There was a time when fishing only required a rod, reel, bait, and some patience. While you can still fish that way if you like, modern technology has certainly become part of the fishing game for a lot of people.
One example of this is using a combination fishfinder/GPS unit to take much of the guesswork out of where to cast your line or steer your boat. These devices not only find fish but use Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) technology to allow you to mark and remember underwater locations, docks, and ramps.
You’ll never get lost on the way back again! We have recently put together this buying guide to what we feel are the best and most affordable fishfinder/GPS units on the market today.
Is it necessary to spend a lot of money on a fishfinder/GPS unit?
In a word, no. While there are some very pricey fishfinder/GPS units out there, there are a number of fine choices available at a price of $500 or less. Some anglers want all the expensive toys and some prefer more budget-minded gear.
You make that call for yourself. All of our choices today cost less than $500 and each will be the perfect fit for certain people. It really comes down to the features you want to have and the price you want to pay balancing out.
- EASIEST TO USE: The Lowrance HOOK2 9 Fish Finder features auto-tuning sonar and phone-like menus giving you more time to spend fishing and less time dealing with settings.
- WIDER SONAR COVERAGE: The HOOK2 9 offers a wide-angle CHIRP sonar cone giving you double the coverage of traditional fish finders.
- EASY SETUP: A single transducer can be mounted on the transom, inside the hull, on the trolling motor or through a scupper hole.
- MORE SONAR VIEWS: The Lowrance HOOK2 9 comes complete with a TripleShot transducer which gives you DownScan sonar (straight down), SideScan sonar (up to 300' to each side), and CHIRP sonar (fish arch) views.
- FISH FINDER & GPS: The HOOK2 9 provides basic navigation with a GPS plotter that allows you to add waypoints, follow trails, and navigate.
This is is one of the most popular and affordable fishfinder/GPS units on the market. It’s simple to use, has a color 3.5” display screen, and high-sensitivity GPS onboard.
It employs CHIRP (77/200 kHz) sonar technology to find your fish which can be upgraded to a GT 8 or GT15 for higher performance. It reads accurately whether in shallow or deep water and the color display brings out much more detail than does black and white.
Much like the Garmin units we all had in our cars a few years ago, it can take a few minutes of waiting for the device to find the satellite but once it does, all is good.
The Striker 4 will function outside of the US but won’t give map detail. The GPS and fishfinder, however, will still work well. It does not come with a User Manual but one can be downloaded directly from Garmin.
- Uses the most innovative and cutting edge technology
- Get the most out of your day trips and getaways
- The leader in fish finders, depth sounders and GPS systems
The Humminbird Helix 5 SI is an excellent fishfinder that uses Precision Internal GPS Chartplotting with built-in UniMap cartography that lets you both map out and navigate to your fishing spots.
It has an amazing 800H x 480V 5″ 256 backlit color display that is easy to read under any conditions. It also features a slot for a micro SD card to let you store your fishing information or load new maps.
The big thing about the Helix is that it works in Side Image, or SI, to give you a wider horizontal view of what’s going on below you. For best results, maintain a boat speed around 4 MPH and drive relatively straight ahead with as little rocking as is possible.
Calm water also helps quite a bit. The Helix is a device for all seasons and works as well on ice as it does on the water.
The maps included are of the coastlines of the contiguous USA and its inland rivers and are basic surface-type maps. A Navionics or Lakemaster card is required to get bottom detail.
The accuracy and target separation are both excellent. All of this is wrapped up in a slick modern-looking lightweight package.
The Lowrance Mark-4 Combo Fish finder and Chartplotter is a nice device made by Lowrance, a firm with decades of experience in GPS technology. It has a 4-inch greyscale LCD display that Lowrance claims offers better visibility in all conditions than does color.
It works well in clear bright daylight, which can be the hardest condition in which to read any electronic instruments. Its built-in GPS antenna is incredibly accurate and it has well-thought-out appointments like the convenient tilt-and-swivel mounting bracket that’s included.
It is capable of ‘point and shoot’ locating, which means navigating to a spot marked by the cursor. It can also mark and store up to 3000 discreet fishing locations.
All Chartplotter information is retained in the Mark-4 when it gets turned off, which means you need to remember to clear them all out now and then. The Mark-4 runs off of any 12-volt battery or power supply.
The sonar technology uses a dual 83/200 Khz frequency 2100 watt system and works well down to 1000 feet.
The Raymarine Dragonfly 4 Pro is a well-liked fish finder/GPS combo unit. It uses a dual channel sonar system that employs wide-spectrum CHIRP Downvision for camera-quality images of the bottom and a normal CHIRP sonar channel for finding fish.
It also lets you stream your angling info to your smartphone via Raymarine’s Wi-Fish mobile app which lets you save your day of fishing and share it to social media. The app also makes it easy to monitor the sonar on a tablet or phone.
Connecting to an iPad takes this unit to a whole new level, just make sure both the Dragonfly and your tablet are set to the same channels to prevent the screen from freezing.
Also, it seems to work best at slower boat speeds and loses some accuracy above 30 MPH, but no depth-finding device is accurate when moving too quickly. It comes loaded with maps of all US lakes, rivers, and coastal areas.
All of this comes with a 4.3” color all-weather HD display that reads easily, even in direct sunlight.
Garmin echoMAP 44dv Review
The Garmin echoMAP is another unit with two sonar channels. It has both 500W traditional HD-ID sonar and DownVü scanning sonar inside it, making it super useful.
The DownVü delivers truly amazing detail of the landscape beneath you and the normal sonar is able to pick up the tiniest of fish. It even has an audio alarm that can be set for picking up different sizes of fish, which is a nice feature.
It also has a 5 Hz on-board GPS to make finding your way around your fishing grounds a snap. It’s sonar return coordinates with your vessel’s position and it stores your fishing information for playback on a computer with the free Homeport software that’s available.
It also features a handy quick-release mounting. Most Garmin gear is pretty amazing, this one being no exception. The only problem when using Garmin stuff is the company’s online tech seems to be stuck around 1997 and downloads can be slow.
The install couldn’t easier, which is also nice. Your delicate electronics will come right off when it’s time to put your fishing boat up for winter storage, which doesn’t seem that important in the Summer but will make you happy in the Fall.
The small size of the unit and screen can be a good or bad thing, depending on your perspective. It makes the unit very compact but you don’t the rich detail you would from a device with a larger screen.
How do these units work?
Fish finders use sonar technology to bounce sound waves off of the underwater environment to create an image of what’s there.
GPS technology uses an uplink to a stationary satellite in orbit around the Earth to accurately determine where you are.
Is a carrying case needed for one of these?
The outdoor environment can be harsh and unpredictable, so a good case for any electronic gear you might be toting around out there is never a bad idea. None of us are ever as careful as we plan to be. If you have to ask, you should probably get a case.
What are the benefits of using a fish finder/GPS combo device?
One of these devices takes virtually all the guessing and scheming out of fishing. Sonar-based fishfinders allow you to locate the fish you want to catch, as well as see what the bottom of the lake or river you’re on looks like and GPS technology shows where you are at all times and lets you ‘bookmark’ your favorite locations and hot spots, as well as the docks or ramps you need to return to after the catch
Some units can connect to a smartphone or tablet to store data and make a big improvement in the display quality. All you need to do is put your line in the water!
What makes each of these units different?
These devices are all designed to do basically the same job, so a lot of features are common to them all.
We feel that the clear winner in this group of devices is the Garmin Striker 4 Built-In GPS Fish Finder. It packs a load of features and performance into a unit that sells for a most affordable price.
It’s really hard to beat it. You can spend a lot more but not do that much better. It’s a good pick for beginner or expert fishing fans.
Also, the fact that, as seen above, you can upgrade the performance of the sonar makes this one an amazing bargain. It’s easy to throw money at a problem to solve it but not so easy to deliver lots of performance in a low-cost device.
Value is what makes the Striker 4 the winner today, as we all want to get the most for our money.
All of these units work well and do a good job but the Striker 4 seems to be one of the most popular units of its kind on the market and all those sales have to count for something.