6 Best Fish Finders Under $500: Reviewed, Rated & Compared

While a fish finder for your boat might seem like cheating, most anglers find that it enhances the fishing experience—you can really see what is happening underwater. Fish finders for a variety of fish types, fishing methods, and locations are becoming increasingly affordable; many suitable for the recreational angler are in the $400-$500 price range.

Preview

Model

Screen Size

Max Depth Range

Check Price

Humminbird 410300-1 Helix 7 Chirp DI GPS...

Humminbird 410300-1 Helix 7

7 inches

600 ft.

Humminbird 410230-1 HELIX 5 CHIRP SI GPS G2...

Humminbird 410230-1 Helix 5

5 inches

1500 ft.

Humminbird ICE H5 Helix 5 Chirp GPS G2 FB...

Humminbird 410970-1 Ice Helix 5

5 inches

400 ft.

Lowrance HOOK2 7 - 7-inch Fish Finder with...

Lowrance HOOK2 7

7 inches

Not given

Garmin Striker 7SV with Transducer, 7' GPS...

Garmin Striker 7SV 010-01874-00

7 inches

2300 ft. (freshwater); 1100 ft. (saltwater)

Garmin Striker 7SV with transducer,...

Garmin Striker 7SV 010-01809-00

7 inches

2300 ft. (freshwater), 1100 ft. (saltwater)


How Fish Finders Work & the Benefits of Using Them

Fish finders are computers that use sonar input from a transducer to output fish location. A transducer is a device that converts one type of energy to another—in this case, sonar sound waves to electric signals.

Flashers, commonly used in vertical fishing (e.g., ice fishing), use flashing lights on a circular depth scale display to show how far down fish are. Sonar fish finders have displays to show arch-shaped objects indicating the relative positions of fish.

CHIRP, a more advanced processing system for the best sonar fish finders, gives more precise images of fish, bait, and underwater objects, including the lake bottom. Surprisingly, CHIRP systems are not necessarily expensive—many CHIRP fish finders are well under $500.


Tips for Choosing the Best Fish Finder under $500

Fishing Type & Environment

There are relatively cheap fish finders for every type of fishing: any depth—shallow water to the deep-sea; any climate—cold water fishing to fishing in the Caribbean; any body of water—streams, lakes, and oceans.

  • Salt vs. fresh water
    Most fish finders work in both salt and fresh water; however, saltwater tends to reduce the visibility and maximum visible depth.
  • Fish groups
    Demersal fish hang mostly on the water bottom, including cod, flounder, and halibut. Pelagic fish hang midway between the bottom and the surface; examples are salmon and herrings/sardines.
  • Special fishing methods
    Sometimes, pelagic fish are caught by trolling—moving one or multiple lines systematically through water, often behind a boat. Ice fishing, the most popular type of vertical fishing, targets walleye, pike, trout, and panfish (crappie, sunfish, bluegill, etc.).

Mounting Type/Material

  • Mounting type
    The best fish finders for under 500 here in this article are mountable/fixed, and come with the hardware needed for a gimbal mount. A gimbal is a structure that holds the fish finder steady at the desired angle. Usually, there is hardware included or sold separately for other mounting options—most commonly, flush mount. Most gimbals at this price range do not swivel, but Garmin mounts do, and many users see this as a plus.
  • Material
    In this price range, the mounts are almost always plastic—some critical users even say “cheap plastic”—but most users are satisfied with the durability. There are various portable/handheld and cast-able/wireless fish finder apparatuses, too, but these are not addressed in this article.

Transducer

Having the right transducer is equally important as having the right fish finder. Most fish finders come with an appropriate transducer. However, many times, you can pair a different transducer with a certain fish finder to make the system better suit your needs.

  • Beam size
    The width or cone-area of the sonar beam impacts the amount and quality of input. Also, the more beam options, including dual-beam capability, the more input for the fish finder to process—giving you clearer, wider, and deeper output images.
  • Mounting type
    Most of the best fish finders under 500 in this article are intended for a transom mount, but there are usually other mounting/transducer options—either with a different model or different mounting hardware. Other mounting possibilities are scupper (through-hull), in-hull, and trolling motor.

Display Screen/Size

  • Screen
    All fish finders in this article are 256-color, TFT (thin-film transistor) displays with WVGA (wide video graphics array) 800 x 480-pixel resolution. All are advertised as backlit for easy in-sunlight or darkness viewing, and users seem consistently satisfied with this feature in all fish finders reviewed. Most users find 7-inch fish finders’ screens to be the most agreeable: 5-inch screens lend themselves to greater portability, but might be cumbersome for some users to look at. 9-inch or larger screens generally occupy over-$500 fish finders and might not be the best fish finders for small boats.
  • User interface
    All reviewed here have a simple push-button keypad to the side of the screen. All have split screen options, allowing you to look at two or more different CHIRP/sonar beam outputs at once. A few will even display in flasher mode, along with the CHIRP display.

Type of Sonar/Scanning

All units here reviewed have CHIRP (Compressed High-Intensity Radar Pulse) technology, which uses data from a range of sonar frequencies. In contrast, traditional sonar (sometimes called 2D sonar) uses a beam of one frequency. Essentially, CHIRP is sonar, but with more measurements/information processed at once. Many CHIRP units have additional down-imaging and side-imaging systems to process beams directed at the deeper water bottom or to either side of the boat, respectively.

Maximum Depth & Water Resistance

All fish finders here reviewed are rated IPX7 under the Ingress Protection Code; this means they tolerate immersion in 1 meter or less of water. This is suitable, considering that the fish finder itself is in the boat, and the transducer is usually hooked to the transom. The absolute deepest fish finders in the $400-$500 price range can reliably see is about 1000 ft., which is considerably more than the typical user ever needs.

Frequency

Generally, higher frequency beams lead to better performance: higher frequencies are the best for getting a sharp image at close range. However, lower frequencies have the edge when greater depth of vision is needed. The best fish finders take information from all frequency categories—low, mid, and high CHIRP—to render the best possible images at all depths and distances.

Performance Features

  • Fish finder features
    Gain (or processing sensitivity) is usually something you have to adjust manually, but some units (Garmin) have auto-gain technology for convenience. Similarly, while CHIRP generally gives impressive image precision, some units also have added features to help you track specific fish or to process the relative movement of fish and bait more accurately.
  • Transducer features
    The transducer controls the width and depth of the viewing areas that are available for the fish finder to process. Transducers use multiple beam cones of different dimensions, engineered to render the most useful data.
  • Memory card compatibility, wireless connectivity
    Most units reviewed in this article have microSD slots, usually to add mapping/cartography software to the fish finder. However, an SD card could be used to add other software add-ons or to store information, as well. There are also Bluetooth fish finders, which can network with similar fish finders or to communicate with your smart device.
  • GPS, navigation, and cartography
    All in this article are GPS fish finders—they work with electronic navigation systems (ENS) to give location, speed, and movement history (geocache). Unfortunately, it is often hard to tease out which navigation/mapping software is built-in for a given model, and which is compatible but must be added by separately purchased SD card. Furthermore, some models (Garmin) are made for personal chart plotting—you make your own maps as you go (and possibly share with other anglers); the bad news is that these units might not work with common mapping add-ons, as most other under-$500 fish finders do.

Warranty

All of the best fish finders in this price range have 1-year warranties, but there are sometimes small variations in repair protocol and customer service level. In general, users are happy with the quality of assistance they can get from these affordable fish finder brands.


6 Best Fish Finders Under $500 Reviewed

1. Humminbird 410300-1 Helix 7

Our top pick!

Screen Size

7 inches

Display Resolution

800 x 480

Max Depth Range

600 ft.

Chirp or Sonar

both

MicroSD slot

Yes

Warranty

1 year

Altogether, this Humminbird Helix 7 is the best fish finder under $500. Its built-in and add-on features make it one of the most versatile fish finders in this price range. It is large enough to be easy to use, yet small enough to be low-profile.

This Helix 7 model is also, arguably, the best Humminbird fish finder. It combines data from CHIRP DualBeam PLUS, CHIRP Down Imaging (DI), and traditional 2D sonar: The DualBeam PLUS has two frequency options—a 200 kHz, 20⁰ beam and an 83 kHz, 60⁰ beam; the DI similarly has two frequency options—455 kHz at 75⁰ (greater range) and 800 kHz at 45⁰ (sharper image), extending a maximum depth of 350 ft.; also similarly, the traditional sonar offers a 455 kHz, 16⁰ conical beam running a maximum depth of 350 ft. and a 200 kHz, 28⁰ conical beam running 600 ft.

While such Humminbird features as Basemap (cartography from NOAA, LakeMaster, and more), SmartStrike (water with the right conditions for what you want to catch), SwitchFire (control of displayed stats), ChartSelect, and AutoChart Live are built-in, you can purchase more maps and navigation applications, such as LakeMaster or Navionics on SD cards.

From a functionality standpoint, the Helix 7 is about the best GPS fish finder—you can store a total of 2500 waypoints and 50 routes for future reference, plus keep 8 recorded hours of data. You can even connect this system to a trolling motor using Humminbird’s iPilot Link software.

“…Setting up the unit was fairly quick with the easy-to-follow instructions. The detail is very clear and the size screen makes it so much easier for me to view fine details, especially in split screen mode…”

Pros
  • GPS
  • Down imaging and dual-beam
  • Easy to install
  • Plenty of mapping options
  • Versatile
Cons
  • Mount does not swivel
  • Overheating complaints

2. Humminbird 410230-1 Helix 5

Runner Up

Screen Size

5 inches

Display Resolution

800 x 480

Max Depth Range

1500 ft.

Chirp or Sonar

both

MicroSD slot

Yes

Warranty

1 year

This Helix 5, our runner up, is also a Humminbird. With its 5-inch screen, some users find it a little tedious to look at; however, the small size might be ideal if space is limited. Plus, most users report that the installation is simple, and the user interface and software are relatively easy to use.

The system can process high (130-250 kHz), medium (75-155 kHz), and low CHIRP (28-75 kHz), as well as a range of traditional sonar frequencies (50, 83, 200, and 455 kHz). Unlike the Helix 7 above, this is a side-imaging fish finder—giving views up to 100 ft. on either side of your boat.

However, it also includes down imaging (DI) that runs 350 ft. and is a dual-beam fish finder. Its absolute maximum depth with traditional sonar is 1,500 ft. with the included transducer. (However, you can get an Airmar CHIRP transducer that extends the depth to 2500 ft.)

Like the Helix 7 above, the Helix 5 has GPS, temperature sensing/alarm, and comes with Humminbird Basemap; it also has a microSD card slot and is compatible with Navionics, LakeMaster, SmartStrike, and other fishermen-friendly mapping software. Plus, this unit can be networked with one other fish finder to draw on the same GPS.

Humminbird offers a line of compatible protective covers for its fish finders, but you can also find generic covers for 5-inch screen fish finders.

“The unit is a little small, but I knew that going in. Got this for a second locator for the front of my pontoon. Does a good job in locating fish and underwater terrain.”

Pros
  • Side imaging, down imaging, and dual-beam
  • Plenty of mapping options
  • Can network 2 fish finders to same GPS
  • Versatile
Cons
  • Screen is too small for some users
  • Instructions are model-generic

3. Humminbird 410970-1 Ice Helix 5

Best ice fishing fish finder under $500

Screen Size

5 inches

Display Resolution

800 x 480

Max Depth Range

400 ft.

Chirp or Sonar

both

MicroSD slot

Yes

Warranty

1 year

The ICE Helix 5 is the best ice fishing fish finder under $500 and a great value for cost. It is basically a flasher, but with CHIRP: To use it, just unzip its carrying bag and position the transducer. The bag is designed for easy access to the battery, and the charger is included: It is among the best portable fish finders of this size.

The high, medium, and low CHIRP, as well as 2D sonar frequencies of 50/83/200 kHz give the ICE Helix 5 an impressive ¾-inch target separation. The CHIRP sonar display can appear alone or in split-screen with a traditional flasher display. Users seem to especially praise the zooming abilities—8x maximum in sonar and 2x in flasher. Users are satisfied with the depth range, and generally have no trouble distinguishing small jigs (minnow, for example).

It has GPS, with Humminbird Basemap, and is compatible with other navigation software, such as LakeMaster, SmartStrike, and AutoChart Live. There is a sonar history, as well as speed and temperature readings. Software updates come through Bluetooth connection with a smart device.

Users praise the battery life of at least 6 hours; plus, it has a convenient jig charge mode. It is possible to use the ICE Helix as a general-purpose fish finder by hooking it up to a different transducer. Another bonus feature is the CHIRP interference rejection—other sonar units nearby will not mess with your signals. The ICE Helix compares favorably with its main competitors, Marcum or Vexilar flashers. This is the best fish finder for crappie—one of the most popular fish for anglers.

“Coming from a Vexilar FL-8, this thing blew me away. Worked amazing…lasted for 8 hours straight on full brightness; that's a good day of fishing.”

Pros
  • Bluetooth connection to smart device
  • Flasher, dual-beam, interference rejection
  • Long battery runtime
  • Impressive target separation
  • Portable and easy to use
Cons
  • A few users experience fast malfunctions

4. Lowrance HOOK2 7

Best fish finder for kayaks under $500

Screen Size

7 inches

Display Resolution

Not given (comparable to others)

Max Depth Range

Not given

Chirp or Sonar

both

MicroSD slot

Yes

Warranty

1 year, and 5-year reduced price upgrade

The best fish finder for kayaks under $500 is arguably the Lowrance Hook2 7 (7-inch screen). However, if you are okay with a smaller screen, consider the less expensive and smaller 5-inch option.  Alternatively, for a more expensive updated version, look at the Hook Reveal line.

The user interface of the Hook2 7 is intuitive—with a self-tuning sonar and a smartphone-like screen. (It is not, however, touchscreen. Like others on this list, it has a keypad beside the screen.) While not dual-beam, the Hook2 nearly compensates with its wide-angle CHIRP and DownScan (down imaging) technology—from the accompanying Lowrance SplitShot transducer. To add side imaging, look at the Lowrance TripleShot transducer.

The Hook2 7 has built-in C-MAP mapping software to use with GPS for chart plotting. (For the USA, this gives you 4000 lakes with 1-ft. contouring.) However, the system is compatible with C-MAP Genesis, Navionics+, among other navigation software you can add by microSD. (If you want to chart plot, be sure to get this model—not the "x" model, which has no mapping software.)

Much like Humminbird, Lowrance (owned by Navico) is a reliable and affordable fish finder/transducer brand. However, Lowrance offers the perk of a 5-year upgrade program: If your equipment malfunctions within 5 years of purchase, the company will offer you a discounted price on a technologically up-to-date replacement.

Lastly, many users like the matching protective covers you can get for Lowrance fish finders.

“…it definitely makes it easier to find spots where the fish are more likely going to be! The mapping helps a lot, especially when you stay out too late and need to find the way back to the boat ramp in the dark!”

Pros
  • Wide-angle CHIRP, down imaging
  • Simple and intuitive use
  • GPS and many mapping options
  • Great value for cost
  • Unusually good warranty system
Cons
  • Not dual-beam

5. Garmin Striker 7SV 010-01874-00

Best 7 inch fish finder under $500

Screen Size

7 inches

Display Resolution

800 x 480

Max Depth Range

2300 ft. (freshwater); 1100 ft. (saltwater)

Chirp or Sonar

both

MicroSD slot

No

Warranty

1 year (plus, 90-day repairs)

The best 7-inch fish finder under $500 is the Garmin Striker 7SV; it almost does not fit the under $500 category, but its many extra features make it excellent. Along with dual-beam CHIRP capability, and mid and high CHIRP—the 7SV has both Garmin’s ClearVü and SideVü (equivalent to down and side imaging, respectively) at 260/455/800 kHz. These render nearly photographic images of the area surrounding your boat. 

The 7SV also has helpful fish finding features: Ultrascroll (shows fish accurately while boat is moving fast), Fish Symbol ID (helps identify target fish), AutoGain (adjusts to perfect sensitivity to see target), adjustable depth line (reports depth of objects), and A-scope (watch as fish pass through sonar beam). The system also keeps water temperature history in graph form and has temperature, depth, and various other alarms.

The 7SV can be networked by Wi-Fi: You can use Garmin’s ActiveCaptain app to generate your own maps to store for yourself or use in collaboration with QuickDraw Contours Community. Unfortunately, many users do not understand/do not want to do this and are disappointed that the Striker 7SV does not come with, or work with add-on maps, such as Navionics or LakeMaster. That said, the networking capabilities of the 7SV make it ideal for applications that involve a connection to other equipment.

Users enjoy the choice of image colors, the swiveling gimbal mount, and relatively compact dimensions: many find it to be a great kayak fish finder.

HydraYak Outdoors (YouTube channel) says,

“I was zooming through this within the first few minutes. Kudos to Garmin for putting together something that is complicated yet simple.”

Pros
  • Wi-Fi compatible; networking capabilities
  • Down imaging, side imaging, dual-beam
  • Easy use and fast installation
  • Unusually high max depth
  • Many extra fish finding features
Cons
  • No built-in maps
  • A little more expensive than some

6. Garmin Striker 7SV 010-01809-00

Best fish finder GPS combo under $500

Screen Size

7 inches

Display Resolution

800 x 480

Max Depth Range

2300 ft. (freshwater), 1100 ft. (saltwater)

Chirp or Sonar

both

MicroSD slot

No

Warranty

1 year (plus, 90-day repairs)

Garmin has an excellent GPS reputation, and so unsurprisingly, this older model of Garmin Striker 7SV is still the best fish finder GPS combo under $500. While similar to the 7SV reviewed above, this older model comes a bit cheaper; plus, for an even better price, you can get a renewed unit on Amazon (a previously-owned unit that is accessed to be equivalent to new).

Like the #5 above, this model has networking capacities with other Garmin systems, such as EchoMap and other Striker units. It also has similar fish finding features: Smooth Scaling (keeps image smooth throughout depth changes), Ultrascroll, Fish Symbol ID, AutoGain, adjustable depth line, and A-scope. It also has sensors, histories, and alarms for speed and temperature, along with zooming features.

Again like #5 above, this 7SV has SideVü and ClearVü at 260/455/800 kHz and medium and high CHIRP, which contributes to the near-photographic images of the boat-surround area. Plus, this one has a flasher display option—especially useful for ice fishing and other vertical fishing situations.

A drawback, however, is that there are no built-in maps, and there is no MicroSD slot by which to add maps. However, you can program in your own waypoints—in effect, build your own maps, as with the 7SV above. Like #5, this one has a compact build, a swivel gimbal mount, and works with trolling motor systems, such as Minn Kota.

An eBay reviewer says,

“Only used it a couple of times, but seems to be working great. I ran it through all of its functions. The screen is nice and clear, and bottom is in good detail…”

Pros
  • Great value for cost
  • Down imaging, side imaging, dual-beam
  • Various transducer mounting options
  • Unusually high max depth
  • Many extra fish finding features
Cons
  • Some units malfunction fast
  • No ability to add maps

Cheap vs. Expensive Fish Finders

More expensive units have more/better software, allowing them to work a little more smoothly and quickly. An increasingly common difference is a touchscreen—more expensive units almost always have this. Also, fish finders with larger screens (9-inch and over) tend to cost over $500. Lastly, even if you are buying from an inexpensive fish finder brand, specialized transducers, mounting hardware, or supplemental navigation software will increase the overall cost of your fish finder system.


Installing & Operating Fish Finders

How to read a fish finder

There are three basic categories of fish finder displays—traditional 2D sonar, CHIRP (including down- and side-imaging), and flasher. Most fish finders come with detailed instructions, though sometimes these instructions are not model-specific, leaving users to fend for themselves with YouTube videos. Fortunately, there are many both general and model-specific YouTube videos on these topics.

How to use a fish finder

Ultimately, reading any included instructions and trying things out is the best way to learn what features are available to you and to get an intuitive understanding of how the fish finder will work in the heat of the moment. The video below gives some advice about changing the gain, scanning speed, zoom, and color to suit you:

How to install a fish finder

Follow any included instructions, and realize that the approach might be different if you choose to mount the finder or transducer in a non-default way—such as flush mount (finder affixed to the desired surface) or through-hull (requires boring and sealing a hole through the hull surface).

The video below shows the installation of a Humminbird unit, but ultimately is a good general example of the electrical connections, screw-in attachments, and positioning involved. Have a Phillips screwdriver, marine glue, and possibly heat shrink tubing and appropriate fuses:


Fish Finder Care & Maintenance

While fish finders are mostly waterproof, a protective cover is a great way to potentially extend their useful lifetime while they are not in use or in storage. Fish finder maintenance includes keeping the unit dry to the extent possible, using a microfiber cloth for wiping, and using an anti-corrosive solution, especially on the transducer, when needed.


People Also Ask (FAQs)

Which fish finder above has the best maps? How important is a GPS feature in a fish finder?

Humminbird units usually have Basemap built-in and are compatible with such reputable mapping applications as Navionics and LakeMaster—you can get maps for almost any region. Most users find GPS tremendously helpful; for one thing, GPS navigation can be used separately from the fish finder to help keep you from getting lost on the water.

What is side view feature used for?

Side-imaging gives very clear images of the area to either side of the boat. This is ideal for fishing in relatively shallow water or low-to-moderate depths.

Why might I need a MicroSD slot in a fish finder?

The primary use of a MicroSD slot is to use an SD card with add-on mapping software. This is good to have, even if you are satisfied with the pre-installed maps. Perhaps you will, at some point, be fishing in different locations.

Which is better, a down imaging or a side imaging fish finder?

It seems that the typical angler more often values down imaging. However, a side scan fish finder is good to have for shallow-to-mid depths.

Are these devices waterproof? To what extent?

In general, yes. However, they probably will not tolerate extended periods of total immersion in deep (over 1 meter) water.

Where can I buy a fish finder battery, fish finder mounts, and the best fish finders under 500 dollars?

Amazon is usually best to find the best cheap fish finder: Other sites, such as Cabela’s and fishing products sites, might offer good pricing. However, Amazon gives more precise reviews and ratings, along with extra options, such as renewed units, to get you the best model at the best price.


Conclusion

Fish finders are not just for the wealthy or highly advanced anglers. You can find the perfect fish finder under $500 for any style of fishing. The Humminbird Helix 7 (#1 reviewed) is the best 7-inch fish finder for the money and overall best bet for most anglers.