Fish Finder Buying Guide

fish finder buying guide

Fishing is now less guesswork and more catching thanks to fish finder technology. Whether it’s traditional fish finders or those with side imaging, the basics of using a fish finder are the same. Let’s break down how to use a fish finder, the distinct types and some of the common features found across brands in our fish finder buying guide.

How to Use A Fish Finder

How can you use a fish finder effectively? Getting the most out of a fish finder depends on the type: traditional (down imaging) or side imaging. New anglers can find success sticking with the basics, while novices appreciate traditional, transducer-based fish finders. Fish finders run using sonar, and traditional fish finders operate at a low frequency and display a brief picture of the aquatic world.

Fish finders do this by sending out a burst of sonar at varying intervals (depending on the fish finder and settings), which bounces back off the sea/lakebed and anything in between. The screen populates from right to left, giving a “picture” of the bottom of the water. Anything that appears in between the bottom and the boat is, hopefully, a fish!

The drawback of traditional fish finders is that they can be difficult to use while moving slowly or not at all. They’re ideal for moving at a steady pace to chart water depth, features and type of waterbed. The thicker a bottom line appears on the fish finder, the softer the bottom. A thin, bright line means there’s a hard, sharp surface at the bottom—most likely a rock.

Remember, the chart on a fish finder moves from right to left. This isn’t based on movement, but the bursts of sonar the fish finder is sending out. It’s constantly scanning, so the screen will continue to move even if a boat is stationary. This can often confuse those not used to fish finders, leading them to believe their fish finder is broken or inaccurate when that isn’t the case. It’s constantly sweeping the nautical landscape whether moving or not!

Down Imaging/Side Imaging Fish Finders

Traditional fish finders are down imaging fish finders: they project sonar waves down, beneath the boat. And side imaging fish finders? If you guessed they projected sonar waves to the side(s) of the boat, you’d be correct! Side imaging fish finders are less user intuitive than traditional, down imaging models. However, they often return an incredibly clear, almost photographic image of the aquatic landscape that down imaging finders can’t. Side imaging and some down imaging fish finders provide clearer images of the world below, but they come with one (potentially massive) drawback: most can’t read any deeper than 200 feet, making them ideal for shallower waters, but ineffective for deep water fishing.

It takes some time to acclimate to reading side imaging fish finders, but as mentioned above, their images can be noticeably clearer: it’s easy to find submerged trees, rocks, fish and more under the water! Just remember that any fish finder is continually emitting sonar waves, so if it’s still, it will scan the same area over and over.

Fish Finder Features for Anglers Everywhere

Fish finders can come packed with a wide variety of features besides simple underwater imaging. Some of these features include GPS units, Bluetooth and Ethernet connections, down and side imaging and more. Let’s look at some common and uncommon features to improve the fish finder experience.

GPS Units

Buying a GPS unit and fish finder separately is always an option, but often the more cost-effective (and improved functionality) route is to buy a fish finder/GPS combo unit. These are often referred to as chart plotter/fish finder combination units, and they use an on-boat GPA and sonar to record and display both the current location and underwater characteristics.

Why have both? This combination can track locations of excellent catches, notable subsurface structures and can mark straightforward ways back to shore if deep sea fishing. These combo units are strongly recommended for deep sea fishers or for those in waters where it can be hard to track water depth and location.

Down and Side Imaging Units

Some fish finders feature both down and side imaging, giving as clear a view of the aquatic world as possible. These units tend to have shorter range than individual imaging units, but they’re ideal for seeing anything in a smaller area.

Bluetooth and Ethernet Connectivity

Some more advanced fish finders feature Bluetooth and Ethernet connectivity. Built-in Bluetooth enables features like wireless software updates from manufacturer apps, displays paired smartphone notifications on the display screen. Some even come with an optional Bluetooth remote that enables control of the finders most-used features. Others feature Ethernet networking capability to build a powerful, professional-grade fishing system by connecting multiple fish finders or add-on technologies. Some even include both!

Water- and Weather-Resistance

It may shock some, but not all fish finders are water-or weather-resistant. In the interest of being safe rather than sorry, we recommend a fish finder rated to be water- and/or weather-resistant.

Gone Fishin’

This fish finder buying guide should give you the confidence to answer some basic customer questions while pointing out key features they may want to look for. These are just the basics; different manufacturers have different software and built-in features that are specific to their brand, giving their fish finders more pros and cons than we can list here. For our full lineup of fish finders and fish finder accessories, make sure to visit petra.com.

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