Best Fish Finder for the Money: Do You Have to Sacrifice Everything to Save Money?
Choosing the best fish finder for the money is about pairing budget-friendliness with features. You need to figure out where you draw the line in terms of what you need versus what you can go without.
Based on my research and experience, you can get a lot for an affordable price. Here are the best-rated fish finders that won’t drain your bank account.
Best Fish Finder For The Money: Our Top Picks
The Garmin Striker 4 always stands atop most fish finder reviews and the same applies to this one. You can choose between a modern and traditional flasher view, it offers a simple to use button system, and it’s highly accurate. You also get the benefit of GPS navigation and real-time waypoint tracking for mapping hotspots and checking your location.
Deeper Start Smart Fish Finder
I love these fish finders but I always find one significant flaw with them. I worry about damaging them when you cast. You need to be excessively careful about casting location because hitting a rock or stump could damage it. Other than that, the smartphone app is easy to use, it has a six-hour battery life, and it’s compatible with Android and iOS devices.
LUCKY Handheld Fish Finder
This portable and easy to use fish finder comes with five different sensitivity modes based on where you’re fishing. It runs for up to five continuous hours on three AAA batteries and the transducer is easy to mount or throw directly into the water. I recommend it for kayak fishing or ice fishing because of its portability.
Humminbird Piranhamax 4 DI
If you’re looking for a fish finder that packs a little more power, this is one of the best-rated fish finders for down imaging. It offers two sonar frequencies, FishID technology, and 2400 watt peak power with a wide beam sonar angle for the most accurate imaging.
Humminbird Helix 5 CHIRP GPS
If you can push the budget a little bit, you’ll be highly satisfied with this unit. This is still a budget-friendly version of the Helix 7. Humminbird is an industry leader and this one offers as much as you can get for less than $300. You get the SwitchFire technology which offers Max and Clear mode. It comes with Dual Beam sonar technology for more precision. Plus, you get mapping and waypoint technology all packed into a durable and well-built unit.
Garmin Striker Plus 4 with Dual Beam
This unit is durable, reliable, stable, and reputable. You can’t go wrong with a Garmin Striker 4 so why not upgrade it with Dual Beam sonar? This one will allow you to customize your sonar so you can choose if you need a wide viewing angle or a narrow-angle with more accuracy. The Quickdraw mapping software is a nice addition but I just wish they’d throw the cover in with the purchase.
The main thing that stands out about this product is the viewing capabilities and high-resolution screen. Best of all, this unit is easy to navigate and uses a lot of functions that will simulate a phone so it’s easier for less tech-savvy folks.
Garmin ECHOMAP Plus 43cv
If you’re looking for a fish finder that gets the job done without all the smoke and mirrors, this is the one. The reason for this is likely because we’re dealing with a Garmin product and they always pump out the best quality units. You get a GPS receiver, 4.3-inch color display, great imaging, and Quickdraw contour mapping. It has everything you need, packaged into an affordable and durable unit.
Venterior Portable Fish Finder
Right away you can tell this isn’t a Garmin, Humminbird, or Lowrance but it still has it’s uses. If you’re looking for something simple to help you identify fish locations then this will get the job done. It’s also highly portable and lightweight which is ideal for kayaks and canoes.
HawkEye Fishtrax 1C
I think I would call this fish finder a “high-risk – high-reward” purchase. It seems like it’s loaded with features and everything you could want packaged into a fish finder that’s a fraction of the cost and size of some of the major brands. That said, many anglers have issues with it performing on some of its promises.
How to Choose the Best Fish Finder for the Money
We’ve done a lot of fish finder reviews. I mean A LOT. I don’t usually like to promote something specifically because of the price because it usually means you’re sacrificing something in exchange.
After going through a lot of these products, I realize, that’s not the case. These fish finders are still high-quality and they offer everything you would need but they just don’t have as many bells and whistles. For many people, that’s okay.
That said, you need to settle on one and this section will help you determine the features you need and the ones you can live without.
The display is one of the most important parts of your fish finder because you need to be able to read the information your unit is collecting for you, otherwise, what good is it?
Let’s start with screen size. When you’re choosing the best budget fish finder, you’re likely picking one that doesn’t come with an incredibly advanced touchscreen display but that doesn’t mean you won’t be able to read it. Most of the fish finders above offer something between two and four inches which isn’t the best but it’s good enough.
Pixels are another important aspect of your display. The more pixels, the higher the resolution. High resolution won’t always matter if you’re using FishID technology because the images will get converted into fish icons anyway, but it helps with identifying structure and differentiating the two.
Choosing between color or grayscale display is the last factor you’ll want to consider. Color is better because it’s what you’ll use to tell the size and it’s easier to see in high and low light. Of course, color will usually cost more but I do believe that all the fish finders recommended above are color displays.
For me, the transducer and sonar type are the most important features. This is the bread and butter of your fish finder. You can have the most beautiful unit on the planet but that doesn’t mean jack if you can’t get an accurate reading.
The power of your transducer is measured in RMS or root mean squared. It’s essentially the same thing as watts. Most fish finders have a range between 200 and 500-watts which is more than enough. The majority of budget fish finders that you see will be around 200 simply because they’re not priced high enough for additional power.
Your fish finders frequency is the next thing we want to look at. The lower the frequency, the deeper the range you’ll have. I find that most budget fish finders are around 400kHz which is geared towards shallow waters but should still grant a max depth of around 150ft so it’s good enough for most freshwater anglers.
Lastly, let’s look at the type of sonar. You’ve got a million different options and variations based on brand and specific unit but the best of the best is CHIRP sonar. CHIRP stands for compressed high-intensity radar pulse and it’s basically broadband sound waves that transmit a continuous flow of sonar into the water.
This is the most expensive type of sonar so you’ll usually only find it on the major brands like Garmin, Humminbird, and Lowrance but they’ve found ways to make it affordable for most budgets.
The viewing angle refers to the way the sonar waves are transmitted into the water. A low-frequency transducer will offer a wide-angle view which allows you to detect fish on the sides of the boat. A high-frequency transducer will send powerful waves down into the water so you can see much deeper beneath the boat but you won’t be able to see anything in the surrounding water.
You always hear me talk about “dual beam” sonar. This is the best option and something you should strive to get because it’s not that expensive. These fish finders will offer both types of sonar and you can toggle between them.
By doing this, you can choose between deep and narrow or wide and shallow based on the water you’re fishing and what type of application you’re using.
It’s also important to pay attention to whether the fish finder is a down or side scan unit. Even the best cheap fish finders won’t offer side-scanning so you’ll likely have to settle for down scan unless you’re willing to pay up to $300 for your unit.
Mounting is a crucial consideration based on your level of experience and handiness. Believe me, you don’t want to make a mistake when mounting your fish finder transducer. Please, trust me on that! (Flexseal doesn’t work like the commercials say it does.)
Anyway, you’ve got a few different options here.
Thru-Hull mounts actually require you to mount everything internally with the transducer mounted externally. This requires you to drill through the boat and it’s a pretty involved process. You’ll find these mounts on professional bass boats where the units are built into the boat.
They offer the most accurate reading but of course, they come at a premium price and you won’t find them on this list.
Transom-mount fish finders are more common and more affordable. You’ll mount these to the rear of the boat by the trolling motor so the transducer hangs below the boat into the water. These are sometimes considered the least accurate because the constant water penetration causes negative side effects.
In-hull is the last mounting method and for this, you’ll mount the entire unit inside the boat. It will penetrate through the metal without having to touch the water.
Some fish finders don’t require mounting at all. Many of the affordable recommendations above are portable fish finders that come with corded transducers that you throw into the water or suction cup to the side of the boat.
Of course, they don’t possess the same level of accuracy as mounted options but they’re more affordable and logical for beginners and occasional anglers.
The best GPS fish finders will cost a lot of money but I was pleasantly surprised to see that even affordable units come with GPS and chartplotters. The GPS technology will help you navigate the water, keep track of your location, and chart points along the way where you caught something or would like to revisit.
This feature is nice because it really puts the fish finder to use for something other than locating fish. Just make sure that you choose one with a MicroUSB card slot because you’ll need the extra space for chart plotting.
If you’re shopping for a budget-friendly fish finder, chances are you want something that is portable. If you’re fishing from the shore, portability is a big factor because you can’t mount the unit and you don’t want something super bulky that’s difficult to walk around with.
The best portable fish finders will fit in the palm of your hand and they’ll still offer accuracy and high-quality imaging. You don’t have to sacrifice anything in exchange for portability and price anymore.
Price (Are you losing out on features in a budget model?)
I bet you were wondering when we’d get to this! Yes, of course, price is an important buying factor when looking for the best fishfinder for the money. The good news is, you don’t have to sacrifice much other than fancy upgrades that you don’t really need anyway.
I’ve found while doing this review that you can get some of the best fish finders on the market for less than $200 without having to feel like you’re missing out on something.
You may not get a brilliant display, side imaging, or waterproofing but you’ll still get a unit that won’t require you to refinance your house.
That said, you need to be realistic. You’re not going to get as accurate of a reading and there might be some discrepancies at times but it’s something that will only affect some people.
Other Factors to Consider
In addition to the unit itself, you’ll want to factor in a few other things about your fishing habits, how you fish, where you fish, and so on. Let’s take a look!
The size and type of your boat is important depending on the type of fish finder you choose, how you plan to mount it, and what you intend on doing with it. If you’re fishing from a kayak or the shore this is even more important.
Keep in mind that transom-mount transducers are usually geared for boats of 30-feet or larger. They’ll create too much drag on anything shorter which can compromise the handling and safety of the boat.
If you use a trailer, a transom-mount fish finder is risky because they’re highly sensitive and you can damage them if you’re not careful.
Ultimately, you want to choose something that works best for your needs so if you have a decent-sized bass or Jon boat, going with a transom mount fish finder will likely be the best choice.
If you only fish occasionally, you’re not too serious about fish finders, or you fish from a kayak, you’ll need a portable unit that you can attach and remove as you please.
Saltwater vs Freshwater
Fishing saltwater requires a premium fish finder because the salt, debris, and additional living organisms will always throw off your reading. Most CHIRP models will get the job done here but that will typically require you to buy a premium brand transom mount fish finder.
If you only fish freshwater you can handle a more affordable unit. Keep in mind that many fish finders also come with adjustable settings that allow you to choose between salt and freshwater.
Lastly, let’s talk about brands. As I mention in many of my reviews, I am loyal to brands when it comes to fish products. I find that sticking with reputable suppliers results in a better experience. Even in the event that you get a bum product, a great manufacturer will always back you up and provide excellent customer service to make it right.
Even some of the more affordable brands like Venterior offer great customer service. Some of the most reputable brands are Garmin, Humminbird, Lowrance, Dragonfly, and Raymarine.
I hope you are now able to make a clear choice on the best fish finder for the money. While these cheap finders won’t break the bank, they’re still carrying their weight in terms of features and benefits. I am pleasantly surprised with the number of great things Amazon has to say about budget fish finders and I’m sure you’ll be able to find one that works for you.