Choosing the best fish finders and learning how to use them properly to help catch more, bigger fish
There’s no doubt that one of the very best fishing tools aboard your boat is the fish finder. But which are the best fish finders to use? And how can everyone from casual anglers to experts most effectively harness that tech to catch more fish?
The Best Fish Finders
Fish finders have come a long way in recent years, and the major electronics manufacturers all offer a wide range of units that can fit just about every need. If you’re buying a new Boston Whaler fishing boat you can order it with a factory-installed Raymarine system. That means all the latest options, like traditional sonar, down-scanning, side-scanning and 3-D imaging can be in the mix. Judge the best fish finding tools for your needs according to which of these best fits the type of fishing you plan to do:
Traditional Sonar – These down-lookers provide lots of range (often 1,000 feet and beyond) and reliable fish-finding in various conditions. Most anglers who fish offshore, or who fish both inshore and offshore waters, depend on them. CHIRP versions can peer even deeper, and some can reach bottom as deep as 10,000 feet while also offering the best detail levels possible.
Down-Scanning – Down-Scanning sonar (called DownVision in the case of Raymarine) sends out its pings at higher frequencies than traditional sonar, and as a result, can offer much higher levels of detail. The downside to down-scanners is that these higher frequencies can’t travel as far through the water as lower frequencies can, so range is more limited. Some systems can see several hundred feet down (depending on conditions) but others lose effectiveness at 100 or more feet. So down-scanners are generally best for inshore anglers and fishermen who stick to relatively shallow lakes and rivers.
Side-Scanning – Side-scanning sonar does exactly what it sounds like: it looks out to the sides of your boat. This can be incredibly helpful for anglers searching out new spots, or probing vast areas of structure where fish may be clustered in very specific locations. It uses high frequencies similar to down-scanners, so again, range is on the limited side. Generally speaking, side-scanners work best for inshore and freshwater fishing. An important detail to note is that side-scanning is usually done in conjunction with a down-looking sonar, so most of the time you’ll need to split the screen (with a single-MFD system) or utilize a second MFD just for the side-scanner. The more you split screens the smaller the imagery for each function becomes, so this is a good argument for getting the largest screen size possible. Or if your boat is big enough, for getting multiple MFD screens.
3-D Imaging – Many of today’s fish finders have the brainpower to incorporate the data from down-scanning and side-scanning all at once to turn it into a 3-D image. While range is just as limited as it is with other scanning sonar, the ability to drive the boat over a feature or structure and then look at it from multiple viewing angles can help an angler paint a much better mental picture of what lies on the bottom.
Using the Best Fish Finding Tools in Your Fish Finder
In all of these cases, there’s a ton of tech at your fingertips. And most of the time anglers only learn to partially utilize the tools and features available to them. Internet research and reading the owner’s manual will help, but there’s simply no substitute for on-the-water experience when it comes to learning how to fully utilize your fish finder.
Of course, just how long the learning curve will be can vary widely. The unit mounted in the console of a 190 Montauk will be smaller and simpler to figure out than a multiple-MFD system at the helm of a 345 Conquest, for example. But in either case the bottom line remains the same: you’ll just have to get out on the water, start pressing buttons, and experiment with the different features and functions in order to learn how to best use them. Aw, shucks — we guess that means you’ll just have to go fishing more often!
Bonus Fish Finder Fishing Tips
Getting Installed – Have the fish finder and its transducer installed by a professional. Most complaints about fish finder performance can be traced back to improper installation, which is often the result of a DIY job.
Getting Started – Leave settings like sensitivity and depth range set to “auto” mode. Today’s fish finders are very advanced, and in many cases, they can tune themselves in better than the average angler can.
Getting the Picture – If you’re looking for fish or a structure on bottom, consider using the zoom feature. You’ll lose the view of upper sections of the water column but get a much larger and more detailed picture of the bottom itself.
Getting More – Look for thermoclines, which are temperature barriers where fish often congregate. These appear as faint but consistent marks on the screen, at a mostly steady depth.