1. Fish Finders Buying Guide
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Fish finder buying guide

How to buy a fish finder

How to buy fish finders

The art of finding fish to catch has turned into a science with the latest advances in marine electronics. Current fish finder tools are based on sonar, which works by emitting sound waves through the water and recording the reflections of those waves when they return. Fish finders allow you to note fish locations, time, temperature, speed, depth, distance, structures and productive way points.

>> Determine your angling needs

best fish finders

The type of fish finder you choose depends on a few considerations:

  • How powerful a device do you need?
  • Do you own or rent your boat?
  • How sharp a picture do you want?
  • How wide a field of view do you want?
  • How many features do you want?

>> Consider the power of the unit

As you learn how to buy a fish finder, remember that the higher the wattage, the more efficient and powerful the overall unit will be. Low wattage will ultimately bring you slow readouts, meaning a delayed reaction for a reading of a spot you have already traveled over.

The bare minimum power (peak-to-peak) for a fish finder is be 800 watts, although 3000 watts or more is certainly recommended for most anglers. One key point to remember: the shallower the water you fish, the less power you'll need. For those that fish deep water (such as the Great Lakes or saltwater), it's best to choose the most powerful unit that your budget will allow.

>> Think about fixed vs. portable units

When learning how to buy a fish finder, there are two basic types to choose from: portable and fixed. Fixed fish finders are very popular and can be permanently attached to the craft. There are several advantages to a fixed fish finder:

  • It has a much larger display than a portable fish finder.
  • It will often have more features than a portable model.
  • The transducer can be attached to either the hull or stern.
Portable fish finders have their own advantages:
  • You can use them on very small craft (like kayaks) or rented boats.
  • You can attach them to fishing rods.

>> Investigate the transducer

The transducer is the part of the fish finder that sends out sound waves in order to see what is below the surface of the water. As you learn how to choose a fish finder, the most important characteristic of the transducer is cone angle. This refers to how wide of a beam is sent out from the bottom of your boat. (It starts out narrow at the transducer and widens as it gets deeper.) The wider the degree on the cone, the larger the view of what lies beneath. As you move deeper, the coverage will widen and vice versa. Keep in mind that as cone angles widen, sensitivity begins to diminish in very deep water.

During your fish finder comparison, you'll find that transducer cones range from 9 to upwards of 60 degrees, with most units falling in the range of 16-20 degrees. A cone of 20 degrees is a great starting point for anglers fishing a variety of water depths. Many dual-frequency transducers will come with both 20 and 60 degree cones.

Frequencies also come into play with transducers. Most fish finders will come with 50, 83, 192 or 200 kHz frequencies, all in direct relation to the cone angle. The higher frequencies (192 and 200 kHz) work best in shallow water, while the low 50 kHz transducers work best for deep water applications.

Some fish finders have multiple transducers, referred to as multi-beam fish finders. Dual-beam units are far superior to single beams if you usually fish in relatively shallow water, as they will cover more of the water effectively.

>> Think about screen resolution

Simply put, the higher the screen resolution of a fish finder, the sharper and more detailed your images will be. As you decide which fish finder to buy, remember that the bigger the numbers, the better the view.

>> Think about getting side scan

which fish finder to buy

Some of the best fish finders are equipped with side scan technology. This allows you to see what is to the side of your boat from a bird's eye view on your screen. You'll be able to see up to 240 feet on each side and through murky water, enabling you to see rock piles, humps and of course, schooling fish. Side scan technology will speed up your learning curve and is a good choice if you're a serious or tournament-level angler.

When contemplating how to buy a fish finder, consider that they have either black or white or color displays available. If you use a screen with a color display, you'll achieve a greater screen definition and be able to see fish and structures better. A high definition screen that has more pixels on the display will also help you best detect fish and structures.

>> Consider GPS units

The best fish finder for you might be one with GPS. Fish finders with GPS come with pre-loaded information about rivers, lakes and coastal areas in the United States. Most GPS units have both a depth sounder (up to 600 feet) as well as a chartplotter. A chartplotter will show your location, superimposed over a map. This allows you to know your exact location at all times. All it takes to enter waypoints is a button push, allowing you to mark fish, structures, launch ramps or anything else you want. Some GPS fish finders will indicate thermoclines, spots where cooler water meets warmer water, under which are deeper, colder pockets where some types of fish are more comfortable.

A fish finder with a GPS unit will also make it easier to navigate back to shore in difficult weather conditions.

When deciding how to buy a fish finder, establishing your unique needs first is most important, since there many options available to suit most shoppers. Functionality can vary according to the features and whether you choose a fixed or portable unit, but with this fish finder buying guide, you'll be well on your way to finding the option that's a good fit for your angling needs.

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