Are Fish Finders Worth It?


Fish finders are marketed to anglers, suggesting they can find more fish and catch them more reliably with this type of device. Some people even suggest that they’re an “essential” piece of equipment for fishing. But are they really worth the money?

How Fish Finders Work

Let’s start with a primer on how fish finders actually work. Typical fish finders come with two pieces of equipment. There’s a transducer, which is mounted at the bottom of your vessel, and a display screen, which is usually placed in the cabin of your boat.

The transducer is responsible for sending out ultrasonic pulses, sometimes up to 15 pulses per second. These sound waves travel through the water at an incredibly fast rate, then bounce back up and are received by your equipment. Much like how bats and dolphins navigate through echolocation, these sound waves can be measured and analysed to form a picture of what’s below you.

You can learn about:

  • Depth. How deep is the water in a given area? The longer it takes for an ultrasonic wave to return, the lower the depth is.
  • Seabed conditions. Is there significant vegetation or jagged rocks at the bottom of the water here? You won’t get a crystal-clear picture, but you can get an idea of the shape of the seabed.
  • Schools of fish. And most importantly, you should be able to detect schools of fish that are traveling under your boat as well.

Certain models of fish finders also come with extra features, such as the ability to mark locations on your map or change the type of waves being transmitted by your transducer.

Important Caveats

On the surface, a fish finder sounds like an excellent tool to determine where all the fish are. But there are several important caveats to keep in mind:

  • Surface clutter can interfere with your results. Ultrasonic waves bounce off of a number of different sources. Near the surface of the water, these waves can form complex interference patterns, resulting in surface clutter or “surface noise.” Put simply, your ultrasonic wave interactions aren’t going to be as reliable near the surface as they are deeper into the water. You’ll need to keep this in mind when reading patterns.
  • Fish aren’t always predictably visible. Some people imagine that fish finders display articulate models of individual fish, but this isn’t really the case. Most of the time, you’ll be left with a somewhat vague image – little blobs floating above the bottom of the water. These can be ambiguous and hard to read; on top of that, you may see readings where there are no fish and no readings where fish are swimming (both false positives and false negatives).
  • Beams are transmitted in a cone shape. When your transducer sends out a wave, it’s produced in a cone shape, rather than a cylinder or straightforward beam. This means the scope of the reading will broaden as it gets closer to the bottom of the water. You’ll need to keep this in mind when looking at your screen.
  • Narrow and broad beams return different results. Some fish finders allow you to change the breadth of the beam you’re sending out. Broad beams tend to collect information over a wider area, though the information is less reliable; conversely, narrow beams are very accurate, but they don’t cover as much distance. Use both to maximize the utility of your device.
  • Installation and configuration matter. Fish finders only work if they’re installed and configured correctly. If you install the transducer in a position that makes it hard to get a clean readout, it could interfere with your results. Similarly, most fish finders have a number of settings you can tinker with, including fish identification modes, sensitivity adjustments, and even different colours for the display; if you don’t dial these in, you won’t get the device’s full potential.
  • Many different types of fish finder exist. It’s impossible to say that all fish finders are worth the money (or aren’t worth the money) because of the range of models that exist. Fish finders run from very cheap to very expensive, and from practically worthless to incredibly precise.
  • “Worth it” is subjective. What makes a fish finder “worth it” to you? This is a highly subjective question. You can spend thousands of dollars on a state-of-the-art fish finder that gives you a ton of information – but is it really worth that investment if it only means catching a couple of extra fish? For some people, it is.

Tips for Using a Fish Finder

If you’re going to pay for a fish finder, follow these tips to make it worth the money:

  • Choose the correct model. Do your research and choose the fish finder that offers the best features for the money. You don’t want the cheapest unit since it probably isn’t very robust, but you also don’t want to splurge on the luxury version, either.
  • Install and configure the fish finder properly. Read the instructions carefully so you can install and configure the fish finder properly. If you make a mistake, it could corrupt all your future readings, thus compromising the value of the installation.
  • Focus on reliable information. Don’t try to decide whether the ambiguous blob is a school of fish; focus on what you do know. Depth readings and seabed conditions can help you find the best areas for the fish you’re searching for.
  • Mark your hot spots. If your fish finder offers the ability to mark and index your favourite locations, take advantage of it. Marking your hot spots can lead to much more consistent results as you spend more time on the water.

The Bottom Line

If you’re going fishing in a boat regularly, a fish finder can be a good investment. It’s not going to highlight fish with total precision, and your installation can have a massive effect on your results, but as long as you approach fish finders intelligently, they can be indispensable pieces of equipment.

Of course, the type of boat you’re using also matters. If you’re in the market for a new fishing vessel, or if you just want to see what else is out there, take a look at TheYachtMarket’s wide selection of new and used vessels for sale today!

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