2018 Fish Finder Reviews – How to Choose the Best Fishfinder

One of the most game-changing gadgets to hit fishing has been the electronic fish finder. With so many varieties and fish finder reviews available online, choosing the best fish finder can be a time consuming process. Which is why we organized the list below, based on numerous feedbacks and field trials experience.

Fish/Depth Finders Comparison

badge-best-seller-miniLowrance Elite-3X4.0TransducerColorGeneral
badge-best-seller-miniGarmin Echo 551dv Worldwide4.5TransducerColorGeneral
badge-best-seller-miniFishHunter Directional 3D & Wireless4.1N/ASmartPhonePortable
Deeper Smart Portable Depth Finder4.4N/ASmartPhoneVarious
Lowrance Mark-4 GPS Combo4.3TransducerBlack/WhiteGeneral
Humminbird HELIX 5 DI & GPS3.5TransducerColorGeneral
Garmin Echo 101 US + Canada4.4TransducerBlack/WhiteGeneral
Humminbird 110 Fishin' Buddy4.1TransducerBlack/WhiteGeneral
NorCross HawkEye F33P3.6TransducerBlack/WhitePortable
Vexilar FL-8se Genz4.8TransducerN/AIce Fishing
Humminbird 398ci4.2TransducerColorGeneral
Humminbird ICE-35 Three Color Flasher4.9TransducerN/AIce Fishing
Humminbird 409150-1 HD SI4.4TransducerColorGeneral
Lowrance Elite-5 HDI4.4TransducerColorGeneral
Vexilar FLX-28 Ice ProPack II4.8TransducerN/AIce Fishing
Fishfinders started out decades ago as expensive technology found only on marine commercial fishing vessels. Now, you’ll hardly see anyone leaving the boat ramp without one!

How to Choose a Fishfinder

There are many different models that could be considered the best fishfinder for the money in today’s market, each with a few different bells and whistles. Overall, they basically do the same thing.

They generally have two parts:

  1. A display or console
  2. And a transducer

The transducer mounts on the side or bottom of the boat, while the display can be mounted in any convenient spot on the boat. A cord connects the two components.

angler kayak fish finder setup

Angler kayak setup

Fish finders work by using basic sonar technology. The transducer sends a sound wave down towards the water’s bottom, then records how long it takes for the signal to return to the transducer. It sounds simple but today’s advanced fish finders take that basic send-and-return of a sound wave and interpret all kinds of information.

How to choose a fish finder shouldn’t be too time consuming as the main driver is budget and the type of fishing you are doing.

  • On a kayak or canoe? Get a portable one.
  • Need built in coordinates to back track hotspot? Get a GPS combo.
  • Going Ice fishing? Better get a fish flasher.
  • Money is not an issue? Choose a few and gift the ones you don’t like!

Even the most basic fish locator will usually tell you how deep the water is, whether the bottom is hard or muddy or covered in vegetation, and where individual fish or schools of fish are, so don’t fret if you can only afford a black & white, non-GPS unit, it will do just fine.

Each unit comes with installation instructions from the manufacturer, with some providing video tutorials on their website on how to read a fish finder and how they work. But in a nutshell, a single fish appears as arches, while schools of fish may appear as many arches or large blobs. The contours of the bottom will be illustrated in a solid line along the bottom of the screen.

Keep in mind that the boat usually has to be in motion for it to work unless you got a flasher.

Reviews of Top Fishfinders in 2018

Like any other technological gadgets, there is a huge market for fish finders with many different makes and models. A few brands dominate the market, and with good reason. Most anglers agree that Hummingbird and Lowrance make the top fish finders for recreational fishermen. Both companies offer low-end models that are pretty affordable alongside high-end models with all kinds of bells and whistles.

Raymarine Fish Finder E127 HybridTouch

Raymarine E127 HybridTouch

There are a few newer companies that are breaking into the fish finder market. In particular, Garmin has begun to produce fish finders utilizing newer sonar technology like chirp sonar. Garmin was traditionally a GPS manufacturer (and one of the leaders in that field), so their products generally incorporate GPS technology, meaning they are more expensive units. Raymarine, Vexilar and Lowrance are the biggest manufacturers of the best marine fish finders, often used by larger vessels for commercial fishing.

Recreational fishermen are looking for a few specific qualities in their fish/depth finders. First of all, the unit must be affordable. These anglers are usually not shelling out thousands of dollars for the absolute best fish finders. The unit needs a small display or console because a recreational angler’s boat is usually not very large. The display must be easily readable in high sunlight because, again, a recreational fisherman’s boat often does not have an awning.

The best rated fish finder units, according to fish finder reviews across the web and my own personal experience, are the Hummingbird 398ci units with side imaging. They are:

  • Easy to install
  • Cheap for the value you get (includes a GPS).
  • And very reliable!

Units like the entry level PiranhaMax and the 300 series mentioned above, get you a solid, easily installed fish locator for under a couple hundred bucks.

The highest quality fish finders, top of the line models, would be the Hummingbird 1199ci or the Lowrance fresh water units. These models have color screens, incorporated GPS, and some even hook up to your trolling motor to keep your boat right over your preset fishing spot.

Portable Fishfinders

Humminbird PiranhaMax

Humminbird PiranhaMax

For anglers with very small boats, or who those who rent boats often, getting the best portable fish finder is a better choice. A portable fish locator does not have separate components and they usually feature the following four traits:

  1. The transducer is usually at the end of a stick or rod with a display at the top.
  2. The display is small and rarely color, usually 5-6”.
  3. It has either replaceable batteries or a rechargeable battery pack.
  4. They can be clipped or temporarily mounted on the side of a flat bottom boat or even a canoe.

These units are best for renting boats or when you move from boat to boat often. They lack the convenience of using a permanently installed fish finder.

As for the best, the Humminbird Fishin’ Buddy are solid, even if they are considered low-ends models, and the Raymarine Dragonfly 7 model is top knowth. They are recognized as the top fish finder brands, so the products are guaranteed to be good quality, as the last thing they want to do is tarnish their reputation.

Signstek is another brand that specializes in portable units and are worth a look. In fact they consistently get good portable fish finder reviews by many pro anglers.

However, the three brands really range in price. Fishin’ Buddy units and Signtek FF-003 models are usually under $200, while the Raymarine models can run north of several hundred dollars. Again, it takes a pretty specialized situation—very small boat, like a kayak or canoe, or moving from boat to boat—to really require one of these portables.

Lastly, one of my go to portable fish finders is the FishHunter 3D wireless unit. It’s ideal for ice fishing on local lakes or a bit of recreational pier fishing. It’s the size of a tennis ball and works with most smartphones. You can get it from Amazon for about $250.

Kayak Fish Finders

One situation where you would want a portable fish finder would be for kayak fishing. Kayak fishing is becoming more and more popular, especially in urban areas where motorized boats may not be allowed. Kayak fishing requires pretty specialized equipment because the boats are small and the quarters are crowded. There’s not a lot of spare room in a kayak for large display screens or bulky batteries. The same portable units mentioned above are some of the best kayak fish finder units available.

Lowrance Elite-4xDSI

Lowrance Elite-4xDSI

You can simply slip the portable unit on the side of the kayak, paddle along, then pull it up for storage when it’s not in use. Outside of the rod-style portable fish finders, some companies are coming up with other ways to mount fish finders on kayaks. Lowrance manufactures a pole that allows a kayak angler to mount a traditional transducer to a kayak.

Lowrance also makes the Elite-4x, which are some of the best kayak fishfinders out there. These units allow mounting of a traditional fish finder system—battery, display, and transducer—without screwing any holes into the hull of the boat. Some angler kayaks, like the Wilderness Ride 115x, feature console areas that accommodate fish finders and other electronics more easily than traditional fishing kayaks.

Fishfinder/GPS Combo

Garmin GPSmap 750s

Garmin GPSmap 750s

GPS/fish finder combos are becoming very commonplace as GPS technology becomes cheaper and more reliable. These units are really the best fish finders out there because they combine fish finder technology with the ability to plot your location on a variety of maps.

I would say the best fishfinder GPS combo are where Garmin’s GPSmap 4208s really shines. Because they have been in GPS technology for decades, their products are very reliable, as far as maintaining a good GPS signal and having a variety of downloadable maps go.

Anglers use GPS fish finders for two general reasons. The first is two plot “honey holes”, or great fishing spots. In heavily wooded lakes, or any unfamiliar territory, it can be difficult to find your way back to a great fishing spot. A GPS allows you to remember that exact location with nothing more than the push of a button.

The second reason anglers need GPS is to help navigate in the dark or in unfamiliar territory. By downloading a map of the area and plotting their course, it’s much easier for a fisherman to find his way back to the boat ramp after a long day on the water.

Ice Fishing Flashers & Finders

Vexilar Pro Pack FL-18

Vexilar Pro Pack FL-18

Ice fishing requires some very different set of fish locators and equipment in general. They are known as flashers. The best ice fishing fish finder relies on movement for accuracy, and most ice fishermen tend to stay in one spot or be on foot. Which is why its better to find the best ice fishing flasher instead.

Rod-style units are pretty popular and get top scores with many ice fishing fish finder reviews. The rod can be slipped down into your ice hole and mounted to any sturdy object topside.

In this situation, the transducer relies on the fish’s movement rather than the boat’s, so you may not get as much (or as accurate) bottom, depth, and temperature information. Fish flashers are getting popular with ice fishermen. These are just a different kind of fish finder that flash a light instead of (or in addition to) displaying information on a console.

Popular models include the Vexilar 18 and the Lowrance Ice Machine lines. Fish flashers may incorporate a display in addition to the flasher but rarely include as much information as a boat-mounted fish finder.

Beyond Reading the Sonar

Breaking edge technology is changing our lives in many ways—including how we fish! Handheld computing and GPS technology have really changed fishing and outdoor recreation in the last decade. Wherever you fish—the ocean, small creeks and streams, huge lakes, or auger-drilled ice holes, there’s a fancy fish locator out there that can help you increase the number of fish you take home.

These nifty gadgets started out as high-end accessories that were very, very pricey, and available to only anglers with the deepest pockets. But as companies like Garmin, Lowrance, and Hummingbird continue to research and incorporate developing technology, not only do fish finders become capable of producing so much data, they become cheaper and better.

Expensive models certainly still exist, but there are plenty of affordable ones out there that could help any angler catch their fish regardless if they make it as part of a fishfinder reviews article.

Check out this video for the basic comparison options available: