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Best Fish Finder for the Money 2022

Written by: John B
Last Updated:
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If there’s a fishing accessory worth investing in, it’s a top-of-the-line fish finder. With powerful sonar, precise electronics, and a crisp display, you won’t be guessing about what’s under your hull--you’ll know. And from structure to cover to the fish themselves, you’ll have the information you need to keep your livewell full.

After careful research, field testing, and detailed comparison, we’ve put together an unbeatable resource to help you find the best fish finder for the money!

Quick glance at the best fish finders for 2022:

Best Fish Finder For The Money - ON SALE!

Garmin ECHOMAP UHD 93sv Fishfinder/Chartplotter Combo

Garmin ECHOMAP UHD 93sv Fishfinder/Chartplotter Combo

  • Awesome screen
  • Very easy to use; excellent UI
  • Excellent depth and range
  • ClearVü and SideVü
  • CHIRP and standard sonar options that cover a very wide range of frequencies
  • Excellent networking options
  • Quickdraw Contours mapping
  • Built -in maps and GPS
Best Fish Finder For Professional Anglers

Lowrance HDS LIVE 12 Fish Finder/Chartplotter

Lowrance HDS LIVE 12 Fish Finder/Chartplotter

  • Display Size: 12”
  • Frequencies: CHIRP (83/200kHz) as well as traditional 455/800kHz
  • Side Scanning: Yes, 150’
  • Maximum Depth: CHIRP 1,000’; DownScan 300’
  • GPS: Yes
  • Maps: Yes
Best For Pros & Serious Anglers

Garmin ECHOMAP Ultra 126sv

Garmin ECHOMAP Ultra 126sv

  • Awesome screen
  • Very easy to use; excellent UI
  • Excellent depth and range
  • ClearVü and SideVü
  • CHIRP and standard sonar options that cover a very wide range of frequencies
  • Excellent networking options
  • Quickdraw Contours mapping
  • Built -in maps and GPS
Best For Serious Anglers

Lowrance Elite FS 9

Lowrance Elite FS 9

  • Excellent screen and image quality
  • Good depth and range
  • CHIRP and standard sonar options
  • Powerful GPS and maps
  • Now with Active Target!
  • Lake mapping feature
  • Pairs with your mobile
Best For Weekend Anglers

Garmin Striker Vivid 9sv

Garmin Striker Vivid 9sv

  • Display Size: 9”
  • Frequencies: 50/77/200 kHz CHIRP (mid and high); ClearVü and SideVü 260/455/800 kHz
  • Side Scanning: Yes, 500’
  • Maximum Depth: 800 ft.; ClearVü: 500 ft.
  • GPS: Yes
Best For Kayaks

Lowrance HOOK Reveal 5x SplitShot

Lowrance HOOK Reveal 5x SplitShot

  • Three screen size options
  • Includes downscan, sidescan, and tripleshot transducer
  • FishReveal technology
  • Includes charting and C-Map upgrades with Genesis Live
  • Max depth up to 1000 feet
Best Compact Fish Finder

Garmin STRIKER Vivid 4cv

Garmin STRIKER Vivid 4cv

  • Display Size: 4.3” diagonal
  • Frequencies: CHIRP: 200 kHz @ 15° and 77 kHz @ 45°; ClearVü: 455 kHz @ 2.5° x 53° and 800 kHz @ 1.6° x 29°
  • Maximum Depth: 1900’ CHIRP; 750’ ClearVü
  • GPS: Yes


Related:

Best Fish Finders Reviewed

Lowrance HDS LIVE 12 Fish Finder/Chartplotter - Best for Professional Anglers

Lowrance HDS LIVE 12

Available at: Bass Pro | Tackle Direct | Amazon 

Specifications

Pros

Cons

Display Size: 12”
Resolution: 1280 X 800
Frequencies: CHIRP (83/200kHz) as well as traditional 455/800kHz
Side Scanning: Yes, 150’
Maximum Depth: CHIRP 1,000’; DownScan 300’
Transducer Angle: ?
Target Separation: ?
GPS: Yes
Maps: Yes
  • Awesome screen and image quality
  • Good depth and range
  • CHIRP and standard sonar options
  • Powerful GPS and maps
  • Lake mapping feature
  • Pairs with your mobile
  • Expensive!

Summary

Lowrance has manufactured marine electronics for generations, and they’re among the most trusted names in saltwater navigation systems. Their fish finders are no less impressive, rivalling - and perhaps even surpassing - the outstanding Humminbird Helix and Solix series.

The Lowrance HDS Live 12 is market to pros, and has a price tag that reflects that. A head-to-head competitor with the Solix 12, the Lowrance is packed with truly high-end tech, and on each and every front, meets or rises above the bar set down by Humminbird.

The HDS Live 12 features a very large screen with awesome resolution. Very crisp and clear, it’s easy to read in all conditions. Expect a touch screen augmented by the usual keypad, allowing all-conditions accessibility.

This fish finder makes use of the excellent Simrad Active Imaging 3-in-1 Transom Mount Transducer, providing CHIRP, traditional sonar, and side-imaging. It even squeezes past the awesome Solix 12 in terms of range with its detailed side- and down-imaging - and that’s really saying something!

Some specifications are not available from either Lowrance or Simrad Yachting (the same company since 2006), such as transducer beam angle or target separation. Normally, that would give us pause: if you’re proud of a product’s performance, you’re going to offer that info! But real-world performance has demonstrated the HDS Live 12’s abilities beyond doubt, and we wouldn’t hesitate to use this fish finder.

In CHIRP mode, expect depths of up to 1,000 feet. DownScan is a very-high-frequency mode, roughly analogous to Humminbird’s MEGA system, providing incredible crisp, clear images at the cost of depth.

Lowrance’s experience in marine navigation is more than evident when you turn to the map and GPS features the HDS Live 12 sports. The excellent C-Map US Inland mapping and US/Canada Navionics+ card make navigation and charting a breeze, and like Humminbird, Lowrance offers a real-time mapping feature called Genesis Live. Capable of creating ½ foot contour maps, it’s an excellent tool for careful study of the locations you fish.

Does the Lowrance edge-out the Humminbird, recapturing the top spot in our reviews?

We think it does, and if you can afford it, it’s simply the best fish finder on the market this year. 

Check out our full buying guide on the best Lowrance fish finder

Garmin ECHOMAP Ultra 126sv - Best for Pros and Serious Anglers

Garmin ECHOMAP Ultra 126sv with GT56UHD-TM Transducer, 12' Touchscreen Combo with BlueChart g3 Charts and LakeVu g3 Maps and Added High Def Scanning Sonar

Amazon 

Display Size: 12”
Resolution: 1280 x 800
Frequencies: 70/83/200 kHz CHIRP; ClearVü and SideVü 260/455/800/1000/1200 kHz
Side Scanning: Yes, 500’
Maximum Depth: Traditional: 800 ft freshwater; ClearVü: 400 ft
Transducer Angles: Traditional CHIRP: 24-16; ClearVü 0.52 x 52 @ 1000 kHz, 0.64 x 35 @ 800 kHz, 1.1 x 52 @ 455 kHz; SideVü 0.52 x 52 @ 1000 kHz, 0.64 x 35 @ 800 kHz, 1.1 x 52 @ 455 kHz
Target Separation: ?
GPS: Yes
Maps: Yes

Garmin’s top-of-the-line ECHOMAP Ultra 126sv is their attempt to challenge rivals like Lowrance’s HDS Live and Humminbird’s Solix. Our view is that Garmin largely succeeds in this, offering cutting-edge tech that’s sure to impress.

There’s a lot to like about this unit, and we’ll cover it in depth.

Let’s start with the screen. At 12 inches diagonal, and it’s plenty big for most boats and very easy to read. Excellent resolution combined with a vivid color palette make it easy to interpret images very quickly, and the screen is easily adjustable to adapt to a variety of lighting conditions, including direct, powerful sunlight.

Garmin doesn’t specify the maximum viewing angle of the ECHOMAP Ultra 126sv, but in the real-world, it’s pretty good, and more than one angler won’t have trouble figuring out what’s happening under the water.

And while we’re talking about the screen, we should mention that Garmin absolutely nails easy-to-use menus, and the UI is very simple to learn and navigate. In comparison to Lowrance and Humminbird, where the learning curve can be steep, that’s a major point in Garmin’s favor.

Add to that the intuitive touchscreen controls on this unit, and you’ve got a fish finder/chartplotter that’s perhaps the most user friendly on the market.

The ECHOMAP Ultra 126sv comes standard with the awesome GT56UHD transducer, which is justifiably loved for its shallow-water performance. Above 60 feet or so, it offers amazing detail, making it ideal for freshwater and inshore applications.

It supports CHIRP and standard sonar in an incredible range of frequencies, offering both great depth and excellent detail. Those high frequencies really make a difference, and you’ll notice details less capable transducers will miss.

Especially in water that’s less than 60 feet deep, those very high frequencies provide greater detail and more information than the competitors, offering much better image quality.

Images and detail are first rate on the ECHOMAP Ultra.

And the GT56UHD transducer is “LiveScope” capable, meaning that it can provide video-like images in real time. That’s game-changing tech that rivals the HDS Live, and it really can change the way you fish.

SideVü and ClearVü are supported as well, as you’d expect, and we’re pretty impressed with both. Image quality is uniformly excellent.

Networking options for the ECHOMAP Ultra 126sv are extensive, allowing you to link your trolling motor or other supported electronics, including a smartphone, via the ActiveCaptain app. This unlocks some powerful chartplotting, planning, and navigation options, and is among the best in the business.

Mapping is exceptional with the ECHOMAP Ultra 126sv. Capable of contour mapping in 1-foot intervals, and preloaded with BlueChart and LakeVu maps, offering both salt- and freshwater charts, you’ll have very powerful mapping tech at your fingertips.

Taken together, the features of the ECHOMAP Ultra 126sv are clearly amazing, closing the gap with the best Lowrance and Humminbird can muster.

Pros:

  • Awesome screen
  • Very easy to use; excellent UI
  • Excellent depth and range
  • ClearVü and SideVü
  • CHIRP and standard sonar options that cover a very wide range of frequencies
  • Excellent networking options
  • Quickdraw Contours mapping
  • Built -in maps and GPS

Cons:

  • ???

Check out our buying guide for the best Garmin fish finder

Lowrance Elite FS 9 - Best For Serious Anglers

Lowrance Elite FS 9 Fish Finder with Active Imaging 3-in-1 Transducer, Preloaded C-MAP Contour+ Charts

Available at: Bass Pro | Amazon 

Display Size: 9”
Resolution: 800 x 480
Frequencies: CHIRP (50/83/200kHz) as well as traditional 455/800kHz
Side Scanning: Yes, 150’
Maximum Depth: CHIRP 1,000’; DownScan 300’
Transducer Angle: ?
Target Separation: ?
GPS: Yes
Maps: Yes

Lowrance’s Elite FS series is marketed as a mid-range alternative to the high end HDS Live lineup. In practice, that simply means that a few of the bells and whistles like advanced networking capability aren’t supported, while the awesome fishing tech is still just as good.

That makes the Elite FS a super buy for anglers looking for excellent sonar and screen detail, great UI, and options like Active Target without breaking the bank.

Of the two screen sizes offered, I’d opt for the 9”. While not as readable as the HDS Live 12 in any conditions and certainly not blessed with extreme-angle legibility, the Elite FS 9 is still top-flight, easily comparing to competitors’ units in the same price range.

In practice, the Elite FS 9’s screen is very, very good, but it does suffer some in direct, bright sunlight while using features like Active Target.

Active Target provides live, full-motion video produced by sonar, allowing you to visualize your lure and any fish that take an interest in it. It’s pretty amazing and only available on the HDS Live and, now, the Elite FS series.

Lowrance Elite FS 9 active target

Active Target is simply amazing, and now it’s available on the Elite FS!

This fish finder is powered by the same awesome transducer as the HDS Live, and image quality, target separation, depth, and range are just as good. In the real world, that makes it an awesome choice on lakes and rivers, inshore and offshore.

Moreover, Lowrance includes the same excellent mapping, course charting, and GPS software, making this a very full-featured option for every serious fisherman to consider. And with access to the C-Map Genesis website - where you’ll be able to download tens of thousands of accurate topo maps of water near you - well, that’s a game changer!

So is the Elite FS 9 really outgunned by the HDS-12 Live?

For anglers who make a living catching fish, especially those who run more than one unit (say, one in the bow and one in the stern), yes. If you need high-end networking capability, and you just can’t live without a quick peek at your fish finder while moving around your boat - in polarized sunglasses - then you’ll be happier with the top of the line.

But for 99% of anglers, the Elite FS 9 is an impressive, capable fish finder with the features that matter. And now that it sports Active Target, too, it’d be the fish finder I’d reach for myself.

Pros:

  • Excellent screen and image quality
  • Good depth and range
  • CHIRP and standard sonar options
  • Powerful GPS and maps
  • Now with Active Target!
  • Lake mapping feature
  • Pairs with your mobile

Cons:

  • ???

Humminbird SOLIX 12 CHIRP MEGA SI+ G3 Fish Finder/GPS Chartplotter

Humminbird SOLIX 12 Chip

Available at: Bass Pro

Specifications

Pros

Cons

Display Size: 12.1”
Resolution: 1280 X 800
Frequencies: Dual Spectrum CHIRP, MEGA Down Imaging+, MEGA Side Imaging+; Full Mode (28-75 kHz), Narrow Mode (75-155 kHz), Optional Deepwater (28-250 kHz), Wide Mode (130-250 kHz
Side Scanning: Yes (up to 200’)
Maximum Depth: 200’MEGA Down Imaging+; 1,200’ CHIRP (3,500’ with an optional 50 kHz transducer)
Transducer Angles: 20°, 42°, 60°, (2) 86° & (2) 55° @ -10dB
Target Separation:  no greater than 2.5”
GPS: Yes
Maps: Yes
  • Awesome screen and image quality
  • Fantastic depth and range
  • CHIRP and standard sonar options
  • No greater than 2.5” target separation
  • Powerful GPS, maps, chartplotting, and autopilot features
  • Lake mapping feature
  • Pairs with your mobile
  • Expensive

Summary

Humminbird’s Helix series has won a loyal following due to its top-end features, and this range of fish finders has been a favorite of ours for years. But since 2017, Humminbird has taken the Helix’s high-end tech to the next level, offering the new Solix series.

Absolutely packed with the finest electronics money can buy, the Solix 12 CHIRP MEGA SI+ G3 Fish Finder/GPS Chartplotter really has given Humminbird a commanding lead over most of its rivals. As of 2021, only Lowrance’s excellent HDS Live series can equal - or surpass - the performance of this incredible fishfinder.

This Solix offers a 12.1-inch screen with excellent resolution, making the most of its sophisticated sonar system and electronic wizardry. Its image quality is legendary, even in full sun. Images are crisp and clear in all conditions, and even the Lowrance might be edged-out by the Solix here.

There is a larger screen offered in the Solix series, but we’re not sure it’s worth that upgrade unless you really need it.

The Solix’s images are ridiculously clear with the MEGA upgrades, which provide fine-grained, very high-frequency detail at the cost of some range. That’s a trade well worth making, given that you’re still talking about 200 feet of range with any MEGA equipped feature.

This Solix takes this already impressive tech a step farther with even greater clarity, indicated by the SI+ abbreviation. Other manufacturer’s offer similar tech, but to my eye, Humminbird simply can’t be equaled.

Take a look and make up your own mind:

The Solix’s transducer angles are varied and specific to its applications, including a sweeping feature called “Mega 360” that provides side scanning in 360 degrees while sitting still! That’s simply amazing tech with clear utility.

Count me as blown away!

Powered by an amazing CHIRP system as well as standard sonar, the Solix 12 gives fish nowhere to hide. And since it combines no more than 2.5-inch target separation with fantastic range and awesome imaging, it’s simply deadly in the hands of an experienced angler. At the push of a button, you can switch viewing modes, giving you the information you want without the distractions of things you don’t.

Finally, like the Helix series, the Solix series comes packed with charts of more than 10,000 lakes and the coasts of the U.S. With two SD slots, it’s easy to add even more. Its powerful GPS system allows for chartplotting as well as marking points of interest like honey holes, so this fish finder has you covered from the beginning to the end of your angling adventure. And the powerful AutoChart Live system lets you map the bottom, accounting for everything from hardness to cover and structure.

This high-tech combination means that you’ll know more about the areas you fish, and with more information, you can expect to catch more fish.

But here, Lowrance just offers better tech. Their amazing C-Map and Genesis Live features are simply the best in the business.

As you’d expect, this fishfinder can link with your mobile phone, allowing you to receive messages displayed on the screen.

In short, this is an amazing system well worth what you pay for it. But be aware that this full-featured fishfinder can be a handful to learn.

Check out our buying guide for the best Humminbird fish finder

Garmin Striker Vivid 9sv - Best For Weekend Anglers

Garmin Striker Vivid 9sv, Easy-to-Use 5-inch Color Fishfinder and Sonar Transducer, Vivid Scanning Sonar Color Palettes, 9 inch (010-02554-00)

Available at: Bass Pro | Amazon 

Specifications

Pros

Cons

Display Size: 9”
Resolution: 800 x 480
Frequencies: 50/77/200 kHz CHIRP (mid and high); ClearVü and SideVü 260/455/800 kHz
Side Scanning: Yes, 500’
Maximum Depth: 800 ft.; ClearVü: 500 ft.
Transducer Angles: Traditional: 24°-16°; ClearVü/SideVü: 2.0°x50° @ 455 kHz and 1.0°x30° @ 800 kHz
Target Separation: ?
GPS: Yes
Maps: No
  • Very easy to use
  • Excellent depth and range
  • CHIRP and standard sonar options
  • Good screen
  • Screen and image quality suffer greatly in comparison with high-end Humminbird and Lowrance
  • No maps
  • High-tech options are limited, and this unit is in no sense a competitor as a full-sized fishfinder

Summary

Garmin is a trusted name in electronics, and they’re certainly no longer a new-comer to the fishfinder market. Offering excellent products at a reasonable price point, they’ve demonstrated that good enough can be good enough - sometimes.

Now having dropped their previous king of the hill, the Echomap series, the best of the current Garmin line-up is the Striker Vivid 9sv with the GT52HW-TM Transducer. Essentially a very similar system to the Echomap, just minus maps and data storage, we’re really not sold on this replacement.

Let’s discuss why in depth.

Featuring a 9-inch screen with decent resolution and a seven-color palette, image quality simply doesn’t compare to the much more expensive - and advanced - Humminbird Solix. Given the much lower price point of Garmin’s flagship model, that’s to be expected.

This top-end Garmin is about ⅕ the price of the Solix 12, so keep that in mind.

Sonar performance is adequate. The Striker Vivid 9sv makes use of CHIRP as well as standard sonar, providing excellent range and depth for both bottom-scanning and side-scanning applications, at least as far as the transducer is concerned.

Garmin’s pretty hush-hush about what the Vivid 9sv’s actual specs are, so we’re left guessing if it can match the transducer.

But one bright spot for the Striker Vivid series is that the “calculated” ClearVü is gone.

Garmin’s initial downward-facing system was ruled a copyright violation of Lowrance’s DownScan, and rather than purchasing the license to the tech like most other companies, Garmin chose to use side-scanning to simulate a downward-facing image.

That’s now a thing of the past, and Garmin is now equipping its fishfinders with legitimate down-scanning. That said, it’s nothing to write home about when matched head-to-head with Lowrance or Humminbird.

Be aware as well that in side-scanning, shadows can be a problem. Overall image quality is the poorest of the Big Three, so if that’s a concern for you, you should probably give the Garmin a pass.

To be clear, the Striker Vivid 9sv has a very readable screen, even in bright sun, and its controls are perhaps the easiest of the Big Three to master. It’s also quite affordable for CHIRP-enabled sonar.

But in terms of overall performance, Garmin simply isn’t trying to keep up with Humminbird or Lowrance, as is clear by the absence of pre-loaded mapping.

For that reason, we recommend giving this unit a pass.

Garmin STRIKER Vivid 4cv - Most Compact Fish Finder

Garmin Striker Vivid 4cv, Easy-to-Use 4-inch Color Fishfinder and Sonar Transducer, Vivid Scanning Sonar Color Palettes (010-02550-00)

Available at: Bass Pro | Tackle Direct | Amazon 

Display Size: 4.3” diagonal
Resolution: 272 X 480
Frequencies: CHIRP: 200 kHz @ 15° and 77 kHz @ 45°; ClearVü: 455 kHz @ 2.5° x 53° and 800 kHz @ 1.6° x 29°
Side Scanning: No
Maximum Depth: 1900’ CHIRP; 750’ ClearVü
Transducer Angle: see above
Target Separation: ?
GPS: Yes
Maps: No

If Garmin’s large fish finding electronics lag in comparison to Lowrance and Humminbird, it’s fair to say that the opposite is true when you turn to their small units. 

Garmin’s STRIKER Vivid 4cv is even better than their amazing STRIKER 4, offering better sonar performance, a larger screen, and better imaging. For kayak and small boat anglers, there’s not a better system out there.

It’s that good.

Check out our full buying guide for the best kayak fish finders

The heart and soul of the STRIKER Vivid 4cv is the excellent GT20 transducer. Capable of both standard and CHIRP sonar, it offers a downward-facing ClearVü option that simply blows the competition out of the water.

Pair that powerful transducer with the Vivid series’ awesome 7-color display, and you’ve got a real winner on your hands.

And like its Vivid kin, it comes with the Quickdraw Contours software, allowing you to generate your own topo maps with 1’ increments. When paired with GPS and chart plotting, this is a capable system that should appeal to kayak and canoe anglers wherever they fish.

The display is pretty good, especially for its size, and with LED backlighting, it’s reasonably legible in direct sunlight, though you may find yourself shading it with a free hand from time to time. That places it squarely in the performance range of its competitors on this front.

The user interface of the STRIKER Vivid 4cv is accessible via buttons rather than a touchscreen, a necessity at this price point. But like all of Garmin’s electronics, it’s fairly intuitive and very easy to use.

Overall, we can’t get enough of this small fish finder, and if you’re looking for maximum performance in minimum dimensions, this is the place to start!

Pros:

  • Awesome price!
  • Good quality screen
  • Excellent depth and range
  • Excellent transducer
  • CHIRP and ClearVü
  • Quickdraw Contours mapping
  • GPS

Cons:

  • ???

Garmin Striker 4

Garmin 010-01550-00 Striker 4 with Transducer, 3.5' GPS Fishfinder with Chirp Traditional Transducer

Amazon 

Specifications

Pros

Cons

Display Size: 3.5”
Resolution: 320 X 480
Frequencies: CHIRP 50/77/200 kHz
Side Scanning: No
Maximum Depth: 1,600’ freshwater; 750’ saltwater
Transducer Angle: ?
Target Separation: ?
GPS: Yes
Maps: No
  • Awesome price!
  • Acceptable screen size
  • Good depth and range
  • CHIRP
  • GPS
  • No side-scanning
  • No maps
  • Image quality is lower and suffers in comparison to the similar Humminbird

Summary

We’re obviously not in love with Garmin’s flagship ECHOMAP Plus. But where that fish finder leaves us flat, the Striker 4 impresses. Packed with features, it’s a worthy rival for the fantastic PIRANHAMAX 4.3 DI.

The Striker 4 offers a 3.5-inch screen that gives up some room to its Humminbird rival. And certainly, Humminbird’s down imaging provides a clearer image--no contest. So what does the Striker do to earn a place on our list?

CHIRP.

The heart of the Striker 4 is an excellent CHIRP-capable transducer, broadcasting on frequencies ranging between 50 and 200 kHz. That provides great depth and range, as well as excellent fish identification. And so while image quality lags, fish finding doesn’t--and that’s what this tech is all about.

Garmin has chosen not to disclose which transducer the Striker 4 is paired with, so we can’t tell you specifics like beam angles and target separation. But what we can say is that this unit works like a charm, is easy to navigate, and provides excellent budget-priced GPS features like waypointing and marking. These features are nothing to scoff at, and if you’re willing to give up image quality to the Humminbird, this Garmin might be the best budget fish finder for you.

Humminbird PIRANHAMAX 4.3 DI

Humminbird 410160-1 PIRANHAMAX 4 DI (Down Imaging) Fish Finder, Black

Amazon 

Specifications

Pros

Cons

Display Size: 4.3”
Resolution: 272 X 480
Frequencies: Dual 200/455
Side Scanning: No
Maximum Depth: 320’ @ 455 kHz; 600’ @ 200 kHz
Transducer Angle: 28°, 16°, and 74°
Target Separation: 2.5”
GPS: No
Maps: No
  • Awesome price!
  • Acceptable screen size
  • Good depth and range
  • Dual sonar
  • Powerful down imaging that’s no gimmick
  • No CHIRP
  • No side-scanning
  • No GPS
  • No maps

Summary

Not everyone can afford the Helix series, and plenty of anglers need to pinch their pennies. Humminbird still has you covered with budget models like the PIRANHAMAX, and while certainly not full-featured, you get a lot of fish finder for your money.

The heart of this unit is the excellent XNT 9 DI T transducer, offering dual frequency sonar at 200 and 455 kHz. This provides excellent overall depth and detail, and when paired with the 4.3-inch screen, provides admirably sharp images. That DI in the name indicates “down imaging,” a system that provides much more precise images than conventional sonar systems.

As you can see below, this is much more than a marketing gimmick.

That’s a feature competitors can’t match, and if you’re in the market for an inexpensive fish finder, this is an excellent choice, in no small part due to this tech.

With a range of transducer angles to choose from, you can select wider beams for shallower water or narrower beams when you’re out deep. And with as much 600 feet of bottom-finding sonar, most anglers will be well served. When paired to electronics that provide 2.5 inches of target specification, whether you’re after crappie or bass, pike or perch, you’ll be able to see the fish you’re looking for.

So what’s missing?

CHIRP, side-scanning sonar, a big screen, GPS, and maps. The otherwise capable PIRANHAMAX can’t help you with waypointing, course charting, or GPS marking, and you certainly won’t be blown away by its 4.3-inch screen.

That said, it offers great performance for anglers who are budget-conscious.

Our Pick - The Lowrance HDS LIVE 12 Fish Finder/Chartplotter!

While this was a tough call, we feel that the superior mapping capabilities of the Lowrance HDS Live 12 give it the edge over the very capable Humminbird Solix 12.

Combine that with an incredible screen with an excellent user interface, powerful CHIRP, side imaging, and down imaging capabilities, and a host of high-tech features that have proven their effectiveness on the water, and you have nothing short of a winner.

In the end, this was a close call, and if image quality is king, you might want to give the Humminbird the nod. 

Either way, we can guarantee you won’t be disappointed!

Fish Finder Basics

Frequency Demystified

Sonar is just sound. It’s beyond the range of human hearing, but in principle, no different than any other noise.

Sound takes the form of a wave, with crests and troughs or peaks and valleys. Higher frequencies pack more of these oscillations into a given span of time than do lower frequencies.

Low frequencies

Low frequencies penetrate water better than high frequencies. Fish finders with very low-frequency transducers can “see” through the water better, allowing them greater depth.

The weakness of low frequencies, however, is that every oscillation provides data, and with less crests and troughs per second, they can’t provide as much information as high frequencies.

Think about your mobile phone for a second. It works much the same way, which is why 4G can carry more information--more data per second--than 3G. Higher frequencies equal more information.

High frequencies 

High frequencies offer greater detail, allowing your fish finder to “find” fish and tell you their size and location.

They can’t penetrate much water, however, and they can’t tell you much about the bottom, including details like structure and cover.

Dual sonar

Most fish finders use dual frequencies, pairing a high and low frequency to provide the best features of both. For instance, when you see a fish finder that lists two frequencies, such as 77/200 kHz, that means that its transducer broadcasts at both 77 kHz and 200 kHz simultaneously.

The low-frequency signal reads the bottom, while the high frequency finds the fish.

Sonar Pings or CHIRPs

“One ping only, please.”

The Red October’s sonar used “pings,” bursts or pulses of noise that it sent into the water, striking objects and returning to its transducer for analysis. When the sonar was active, it wasn’t constantly transmitting sound.

Most fish finders aren’t much different. They use dual frequencies in pulses: short “pings” like the one you heard in the video. These short pulses are transmitted together, providing enough data to give the fish finder’s electronics a picture of the bottom and anything suspended in the water column.

But military tech has advanced a long way from the Cold War, and modern sonar systems use something called CHIRP, or Compressed High-Intensity Radiated Pulse.

CHIRP sonar uses much longer pulses than standard systems, starting at the low frequency and moving quickly to the high frequency. These longer bursts, and the range of frequencies between the lowest and highest, provide much more information than standard sonar systems.

As you can see, there are many more peaks and valleys in the CHIRP signal, and each and every one carries information. The military uses CHIRP sonar because it’s simply far more effective than dual frequency sonar, and the good news is that so can you!

Some fish finders now offer CHIRP sonar. It provides better imaging, greater accuracy, and more information.

This isn’t a marketing ploy--it’s real, it’s a fact, and in our opinion, it’s worth paying for.

What We Consider When Selecting a Fish Finder

Obviously, we prefer CHIRP sonar systems. But what else matters?

Target Separation

Target separation is simply a measure of how precise the fish finder’s sonar is at distinguishing individual fish from one another. Smaller numbers mean better performance.

Transducer Beam Angle

Often a selling point, this is not nearly as important as marketing leads you to believe.

All other things being equal:

Wider angles let you see a greater area below your transducer.

But, and this is a big but, the “specified cone” isn’t the actual area the fish finder reads. Instead, it’s shaped more like this:

Moreover, for a specified beam width, the structure of the bottom can greatly affect performance. And the greater that width, the more likely this problem is.

As a general rule, the shallower the water you fish, the wider the transducer beam angle you want. Too much will create problems, and if you fish in deeper water, you want a tighter, more focused beam angle.

Side Imaging Sonar

This is exactly what it sounds like. Some advanced fish finders offer specialized transducers that transmit and receive off the starboard and port sides of your boat. The result is a 2-D image of the water column to either side.

Some brands sport a range of as much as 800 feet in either direction!

Obviously, this can be incredibly useful for locating fish, and it’s an increasingly popular option. Be aware, however, that the depth of these side-facing transducers is limited. Side imaging sonar won’t be penetrating the water column very far, though it’s an awesome compliment to a traditional transducer.

Maximum Depth

You want a fish finder with good maximum depth, and you want to match this rating to your actual use. Especially if you fish deeper water, like the Great Lakes, or if you’re a saltwater angler, this is something to consider carefully.

Display Size and Resolution

Larger displays are easier to read and use, but of course, they cost more, too.

And bigger isn’t always better.

Resolution is a measure of how much detail a fish finder’s screen can provide, and a small screen with great resolution can be easier to read than a large screen with only average resolution.

GPS and Maps

We think these are now nearly essential considerations in a good fish finder.

From careful waypointing to honey-hole marking, GPS and maps add so much functionality that they’re almost a no-brainer.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What is the best fish finder for 2022?

The best fish finder for 2022 is the Lowrance HDS LIVE 12 Fish Finder/Chartplotter. The Lowrance HDS Live 12 is market to pros, and has a price tag that reflects that. A head-to-head competitor with the Solix 12, the Lowrance is packed with truly high-end tech, and on each and every front, meets or rises above the bar set down by Humminbird.

Which fish finder shows fish the best?

The fish finder that shows fish the best is the Lowrance HDS LIVE 12 and the Humminbird SOLIX 12 Chirp Mega SI + G3.

Is Lowrance or Humminbird better?

Lowrance and Humminbird are the top players when it comes to developing a premium finder. But does the Lowrance edge-out Humminbird, owning the top spot in our reviews? We think they do. They simply make the best fish finders available today.

What is the best and easiest fish finder to use?

The best and easiest fish finder to us is the Garmin STRIKER Vivid 4cv. The heart and soul of the STRIKER Vivid 4cv is the excellent GT20 transducer. Capable of both standard and CHIRP sonar, it offers a downward-facing ClearVü option that simply blows the competition out of the water.

What is the most advanced fish finder?

The most advanced fish finder is the Lowrance HDS LIVE 12 Fish Finder/Chartplotter. The HDS Live 12 features a very large screen with awesome resolution. Very crisp and clear, it’s easy to read in all conditions. Expect a touch screen augmented by the usual keypad, allowing all-conditions accessibility. This fish finder makes use of the excellent Simrad Active Imaging 3-in-1 Transom Mount Transducer, providing CHIRP, traditional sonar, and side-imaging. It even squeezes past the awesome Humminbird Solix 12 in terms of range with its detailed side- and down-imaging - and that’s really saying something!

What Should I look for when buying a fish finder?

When buying a fish finder you should look out for these characteristics: Target separation, transducer beam angle, side imaging sonar, maximum depth, display size and resolution, gps and maps.

Is side imaging worth the money?

Side imaging can be incredibly useful for locating fish, and it’s an increasingly popular option. Be aware, however, that the depth of these side-facing transducers is limited. Side imaging sonar won’t be penetrating the water column very far, though it’s an awesome compliment to a traditional transducer.

Is a fish finder worth it?

Yes, a fish finder is worth it! It can help you save time trying to locate where fish are in the lake or ocean.

Do fish finders actually show fish?

Fish finders actually show where the fish are location relative to your boat. They show icons of where the estimated location of the fish is.

Is chirp better than sonar?

Yes, CHIRP is better than sonar. CHIRP sonar generates an image using a wider range of frequencies, which allows the processor to produce a much more accurate and detailed sonar image of fish, structure, or the bottom. Where a traditional sonar emitting a single frequency shows a school of fishes as a single blob or cluster, a CHIRP sonar individualizes each fish, making it much easier to distinguish between fishes and other surfaces. CHIRP sounders provide a greater separation and distinction between fishes and other objects.

Do all fish finders have transducers?

All fish finders need a transducer. The transducer is the sonar mechanism of the fish finder device. It sends a signal into the water where your fishing, and then gets a response to tell you where different fish and surfaces are.

About The Author
John B
If it has fins, John has probably tried to catch it from a kayak. A native of Louisiana, he now lives in Sarajevo, where he's adjusting to life in the mountains. From the rivers of Bosnia to the coast of Croatia, you can find him fishing when he's not camping, hiking, or hunting.
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Brian Bousquet
Brian Bousquet
1 month ago

I’ll start by saying that I’m a first time boat owner and looking to upgrade my fish finding capability, I’m also new at using fish finders. I don’t need the Latest and greatest, just something that lets me see structure and bottom brush piles more clearly…. My budget isn’t huge but any advice on which brand or unit is user friendly and decent structure and fish clearer…please any advice would be greatly appreciated… Thank you for ur time …

Donald
Donald
6 months ago

Good luck finding transducers for all Helix models. Mine was damaged and I was told that none are in stock and that humminbird doesn’t know when they will get any in. A waste of money for not just me but many others too. Disappointing

Shariful Shohel
Shariful Shohel
1 year ago

Hey John, Your article is very helpful for choosing the best fish finder. I'm already using the Garmin Striker 4. It's the best budget fish finder and I really like it. Thanks for your informative article.

Last edited 1 year ago by Shariful Shohel
ken mcbroom
ken mcbroom
2 years ago

Great article. Learned a lot about fish finders especially the cone or angle beam and chirp.

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