What To Look For
All fish finders fall into two categories: fixed or portable. Fixed fish finders are mounted into your boat and kept there until you sell it. Portable fish finders are removable and can be used in multiple boats. Typically, fixed fish finders offer more features and are often more powerful. When comparing fish finders, look for a screen size you're comfortable looking at. Screens range in size from 1 3/4 inches for small wrist-band portable designs to over 5 inches for the largest models. Higher-end models feature color screens and offer a wide range of features, including GPS, mapping, split screens, color screens, speed indicators and even temperature gauges. Low-end models often lack these features or downgrade a feature, like substituting black and white screens for color.
One of the hard choices is selecting the frequency of the transducers, the part of the fish finder that's mounted underwater. For shallow lakes, a higher frequency provides more detailed bottom information, and, for deep lakes, a lower frequency works better. When using a mismatched frequency, your fish finder's accuracy suffers. In addition to frequency, you need to select the transducer's style, either through-hull, in-hull or transom-mounted. Through-hull transducers require by drilling a hole through the hull of your boat. The other two mounts are less intrusive.
Where To Buy
You can purchase fish finders at fishing specialty stores. These stores often carry a good variety of models, and the staff is typically knowledgeable. Several big-box chains such as Scheels or Dick's Sporting Goods also offer a wide selection and knowledgeable staff. There are also plenty of online and mail order options, such as Cabela's, which as of 2010 offered 13 different fish finders. Other online fishing retailers include Bass Pro and Marine General. In 2010, Marine General offered a large selection from nine different manufacturers.
Fish finders range in cost from about $80 to over $550 as of 2010. The price varies based on the features and how portable it is. The basic and least expensive models are typically portable, not very powerful and lack features. They often use gray scale or black and green screens. They typically include short warranties, which are often just six months long. In the midprice range, finding a full-featured fish finder is possible. They'll likely include a GPS and mapping. Most midprice finders come with a one-year warranty. The most expensive fish finders are multiseason units that include transducers designed to work through ice. These portable systems often include a wide range of features. Warranties are typically one year long.