navigating and locating productive fishing spots. This is where you want to put your best unit on the boat.
At the Bow – You don’t need side imaging – regular sonar, MEGA 360, and forward facing sonar are far more helpful. These are fishing tools used while fishing, and you can often buy a cheaper fish finder to utilize the advanced sonar accessories.
These are the essential types of sonar, followed by the best recommendations for each category.
- “Live” Sonar– Forward-facing sonar is the newest sensation among anglers. The technology has been around for decades, but Garmin was the first to bring it to the recreational market with the incredibly popular LiveScope. Lowrance and Humminbird have joined the party with Active Target and MEGA Live.
- 360 Imaging– Think of 360 as “rotational side imaging” because it is a rotating side imaging transducer that creates a full-circle image of what’s in front of and around your boat. This technology has flown under the radar for a long time, and only recently have more people discovered how valuable a tool it is for fishing.
- Imaging Sonar– Imaging sonar pings a very narrow beam either to the sides (Side Imaging) or straight down (Down Imaging). When your boat moves, the sonar returns stack on each other, creating a realistic image of the lake bottom and showing fish and structure up to 200 feet to either side of the boat.
- Traditional Sonar– This is your basic “2D” sonar that pings straight down in a cone, and whatever comes into view of the cone is displayed on the screen. The screen then scrolls to the left; anything on the right is newer data/returns.
- CHIRP– Traditional sonar uses a set frequency, such as 200 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.
Best Live Sonar Fish Finders
Live sonar is an accessory transducer, and you’ll need a compatible fish finder to use one. The transducers all cost around the same, but there is a wide price range in compatible fish finders.
If you don’t already have a forward facing fish finder, the investment in the transducer and electronics can be costly!
For each live sonar brand below, we recommend one budget fish finder to get you started at the lowest cost possible and one high-end fish finder for top performance.
Lowrance Active Target
- Budget Unit – Elite FS 9 Active Imaging 3-in-1
- High-End Unit – HDS PRO 10
Humminbird MEGA Live
Tip: If you can find a control head only (CHO) unit, you can save a few hundred bucks if you don’t need the transducer that is typically in the box.
Don’t know which Forward Facing Sonar to buy? We’ve used them all and have articles to help you learn how they work and comparisons between brands.
Best Side Imaging Sonar
Side imaging uses a left and right facing beam, stitching the returns together on the screen to create realistic images of the lake bottom on both sides of your boat. Side imaging can reveal contour changes, bottom hardness transitions, fish, and structure simultaneously.
Each brand has its marketing name for this type of sonar, but they all function similarly. The imaging looks very similar on all the brands, so it’s up to you to look closely at screenshots and specifications and decide what will work best for you.
- Humminbird – MEGA Side Imaging
- Lowrance – Side Scan
- Garmin – SideVü
- Raymarine – DownVision
Side imaging is an extremely useful tool for searching out fish-holding areas on the lake. It can significantly reduce the time it takes to find fish, making you more efficient and allowing you to spend more time trying to catch them. Here is a tutorial with actionable tips and tricks.
Side Imaging Fish Finder Reviews
- HELIX 10 CHIRP MEGA SI+ GPS G4N
- Garmin Echomap UHD2 93sv
- SOLIX 10 CHIRP MEGA SI+ G3
- Lowrance Elite-9 Ti TotalScan
- Garmin STRIKER Vivid 9sv
- All Side Imaging Reviews
Best Side Imaging Fish Finders
What is MEGA Side Imaging? If you are looking for the best possible images in a fish finder, nothing is currently better than the Humminbird MEGA+ units. They utilize 1200 KHz frequency (1.2 MHz) to get ultra-clear images on both side and down imaging sonar. MEGA is only available in the HELIX 8, 9, 10, 12, and 15 and the SOLIX and APEX models.
Garmin has megahertz imaging 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 Down Imaging Sonar
Down imaging uses a transducer that emits a single thin slice of high-frequency sound waves to create a lifelike 3D appearance of what’s below your boat. When stacked up and painted on your fish finder, these thin slices of sonar returns make it much clearer about 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 version of down imaging sonar. With imaging being more or less equal, look for the best and largest screen and the mapping capabilities that will meet your fishing style.
- Humminbird – Down Imaging
- Lowrance – DownScan
- Garmin – DownVü
- Raymarine – DownVision
Down Imaging Fish Finder Reviews
- Garmin Echomap UHD2 73sv
- Lowrance Hook Reveal 7 SplitShot
- Garmin STRIKER Vivid 7cv
- HELIX 7 CHIRP DI Sonar/GPS G3N
- Helix 10 CHIRP MEGA DI
- All Down Imaging Reviews
Best Down Imaging Fish Finders
MEGA 360 Imaging
As great as they are, both down and side imaging have a few drawbacks.
First, you need to be moving forward 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.
Second, you can only see what you have already passed over with your boat. Seeing the structure is great, but what good is it when you’ve already passed it?
Humminbird developed an innovative product called 360 Imaging. First with AS 360, and now the vastly improved MEGA 360.
360 uses a rotating transducer to ping in a full circle, showing you on screen every rock, tree, grass, and casting target that is in front of you, behind you, and to all sides without ever moving at all.
If you want to add MEGA 360, a MEGA+ DI fish finder is the lowest cost path. We’d recommend these units for MEGA 360.
MEGA 360 is compatible with Humminbird HELIX, SOLIX, and APEX models with MEGA+ imaging. If you already have a compatible unit, add the MEGA 360 transducer.
Other 360 Options?
Lowrance has done a clever thing with their Ghost trolling motor to give users a 360 view. Ghost 360 uses a software update to rotate the Active Imaging transducer back and forth 180 degrees, giving you a 360 image around the boat.
The significant drawback is that you can’t be spot locked and use this feature. Still, it’s a cool idea to implement and give to your customers.
Kayak Fish Finders
Kayak fishing has exploded in popularity in the last five years. If you want to get into kayak fishing, now is a great time. There have never been so many fantastic fishing kayak options and quality fish finders to put on them.
There are several excellent 5 and 7-inch models that have awesome screens with full sonar and mapping capabilities. See all our Kayak Fish Finder Reviews, or the top recommended Kayak Fish Finders below.
Portable Fish Finders
If you make infrequent trips to the lake, rent boats, or have a smaller fishing boat not conducive to a permanently mounted fish finder – a portable fish finder is for you.
Portable units are easily transported and attached to and from a boat. These units typically come with a removable transducer and a separate battery that you stow in the shuttle carry case.
There are also castable fish finders – floating transducer pods communicating with an app on your smartphone as the fish finder. These depth finders are a cheap and fun way to fish from shore or small watercraft.
Fish Finders for Ice Fishing
Ice fishing electronics have changed dramatically over the years. Flashers used to be the only option, and many anglers still trust them today, but there are more capable units now.
- Flashers – Old school mechanical dial readouts that shows your jig and fish below the hole.
- Digital Flashers + Sonar – Regular fish finders with traditional scrolling sonar or a digital flasher mode.
- 360 Imaging – An effective scouting tool that can show you weed lines, rocks, hard bottoms, and even schools of fish. Find the best spots for drilling productive holes.
- Live Imaging – The ultimate ice fishing tool. It’s like a flasher on steroids. With a live view below the ice, watch how fish move and react to your bait.
The only limitation here is your budget. On one end, a standard fish finder will perform well for most anglers, while a larger, more powerful unit with live sonar is the dream setup for ice fishing. Here are the best fish finders for ice fishing in each category.
Best Fish Finder GPS Combos
It used to be that fish finders and GPS were separate units. In fact, my first boat had a 4-inch Hummindbird depth finder and a Lowrance GlobalMap GPS unit for mapping.
The first fish finders with built-in GPS were called “Combos”. These days every fish finder has GPS as a standard, with a wide range of sonar and mapping capabilities.
If you are looking for a “Fish Finder GPS Combo”, we will assume you are looking for a basic unit with traditional down beam sonar and GPS for marking waypoints. If that’s what you’re after, these are reviews of the best units from each brand.
These are affordable units that get the job done but be aware of their limitations. For example, some STRIKER and HOOK models do not have mapping support, only GPS. If you want to use Navionics or C-MAP chart cards, make sure they support the SD cards!
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 helped push this type of sonar into the mainstream. Humminbird followed suit with Dual Spectrum CHIRP 2D sonar.
You are probably wondering what exactly CHIRP is, how does it work, and what are the 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, target separation, and greater maximum depths.
CHIRP has been normally focused on saltwater fishing, where greater depth capabilities are required. Still, the fish finder manufacturers are finding ways to utilize CHIRP signals in a way that benefits freshwater fishermen in shallower water.
*Last updated 2023-09-29 at 18:37 / Product Links & Images from Amazon Product Advertising API