Every boat doesn’t need a full-blown electronics suite with multifunction displays and all the accessories, but most boaters would consider basic depth finders a must-have for fishing and boating. When you’re looking to enjoy some fishing, after all, you’ll enjoy it a lot more if you knew where to find the fish. Rather than spending hours scouring the internet and trying to figure out which models are best, we’ve compiled a list of the best depth finders to help you make the most of your fishing excursions every single time. Keep reading to learn about the best models for 2022 and how to choose the right model for your boating and fishing needs.
Today’s depth finders are created with a lot of innovative technology and built-in features, and for a few hundred dollars you can get a unit that has all the tech and functionality that cost thousands of dollars just a few years ago. Let’s say, for example, that you want a compact unit that costs in the range of $500 to $700 or so. Even at this price-point, modern units often include WiFi and GPS, giving you robust devices that are going to serve you better than any other method of trying to find fish when you’re out on the water. For 2022, our five top picks include:
If minimizing cost is your main mission, the Garmin Striker lineup will be of interest. With a list price of under $150 for the Striker 4, this unit is about as inexpensive as they come. It has a 3.5-inch color LCD screen, and comes with a 77/200 kHz CHIRP transducer. Perhaps the most surprising thing is that even at this low, low price-point, the unit has GPS (though not chartplotting capabilities) and allows you to create waypoints and see routes. The Striker also has a built in “flasher” mode, in which it can function more of less like a traditional flasher unit. Larger Strikers with more capability are available as well, with choices in five-, seven- and nine-inch units. Event the largest of these barely gets over the $600 mark.
Humminbird’s Helix is their base-level model line, with five- and seven-inch units in the $300 to $700 price range (as well as larger units that cost significantly more and are outside the scope of this article). These units have built-in GPS and basic mapping capabilities, come with a built-in base-map, and can display Humminbird and Navionics digital charts. CHIRP digital sonar and Down Imaging tech deliver excellent detail levels on-screen, and you can set the depth finder to show “Wide Mode” to cover the broadest area or “Narrow Mode” to maximize detail levels.
Humminbird Helix SI
When you see “SI” next to the Helix name, that means the unit has side-scanning capabilities. While certainly not a prerequisite for a depth finder, having side-finding is helpful to a huge number of anglers and the cost increase isn’t extreme: the Helix 7 CHIRP SI GPS G4 (the least-expensive SI unit advertised as we published this article) lists at a $519.99 MSRP. In addition to all the features of the regular Helix you get Side Imaging to an 800 foot range at 455 kHz, and to a 250 foot range at 800 kHz. In addition, the unit is compatible with AIS, AutoPilot, and Minn Kota US2 Sonar.
Lowrance Hook Reveal
This model offers a built-in GPS and robust features including DownScan imaging and CHIRP sonar. Easy-to-use buttons make it simple to set things up for a perfect fishing excursion every time. The sonar is designed to auto-tune, which means that you don’t have to spend a lot of time on settings or trying to figure out how you’re even supposed to set the system up in the first place. It offers multiple mapping options including lake maps, C-Map contour charts, or a preloaded base-map. Three models are available, with five-, seven-, and nine-inch screen sizes. Pricing at the time of publication ranged from under $400 for the smallest unit with lake mapping and an included transducer, to slightly under $900 for the largest option.
Although the smallest Element (a seven-inch model) pushes the boundaries of the pricing range we’ve established for a “basic” depth finder, they can be found for between $700 and $900 (depending on chart and transducer packages). And the Element represents a bargain when it comes to how much tech it delivers for the price-point. It enjoys both side- and down-scanning with 1.2 megahertz CHIRP sonar, and also provides 3D imaging of the bottom, structure, and fish. Plus, along with providing full GPS and chartplotting capabilities, the Element also supports Raymarine’s RealBathy function – which means you can create your own ultra-accurate bathymetric maps as you fish or cruise. The Element has a potent quad-core processor so it’s significantly faster and more powerful than most basic depth finders, and is communicative via both WiFi and Bluetooth.
How to Choose A Depth Finder
Although any of these depth finders will get the job done and then some, you still need to think about precisely what you expect out of the investment. Take the time to look at the price ranges and if you are on a budget, narrow immediately based on what you can afford.
Other elements to consider include the features of each device including screen size, resolution, water resistance, and mapping abilities. For many anglers screen size is a critical feature, especially for side-scanning units where you’re using a very small screen to represent huge swaths of water to either side of the boat. Then look at how long the warranty is in effect for, and how easy the unit is (or is not) to use. Also look at the required tools, technology, and installation to be sure that you know what you’re getting into if you plan to mount the unit yourself. Look at the binnacle and flush-mount models as well as portable styles, and consider whether one might be better suited to your needs than the other. By taking the time to compare what’s out there to what you need, it should be easy for you to find the best fit for your vessel.
Depth finders can change the fishing game, even for the novice angler. They might seem like a significant investment at first, but when you see all the benefits that they have to offer, you’ll quickly add one to your list when outfitting your vessel for your next fishing trip. Compare the models here as well as others that you may have in mind, and see what you like best. No matter what you choose, you can be sure that you will make more out of your fishing trips when you add a proper depth finder.