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When it comes to outdoor activities, much of the appeal consists of reconnecting with nature and getting out of a busier environment, whether you live in the city or the country. Regardless of whether you’re interested in hunting or hiking, there is plenty of fun to be had out in the wilderness.
One of the most popular activities that would be grouped up with the rest of these is fishing, and there are many reasons for the hobby being so widespread. Finding the best fish finder will help you immensely as a fisher, but it helps to know which situations they are best used in.
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Unlike other outdoor activities, you will find that fishing is a little more versatile in that it can be an experience that matches your preferences.
For example, if you’re into a more intense fishing experience, you could always go fishing on the coast, but you will need an impressive boat that will be able to handle the actual sea. Most fishing will take place on lakes and rivers, where the depth of the water isn’t as excessive as it can be elsewhere.
While crappie fishing on calmer waters makes for a more straightforward and safer experience, it also allows you to use some tools that you otherwise wouldn’t have access to. For example, fish finders tend to only be useful when they are used in relatively shallow water for a few different reasons.
Sonar that is capable of scanning deeper water will end up costing you quite a bit of money, and many fishers aren’t willing to install a comprehensive sonar suite on a small boat. Many smaller craft won’t even have the power available to run more advanced sonar systems than rudimentary models.
By the end of this guide, you’ll be an expert on finding the best fish finder, as we will be doing more than just presenting the top ten fish finders on the market. Before introducing our reviews, we’ll give you a comprehensive guide on fish finders including what they are, what to look for in the best one, and much more.
What is a Fish Finder and How do They Work?
Let’s start off by laying out the foundation for the whole article, as it will make little sense if you don’t exactly know what a fish finder is in the first place. A fish finder is essentially a small sonar device that is similar in concept to the technology that submarines use to navigate underwater without visibility.
Now, you may be wondering exactly how sonar works, and it is quite simple, as well as being very closely related to radar. Sonar is an acronym that stands for SOund Navigation And Ranging, and it describes a system in which sound waves are used to detect objects and provide information on surroundings.
Sonar doesn’t necessarily have to be used underwater, as bats use a natural form of sonar that is called echolocation, and as we all know, bats don’t fly through water. So how exactly does sonar work apart from using sound waves? This is where things really start to get interesting.
A sonar emitter essentially creates a very loud ping that is propagated into the water that surrounds your boat (or whatever the sonar is attached to). As this ping goes through the water, it impacts objects, and it is reflected back towards the sonar emitter, which also catches the return transmission.
When the sonar emitter receives the return ping from a detected object, the length of time between the initial ping and the return sound is calculated and used to represent distance. This is the exact same concept as radar, except those devices use radio waves instead of sound for detection as they can travel further and faster in the air.
How does this relate to fish finders? Depending on the type of device that you have purchased, it will likely operate in a very similar manner to more powerful sonar devices, but it will have less range, and it will be less capable.
In the end, a sonar emitter isn’t necessarily a complicated piece of technology, but it gets more and more complicated as the scale rises, which is why submarines have entire sonar suites. When you’re hunting a nuclear sub with hunter-killer torpedoes, subpar sonar won’t get the job done.
Benefits of Using a Fish Finder
There are many advantages to using a fish finder, and some of them may surprise you. While the obvious benefit of these products is being able to find some fish while you are out on the water, let’s take a detailed look at some of the reasons fish finders are so popular.
It Takes the Guessing out of Fishing
While some may argue that sitting around and waiting for a nibble is an integral part of fishing, others prefer making faster catches, and that’s one of the things a fish finder can do for you. Since it will be easier to see where the fish are in the surrounding water, you won’t waste nearly as much time waiting for them to bite.
A fish finder will allow you to navigate your boat over to an area where there is a higher density of fish, meaning that you’ll be nearly certain to get a bite. Anyone who has been out on a fishing trip and has come back empty-handed knows that the guesswork involved in fishing does not always make things more enjoyable.
Fish finders can tell you crucial information like the temperature of the water and much more, making them more than just fish detectors. As you may know, hotter and colder water is home to different fish species.
If you find that you are often short on time while fishing, a fish finder will make it easier for you to see results from an experience that would otherwise be frustrating.
You can just turn on your fish detector, find yourself some fish, bait them appropriately, and hope for the best as fishing is never an exact science. If you are trolling, a fish finder can even give you the optimal speed to travel at.
In the end, the primary purpose of a fish finder is to make things more convenient for you as a fisher. If you are tired of putting in so much effort for few results while you are fishing, one of these products will ensure that all of your labor is rewarded with some catches, at the very least.
Many modern fish finders will come equipped with some form of course charting software so that you can use them to find your way around the lake with ease. There are a few different ways that you can use a fish finder to plot your course, but most of them will use GPS due to its reliability.
It is for this very reason that many GPS manufacturers also make fish finders, as many of them are essentially GPS trackers that have an added sonar function. Of course, the reality is a little more complicated than that, but one of these products can still help you immensely when it comes to navigation.
If you already have a GPS course plotter on your boat, you may want to invest in a fish finder that is more affordable as you will not need that added capability. We’ll take a closer look at the inclusion of charts in fish finders later on when we’re going over the features to look for.
Seeing as a fish finder will typically paint a picture of what is beneath your boat, you can use its sonar for more than just finding fish. Some of the best fish finder models will come equipped with collision avoidance programs that will detect obstacles in the way of your boat and warn you of them.
Even those that don’t have provisions for collision avoidance will still give you the info that you need to make the right decisions when you are steering your boat. If you want to avoid any sudden rocks or other underwater hazards that could damage your boat, a fish finder can help more than you know.
There are different types of fish finders that we will go over shortly, but some of them will present a clearer picture of what you will find beneath your boat. You will also have to consider the depth of the water as you will need a fish finder that is sufficiently powerful for your needs to reach the bottom.
Ideal for Beginners
For all of these reasons and more, you may have noticed that a fish finder seems like a perfect purchase for someone who is new to fishing. We wouldn’t recommend going out and getting one of these products before you even try fishing in the first place, but you should get one if you know you’re dedicated.
There are some who will argue that a fish finder makes fishing unfair, but nobody is forcing you to use one of these products, even if you have one. If you’re in the mood for some traditional fishing, you could always turn off your fish finder so that you can do things the old-fashioned way.
While fishing can get frustrating for newer fishers, it helps to learn the patience that is needed in this hobby, even when you are using a fish finder. Just because you have sonar available to find your fish doesn’t mean that things are necessarily going to be easy for you since there are so many other considerations when fishing.
Choosing the Best Fish Finder Around
When it comes to purchasing the best fish finder, we understand that things can be a little bewildering at first, especially if you have never bought a product like this before. It is critical to pay close attention to the models that are available, as they will all have fundamental differences.
The first thing that you should consider is what you need out of your fish finder, as everyone fishes differently and in different waters. There are many advantages to using a fish finder while you are out on the water, but you will have to choose the right model to be able to benefit from any of them.
Ending up with a subpar fish finder for your money can be discouraging, and you may end up having to return the product, which entails a hassle that nobody wants to deal with. The best course of action is to ensure that you get the right fish finder for your needs the first time, and the best way to do that is with knowledge.
Knowing about the following products as well as what you should be looking for in the best of them is the ideal way to ensure that you are getting the right fish finder. To that end, let’s take a look at some of the most critical features to search for in the best fish finder.
The first thing to consider when choosing the ideal fish finder is the amount of power that it has available. A more powerful model will be able to provide more detailed results, but the most crucial reason why you would need a more powerful model is to be able to see deeper underwater.
If you tend to fish in water that is deeper than average, you will need to invest in a more powerful fish finder so that the sound wave doesn’t die out before reaching the bottom. If a sonar ping isn’t loud enough, it simply won’t be able to propagate throughout the water with enough momentum.
The exact component in a fish finder that requires additional power is the transducer, and it is this part that is responsible for creating and receiving the sound wave. A more potent transducer will necessitate a more significant power draw, which will ensure that you can see deeper than others.
Another feature to consider when you are choosing your fish finder is the frequency that it operates at. This can determine just how effective your fish finder is in a range of different situations. There is a bit of a challenge when it comes to choosing the right frequency for your fish finder.
While low-frequency models will have an easier time going deeper in the water to provide your information, the data that they will give you will be less detailed than high-frequency models. If you want a complete image of the bottom with a high-frequency fish finder, you will need comparatively more power.
You may find yourself having to choose between range and detail if you are searching for the best fish finder on a budget. Of course, the ideal choice will depend on a wide range of factors, including the fish that are present in your waterways, the average depth, how much you want to spend, and much more.
We have already discussed the inclusion of GPS systems in fish finders, so we’ll keep this one brief. Many models will come equipped with GPS (global positioning system) support, and this will provide you with accurate data on where you are located, provided you have the right charts installed.
If you want to make it easier to plot a course on the waterways that you frequently travel, a GPS system attached to your fish finder will make things much easier for you. Of course, if you stick to small lakes where everything is visible to the naked eye, GPS becomes more of a waste of money.
You will also want to account for the size of your fish finder, as that will often determine whether or not it is a portable model. While portable fish finders are convenient, you will find that they often have inferior capabilities to models that are designed to be mounted to your boat.
Since a handheld product will likely be powered by batteries, the power draw can’t be nearly as strong as it would be for a fixed fish finder model. Of course, this means that a portable product won’t be able to detect fish at a level that is as deep as one that is fixed, and the detail will be diminished.
The definite advantage of smaller products is that they will be less expensive than fixed models and you will be able to bring them around with you even on small craft. If you are going to be using a buddy’s boat to go fishing, it will be easier to bring a handheld model along with you than having to dismount and remount a full-size model.
Keep in mind that a fixed fish finder will typically need to draw power from the boat itself, so you will need a powered watercraft to use one. If you are going kayak fishing, for example, you will be restricted to portable fish finders as you will not have a power source available for a fixed variant.
When you’re choosing the right fish finder for your needs, you will want to pay attention to the size of the display. A model that is equipped with a larger screen will be able to display more information at once, which can save you time as you won’t have to press buttons to navigate the interface.
Keep in mind that a larger display will make for a bigger fish finder, so many portable models will be equipped with a small screen that provides less detailed info. Keep in mind that the size of your screen is not always the best way to determine whether or not your product has a well-made display.
Display Quality and Resolution
If you want to make sure that all of the details on the bottom of your body of water are clearly visible, the power and frequency of your fish finder aren’t the only things to consider. A model that is unable to display the information that results from its scans is just as one with diminished capabilities.
You will want to be able to make out the fish and obstacles around you with relative ease instead of having to guess what a blob-like return may signify on a fuzzy display. Most fish finders make feature LCD screens, but many of them are moving to LED displays that are clearer and provide better color definition; speaking of which…
Color or Black and White?
Another thing to account for when it comes to the screen that is featured on your fish finder is whether it will display its results in color or in black and white. You may be wondering why color would be so important when you’re examining things underwater, but it has more to do with what color differences can represent.
Many fish finders will be able to display the depth of the surrounding water by providing a color-coded chart of the floor. Some advanced products will also give you temperature ribbons so you can see where to most likely areas to fish for certain species are with relative ease.
Downwards-Looking Sonar vs. Side-Looking Sonar
These two terms can also be referred to as DownScan and SideScan sonar, and the latter is widely seen as the more advanced sonar variant. Side-looking sonar doesn’t scan directly sideways, but it scans at an angle that gives you a much broader area to examine than the alternative.
Of course, downwards-looking sonar only scans what is directly beneath your boat so it will be a little harder to find the fish that you are looking for. The advantage to DownScan is that it is proven technology that is more affordable to implement than sonar that is angled.
Last but not least, you will want to consider the user interface (UI) that is featured on your product. The best fish finder models will be equipped with a touch screen, which will make it much easier for you to navigate the system and program your device.
Other products will feature simple multifunction buttons that may take some getting used to. Whichever product you buy, choose one with intuitive controls.