Shopping for the right fish finder can be a daunting prospect, especially if you have budget limits. Fish finders are technical products and involve things like sonar frequencies, transducers, and imaging. If you are new to fish finders, these concepts may be somewhat confusing.
In addition to finding a fish finder for your unique fishing needs, you also want to stay within budget without compromising on quality and functionality.
In this review guide, we will be taking an in-depth look at how fish finders work. We will also review ten high-quality products under $300, so you can match them with your requirements.
- Our Top Pick
- Reviews of the Best Fish Finders Under $300
- Buying Guide
- Final Thoughts
Our Top Pick
The Lowrance Hook2 5 is our top pick in this price range. It features a 5-inch full-color LCD screen, which is big enough for most fishing applications. It also comes with an auto-tuning sonar, built-in mapping, and a high-end DownScan sonar that provides information on fish and the bottom structure directly below your boat.
Read more of our top picks here.
Reviews of the Best Fish Finders Under $300
The Hook2 5 offers excellent value, especially to recreational fishermen. One of the main features of this product is its usability. It features an auto-tuning sonar and menus that are intuitive and easy to navigate.
You also get built-in mapping, a detailed U.S. map that features one-foot contours of more than 3,000 lakes so you can easily detect changes in water depth. Another prominent benefit of the Hook 2 5 is that it allows you to switch between the DownScan sonar that views straight down and the CHIRP sonar that automatically switches between the frequencies.
The Hook2 5 provides you with detailed underwater information that is picked up by high-quality transducers and a wide sonar cone that gives you twice the coverage of other fish finders in this category.
Here’s a video demo of this model.
The fish finder displays all underwater information on a 5-inch LCD screen. The screen is easy to read in any light conditions, even in direct sunlight. The 5-inch screen is big enough for most fishing applications, but it is too small to support the four-way split mode that the larger Lowrance models feature.
The Hook2 5 also has an SD-card slot that you can use to upgrade software and mapping or to install third-party maps.
- The transducer features DownScan and CHIRP sonar
- Large 300-foot sonar cone
- Features the same quality as other Lowrance models
- 5-inch LCD screen is easily readable in sunlight
- Features built-in mapping
- The screen is too small for four-way split mode
Despite being a budget model, the Helix 5 comes with high-end features, including a 5-inch HD WVGA display that is readable in any light conditions, Anima maps, and an internal GPS that you can use for navigation and create waypoints on the water.
With the MicroSD slot, you can load additional maps and track and save your favorite fishing locations.
The Helix 5 has a Dual-Beam CHIRP PLUS sonar with fish finding capabilities that are on par with the best models in this category. Digital Chirp allow you to see fish that you will not be able to detect with 2D sonar. The CHIRP functionality detects underwater images by covering a wide range of frequencies to produce accurate and detailed information.
The sonar features side imaging that scans the area to the left and right of your boat as well as down imaging that gives you a fish-eye view of the area directly below your watercraft.
As a result, you will not only be able to detect fish in your area, but you will also get a clear view of the bottom structure, including timber, rocks, bridge pilings, and other objects.
- Includes a reflex interface to enhance usability
- CHIRP Dual-Beam system for a detailed side and down view
- Internal GPS and chart plotting system
- MicroSD card slot for adding maps
- 5-inch full-color WVGA display
- Wide application range
- Quality of the cable clips is lacking
- Unit operation is complex
The Striker 4cv has a 3.5-inch color screen and weighs a mere 230 grams. Since it is compact and lightweight, the Striker 4cv is a viable option for applications like kayak fishing. This fish finder has many features for a small unit, including a Garmin high-sensitivity GPS, a sonar that uses Garmin CHIRP ClearVű scanning, 500 watts of power, and a built-in flasher.
The transducer with CHIRP emits and receives sonar beams at 77 kHz, and 200 kHz and the CHIRP ClearVű operates at 455 kHz and 800 kHz. As a result, the unit can find fish at a depth of up to 1,750 feet in freshwater and a depth of 830 feet in saltwater. The high-frequency beam of 800 kHz allows you to capture a lot of information about the bed structure in shallow water.
With GPS, you can mark the fishing areas you prefer so that you can revisit during your next fishing trip. The screen displays this information in the bottom and underwater information at the top. The screen also has all speed-related data available at a glance in the top left corner.
- Lightweight and compact unit that is easy to mount
- Features CHIRP Clearvű and CHIRP to capture underwater information
- Waterproof rating: IPX7
- Sonar depth of 1,750 feet in fresh water
- Save your favorite fishing spots and docks with the GPS
- Suitable for white water or kayak fishing
- The screen is relatively small
- The display may be difficult to view in bright sunlight
The Deeper Smart Sonar PRO+ differs from other fish finders in this list in that it is a castable fish finder. The PRO+ consists of a ball-shaped transducer that you can cast out with a rod to the fishing spot. The transducer connects to your iOS or Android device with Wi-Fi to display the underwater information that it picks up.
This fish finder doesn’t only provide you with fish locations, but also the depth of the water, bottom structure information, the presence or vegetation, and the water temperature. The transducer has a connectivity range to your device of 330 feet, and it can scan down to a depth of 260 feet.
The PRO+ also features a built-in GPS that you can use to create and store bathymetric maps, even if you are standing on the shore. To use this fish finder, you have to download the user-friendly and detailed Deeper app that is updated every month.
This fish finder is incredibly versatile, and you can use it in many different settings, from ice fishing to kayak fishing to shore angling. Since it works with your tablet or smartphone, you are not limited in terms of screen size.
- W-Fi connectivity range of up to 330 feet
- Does not require a cell phone signal to work
- Suitable for many different fishing settings
- Comes with a rechargeable battery
- GPS with bathymetric mapping function
- Screen not included
- Doesn’t work in water shallower than 4 feet
Like the Garmin Striker 4cv, the Elite-5 is compact, lightweight, and suitable for use on kayaks and canoes. It also comes with several high-end functions that you would not expect with a unit of this size.
The most prominent feature is a Hybrid Dual Imaging transducer that displays CHIRP sonar images in a 4-inch color screen with a relatively high resolution.
The CHIRP transducer sends and receives waves at 83 kHz, and the down scan transducer operates at 455 kHz and 800 kHz. As a result, you received detailed information in shallow water, but also information at a depth of up to 1,000 feet.
The Elite-5 has a durable case with a waterproof rating of IPX7. The interface is user-friendly and features a button system that is similar to a phone. Since the unit is compact, it allows for one-hand operation and portable applications like ice fishing. Mounting the transducer in the hull is also quick and easy, especially if you have a kayak with a no-drill mounting point.
The mounting base of the unit tends to cause vibrations. If you have a motorized watercraft, consider using an in-dash or ball mount joint.
Wanna know what we think of other Lowrance products? Click here.
- Compact and lightweight fish finder
- User-friendly interface with a button layout
- Easily mountable Hybrid Dual Imaging transducer
- Accurate GPS with basic maps
- Built-in GPS antenna
- Suitable for use on kayaks
- 4-inch screen may be too small
- Low screen resolution makes it difficult to see small fish arches
- Unit mount causes vibrations
Similar to the Deeper Smart PRO+, the Dragonfly can pair with your smartphone or tablet to provide more functionality, including sonar data streaming and image capturing. You can also use this function to create and store custom bottom charts.
The Dragonfly-7Pro has a 7-inch color screen that is easily mountable to a watercraft, and that is built with optically bonded LCD technology – similar to modern smartphones. The unit is water-resistant and has anti-fogging properties.
A standout component of this fish finder is the transom-mount transducer with its 2-channel sonar for CHIRP and wide-scale DownVision that captures fish locations and other information to a depth of 600 feet as well as detailed bottom structure information in shallow water. Another feature that is not typical in a unit of this size is the high-speed bottom tracking.
The built-in GPS has 72 channels and features waypoint functionality with maps of U.S. lakes, rivers, and coastal regions. If you like to explore unfamiliar areas, this mapping feature may be particularly valuable.
The compact size and light weight of this fish finder make one-hand operation possible, which is handy in ice or kayak fishing setups.
- Great for ice or kayak fishing
- Comes with basic map software
- Compact and lightweight unit
- Wi-Fi connectivity to smartphones or tablets
- Waterproof with anti-fogging features
- The display may not be detailed enough for small underwater objects
- Mounting bracket quality is lacking
The CHIRP 43cv is a fish finder with an array of functions to enhance your fishing experience, including a 500-watt traditional CHIRP sonar and a CHIRP ClearVű scanning sonar that provide you with photo-realistic images and a depth range up to 2,300 feet in fresh water and 1,100 feet in saltwater.
Other functions include logging and graphing of water temperatures and a bottom structure scan. The CHIRP 43cv has a built-in GPS that is accurate and compatible with other Garmin products, which is helpful if you want to transfer data.
The fish finder’s Quickdraw function allows you to create, save, and share personalized HD maps directly from your screen. The CHIRP 43cv also comes with preloaded HD maps of more than 17,000 lakes, rivers, and reservoirs in the United States. If this is not enough, you can upload more maps via the MicroSD card slot.
The CHIRP 43cv has a 4.3-inch inch screen with excellent imaging power and a relatively high resolution so you can see small fish arches. The interface is intuitive, and the buttons have a quality feel.
There is no getting away from the fact that the screen size is small. However, the compact size makes one-hand operation possible, which is handy in many fishing setups.
- Powerful imagery
- Features Garmin’s c20 transducer
- More than 17,000 preloaded maps
- Depth range up to 2,300 feet
- Accurate built-in GPS that is compatible with other Garmin products
- Doesn’t have a swivel mount
- Buttons are small and close together
The Garmin Striker 5cv is popular among casual anglers and professional fishermen alike, mainly because of its affordable price tag, screen size, and fish finding ability.
The 5cv has a Garmin Chirp transducer that emits a signal in the 77 kHz to 205 kHz frequency range as well as a ClearVű scanning sonar. The result is a bright display of fish arches and enhanced target separation on the fish finder’s 5-inch screen with high-resolution.
The ClearVű scanning sonar also shows a wide-angled downward view of what is below your boat to a depth of up to 2,300 feet in freshwater with an image that has a photographic precision.
While the 5-inch display with its split-screen functionality is not as big as they come, it is big enough to provide a detailed view of the information captured by the transducer. The screen is small enough to allow for a wide range of fishing applications, including ice fishing and kayak fishing.
The 5cv features a high-sensitivity GPS that you can use to track your location and tag your favorite fishing holes for future trips. The fish finder also has an A-scope for viewing fish that pass through the transducer beam in real time.
- Comes in an IPX7 waterproof housing
- Accurate built-in GPS for location tracking
- CHIRP transducer with a wide frequency range
- 5-inch screen has a high resolution and dual view
- A-scope for fish tracking
- GPS doesn’t have built-in maps
- Depth readouts are inaccurate at high speeds
If down-imaging technology and an affordable fish finder under $200 are important to you, consider the Helix 5DI. This fish finder has a transducer with a high-frequency sonar that can produce photo-quality images of the bottom structure, fish, vegetation, or rocks under your boat.
The downward image is displayed on the SwitchFire view on your split screen. Since the DualBeam Plus sonar has a relatively wide frequency range, you have a viewing depth of up to 350 feet. The sonar has four cone sizes for bottom coverage: 16-, 28-, 45-, and 75- degrees.
The 5DI has a full-color 5-inch LED screen with a backlight that you can switch it to 16-bit grayscale. The screen has a resolution that is high enough to display all the information that the transducer picks up.
Other valuable features include a Humminbird interface that is intuitive and user-friendly, a split-screen bottom lock, selective fish identification, and a large digit view.
As a result of the high-end downward imaging, several standard features are missing from the 5DI, including a boat speed indicator and software for connecting to a PC.
- High-end down-imaging technology
- Crisp, high-resolution display
- User-friendly Humminbird interface
- Precision built-in GPS chart plotting
- Four sonar cone sizes
- Small operation buttons
- Mounting doesn’t swivel
There are several variables to consider when shopping around to ensure you purchase a fish finder that meets all your needs. Most fish finder features work together to detect underwater objects. For example, a high wattage alone is not enough. You also need a high-performing transducer with a wide frequency range.
There are three types of imaging, each with unique applications, accuracies, pros, and cons. Each type of imaging is based on a sonar system.
A standard sonar system beams a cone of sonar downward into the water. The image you see is formed by the waves that bounce back.
Fish finders that feature standard sonar systems are typically affordable and a viable option if you want to find fish. When it comes to depth readouts, however, these sonars systems are not as accurate as down-imaging sonar types.
Down-imaging sonar types are typically sophisticated and can provide you with an actual underwater image. If your fish finder features this type of sonar, you will be able to detect things like marine weed fields and water depth.
Since these models offer the best accuracy, they usually have high price tags and are not as user-friendly as standard sonars.
Side-imaging systems send beams out to the side of the boat so you can see what is going on around you instead of directly below you.
A fish finder’s power is measured in watts. The higher a fish finder’s wattage, the faster its response time and the deeper it can detect fish in the water. If you typically fish in shallow water, you have a relatively low power requirement.
Reading depth is not only determined by your fish finder’s wattage, but also its frequency range. For example, a 100-watt unit typically has a reading depth of 400 feet at 50kHz and 100 feet at 240 kHz.
If you fish in deep water, you need a fish finder that sends out signals at a relatively low frequency of around 50 kHz or 83 kHz. Low frequencies waves travel further than high-frequency waves because they vibrate slower and transfer less energy to the medium, which is water in this case.
In shallow waters, a high frequency will ensure more detail on your screen. Frequencies of 192 kHz or 200 kHz are suitable for finding fish in shallow water. Fish finders with wide frequency ranges are ideal for fishing in many different settings.
Screen Size and Resolution
Select a fish finder with a screen resolution of at least 240 x 160 to ensure that you have a picture that is clear enough. This resolution may still be too low for deep-water applications, however.
Screen size is another essential factor to consider. Fish finders with large screens typically come with many features, but also a higher price. There are several screen sizes to choose from. Models like the Humminbird 386 has a screen size of 3.5 inches, while the Lowrance HDS-12 has a 12-inch screen.
Mid-range screen sizes are suitable for most applications. 5- and 6.4-inch screens are popular as they are small enough to use on a boat without compromising on visuals. For the sake of comparison, keep in mind that an iPad has a screen size of 9.7 inches.
Some fish finder models are in color while others only support black and white. As a rule, the stronger the wave echo to the transducer, the darker or stronger the color on your display.
The bottom of the lake or seabed is typically the darkest object on the display. A thin line means the floor material is soft, for example, clay. A thick line indicates a hard, non-porous floor like rock.
Black and white screens are still available, despite being replaced by color screens, which provide more information and easier readability, especially in the sun.
A transducer is an essential component of your fish finder. This device emits sound waves that spread and create wider beams as they penetrate deeper into the water. When these waves reach objects like fish, they return to the transducer.
The transducer will then calculate the distance between the object and your boat by calculating the time the wave took to return to the surface. The transducer continuously sends the information to the central unit which, in turn, displays it on the screen.
Not all transducers are the same. They receive data at different speeds and don’t cover the same underwater areas. Find a fish finder transducer with high-quality materials and cone angles that meets your unique fishing needs.
The quality of fish finders has improved drastically over the last few years. Most manufacturers started incorporating sonar overlay, CHIRP, and GPS technologies in combination with touch-screen features to enhance their products.
If you want to buy the best fish finder under $300, we recommend either the Humminbird Helix 5DI or our top pick, the Lowrance Hook2 5. These fish finders have 5-inch screens, high-end down-scan transducers, and other comprehensive functions like built-in mapping.
Products from Humminbird and Lowrance typically offer rugged dependability, longevity, and user-friendly interfaces. If you are out to save money, you are not likely to find these traits in a fish finder.