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Best Garmin Fish Finders

Updated October 2018
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
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We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

  • 19 Models Considered
  • 6 Hours Researched
  • 1 Experts Interviewed
  • 105 Consumers Consulted
  • Zero products received from manufacturers.

    We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

    Why trust BestReviews?
    BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
    BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers.
    BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.

    Shopping guide for best Garmin fish finders

    Last Updated October 2018

    From kayaks to motorboats to commercial fishing rigs, Garmin fish finders have a loyal following among anglers of all skill levels. The company first made its name in the marine industry in 1990 with its panel-mounted GPS 100, a huge boost to navigating offshore waters. For most people, the mention of Garmin may conjure up an image of a GPS navigation device on a vehicle dashboard or a smart watch, but for anglers, the first image is that of a fish finder or marine navigation unit.

    Garmin fish finders range widely in price, screen size, and features. That can make it tough to decide which is the right model for your particular fishing needs.

    But never fear, BestReviews can guide you through the murky waters and help you determine what features are critical and which you can comfortably do without. Read our shopping guide for more.

    If you’re planning to fish outside of the continental U.S., make sure your Garmin fish finder has maps or charts of the waters where you’ll be fishing. Many of Garmin’s devices have only U.S. maps, but additional maps can be purchased and installed.

    What is a fish finder?

    A fish finder uses sonar to give you a real-time image of the area beneath your boat. It does this using a hull-mounted transducer that sends out sound waves. The sound waves bounce off rocks, objects, and fish and return to the transducer. That sonar information is rendered into data that’s displayed on a screen.

    With a Garmin fish finder, anglers can locate individual fish, schools of fish, and natural features like reefs. If the device includes a depth finder, it will tell you at what depth these items can be

    found. Water temperature is often noted, too.

    Where Garmin stands out in the world of fish finders is with its use of compressed high-intensity radar pulse (CHIRP) technology to locate fish, a wider field of view compared to other manufacturers’ devices, and access to its detailed GPS maps.

    Also, its feature-rich devices are available in a range of prices so that any angler can purchase a fish finder. Many Garmin fish finders include a GPS receiver that enables boaters to mark spots, allowing for more precise mapping of a fishing area that you can refer to again if necessary.

    Additional software, such as maps of the area in which you plan to fish, can be installed on the Garmin fish finder (many models have WiFi capability, enabling wireless data transfer between the unit and a smartphone or computer). Those detailed maps (it helps that Garmin is a top GPS navigation provider on land, too) can be used to navigate and pinpoint likely spots for a good catch.

    Dependable fish detection

    This fish finder offers great all-around features, including multi-frequency CHIRP sonar, an easy-to-read five-inch screen and built-in GPS. It includes a flasher for continuous readings when stationary.

    Garmin fish finder features to consider

    Transducer

    Included in the Garmin fish finder package, the transducer is the eyes and ears of the device. The way it operates is similar to a submarine’s sonar, sending out a “ping” toward the lake bottom or seafloor, and listening for the echo. The transducer is mounted on the boat’s hull in one of three common configurations:

    • Transom: Typically attached to the boat’s stern on the flat outside of the hull (the transom) below the waterline. This mount is easy to set up and doesn’t impact the hull, but its location next to an outboard motor increases the likelihood of interference from the screw and the motion of the boat. Transom-mounted transducers don’t perform as well when a boat is traveling at high speed.

    • Shoot-through: Also known as in-hull, this transducer is glued to the inside of the hull. It’s recommended for use only with fiberglass hulls because wood, aluminum, or foam-sandwiched hulls can make accurate readings difficult. However, when mounted correctly and properly tuned, this transducer returns accurate readings at just about any speed.

    • Through-hull: This transducer is mounted by drilling a hole into the bottom of the hull. Because there’s little to no interference, a through-hull can give very accurate readings of the waters beneath the boat, even when traveling at higher speeds. On the negative side, there’s a hole in your hull.

    For transom-mount transducers, it’s advisable to add a transducer mounting board to your boat’s transom to reduce the number of holes you’ll have to drill in the hull. You might need to move the transducer mount more than once to get the perfect level and aim, requiring multiple holes. Far better to drill them into a mounting board than the hull itself.

    Screen

    The latest Garmin fish finders have full-color screens that color-code the data returned to the transducer so that it’s easier to discern what’s beneath the boat: clear water, schools of fish, individual fish, and contours of the lake or sea bottom. The screen also displays a wealth of additional information, including time, water temperature, water depth, and boat speed. Some units offer a touchscreen that makes it easier to zero in and even zoom in on specific readings to look for additional detail.

    GPS

    Many Garmin fish finders have a global positioning system incorporated into the device. It’s helpful for locating the position of the boat in relation to other navigation points, like the lake shore or docks. It can also be used to mark waypoints for the route back to the dock.

    EXPERT TIP

    “Blobs” or small patches of color on the fish finder screen are typically schools of small fish.


    Staff  | BestReviews
    EXPERT TIP

    When using a transom-mounted transducer, make sure the unit aims slightly inward rather than outward, so the boat’s wake doesn’t interfere with the sonar signal.


    Staff  | BestReviews

    Garmin fish finder prices

    Garmin fish finders come in a range of sizes, from handheld portable units (great for kayaks and other small personal watercraft) to larger devices mounted near the controls of a bigger boat, such as the cockpit of a motorboat. Prices vary according to the size, features, and accessories and range from $99 to $699.

    Handheld: Handheld fish finders with 4-inch screens cost between $99 and $179.

    Midsize: Midsize fish finders with 5-inch and 7-inch screens cost between $254 and $399.

    Large: Large fish finders with 7-inch to 9-inch screens cost between $499 and $699.

    Portable power

    Compact enough to take on a kayak, yet it includes many of the features of larger Garmin fish finders, including CHIRP and ClearVü software, WiFi, built-in GPS, and flasher. The large screen is readable in bright sunlight, too.

    Tips

    • Learn how to use the device before heading out to fish. Being able to properly read and interpret what you see on a Garmin fish finder screen is the only way to really get the best value out of the device. Although today’s fish finders do a good job of interpreting the various transducer signals, you need to be familiar with the device, the area in which you’ll be fishing, and which signals can be mistaken (by the device or you) for something else, such as a supposed school of fish actually being underwater vegetation.

    • Know the underwater environment where you’re fishing. Fish finders provide information on features below the water, such as the lake bed or seafloor, rocks, dense vegetation, or underwater debris. Because different fish species prefer different environments, knowing what the underwater environment is like will give you a better idea of what type of fish you’re seeing on the fish finder screen.

    • Don’t forget to bring a charger. For smaller Garmin units, consider adding a portable pack that includes charging accessories. These fish finders quickly eat up battery power.

    • Increase the speed of the screen scroll. This will give you a readout as close to real time as possible.

    • Use an SD card to store and retrieve data. Garmin fish finders that do not have WiFi capability typically have an SD card slot. You can use the SD card to perform map and software updates, too. Be sure to update the software on a Garmin fish finder as soon as you purchase it.
    Fish finders display results from right to left. That means what is directly below you is on the right side of the screen.

    FAQ

    Q. My fish finder isn’t giving me much detail. Is there a way to improve what it’s picking up?

    A. When a fish finder isn’t returning good data for whatever reason, try “peaking” the transducer. It’s a way to fine-tune the settings so the transducer will return a clearer picture even in difficult conditions. Do this in four steps: First, change the range to three times the actual water depth; second, increase the sensitivity until you see a second “bottom” underneath the first one on the main screen; and third, slowly reduce sensitivity until you have a pretty good read on the first “bottom” result. Finally, put the range back to its normal setting.

    Q. I pick up what looks like a school of fish below my boat, stop and cast my line, but no luck. A fellow angler said my fish finder is “running behind.” What did she mean?

    A. The sonar pulse that a Garmin fish finder sends out can take a little time (milliseconds) to return. If you’re underway, in a few seconds you’ll be past the spot the fish finder just surveyed. If your screen is scrolling too slowly, you may not see that school of fish until you’re well past it. Increase the scroll speed of the screen. As soon as something interesting appears at the far right of the screen, slow down the boat.

    The team that worked on this review
    • Austin
      Austin
      Writer
    • Devangana
      Devangana
      Web Producer
    • Eliza
      Eliza
      Production Manager
    • Linsay
      Linsay
      Editor
    • Melinda
      Melinda
      Web Producer
    • Melissa
      Melissa
      Senior Editor
    • Samantha
      Samantha
      Writer

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