As fishing season begins and you start your search for a new GPS fish finder, the Humminbird Helix 5 DI GPS should be the top of your list. The Humminbird Helix 5 DI GPS is a great value featuring a five-inch high resolution VGA color display and features an internal GPS chart plotting and a Micro SD card slot for optional maps.
The Humminbird Helix 5 DI GPS features the best of both worlds using both down imaging and a conventional dual beam sonar. The sonar is excellent for separating the fish from the bottom structure and the down imaging scanning produces photo-like images of the fish and bottom structure under your boat. With a dual screen function, you are able to see both screens at once and have an excellent visual representation of what’s really going on in the water below your boat, as it happens. The Humminbird Helix 5 gives you a high number of features compared to most fish finders at a similar price.
If you prefer a GPS fish finder that has more technology as well as more features, and you don’t mind spending the extra money, the Lowrance Elite-7 might be just what you are looking for. The Elite-7 also has Down Scan Imaging and Sonar, although is uses different technology than the Humminbird Helix 5. This GPS fish finder also features Navionics Gold High-definition mapping. Among its other advantages, the Elite-7 also has a waterproof micro-SD slot which is compatible with Navionics Gold chart cards, Lake Master map cards, and Fishing Hot Spots map cards.
If neither the Humminbird Helix 5 DI GPS or the Lowrance Elite-7 are available, the Raymarine Dragonfly is also a great GPS fish finder. Like the other two GPS fish finders, the Dragonfly features both down imaging and sonar. While the screen on the Dragonfly is smaller than the screens on our other two choices, it does feature built-in WIFI which allows you to stream live sonar right to your smartphone. Including US lake, river and coastal maps as well as 50 channels built into the GPS, you are going to get precision guidance for a budget friendly price.
What is a GPS Fish Finder?
A fish finder is a device that is used to locate fish underwater. There are two basic ways a fish finder does this. Most fish finder are equipped with both typical sonar as well as down imaging. Sonar is when the fish finder sends out sounds pulses and detects and measures them when they are returned after being reflected off the objects under the water. Down imaging works similarly to sonar but is able to represent the signal in a more realistic manner providing picture-like images. By including GPS into a fish finder, you are able to get to a favored fishing spot with accuracy and will also be able to map out any new favorites you find.
How Does a GPS Fish Finder Work?
We’ve already covered the type of signals a fish finder uses, but how it works is a little more complicated. A fish finder comes with 2 main parts. The main unit is the screen and contains all the software inside it. This is the part that you are going to look at to determine where the fish are. The second part is called a transducer. The transducer is installed somewhere on the boat to allow it to always be in contact with water. Usually the transducer is placed on the transom, the trolling motor or the hull, depending on the type of transducer that comes with your fish finder, or the kind you buy if you choose not to use the one that comes with your fish finder. The transducer can be attached to the boat either permanently with mounting hardware, or temporarily with a suction cup mounting system. The transducer is connected to the main unit by a cable. The transducer should be mounted straight down and as far from obstructions from the props and hulls as possible. The transducer is what sends the sonar signals at high frequencies and listens for the echo. When the transducer catches the echo, it sends it through the wire to the main unit which then displays the echoes on the screen.
Many fish finders feature dual beam technology; this is when they send out their sonar which are able to cover a wider area with greater detail than a single beam sonar would be able to present. When the sonar signal returns to the transducer and travels to the main unit, fish are displayed as an unprocessed sonar return called an arch. Seeing the arches is what alerts you to the presence of fish in the waters below. Most fish finders allow you to change the settings to see the fish as a different shape than the typical arch that is set by default on most fish finders.
The clarity of the water can sometimes affect the integrity of the signal. Strong winds and currents can cause the signal to be dispersed and not accurate. Floating algae, plankton and floating mineral particles can absorb the sounds rather than reflecting it back to the transponder, making the images on the screen inaccurate.
How to Choose a GPS Fish Finder for Your Needs
There are seven things you need to consider when you are trying to decide what your fish finder needs are. Those things are depth, screen size, color, resolution, GPS capabilities, boat type, season you are fishing in, and price. Here is a basic explanation of each of these considerations:
Depth: Most fishermen are targeting fish that tend to be one to two hundred feet below the water’s surface. At that depth, just about any fish finder on the market will be effective at those depths. Your needs in your fish finder are based more on the other factors than they are on the depth the fish finder can read.
Screen Size: Many of the lower end models of fish finders have small screen sizes that are no bigger than a cell phone. While these fish finders are effective at finding the fish, it may be difficult to actually see the fish on the screen if the screen is too small. At the same time, you don’t want a screen that is excessively large as it will take up more space on your boat. Ultimately the size of screen you go for is going to come down to your personal preference and what is comfortable for you to look at.
Color: Fish finders come in both color and grayscale screens. Color screens show a different color for each echo, while grayscale screens show only shades of gray. This comes down to your personal preference, both can be just as effective, though color is typically easier to read.
Resolution: The higher the screen resolution the better viewing you are going to have on your fish finder. The display screen on your fish finder is made up of pixels. A pixel, in essence, is a dot. The display screen is made up of dots, which produce the picture. As the pixel count decreases the more the screen is going to resemble an outdated video game. The lowest screen resolution you are going to want in your fish finder is 240(v) x 160 (h) and even that is going to leave you likely wanting more.
GPS Capabilities: For the purpose of this article, we have limited the fish finders to those that have GPS capabilities, but you can also get fish finders that don’t include them. While GPS is great to have in terms of safety, it is also great to have so you are able to chart your favorite fishing spots.
Boat Type: There are two main types of fish finders. Portable and fixed. A portable fish finder is great if you rent your boat, or use a small boat such as a kayak or canoe. A fixed fish finder is a better choice if you own your boat. The reason a fixed fish finder is better when you own your own boat is that you are able to set it exactly where you want and it is stable as it is a permanent mount. A portable mounted fish finder is usually attached with a suction cup and will need to be removed if you are moving at higher speeds or else you risk having it coming off your boat.
Season: If you are going to be Ice fishing, you are going to want a fish finder that is portable. You are also going to want to get a fish finder that uses either flasher technology or 2D sonar. Another thing to consider if you are going to be fishing in the winter time is the portability of the unit and the battery. You don’t want to have to haul anything overly heavy through the snow, but you also want to ensure you have enough battery power to get through your trip.
Price: GPS fish finder units range in price. The price you end up paying comes down to the budget you have in mind and the features you want in your fish finder.
How we Picked
We chose our top fish finders based on the screen size, resolution, ease of use and price. We narrowed our search to fish finders that featured GPS capabilities. We also wanted to ensure you were getting trusted brands, and great features while still being affordable. We chose our top pick, our step up pick, our budget pick, and the best fish finders for specific situations such as ice fishing, small boats, portability, casual fishing, and year round fishing ensuring you were getting quality products for great prices.
The Best GPS Fish Finder Overall: Humminbird Helix 5 DI GPS
Top Pick: Humminbird Helix 5 DI GPS
The Humminbird Helix 5 DI GPS is our top pick because of all the features it contains for its low price. Starting off with an all in one transducer which provides down imaging, as well as Dual Beam Plus sonar. The images can be viewed together at one time or you can choose to view the GPS map and sonar at the same time.
The Humminbird Helix 5 has a depth capability of 2300 feet making it very versatile regardless of where you like to do your fishing. With a five-inch, 256 color display screen and a 480 x 800-pixel resolution, you are going to be able to make out the different underwater details with incredible clarity. You are also able to customize the color scheme of your fish finder. The Humminbird Helix 5 comes with both a swivel transom mount transducer and a tilt/swivel quick release mount for the main screen unit.
Including features like Freeze Frame and Snap Shot to allow you to spend more time looking at something that may have caught your eye, the Humminbird Helix 5 DI GPS is a bargain. The Humminbird Helix is great whether you fish on fresh or salt water.
Flaws but Not Deal Breakers
The only real downside to this fishfinder is that the screen is only 5 inches. While it isn’t the smallest screen you can find on a fish finder, it is also not the biggest. The downfall to a smaller screen is that you may not see the details as clearly as you would on a bigger screen. This however, isn’t a big deal since the Humminbird Helix 5 DI GPS has such a high pixel resolution.
Step up Pick: Lowrance Elite-7
Step-up Pick: Lowrance Elite-7
A more expensive option to the Humminbird Helix 5, is the Lowrance Elite-7. The Lowrance Elite-7 features a 7-inch widescreen that is both color and high resolution. Able to save up to 3,000 waypoints, 100 routes with 100 waypoints per route and 100 retraceable plot trails with 10,000 points per trail on its built in memory, the Lowrance is a great choice for those who fish frequently. This fish finder also features an all new case mounting design that allows for easy one hand tilt and swivel as well as removal and re installation. The Lowrance Elite-7 also features CHIRP sonar which allows you to easily distinguish bait from game fish, it also allows for viewing multiple CHIRP sonar settings on one display. This fish finder also has a selectable single-frequency sonar operation that allows you to create your own maps from real sonar data. If you are looking for a fish finder that offers much more than the basic features of a fish finder, the Lowrance Elite-7 is exactly what you are looking for.
Budget Pick: Raymarine Dragonfly
Budget Pick: Raymarine Dragonfly
Another great choice for a fish finder is the Raymarine Dragonfly 4. The Raymarine fish finder is optically bonded so there is no internal fogging while allowing for sharp color and wide angles. The screen also features a high definition LED backlit display. Also featuring CHIRP Down Vision sonar and a second CHIRP conventional sonar for optimal fish targeting. With built in maps and a built in temperature sensor, this fish finder has all the features you need in a fish finder plus a microSD memory card reader to allow you to save your sonar screen shots. While the screen is only 4.3 inches, you are able to stream live data to your smart phone using Raymarine’s Wi-Fish mobile application. Using Wi-Fish, you can rewind, save and share the day’s catches on your social network. The built in GPS features 50 channels to deliver precision guidance.
The Best Fish Finder for Ice Fishers: Humminbird ICE Helix 5 Sonar GPS
Humminbird ICE Helix 5 Sonar GPS
If you are an avid ice fisher and are looking for a fish finder that is good for winter, look no further than the Humminbird ICE Helix 5 Sonar GPS fish finder. The Humminbird Helix features GPS with built-in UNIMAP chart plotting, with a microSD card slot for optional maps and saving waypoints. An ultra-fast LCD screen eliminates the guesswork by showing your exact depth with a digital readout and the extreme temperature display automatically sets the flasher scale after finding and reporting the lake bottom. The five-inch screen has a brilliant 800H x 480V, 256 color display with backlight, ensuring you can see everything you need to. Weighing only 25 pounds and sold with the portable bag, making ice fishing a breeze, the Humminbird ICE Helix 5 Sonar GPS fish finder makes it a great choice for anyone who enjoy winter fishing.
The Best Fish Finder for Year Round Fishers: Lowrance Elite 5 HDI
Lowrance Elite 5 HDI
If you love fishing during all four seasons of the year and are looking for a fish finder that you can use regardless of the weather outside, the Lowrance Elite 5 HDI is going to meet your needs. Purchasing the add-on to make this fish finder compatible with ice fishing isn’t going to break the bank. With a 5-inch LCD screen and both standard and Down Scan sonars, this fish finder is going to easily find any fish you are looking for. Featuring pre-loaded Nations Gold charts as well as a waterproof microSD card slot, you can find any fishing location you are looking for. Adjustable screen and keypad backlighting improves the visibility and usability of this fish finder both day and night, making it great for those summer days when the sun is high and those winter days when it gets dark early.
The Best Fish Finder for Small Boats: Humminbird 398ci Combo
Humminbird 398ci Combo
If you fish from a small boat, such as a kayak or a canoe, the Humminbird 398ci Combo has all the features of a larger model in a compact design. With side and down imaging sonar and internal GPS chart plotting, this fish finder won’t leave you wishing for anything extra. The 3.5-inch screen size is small, but fits perfectly in a small boat and has both an LED backlight and a brilliant 320 V x 240H display. The Humminbird 398ci Combo is incredibly customizable with custom view selection, custom digital readout selection and customizable display and background colors. The tilt and swivel features of this fish finder allows for quick disconnect and mounting, making it easy enough to take out of a small boat to avoid damages. Weighing less than ten pounds, this option is great for those who want the advantages of a fish finder without the hassles of trying to find a spot to place it.
The Best Fish Finder for Casual Fishers: Garmin Striker 4
Garmin Striker 4
If you enjoy fishing but don’t get the time to go out often, you likely don’t want to spend a lot of money on a fish finder for it to spend most of its time in storage. You also likely don’t want to get a cheap fish finder that doesn’t perform the way you need it to when you do go out fishing. The Garmin Striker 4 is a great value that still offers all the features you need to have a great day out on the lake. Featuring a rugged design, the Garmin Striker 4 has both CHIRP DownVu and traditional CHIRP sonar allowing you to see clear images of everything below the boat. Featuring spit screen to allow you to see both the waypoint map and various sonar options simultaneously. The Garmin Striker 4 features a 3.5-inch screen, although it can be upgraded to a larger screen size for a little bit more money.
The Best Portable Fish Finder: Humminbird 386ci Combo Portable
Humminbird 386ci Combo Portable
If you don’t own your own fishing boat and instead you have to rent a fishing boat when you choose to go out fishing, a portable fish finder is a great investment. Our top choice for a portable fish finder is the Humminbird 386ci Portable Combo. This fish finder is a little higher on the price scale but features more than enough benefits to make the price tag worth it. With a 3.5 inch, 256 color display and Down Imaging, Dual Beam plus sonar with Switch Fire, this GPS fish finder will allow you to see what’s below the boat with amazing clarity. The Humminbird 386ci Combo Portable fish finder has precision GPS with built-in UNIMAP and features Quick Disconnection so you don’t spend your day getting ready to get out on the water. The transducer on this fish finder uses a suction cup mount so you aren’t required to use any tools and won’t risk damaging a boat rental.
Top Contender: Simard GO7
One of the fish finders we considered but didn’t quite make it into our top fish finders is the Simard GO7. The GO7 does feature a lot more technology than any of the other fish finders on this list. With built in WI-FI connectivity that gives it access to the GoFree cloud based maps, Genesis upload, and automatic software updates. Featuring a seven-inch color screen that can show you up to a four way split screen, you are going to get a clear picture of what’s below the boat, but not any clearer than any of the other fish finders. At the end of the day, it’s up to you if you want to spend that much on a fish finder, but from what we can tell, the features definitely don’t justify the cost.
Top Contender: Furuno GP1870F Color GPS Fish Finder
Furuno GP1870F Color GPS Fish Finder
Another fish finder that didn’t quite make the cut is the Furuno GP1870F Color GPS Fish Finder. The Furuno doesn’t really have any features that make it stand out above the rest. With no preloaded cartography maps, you can only use the basic base map that was included until you purchase more and use the microSD card slot. Featuring a 7-inch screen that allows you to view the different screens in either full screen or split screen mode, and using both sonar and down imaging, this fish finder isn’t going to allow to see anything you can’t see with any of the other fish finders on our list.
Wrapping it up
Using a fish finder when you head out on a fishing trip is a great way to ensure you are going to be fishing in the best places. The right fish finder will allow you to have a great experience fishing, and leave you wanting to get out on the water again. It is important to choose the fish finder that fits your wants and needs, to ensure you get the best out of your investment. A great well rounded fish finder is the Humminbird Helix 5 DI GPS. It has all the features you need in a fish finder with a reasonable price tag. If you are looking for a fish finder that uses more technology, the Lowrance Elite-7 is a great choice to get a few extra features for a few extra dollars. Finally, if you are on a budget but still want to be able to utilize all the benefits a fish finder has to offer, the Raymarine Dragonfly 4 is going to give you all the features you need to have a great experience without breaking your bank account.
Jen Miller is a former electrical engineer and product specialist with more than 20 years of product design and testing experience. She has designed more than 200 products for Fortune 500 companies, in fields ranging from home appliances to sports gear and outdoor equipment. She founded Jen Reviews to share her knowledge and critical eye for what makes consumers tick, and adopts a strict no-BS approach to help the reader filter through the maze of products and marketing hype out there. She writes regularly and has been featured on Forbes, Fast Company, The Muse, The Huffington Post, Tiny Buddha and MindBodyGreen.