Best Fish Finders Under $500: Affordable Options You Can Rely On

A new, high-end fish finder typically wears a price tag that’s nothing short of shocking. And unless you earn a living on the water or have money to spare, it’s tough to justify fishing electronics that cost as much as a good used car.

If your budget just can’t stretch that far, don’t worry. As fish finding tech has improved, performance that was once out of reach has become commonplace, and you can get excellent performance for less than $500 - if you know what to look for.

If you’re in the market for a new fish finder, and you need to keep its price under 5 bills, we’re here to help.

Below, you’ll find reviews of some great fish finders, as well as a full buying guide to help you make the best choice for your needs: 

Quick glance at the best fish finders under $500:

Related:

Best Fish Finders Under $500 Reviewed

Garmin Striker Vivid 7cv - Our Pick!

Garmin Striker Vivid 7cv

Available at: Bass Pro | Tackle Direct | West Marine

Display Size: 7 inches
Resolution: 800 x 480
Frequencies: 50/77/200 kHz including CHIRP; ClearVü 260/455/800 kHz
Side Scanning: No
Maximum Depth: ?
Transducer Angles: ?
Target Separation: ?
GPS: Yes, with Quickdraw Contours
Maps: No

Garmin’s Striker Vivid 7cv is very similar to the capable Striker Plus 5cv. But for not much more money, you get a larger, brighter, more colorful screen and WiFi connectivity that can be a game-changer on the water.

Garmin equips the Striker Vivid 7cv with a bright, legible screen that fights glare and direct sunlight really well. Overall, we’ve always been impressed with the Striker Vivid lineup, and this model goes a long way to explaining why.

Its image quality is very good, and it shares its user interface with the Striker Plus. Easy-to-navigate, intuitive buttons control its features, and you won’t need to study the user manual for hours just to figure this fish finder out.

That’s not just a nice feature. When you can get the most out of your fishing electronics through an intuitive UI, you’ll tilt the odds in your favor and have a lot more fun on the water.

The Striker Vivid employs the same excellent transducer as the Striker Plus, namely the GT20-TM. Capable of standard sonar, CHIRP, and ClearVü down imaging, it provides plenty of real-world range, excellent imaging, and effective target separation.

You won’t be disappointed by the images, frustrated by the controls, or unhappy with the powerful sonar options at your fingertips. But Garmin’s claim to fame is its excellent GPS and contour mapping software, allowing you to produce 1-foot increment bathymetric maps that will revolutionize how you fish.

And since this model is capable of networking with your phone, you can access the ActiveCaptain app on the water, downloading other anglers’ maps of the water you’re fishing. Forget about pre-loaded mapping - it’s largely outdated. This feature gives you access to maps of any body of water other Garmin users are fishing, and whether you’re on a trip, trying a new lake, or fishing your local river, you’ll have access to contour maps, pretty much guaranteed.

That’s simply amazing, and for the added money you’ll spend on the Vivid, we really feel you get more than you do with the Plus.

For more Garmin fish finders check out our full buying guide: Top Rated Garmin Fish Finders

Pros:

  • Easy to use
  • Very good screen
  • Excellent CHIRP, standard sonar, and down imaging
  • Unbeatable GPS and mapping software
  • Networking with your smartphone and ActiveCaptain

Cons:

  • ???

Garmin Striker Vivid 5cv

Garmin Striker Plus 5cv

Available at: Bass Pro | Tackle Direct | West Marine

Display Size: 5 inches
Resolution: 800 x 480
Frequencies: 50/77/200 kHz including CHIRP; ClearVü 260/455/800 kHz
Side Scanning: No
Maximum Depth: ?
Transducer Angles: ?
Target Separation: ?
GPS: Yes, with Quickdraw Contours
Maps: No

Garmin’s Striker Vivid 5cv is a capable fish finder that’s easy on your budget. A very good buy, it offers great tech options without the bells and whistles that drive prices sky-high.

Let’s take a closer look.

Garmin offers multiple screen sizes in the Striker Vivid lineup, and to keep the cost down for tighter budgets, we recommend the 5-inch model . Garmin’s screens are excellent overall, and that’s certainly true of the Striker Vivid 5cv. Bright enough to be legible in full sun, it provides excellent image quality and plenty of detail.

The user interface is driven by easy-to-navigate buttons to the right of the screen, and Garmin’s extensive experience in the automotive GPS business really pays dividends here. You won’t be left guessing which button you need to press, and you’ll be able to unlock every feature of the Striker Plus 5cv without needing to reference the user manual everytime you want to do something.

That’s a big deal. Having a powerful, advanced fish finder that you can’t use is frustrating, to say nothing of ineffective, and Garmin really knows how to get you fishing smarter without the hassle of a complex UI.

Garmin equips the Striker Plus 5cv with the GT20-TM transducer, a down-scanning capable unit that provides CHIRP as well as standard sonar. Frequencies as low as 50 kHz really punch through to deep water, while frequencies as high as 800 kHz provide exceptional detail and target separation in ClearVü down imaging.

Garmin doesn’t like to report specifications like transducer beam angles, range, or target separation, and that’s just as true on their flagship models as it is here. But rest assured, in the real world, the Striker Vivid 5cv is capable of imaging in deep water, and the cone it transmits provides good compromises between depth and coverage.

In short, you won’t be disappointed.

The Striker Vivid 5cv’s biggest selling point to us is its top-flight GPS and mapping software. This unit has the same tech as Garmin’s flagship, offering amazing waypointing and contour mapping.

Using Quickdraw Contours, you can create accurate, 1-foot increment maps of the bottom, dramatically changing how you fish. You’ll know where the deep holes are, where the shallows fall away, and just where that productive point ends.

If you’ve never used this kind of tech, you’ll be amazed at just how awesome it is.

Overall, the Striker Plus 5cv is a real bargain, offering powerful CHIRP sonar and down imaging with an unbeatable mapping/GPS combo. Sure, the screen isn’t anything to write home about, and no, tournament pros aren’t going to be running this fishfinder, but for the price, it’s simply awesome.

Pros:

  • Easy to use
  • Excellent CHIRP, standard sonar, and down imaging
  • Unbeatable GPS and mapping software

Cons:

  • The screen can’t compete with much more expensive fishfinders
  • No maps are preloaded

Lowrance Hook Reveal 5

Lowrance Hook Reveal 5

Available at: Bass Pro | Tackle Direct | West Marine

Display Size: 5 inches
Resolution: 800 x 480
Frequencies: CHIRP/200kHz and DownScan Imaging 455/800kHz
Side Scanning: No
Maximum Depth: ?
Transducer Angles: ?
Target Separation: ?
GPS: Yes
Maps: Yes

Lowrance has now retired the Hook2, and while it’s still available from some retailers, we don’t recommend buying legacy tech that’s unlikely to be supported in the future. Instead, Lowrance now offers the Hook Reveal as its entry-level model, providing acceptable performance for the price.

On its high-end units like the HDS and Elite FS, screen quality is simply superb. Unfortunately, that’s not entirely true for the Hook Reveal. To keep your costs below that magic $500 mark, you'll need to opt for the 5-inch screen.

In and of itself, that’s not a big deal - and obviously, trade-offs need to be made to keep costs down. But with less than 1000 nits of brightness, you’ll need to shade the screen to make it legible in direct sunlight. That’s not something anyone can love, and it leaves us rather flat despite the tech this unit offers.

Its viewing angles are very good, however, offering 80° top/bottom and 85° left/right legibility.

This screen offers image quality that lags behind its competitors, and we can’t say we’re terribly impressed by what we see.

Lowrance isn’t known for its easy-to-navigate user interface, and that’s just as true here as it is with their flagship models. At the entry-level, expect a series of buttons on the right side of the screen - the standard for everyone at this price point - but sometimes complicated menus and options that aren’t nearly as intuitive as we’d like.

Lowrance equips the Reveal series with their SplitShot Skimmer transducer. CHIRP capable, it supports high-frequency down imaging (455/800 kHz), providing plenty of fine-grained detail and making it very good at spotting fish.

Indeed, as long as you leave the gimmicky “FishReveal” option turned off, you’ll see the usual arches that represent fish, enjoy good target separation, and generally find the Reveal to be a capable fishfinder. With FishReveal on, you’ll find plenty of fish that don’t exist in the real world.

Lowrance says that the SplitShot offers “wide-angle CHIRP [that] provides double the sonar coverage of most fish finders.” In some situations, that’s simply great. In others, it can cause issues, such as when the bottom structure isn't wide angle friendly.

The Reveal series has integrated GPS and mapping software, as well as pre-loaded maps. The GPS works like a charm, and with waypointing and spot marking, it makes finding the same spot simple.

But what’s truly impressive is the combination of Lowrance’s pre-loaded Contour + maps and GPS mapping capability. Pre-loaded maps can be great, but mapping with Genesis Live takes your knowledge to a new level.

Whether you’re fishing somewhere new, or just want every advantage on your home water, you’ll be able to map every hole, point, drop-off, and weed bed. That’s going to change the way you fish, no question about it.

But here’s the rub.

Garmin’s Striker Vivid 7cv has a larger, brighter, simply better screen, a much friendlier user interface, a transducer that’s as good or better than the SplitShot, and awesome mapping - as well as WiFi connection to your phone.

It’s simply the much better fish finder - and it costs less!

Unless you’re a hardcore Lowrance fan, the Striker Vivid 7cv is the way to go.

For more Lowrance fish finders check out our full buying guide: Top Rated Lowrance Fish Finders

Pros:

  • Very good CHIRP, standard sonar, and down imaging
  • Excellent GPS and mapping software
  • Pre-loaded maps

Cons:

  • The screen isn’t bright enough for direct sunlight
  • The gimmicky FishReveal doesn’t work as advertised
  • Clunky UI that isn’t nearly as friendly as Garmin’s

Humminbird Helix 5 CHIRP GPS G3

Humminbird Helix 5

Available at: Bass Pro

Display Size: 5 inch
Resolution: 800 x 480
Frequencies: 50/80/200 kHz (standard); CHIRP 83/200 (75-155/130-250 kHz), Full Mode (150-220 kHz), Narrow Mode (180-240 kHz), Wide Mode (140-200 kHz)
Side Scanning: No
Maximum Depth: 1200 ft.
Transducer Angles: 20°, 42° & 60° @ -10dB
Target Separation: ?
GPS: Yes
Maps: Yes

Humminbird’s Helix 5 CHIRP GPS G3 is a real bargain for what it offers, giving the Garmin Striker Plus 5cv a run for its money. Ultimately, we feel the Garmin is the better buy, but that’s up to you in the final analysis.

Humminbird’s Helix series was once the flagship, and the screen quality really demonstrates that. It’s bright and clear, offering very nice image quality - though we think it lags behind the newer tech in the Striker Vivid 7cv. That said, you won’t be disappointed by what you see for the price.

The user interface is, as you would expect, driven by buttons placed to the right of the screen.

Humminbird has been criticized for the complexity of its user interface, and that’s pretty fair in our view. Nowhere near as intuitive as its Garmin competitor, you’ll need to spend some time with the manual and control head to really unlock its capabilities.

Humminbird equips this Helix with the excellent XNT 9 HW T transducer. While it’s CHIRP-capable and offers an excellent range of frequencies to provide range and detail, it’s neither side- nor down-imaging ready. On the water, that leaves it a bit behind the Garmin Striker Plus 5cv.

On its own terms, the XNT 9 HW T is plenty powerful, and with a variety of beam angles to choose from, clearly outpaces the Lowrance Reveal series across a wider range of situations.

The GPS system and software in the Helix is really nice, and you can make use of pre-loaded maps provided by Humminbird or map on your own with AutoChart Live. This is a powerful fishing tool that provides contour mapping, bottom hardness readings, and vegetation data.

That’s game-changing tech if you’ve never used it before, but it probably lags behind what Garmin offers at the same price point.

One common problem with this unit is power button failure, meaning that you can be left with no fish finder as you hit the water. It’s a known issue, and we think Humminbird may have worked on it, but it’s certainly something to be aware of.

Overall, the Helix 5 CHIRP GPS G3 isn’t as capable as the similarly-priced Garmin Striker Plus 5cv.

For more Humminbird fish finders check out our full buying guide: Top Rated Humminbird Fish Finders

Pros:

  • Very good screen
  • Very good CHIRP and standard sonar
  • Excellent transducer beam angle choices
  • Excellent GPS and mapping software
  • Pre-loaded maps

Cons:

  • Clunky UI that isn’t nearly as friendly as Garmin’s
  • Power button failure is a known problem, as is key stickiness
  • No down imaging

Humminbird Helix 5 CHIRP DI GPS G3 NAV

Humminbird Helix 5

Available at: Bass Pro

Display Size: 5 inch
Resolution: 800 x 480
Frequencies: 50/83/200/455/800 kHz (standard); 50/200 (28-75/130-250 kHz), 83/200 (75-155/130-250 kHz), High (130-250 kHz), Low (28-75 kHz), Med (75-155 kHz) CHIRP
Side Scanning: No
Maximum Depth: 600 ft.; 350 ft. down imaging
Transducer Angles: 16°, 28°, 45° & 75° @ -10dB
Target Separation: ?
GPS: Yes
Maps: Yes

Humminbird’s Helix 5 CHIRP DI GPS G3 NAV is a decided step up from the tech offered by the CHIRP GPS G3, adding more powerful sonar, as well as down imaging. That’s a substantial real-world improvement, and it brings this Helix within striking distance of the enviable Striker Vivid 7cv.

The Helix series share very nice screens that offer plenty of brightness, even in direct sun. Image quality is very good, though perhaps not quite on par with the Striker Vivid, to say nothing of the extra two inches offered by the Garmin.

Hummibird’s down imaging generates excellent images, and there’s no question you’ll be impressed by what it offers for the money.

Of course, the Helix series shares a user interface, and the problems attending one attend them all. Expect to spend some time learning to use this fish finder and perhaps a moment or two of frustration when you can’t get it to do what you want.

Garmin has simply nailed this aspect of fishing electronics, and there’s no real competition on this front.

Humminbird equips this Helix with the excellent XNT 9 DI T transducer. It broadcasts in a very wide range of frequencies, using CHIRP and standard sonar to full effect. The XNT 9 DI T is almost certainly superior to Garmin’s GT20-TM in that it supports a broader range of frequencies, especially at the low end, providing much greater range.

If you fish in the salt, this Helix is probably the better choice, especially if you’re regularly in deep water.

This Helix’s GPS system and software is competitive as well, offering real-time mapping, pre-loaded maps, waypointing, spot marking, and everything else you’ll need - minus the WiFi connectivity of the Garmin Striker Vivid 7cv. So while it’s capable of excellent mapping in its own right, you won’t have instantaneous access to other anglers’ maps, leaving it in Garmin’s dust on this front.

In summary, the Helix 5 CHIRP DI GPS G2 NAV is a capable rival for the Garmin Striker Vivid 7cv, though it surrenders screen size and a powerful networking tool to gain greater depth.

If that’s a trade you’re willing to make, this might be the best option for you, but be aware that the entire Helix series has been plagued by button issues.

Pros:

  • Very good screen
  • Excellent CHIRP, standard sonar, and down imaging
  • Excellent range
  • Excellent transducer beam angle choices
  • Excellent GPS and mapping software
  • Pre-loaded maps

Cons:

  • Clunky UI that isn’t nearly as friendly as Garmin’s
  • Power button failure is a known problem, as is key stickiness

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.

Our Pick: The Garmin Striker Vivid 7cv!

Fishing electronics can be painfully expensive, but don’t buy into the idea that they're unaffordable. 

As our shortlist and reviews demonstrate, there are great options below $500.

Our pick for the best fish finder under 500 is the amazing Garmin Striker Vivid 7cv. 

It offers a larger screen than its competitors without giving up any ground in terms of image quality or brightness. In fact, it’s probably the best of the bunch on these fronts. It features an intuitive, easy-to-learn user interface that doesn’t require a degree in computer engineering to use. Its transducer is capable of both CHIRP sonar and down imaging, offering excellent tech for the money. And its GPS and mapping software are simply excellent, especially since you can pair this unit with your smartphone to download user generated maps of new waters.

Simply put, the Garmin Striker 7cv outpaces its competition.

About The Author
John Baltes
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.