Using a fish finder is an easy way for anglers to catch more fish and make your fishing trip more successful. When you use a fish finder, you can find out where fish are located and what the water conditions are as you cast your line.
Avoid submerged rocks and trees while locating those trophy fish ready to be caught. If you want to purchase a fish finder that won’t break the bank, check out our review for the best fish finders under $100.
How Fish Finders Work & the Benefits of Using Them
Fish finders work by using sensor technology to identify fish, give data to judge fish size, identify underwater structures, and give water bottom readings. The sonar uses a cone (at a particular angle) or a dual beam (at two angles) to scan the water.
As the sonar technology continues to send and receive data, it provides a map of what it “sees.” The fish finder can then show anglers what is happening in the water around them and help them choose where to fish.
The primary advantage of choosing a fish finder under $100 is that the device will be affordable and can easily be replaced. More expensive fish finders offer greater clarity and detail, but can really make a dent in your pocketbook. Most anglers can get what they need from a cheaper fish finder and can save the extra money for additional fishing tools to take on their fishing expeditions!
Tips for Choosing a Quality Fish Finder Under $100
Fishing Type & Environment
Most fish finders work in several water environments: saltwater, freshwater, river, lake, sea, etc. However, for ice fishing, we recommend choosing a fish finder that can withstand extremely cold temperature changes. Make sure that the fish finder you choose will work in the water environment you plan to fish in. Learn how to fish by depth from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.
Mounting Type & Material
Fish finders come in a variety of mounting types and material types. We recommend choosing a rugged and durable material that is also waterproof. Mounting depends on the type of fish finder. Mountable or fixed fish finders are typically attached to the boat while portable and handheld fish finders can be mounted to the boat or the fishing line. Castable and wireless fish finders are attached directly to the fishing line. Your preference will depend on the type of fishing that you want to do.
A transducer is a device that takes variations in pressure or brightness and converts it into an electrical signal that shows up on the fish finder display. Transducers can come in a single cone or beam angle or a dual-beam. We recommend choosing the dual-beam transducer fish finder option for the clearest results.
The display screen comes in a variety of options, from black-and-white to colored. Display screens can also be backlit, which helps visibility when fishing in the dark. The overall resolution depends on the screen type. The better the resolution and display screen, the easier it is to find the fish and to evaluate the water environment. However, better resolution and display screen options cost more.
Type of Sonar
CHIRP offers a better picture of sonar readings and provides more detailed information for anglers. However, traditional sonar is more cost effective. All of our fish finder devices on our under $100 list are traditional sonar models. For most beginner and intermediate anglers, the traditional sonar sensor should be more than enough for fishing trips.
Maximum Depth & Water Resistance
Not all fish finders can be completely submerged in the water. Most fish finders will have a waterproof rating, but this does not always include the sonar sensor itself. IP ratings can tell you the waterproof level of your device. Look for an IP rating of 7 or 8.
An IP rating of “7” protects the fish finder against submersion up to 3 feet or 30 minutes. An IP rating of “8” protects the fish finder against permanent submersion. A "7" rating means that the sonar sensor is unlikely to be submerged and is therefore exposed. An "8" rating means that the sonar sensor is protected, and the device can be fully submerged.
The higher the frequency on a fish finder device, the better the performance. Higher frequencies showcase more intricate data, which allows the device to make more accurate estimations. Choose the highest frequency you can find for the best performance but consider that the higher the frequency, the more expensive the fish finder will be.
Fish finders come with a variety of performance features, including wireless options and Bluetooth options. The Bluetooth options connect to your phone and come with an app so that you can have a more detailed view of the water environment as well as the type of fish. These performance features also include trip logs, fish tracking, and GPS hotspot tagging.
Most fish finders have warranties that range from 90 days to one year. The longer the warranty lasts, the more likely anglers are to have coverage if something goes wrong. Look for a longer warranty on more expensive products. Cheaper fish finders will have shorter warranties.
5 Best Fish Finders Under $100 Reviewed
1. HawkEye FishTrax 1
best budget side imaging fish finder
6 x 3 x 2 inches
Handheld, Boat Mountable
Chirp or Sonar
2 year manufacturer’s
The best budget side imaging fish finder on our list is the HawkEye FishTrax 1. This side imaging fish finder is portable and easy-to-use with a simple UI/UX. The LCD is glare-free and easy-to-read with simple instructions. Anglers can determine when fish are present as well as their depth. Rock and weed indicators are also shown on the screen.
This fish tracker uses a sonar sensor and uses an audible alarm when a fish is spotted. This product can also track fish at a depth of up to 240 feet. The rugged, durable red exterior is easy to spot while fishing and also comes with an IPX7 waterproof rating. The easy battery option allows anglers to replace batteries on the go (simply bring along 4 AAA batteries) for continual use.
Customers have noted that this fish finder has depth fluctuations and does not always provide an accurate depth. This fish finder is also not the best choice for shoreline use because it requires an additional accessory from HawkEye. We recommend this fish finder for anglers who will be fishing primarily away from the shoreline, on open water. HawkEye manufactures its products in the United States. This fish finder also comes with a two-year manufacturer's warranty.
2. ReelSonar Wireless
best budget fish finder with Bluetooth
2 x 2 x 1inches
Chirp or Sonar
1 year limited manufacturer’s
The best budget fish finder with Bluetooth is the ReelSonar Wireless. This fish finder device has GPS spot tagging, which allows anglers to tag fish as they catch them as well as keep a detailed record of their fishing trip. The Bluetooth mobile app sync is another incredible feature that allows the sonar fish finder to connect directly to your mobile phone.
The ReelSonar app gives anglers an easy place to view water temperature and fish depth as well as realtime waterbed mapping. The app is built with an easy-to-use social media sharing button so anglers can share their fishing trip or individual catches with friends and family.
A fish alarm will let anglers know when they are close to a fish so they can take action. The device is mounted to the fishing line for a castable mount. This sonar fish finder works in both freshwater and saltwater environments as well as in ice fishing situations.
Andy wrote on ReelSonar -
Great product! I fish in deep water, and could never catch the trout. Now I have over 40 this year alone by finding the fish first.
Some users noted that the Bluetooth can fail when the device is cast beyond 20-30 feet. If you plan on fishing with long casts, you may be better served with another fish finder device.
Customers have also said that ReelSonar’s customer support is difficult to deal with, and questions may go unanswered. This shouldn't be a problem for most anglers because the device is easy to use, and the mobile app is easy to understand. This Bluetooth fish finder comes with a one year limited manufacturer’s warranty.
best budget fish finder for kayak
5.31 x 2.76 x 1.10 inches
Chirp or Sonar
1 year limited manufacturer’s
The best budget kayak fish finder is the LUCKY model, which has a simple UI/UX and is easy to read. This fish finder is highly portable and includes a color display. Readings include water temperature, water depth, underwater contour, fish depth, and fish size.
The fish finder has a castable mount. The LUCKY fish finder reaches depths of 328 ft, which is one of the greatest depth distances available on a fish finder under $100. This model is also rechargeable and comes with a simple USB cable.
A full charge lasts approximately five hours. This model also has a lighting contraption on the top of the sonar sensor to help find fish when it is dark outside. This model also works in numerous settings, including river fishing, sea fishing, ice fishing, and kayak fishing.
Users have said that this fish finder is not suitable for shoreline fishing because it cannot detect fish when numerous weeds are present. Another customer reported that the fish alarm goes off too often and required several setting adjustments.
For most anglers who are interested in fishing on the open water, this is an excellent product. The ability to find fish at depths of 328 ft makes this one of the best models for anglers fishing in deep water. This fish finder also comes with a one year warranty from LUCKY. Customers have also said that LUCKY has an excellent customer support team, and any questions or warranty concerns are addressed promptly.
4. Venterior VT-FF001
cheapest fish finder
9.6 x 2.2 x 5.9 inches
Chirp or Sonar
2 year limited manufacturer’s
The cheapest fish finder on our list is the Veneterior VT-FF001. This fish finder model is best for anglers on a budget who want to be able to track fish, but can't afford a more impressive model. The durable exterior is a bright yellow to ensure it is not lost while fishing.
This device also has a depth of 328 ft with its sonar sensor, which rivals the more expensive fish finder devices. This model also has a fish alarm, and a battery save mode. When viewing the display, anglers can look for short/tall weeds, sand, rocks, water depth, and fish location.
The simple display is black-and-white but is easy to read and can even be used on ice fishing expeditions. Customers reported that this model is not as reliable as other fish finder models when it comes to reporting an accurate depth.
This fish finder device is also larger than other models, but it does come with a neckband so it can be worn when not in use. As a budget model, this fish finder has fewer features, but it is still an excellent choice for anglers who need a basic fish tracking device. Veneterior also offers a two year warranty.
5. LUCKY Wireless
best cheap fish finder for ice fishing
8 x 2 x 7 inches
Chirp or Sonar
1 year manufacturer’s
LUCKY Wireless is the best cheap fish finder for ice fishing. This fish finder is completely wireless and has an operating range of 394 feet, which allows anglers to view water conditions further out from their boat or kayak. This fish finder device also has specific ice fishing capabilities that allow it to offer water conditions below the ice and withstand the most frigid temperatures.
With live updates of the water bottom, anglers can consistently see what lies beneath and be prepared for all outcomes. This fish finder device can also be used in river and lake settings as well as ocean and offshore fishing settings. Anglers can zoom in at various depths to get a better read on fish and water conditions. Built-in memory storage stores previously used sonar settings for best results. When not in the water, the device automatically shuts off to conserve battery power.
The clear LCD monitor is easy-to-read. The device comes in a multi-language format with English, Russian, and Deutsch as language options. Customers noted that the device has poor battery life, and the battery must be changed on more extensive fishing expeditions.
Customers reported that the instructions were difficult to follow, and it took time to figure out. However, once understood, customers did not have a problem with the device. The Lucky Wireless fish finder has a one year manufacturer’s warranty.
Comparing Cheap Vs. Expensive Fish Finders
Cheap fish finders and expensive fish finder devices have several features in common, as well as several differences.
Cheap fish finders primarily offer basic readings on where fish are located as well as what the water bottom looks like. More expensive fish finder devices provide greater depth, more accurate readings, better battery life, and a brighter screen.
More expensive fish finder devices will also offer more sensitivity settings and customizable setting options for different terrain as well as various types of fish. Most beginner to intermediate anglers will be happy with cheap fish finders that provide the basics.
Comparing CHIRP to Traditional Sonar
CHIRP technology is a compressed high-intensity radar pulse, and it has several advantages over the traditional sonar sensors. However, CHIRP is a technology that is found in higher-end fish finder devices that are several hundred dollars.
CHIRP processes longer pulses compared to traditional sonar and offer a clearer, more detailed view of the water and the fish. That said, most beginner to intermediate anglers simply need to know where the fish are located and do not need the more expensive CHIRP detail. If you are a hobbyist or have a limited budget, traditional sonar is an excellent choice for your fish finder.
How to Install & Operate a Fish Finder
Installing and operating a fish finder is relatively easy. To start, anglers need to ensure that their fish finder device is fully charged or has fresh batteries installed. Before heading out on the water, we recommend that all users review the instruction manual to learn more about how to read the data provided.
From here, you will need to install your fish finder. Installation depends on the type of fish finder device that you have purchased. Some fish finders have castable mounts, which means that you want to attach the device to your fishing line. Other fish finders have boat mounts, which means that you want to attach the finder directly to the underbelly or the side of your boat.
Here is a great video guide on how to set-up your fish finder.
People Also Ask (FAQs)
How important is a GPS feature in a fish finder?
You do not need to have a GPS on your fish finder; however, a fish finder GPS combo is the best option for most anglers. GPS integrated navigation can be helpful when there is low visibility on the water and can be helpful for creating maps of charted water. Anglers can mark spots where they have been or where fish are abundant as well as find their way when out on large bodies of water.
Which is better, a down imaging or a side imaging fish finder?
Side imaging fish finders allow anglers to scan the water faster and offer a clearer picture of the water environment. Side imaging fish finders are also best for shallow water. Down imaging fish finders are best for looking at a vertical picture of the water environment and work well at high speed, whereas side imaging fish finders work best at lower speeds.
For most anglers, a side imaging fish finder is best. However, if you plan to travel at high speeds or primarily are interested in viewing the area beneath the boat, then a down imaging fish finder is best.
Are these devices waterproof?
Not all fish finder devices are waterproof. However, most are waterproof to an extent. Most devices are sealed and are waterproof, but make sure you look at the waterproof rating before purchasing. Some devices are waterproof only up to a particular depth and won't survive if you drop them in the open water.
What other fishing gear should I have aside from a fish finder?
When fishing, we recommend beginner anglers have a fish finder as well as a fishing rod and reel, hooks, bolt, lure, bobbers, swivel, and a tackle box. Purchasing a fishing hat can also help protect your skin from the sun on long fishing days. We also recommend obtaining a fishing permit or license before heading out to a river or lake because most areas require a fishing license or permit.
How accurate are fish finders? Do they work in rivers & lakes?
The accuracy of fish finders varies by device. Different fish finders have varying depths and use different sensors. The best fish finder devices use sonar sensors. Fish finders work in both rivers and lakes.
What do I need to consider when buying an ice fishing fish finder?
An ice fishing fish finder uses a different feature set compared to river or ocean fishing fish finders. An ice fishing fish finder needs to be able to look below the surface of the water to discover where the fish are hiding. Look for a fish finder that can track water temperature, identify fish, and show the bottom of the water area on the device.
A fish finder is an excellent tool when fishing because it allows anglers to locate fish as well as understand the river or ocean terrain. Our favorite fish finder under $100 for most anglers is the ReelSonar Wireless. This model has all of the basic features available in other brands but adds a Bluetooth component and phone sync capability.
For anglers who prefer a handheld option that does not require a phone connection, we recommend the LUCKY model.