Garmin, a company known for its GPS know-how, has increasingly turned this experience in the direction of affordable fish finders. And while not in real competition with the high-end electronics offered by competitors like Lowrance and Humminbird, a question remains.
Are Garmin’s best fish finders good buys? Let’s get some answers!
Below, you’ll find reviews of some of Garmin’s best fish finders, as well as a complete buying guide to get you up to speed quickly.
Quick glance at Garmins top fish finder line-up:
- Garmin ECHOMAP Ultra 126sv - Best Garmin Fish Finder for Pros and Serious Anglers
- Garmin STRIKER Vivid 9sv - Best Garmin Fish Finder for Weekend Anglers
- Garmin STRIKER Vivid 4cv - Best Garmin Fish Finder for Kayaks and Canoes
- Garmin STRIKER Cast - Best Castable Garmin Fish Finder
Table of Contents (clickable)
- 1 Best Garmin Fish Finders Reviewed
- 2 Fish Finder Basics
- 3 What We Consider When Selecting a Fish Finder
Best Garmin Fish Finders Reviewed
Garmin ECHOMAP Ultra 126sv - Best for Professional and Serious Anglers
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: ?
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.
- 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
Garmin STRIKER Vivid 9sv - Best Garmin Fish Finder for Weekend Anglers
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° x 50° @ 455 kHz and 1.0° x 30° @ 800 kHz
Target Separation: ?
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 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.
The STRIKER VIVID 9sv produces images that are quite good.
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.
- 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
- Screen and image quality suffer in comparison with high-end Humminbird and Lowrance
- No pre-loaded maps
Garmin STRIKER Vivid 4cv - Best Garmin Fish Finder for Kayaks and Canoes
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: ?
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.
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!
- Awesome price!
- Good quality screen
- Excellent depth and range
- Excellent transducer
- CHIRP and ClearVü
- Quickdraw Contours mapping
Garmin STRIKER Cast - Best Castable Garmin Fish Finder
Maximum depth: 150’
Maximum range: 200’
Transducer beam angle: 22° x 63° @ 260 kHz and 9° x 14° @ 455 kHz
Frequency: 260 and 455 kHz
Target separation: ?
Compatibility: Android and iOS, but unspecified
Battery life: 10+ hours
Charging time: 1.5
The good people at Garmin know that not every angler fishes from a boat and that plenty of us work piers, beaches, and shorelines for our fish. The STRIKER Cast is their answer to our needs, and it’s designed to compete with the likes of Deeper’s Start, Pro, and Pro+.
The idea is simple: the STRIKER Cast is essentially a small, battery-powered transducer that links to your smartphone, and when paired with its app, it provides fish finder functionality on your smart device.
The promise is not just a downward-facing sonar picture - though that’s awfully nice - but detailed contour mapping as well.
Does it deliver?
The STRIKER Cast is game-changing tech for shore-bound anglers.
Screen resolution, size, quality, and bright-light legibility are all dependent on your phone, so you already know if you’ve got what you need in hand. And as you’d expect from Garmin, the UI is simple, intuitive, and easy to navigate.
But the heart of any fish finder is the transducer - and here there’s even more good news. The STRIKER Cast’s transducer is surprisingly capable given its size and battery life, offering a maximum depth of 150 feet. That doesn’t match the excellent Deeper Pro and Pro+, but then the supported frequencies drive those numbers as much as anything else.
Clearly, the engineering wizards at Garmin chose higher frequencies, trading image quality and target separation for maximum water penetration. To my mind, that’s a good deal, and I doubt many shore-bound anglers need more depth than the STRIKER Cast offers.
And in terms of fish finding performance, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by this angling tool. Now, I won’t compare it head-to-head with units sporting larger and more powerful transducers, but the target separation and imaging are perfectly acceptable.
And like all of Garmin’s products, you have access to Quickdraw Contours, allowing you to create - and share! - detailed bathymetric maps with 1-foot increments. That’s game-changing tech for many anglers and a huge selling point for the STRIKER Cast.
New to a lake? Simply download a shared map and pick your spot.
It’s that easy.
Battery life is excellent, too, and charging time is just 1 ½ hours to 100%!
It’s clear that there’s a lot to like here, and unless you need the extra depth Deeper’s high-end models can offer, the awesome mapping features of the Garmin really do tilt the decision in its favor.
- Easy to use
- Uncomplicated UI
- Very inexpensive for the tech you get
- Excellent battery life and recharging rate
- Awesome mapping features, including shared maps
Fish Finder Basics
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 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 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.
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
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 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.
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.