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Depth sounder or fish finder: Which is best for you?

Credit: Max Pixel

When you’re buying new gear for your boat, it’s important to do some research or you’ll be on the fast track to disappointment. The depth sounder vs fish finder conundrum certainly requires plenty of up-front thought.

The reason these two devices can have anglers scratching their heads is simple: a fish finder can do some of the work of a depth sounder, and a depth sounder can do some of the work of a fish finder.  But there are distinct differences between these devices. In this article, we’ll present the facts so that you can confidently make a decision.

All about fish finders

There’s a wide variety of fish finders to choose from, so picking the right one can be trickier than rigging a live bait. To make your life easier, here are the five features you should look at when considering a finder.

1.      Integrated GPS

Having a GPS chartplotter integrated into a fish finder is a shortcut to fishing satisfaction. Not only does it make finding a favourite fishing spot easier, it will help you to identify new spots. If you’re fishing from a smaller boat, having GPS information and fish information on the same screen is an efficient way to keep an eye on underwater activity.

2.      Screen size

The bigger the screen, the bigger the price – but a decent-sized screen is so much easier on your eyes. Screen sizes range from 3.5 inch (8.9 cm) to user-friendly 7 inch (17.8cm). If your budget’s tight, a smaller screen can suffice.

3.      Picture quality

Displays with a higher pixel count are easier to read and display more detailed images. As with screen size, more pixels means a higher price. Aim for a pixel count of 480 or more, so that the underwater activity of the waterway you’re fishing is revealed clearly.

4.      Power

Power for fish finders – the strength of the sonar ‘ping’ – is measured in watts RMS. More power lets you scan deeper and see clearer images. Large, high quality fish finders transmit a thousand watts RMS or more. Smaller devices may transmit 400 or 500 watts RMS. If you’re fishing deep water, more is better. For shallow waterways, you don’t need a super-powerful ping.

5.      Frequency

Fish finders can use single, dual or multiple frequencies. Generally, the higher the frequency, the more detail you’ll see – especially when you’re scanning while moving. Lower frequencies, however, penetrate deeper; important if you’re into deep sea fishing.

All about depth sounders

Depth sounders range from simple sonar measuring devices to high-end devices that offer multiple sets of data and a variety of settings.

·       Basic depth sounder

A simple depth sounder will tell you how deep the water is and its temperature. If this is all you need to know to catch dinner, great. Anglers fishing from kayaks and small boats are often perfectly happy with a basic depth sounder. To use one of these devices, you simply submerge it for a short time.

·       Advanced depth sounder

A bells-and-whistles depth sounder will tell you where you are (GPS), how deep it is, the temperature of the water and whether there are fish below or not. You can select a variety of modes – shallow or deep water, fast or slow trolling, even ice fishing. The sonar transmitter will change its activity to deliver the type of data you want. When moving between settings, you’ll need to adjust the depth sounder so it’s pointing in the right direction.

Which one for you?

As a rule of thumb, basic depth sounders are for basic fishermen (i.e. kayak, dinghy or small boat); advanced depth sounders are for pro fishermen. Sounders either provide the minimum amount of data you need, or they go the whole hog with screen after screen of detailed data.

If you’re somewhere between basic and pro, and you’re fishing from a launch or a yacht, it’s likely you’ll be better off with a fish finder. A finder will serve your needs for shallow and deeper water and they’re generally user-friendly, i.e. you won’t need to be an IT engineer to use your finder proficiently.  If your boat has a fibreglass hull or you fish from a keel yacht, an in-hull mount is best; if you have a launch with a planing hull, a transom mount is ideal.  Portable fish finders are great for fishing holidays. They come complete with display unit, transducer, battery and a versatile mounting part that fixes easily to all types of craft.


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