Fishing

Buying a Fish Finder: 2019 Buyers Guide

As technology increases, the game of fishing continues to get easier and easier for even the most novice of anglers. Fish finders have been around for a long time, but they continue to get more advanced which allows for more precise imaging and more pinpoint accuracy.

There are also a wide array of different features like GPS, temperature probes, custom mapping, and flashers. The type of image you receive on your fish finder is not always the same, so you want to make sure you get the right fish finder for your unique fishing style.

In this article, we’re covering how fish finders work, who needs them, and what types of features you should be looking out for when you make a purchase.

What Does a Fish Finder Do?

I’m sure most of you reading this have fished without one before, so think about what types of tools or intuition you used to find the fish without a finder. You look for specific areas of the lake or river, pay attention to splashes, and trust your senses. That is how anglers have fished for thousands of years, and it has worked quite well seeing as we are still here.

In past years, we could see beneath the surface of the water using sonar and actually see fish moving around and track them appropriately.

Today, many fish finders not only track fish but they also show you channels, water depth and even obstructions like rocks and stumps. The amount of imagery you receive depends entirely on the level of technology you have. Some basic fish finders will only show you pixelated images of where fish may are; others provide you with incredible HD video of the fish moving around in real time.

Fish finders have also become a handy tool for professional anglers because they can export information to a phone or tablet and create a spreadsheet of the lakes that they fish. This helps them decided where and when they will fish in the fiuture.

How Does a Fish Finder Work?

Fish Finders work similarly to any other sonar; they emit a frequency into the water that then bounces off anything in its path. The more expensive and higher quality models can identify these objects based on size and shape, that is how the finder determines what it is seeing is a fish and not a rock.

As you continue to move around the water, the image will continue to build itself as you are moving

and shortly you will have a complete sonar image of the entire lake you are fishing. In

recent years most fish finders have also been equipped with GPS so in addition to mapping what is under the water you can also keep track of your progress around the lake and create detailed images of your location so you can remember your success in a specific area.

How Do These Help You Fish?

If you are struggling to see the usefulness of a fish finder in your situation think of it like this. You’re sitting out on the water on your boat scanning the lake and trying to figure out where the fish are. If you had a fish finder, you could slowly skim the lake while the sonar creates an image of what’s below. Keep your hook in the water and as soon as the fish finder picks up on something, stop the boat and fish there. It’s as simple as that.

Some might say having one of these takes the fun out of fishing, but I find that most of the fun comes from battling the fish and seeing what I caught when I pull it out of the water. Plus, if you are fishing with kids, this is a great tool to have to keep them interested.

Different Types of Fish Finders

There are many different categories of fish finders, so we’ll break down the most popular ones you are likely to find. Each one of these will increase your chances of catching more fish, but they do each have their unique purpose on the water.

Standard Fish Finder – These are the most common that you’ll find at your outdoorsmen store and they perform the more basic function of sending sonar waves into the water and bouncing back off of obstructions to show you what’s beneath the surface. It gives you an idea of the water depth and anything that may get in your way to cause damage to your boat. Of course, it also will show you any fish that may be beneath the water, if you have never used a fish finder before this is definitely how you want to start. These kind are typically down-image sonar which means they only scan what is directly below you as you pass over.

Since they only scan down and not out you wouldn’t have much luck with these if you were fishing from the shoreline, a standard fish finder is most commonly used out on the water on a boat or canoe.

GPS Fish Finders – These are the same as standard ones, but they have a built-in GPS, so the main advantage here is more tracking and data. If you are someone who would be interested in re-visiting a specific spot on the water than this type of finder would be a good option. You can track your location and drop pins on areas of the water you want to fish again sometime, you are also able to follow your entire route around the lake, so if you have a really successful day, you can mark down what time you were at a specific area so you can revisit it. Nowadays, many mid-range fish finders come with GPS, so this is almost a standard feature at this point.

Castable Fish Finders – These are a bit more unique, and I have truthfully never used one myself because I struggle to see the purpose. If you are fishing from the shoreline, these can be useful because they allows you to gather information about a very specific area of the water you may only be able to reach by casting. But even then, there isn’t usually a way to store the information or track exactly where you were at the time.

Usually, the information you gather is transmitted back to your smartphone, so I think it helps to have one person casting these finders out to try and collect information while you cast with the intention of catching fish. These are much more affordable than standard fish finders, but I have always had a fear of casting my finder into the water and having my line come back without it.

How To Hook Up Your Fish Finder

Setting up your finder depends a lot on what type you bought, some do not require any integrative setup and others do. Many fish finders get mounted onto the side of your boat with a transducer hanging off the edge down into the water similar to how your boats motor does. Some require you to mount the transducer directly underneath the boat and wire it through the hull into the fuse box.

There is no direct answer because it depends so much on what type of boat and fish finder you have. Make sure to do plenty of research on the setup of the fish finder before making a purchase. Your paddle canoe will require a much different fish finder than a 32’ speedboat.

Who Should Use a Fish Finder

Of course, everyone can and should use a fish finder at some point; it’s always worth the experiment to see if this is something you would like to play around with. They take the learning curve out of fishing and if you are checking out a body of what you have never fished before they can ensure you do not go home empty-handed.

Shore Fishing

As I said before, if you are not fishing from a boat you have limited options for what kind of fish finder you can use. Make sure you get a side image finder because they will not only read directly below you, but they will also scan out as much as 100 feet. You need this if the finder is going to be of any use to you.

If you are feeling a bit daring, you can also go for one of the castable fish finders and even consider carrying two rods with you; one to cast and gather data and one to catch the fish. That is not something I have ever tried myself, but if I was to use this style of finder that is how I would do it.

Boat Fishing

If you’re fishing on the water in a boat of any size using a fish finder will increase your chances of catching more fish in a shorter amount of time. You have the option to use any finder you want, but make sure to get the right one for your type of boat. If you are in a standard rowboat using an outboard motor you usually cannot use a finder that requires hard wiring. You will have to go for an external fish finder that is typically battery powered; these are cheaper, easier to install, but not as detailed and accurate.

If you fish using a larger boat with an inboard motor, you are free to spring for pretty much any fish finder you want just be aware of the labor involved with installing a hard-wired fish finder. These are the most accurate and detailed finders, but they are also the largest and most expensive.


There is no one size fits all when it comes to fish finders, but we can all learn a little more about what’s beneath the surface of the water. If you are looking to spend less time scanning the lakes and more time battling the fish than I highly suggest picking up a fish finder and giving it a shot.

Buying a fish finder - 2019 buyers guide

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