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Best Lowrance Fish Finders Reviewed: Top-Notch High-End Angling Electronics

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Founded in Joplin, Missouri way back in 1957, Lowrance is no stranger to innovation, bleeding-edge tech, and the needs of hard-core anglers.

Offering a complete line of fish finders to match any budget and need, legions of fishermen know they can depend on Lowrance’s powerful electronics to put them on the fish.

But which model is right for you? Let’s find out!

Below, you’ll find reviews of Lowrance’s best fish finder models, as well as a complete buying guide to get you up to speed on fish finding tech

Quick glance at the best Lowrance fish finders and what we don't recommend:

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Best Lowrance Fish Finders Reviewed

Lowrance offers three series of fish finders: the Hook Reveal, Elite FS, and HDS Live. They market the first at weekend anglers, the second at serious fishermen, and the third at pros - both guides and tournament anglers.

Lowrance HDS-12 Live - Best Lowrance Fish Finder for Professional Anglers

Lowrance HDS LIVE 12

Available at Bass Pro

Display Size: 12”
Resolution: 1280 x 800
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

The Lowrance HDS Live series is marketed to people who earn their bread catching fish, and as you’d expect for professional gear, it has a price tag that reflects that. All the fish finders in the HDS Live family are packed with truly high-end tech, and on each and every front, they meet or exceed the standard set down by their rivals like Humminbird.

Across this series, the only difference you’ll find between the HDS Live fish finders is screen size and resolution. And for my money, while the 16” offers simply amazing image quality with a full HD screen, it’s not worth the premium you’ll pay over the big, bright, amazing 12”.

But that’s your call as a pro!

In my estimation, for anglers who earn a living on the water, the HDS-12 Live provides incredible performance at a price many can live with.

The HDS-12 Live features a screen that’s simply outstanding. Extremely crisp and clear, it’s easy to read in all conditions, even direct sunlight (and while wearing polarized sunglasses!). Chalk that up to an amazing coating, extremely wide viewing angles, and more than 1200 nits of screen illumination.

The user interface is driven by a touch screen augmented by the usual keypad, allowing all-conditions accessibility. It’s pretty easy to navigate if you’re familiar with fish finders, and manual modes really do meaningfully improve target separation.

These fish finders make use of the excellent Simrad Active Imaging 3-in-1 Transom Mount Transducer, providing CHIRP, traditional sonar, and side-imaging. When paying customers or tournament prize money are on the line, you’ll be glad to know that the HDS-12 Live surpasses the awesome Solix 12 in terms of range with its detailed side- and down-imaging - and that’s really saying something! 

Lowrance HDS-12 Live active imaging

The Active Imaging 3-in-1 transducer produces awesome image quality.

Some specifications are not available from either Lowrance, such as transducer beam angle or target separation. Real-world performance has demonstrated the HDS-12 Live’s abilities beyond doubt, and manual target separation is definitely no larger than ½ inch.

In CHIRP mode, expect depths of up to 1,000 feet. For big water, that’s a number I like to see. Paired with DownScan, a very-high-frequency mode roughly analogous to Humminbird’s MEGA system, you’ll get incredibly 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 that the HDS Live series sports. The excellent C-Map US Inland mapping and US/Canada Navionics+ card make navigation and charting a breeze. 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.

Finally, the HDS-12 Live is designed for full networking with multiple units and modules, allowing very advanced connection for the tech savvy angler who needs maximum information. In this sense, the HDS-12 is extremely capable.

If you can afford the hefty price tag on the HDS Live series, rest assured: it’s simply the best fish finder on the market this year from any manufacturer.

Pros:

  • Awesome screen and image quality
  • Good depth and range
  • CHIRP and standard sonar options
  • Powerful GPS and maps
  • Extreme networking of multiple modules
  • Lake mapping feature
  • Pairs with your mobile

Cons:

  • Expensive!

Lowrance Elite FS 9 - Best Lowrance Fish Finder for Serious Anglers

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

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:

  • ???

HOOK Reveal 7 SplitShot with C-MAP Contour+ Card - Not Recommended!

Lowrance Hook Reveal 7 SplitShot - 7-inch Fish Finder with SplitShot Transducer, C-MAP Contour+ Chart Card

Display Size: 7”

Resolution: 800 x 480

Frequencies: CHIRP 200kHz and DownScan Imaging (455/800kHz)

Side Scanning: No

Maximum Depth: ?

Transducer Angle: ?

Target Separation: ?

GPS: Yes

Maps: Yes

What I’m going to say about the HOOK Reveal series will be controversial, but we think we owe you the truth about any product we review, and integrity is just not something we’re willing to compromise.

This is the best (and only) entry-level fish finder from Lowrance, but it’s not one we can recommend. 

Right up front, you need to know that the best transducer available for this unit, the TripleShot, works very well as long as it’s in one piece and attached to your boat. Neither will be the case for very long. The mounting bracket and transducer are made from insufficiently rugged materials, and even without impacts, expect them to break.

This problem is common enough with these transducers that we can pretty much guarantee it’ll happen to you.

It’s that simple.

Add to this that, though the HOOK Reveal series supports the awesome Genesis Live feature for contour mapping, it does NOT support downloading the maps other anglers have made from the C-Map Genesis website.

That really reduces the power of what is otherwise a fantastic mapping system, and without it, you’re stuck with preloaded maps and maps you generate yourself.

Our advice? If you plan to stick with Lowrance, spend the extra cash to get into the Elite FS series.

Where does that leave the HOOK Reveal 7?

So right off the bat, we can’t recommend the powerful TripleShot transducer, limiting this model’s performance substantially. Instead, the only way to go is to purchase it with the much less powerful SplitShot option.

But what about real-world performance?

The HOOK Reveal 7’s screen is excellent, offering impressive brightness and readability, even at extreme viewing angles: up to 80 degrees top and bottom and 85 degrees to each side. That’s nothing to sneeze at for sure, and with a better transducer, we’d be impressed.

The user interface is easy to navigate, too. With the SplitShot transducer - which won’t break or come off its mounting bracket - you can get reasonable performance, but it’s nothing to write home about.

DownScan is available from this option, but no side imaging, and Lowrance is pretty mum about its specifications. We expect that if those numbers were available, we wouldn’t find the SplitShot transducer to be serious competition for Lowrance’s rivals.

HOOK Reveal 7 SplitShot with C-MAP Contour Card downscan imaging

Downscanning images are pretty good with the SplitShot transducer.

Image quality with downscanning is pretty good, and I wouldn’t feel hampered by what I see with this unit - but is it industry-leading with the bottom-tier transducer?

Not by a long stretch.

And that’s really the problem here.

Hobbled by a bad high-end transducer and stripped of shared contour maps, there are simply much, much better apples-to-apples options out there - for instance, Humminbird’s Helix 7 Chirp Mega SI GPS G3 Nav+.

We’d like to love this fish finder, but we just can’t. And we don’t think you will either.

Pros:

  • Excellent screen and image quality
  • CHIRP and standard sonar options
  • Good in-built maps
  • Lake mapping feature

Cons:

  • Terrible high-end transducer option
  • Average low-end transducer
  • Map sharing is not supported

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.

About The Author
Pete D
Born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, Pete grew up fishing on the Great Lakes. When he’s not out on the water, you can find him reading his favorite books, and spending time with his family.
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