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Best Fish Finder for the Money 2024

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! Here are the best fish finders for 2024:
Reviewed by: John Baltes
Last Updated:
a gps device mounted to the side of a boat

Best Fish Finders Reviewed


Summary
Specifications
Pros & Cons

The Lowrance HDS Live 12 is marketed 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, though it falls behind the Garmin in terms of accessibility given its relatively complex UI.

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 once you get the hang of its user interface.

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?
After putting it to the test, we think it does, and if you can afford it, it’s simply the best fish finder on the market this year.

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

Pros:

  • 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

Cons:

  • Complex UI
  • Expensive!
Summary
Specifications
Pros & Cons

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 succeeds in this, offering cutting-edge tech that’s sure to impress, as well as an industry-leading user interface.

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.
Based on our first-hand experience, 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.

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

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:

  • Expensive!
Summary
Specifications
Pros & Cons

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 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.

And of course the UI is still a bit more involved than the excellent Garmin.

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 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?

Drawing from our experience, 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

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

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:

  • Somewhat complicated UI
Summary
Specifications
Pros & Cons

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.

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 and Garmin 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, our team concluded after testing the Solix 12 that it 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.

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

Pros:

  • 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

Cons:

  • Somewhat complicated UI
  • Expensive!
Summary
Specifications
Pros & Cons

Garmin has retired the well-loved Echomap series, replacing it with the STRIKER Vivid armed with the capable GT52HW-TM Transducer. Essentially a very similar system to the Echomap, just minus maps and data storage, we’re not really entirely sold on this replacement as a competitor for mid-range rivals like the Lowrance Elite FS 7.

That may offend Garmin fans, and there are legions of them, but take a minute to keep reading.

Overall, Garmin aims the STRIKER Vivid series at weekend fishermen just like us. And for price-conscious anglers who aren’t concerned about the absence of pre-loaded maps, the top-of-the-line Garmin is a good buy. Just don’t expect head-to-head performance with the big names in the industry, especially when compared directly to their high-end models.

Instead, think “maximum bang for your buck,” and you’ll be happy.

Featuring a 9-inch screen with excellent resolution and a seven-color palette, image quality is pretty good overall and one of the strong points of this system. But Garmin isn’t talking about nits, extreme viewing angles, or legibility in direct sunlight, and you can expect mid-range rather than industry-leading performance on these fronts.

I’m also not alone in judging it to be a bit less clear than rivals like Humminbird’s Helix or Lowrance’s Elite FS.

Garmin

STRIKER VIVID 9sv produces image quality that’s respectable, but not industry leading.

That’s not anything like a deal-breaker for most fishermen, however, and as long as you’re not making a living on the water, it shouldn’t be an issue.

Keep in mind, though, that as you step up to the high-end electronics offered by these companies, that difference becomes stark. Garmin has located the STRIKER Vivid series solidly in the mid-range, and for pros and diehards, there are more powerful options out there.

That said, for what you pay, sonar performance with this transducer is very good. 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, and “calculated” ClearVü is now a relic of the past, replaced by real-time, downward-facing sonar imaging.

Be aware, though, that in side-scanning, shadows can be a problem.

One reason Garmin’s angling electronics are popular is their outstanding user interfaces, and the STRIKER Vivid 9sv is no exception. Probably the easiest fish finder to use for people who find tech bedeviling, if you hate navigating screens and options, Garmin has simplified the process to a degree that’s startling.

The STRIKER Vivid 9sv is capable of connecting to other STRIKER series fish finders, as well as most echoMap electronics as well via NMEA 0183 data transfer or, in some cases, cables. But be aware that it lacks a data storage SD card.

With the Active Captain app, data can be transmitted through an intermediary smart device, typically your phone, increasing this unit’s capabilities.

That’s important because there are no pre-loaded maps on the STRIKER Vivid Series, though Quickdraw Contours allows you to create topo maps in 1’ increments. These can be shared via the Active Captain app, and with thousands and thousands of users, there are plenty of detailed lake, river, and coastal maps available.

Overall, our assessment is a no-brainer: at this price point, Garmin isn’t setting up the STRIKER Vivid series to rival the Humminbird Solix or Lowrance HDS Live series. Instead, they’ve got mid-range competitors like the Helix and Elite FS more firmly in their sights, offering slightly lower performance at a more reasonable cost.

That’s nothing to sneeze at for most of us, and the STRIKER Vivid 9sv is worth a close look if you’re a recreational fisherman like us.

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

Pros:

  • Excellent pricing
  • Very easy to use; excellent UI
  • Good screen with excellent color pallet options
  • Excellent depth and range
  • CHIRP and standard sonar options
  • Nice map-sharing app

Cons:

  • Screen and image quality suffer in comparison with flagship models from all three big names
  • No pre-loaded maps

Fish Finder Basics

If you want to know more about how fish finders work, or why CHIRP sonar really is a huge improvement over standard tech, check out this article:

What is CHIRP Sonar: Essential Fishing Tech Explained

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.

If you want to know more about side-scanning, check out this article:

Down-Imaging vs. Side-Imaging: Are You Getting the Most from Your Fish Finder?

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.

Final Thoughts

The good news for anglers is that we’re spoiled for choices when it comes to powerful fishing electronics. Whether you prefer Lowrance, Garmin, or Humminbird, there are simply fantastic models available in 2024, and the best fish finders are nothing short of amazing in terms of the tech they now offer.

Only you know which fish finder best fits your needs and budget, but we can all but guarantee that one of our top picks will transform the way you fish.

As always, we’re here to answer any questions you might have, so please leave a comment below!

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What is the best fish finder for 2024?

The best fish finder for 2024 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 Baltes
Chief Editor & Contributor
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 year 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
2 years 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
2 years 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 2 years ago by Shariful Shohel
ken mcbroom
ken mcbroom
4 years ago

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

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