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How to Choose a Fish Finder For All Times and Conditions

How to Choose a Fish Finder For All Times and Conditions

When choosing a fish finder, you must always think about how you plan to use the unit.

There’s no sense in wasting money on features you can’t use!

As a fellow angler, I realize bass anglers need different features than deep-sea anglers, and kayak anglers need a different-sized unit than boat anglers. 

On top of that, the wild world of fish finders gets confusing quickly if you don’t understand the basics.

Luckily, I’ve tested over 10 fish finders for my kayak, bass boat, and from the shore and have spoken to many professional anglers on what features to look for before making a purchase. 

Keep reading to learn how to choose a fish finder that’s perfect for you.

Bank

When fishing from a pier or from the bank, you will need a castable fish finder like the Garmin Striker Cast because… it’s your only option. You won’t be able to use any other transducer type. 

The main con with castable fish finders is the lack of a screen, but this also makes them incredibly portable. 

Since castables don’t have a screen, most transmit the data through WiFi or Bluetooth to a nearby phone. So you’ll need a phone that’s capable of downloading apps and connecting to a WiFi network, i.e., any smartphone these days.

garmin striker cast

Kayak

Because space on a kayak is minimal, I use a smaller fish finder screen. I prefer a 7” or 9”, but I’ve used a screen as small as 4”, depending on the size of the kayak

I rarely fish deeper water (15’+) in my kayak, so I primarily use a transducer set to higher frequencies to see the bottom structure and individual fish clearly.

Kayak fish finders are generally the same ones you would use on a boat, with scaled down screens. So us plastic boat anglers don’t have to feel left out.

Bass Boat

Bass boats are designed to tackle most freshwater conditions, so they can handle larger screens loaded with the latest and greatest fish finder technology. 

It’s not uncommon to see several units on a professional bass anglers boat, looking like the TV wall at Best Buy, but that doesn’t mean that’s what you need to catch fish consistently.

If you have a boat, you can use one of my absolute favorites, the Lowrance HDS Live Pro.

lowrance hds live

Saltwater

Since most saltwater boats are big to better handle the tough conditions, a large fish finder screen is recommended, so it’s easily seen from anywhere on the boat.

However, a larger screen means more $$$… Saltwater gear is always more expensive.

The depths fished by saltwater anglers also bring another challenge other anglers rarely face. A different transducer is needed than what most freshwater anglers use. 

A low-frequency transducer is best to cut down on interference and reach depths greater than 100’. The major brands all offer transducers designed to handle the depths encountered while fishing offshore. Just be sure you choose the right option when buying one.

What to Look for in a Fish Finder: The Basics

Fish finders get confusing very quickly if you don’t understand the basics. Let’s tackle these now that you know the type of fish finder to get for your situation.

Screen Size

You may think choosing the correct screen size is a no-brainer, but that’s not the case.

My first depth finder was a Garmin Striker 4. This was a great entry-level unit, perfect for my kayak but unsuitable for my boat because of the small screen.

Consider the vessel you will be fishing from, as that will determine the screen size you need.

Transducer

The transducer is part of the fish finder that goes into the water and determines the type of sonar your unit will transmit. 

The most common types of sonar are CHIRP traditional sonar, DownScan, SideScan, and Live sonar. Generally, a transducer can use CHIRP, Down Imaging, Side Imaging, or a combination of the three. 

However, Live Sonar often requires a separate transducer, which means… you guessed it, more dollar bills.

Frequency

Fish finder frequencies range from 15 to 200 kHz, but most transducers are designed for 50 and 200 kHz. 

While I am no expert in sonar frequencies, I understand that high frequency is great for getting more detail at close range, and low frequency is best for longer ranges. 

So a high-frequency transducer will work best if you primarily fish in shallow water (less than 50’). However, I recommend a lower-frequency transducer if you plan to fish in deep water (more than 50’).

Mapping / GPS

One of the features I love most is the mapping and GPS of fish finders.

This feature allows you to mark your location to know exactly where to revisit. If you get turned around, it will also help you navigate back to the boat ramp. 

If you have a mapping program with contour lines, you can find places to fish that others might be overlooking, so it can give you an edge. 

A Chartplotter gives you the option to mark a course and follow it. This is great to keep you from fishing in an area that isn’t productive or staying a specific distance from the shore. 

Choosing a Fish Finder Brand

I have tested several fish finder brands, and I can confidently say Garmin, Lowrance, and Humminbird all make quality products. 

However, each brand has unique features that make them better for anglers in specific situations.

Because of their mapping capabilities, Garmin and Lowrance tend to be preferred by saltwater anglers, and all three brands are used in professional-level bass tournaments. 

Raymarine is another brand trusted by many anglers, but it’s not as prominent in the bass fishing space as the previously mentioned brands. 

More importantly, each brand offers entry-level fish finder and mid-level models that simplify upgrading. 

Countless other brands offer cheaper alternatives. However, I’ve found you get what you pay for when buying a fish finder. 

I prefer to spend more for better quality and features, which is why I stick with the four best known brands.

Final Thoughts

Now that you know how to choose a fish finder, the rest is up to you!

Remember to determine which features matter most to you based on where you’ll be fishing, and you’ll stay on the right track.

As always, be sure to leave any questions you have about choosing a fishing finder in the comment section.

I can’t wait to see you on the water with your new fish finder!