A successful journalist and news reporter in the past, George is now focused on freelance work to be able to dedicate more time to the most important things in his life: family, friends, his dogs, and fishing.
John is an avid traveler, hiker, and RVer. Moreover, it seems like he knows everything when it comes to fishing and hunting: his father started sharing all the tips and tricks he knew when John was a kid. No wonder we trust his opinion every time a new article is being created.
Last updated: June 19, 2021
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Fishing is an expensive enough hobby, and there’s always a new innovation to buy. A fish finder can be very helpful though, and change the way you fish entirely. It can help you to locate fish and have a more productive fishing trip and avoid wasting time fishing areas where you’re not likely to have any success. With the best fish finder under $200, this handy option won’t cost the earth, and in this article we’ll be reviewing the best budget-friendly fish finders.
There are certain features and criteria we’ve looked at when evaluating the very best products on the list. These include the display and its size, as well as how easy it is to see, the type and effectiveness of the sonar and the maximum depth at which it can operate effectively. The Humminbird 410190-1 Helix 5 Series Sonar G2 is our recommended product as it fits most of the criteria we need from a fish finder. We’ve also looked into the GPS functionality – on this end of the market, not all products have GPS included, but there are some good cheap options with this feature.
Our team has spent weeks researching, and consulting with anglers and manufacturers when creating our list. The research is presented as a simple overview table to show the best options we have found, before we go into some detailed reviews of specific fish finders. Then finally, a full buying guide to help you to understand the best features and what you can get out of your fish finder.
Humminbird is one of the top options out there when it comes to fish finder brands, and they have a huge range, including one of the best fish finders under 200 dollars, the Humminbird HELIX 5 Fish Finder.
This is a reliable and compact model that can easily clip onto a kayak or a small boat and get out on the water in no time.
The Helix 5 part of their range has a good quality widescreen display and though it does not have GPS, the sonar used is very good quality CHIRP sonar, which is what is recommended for most of the very best fish finders. The software of Humminbird Basemap and AutoChart Live also helps you to get the most out of this fish finder.
The IPX7 rating for water resistance is pretty great, meaning it shouldn’t be damaged by everyday fishing use even out on the water. You can rest assured of the build quality, and it comes with all you need to mount it too.
Many people find this extremely easy to operate, which is another huge plus point, and means you won’t spend ages trying to navigate the interface.
What are our favorite features?
Easy to mount and suitable for kayak or boat fishing
Excellent Humminbird software installed and AutoChart Live
High max depth of 1500 feet
What could be better?
Doesn’t have any form of GPS compatibility
Some people have found that the clips to mount are a little flimsy, you may want to replace these in rougher waters
As smartphone technology has improved, manufacturers have cottoned on to the fact that they can use fish finders in conjunction with a phone. This is great for inshore fishing, and the Vexilar SP200 T-Box Smartphone Fish Finder is one of the best fish finders of this kind under $200.
This model of fish finder will link to your phone whether you are using Android or iOS. The app that it works with is totally free and you don’t need to be connected to a network at any time as this creates its own Wi-Fi signal. This can be used with as many people as you like, too.
This comes with a neoprene armband for the phone. You can also buy a lot of other mounting accessories.
Cleverly, the fish finder will alert you (literally with notifications) when you have found fish, or when there is low battery. It has a water depth and temperature indicator and surprisingly smart imaging for such an affordable fish finder which works with phones. This is no gimmick.
Why is it special?
Easy to connect to your smartphone or even with a tablet
Generates its own Wi-Fi signal and you don’t even need cell phone coverage to use this product
What are the flaws?
Does not have any form of GPS
Only works up to 240 feet which is far shallower than many of the competing models
Garmin is a brand which is absolutely huge when it comes to fish finders and other GPS products. As it has such a reputation for GPS it is little surprise that most of their products have some sort of GPS included and the Garmin Striker Plus 4 with Dual-Beam transducer is one of the most affordable ways to get this functionality in your fish finder.
The GPS isn’t the only great feature of this model, though. It makes use of the reliable CHIRP technology for its sonar and can be used at a depth of up to 1,750 feet.
The IPX7 water rating means it can stand up to a fair amount of water getting on the device without any issues or impact on how it functions.
Garmin’s quickdraw software comes included and this lets you generate maps and quickly and easily mark waypoints. It can store up to 2 million acres of data.
This is one of the smallest GPS models on the market and the screen is only around 4 inches. This has an anti-glare capability, which means that even when it is extremely bright and sunny you should be able to see the data.
What do we love it for?
Excellent Garmin software to store loads of data and maps
CHIRP sonar which is excellent quality and reliable
Comes with GPS, one of the cheapest ways to use GPS
What were we disappointed with?
The small screen can be difficult to see if you have difficulty reading small things such as phone screens
Another option from Humminbird, this is a fish finder option that is extremely compact and has some good features from the brand.
It isn’t perfect – it only uses dual beam and down imaging sonar, which can be good quality but aren’t quite up there with CHIRP. However, one of the best things about this is the fact it includes the fish ID+ system that Humminbird have developed. This has fish alarms and depth alarms, too, which can tell you when you come across fish that might be worth stopping to try and catch.
The screen itself is very small and compact, making it good for smaller kayaks and setups that don’t have a huge amount of space. On the downside, if your vision isn’t the best, it can be hard to see the data.
Excellent down imaging means you can quickly see what is below you and get a ‘fish eye view’ of the water. This is also excellent value for money and you can take advantage of the Humminbird brand. It isn’t the very best fish finder at the price, but it does have some great features and offers value for money.
What makes it stand out?
Great value for money
Can be used with the fish ID+ system and has alarms to alert you when fish are identified
Which disadvantages must you keep in mind?
No GPS signal
Only works up to 600 feet
No anti-glare capabilities so it can be hard to see if it is bright outside
Another option that is made by Garmin and takes advantage of their incredible GPS network. This is our budget pick option and can be purchased for well under $200, making it an incredible cheap choice, good for beginners and those who are more casual about their fishing, and perfect for those who want GPS on a budget.
The display is not that great, the HVGA color and interface look a little bit like something from a 90s games console rather than a modern fish finder with lots of bells and whistles. However, this certainly isn’t the most important thing, and as long as you can understand the information, it isn’t a big deal.
This has a built-in flasher alarm to show you when there are fish nearby, and also has an IPX7 water rating meaning it is very good at resisting water’s effects when it makes contact with saltwater or freshwater.
The mapping and GPS capability allows you to set markers so you can see waypoints such as docks.
This is the smallest of the sizes of this Garmin range, it is also available in 5 and 7-inch display sizes. This uses the amazing CHIRP sonar, which is extremely reliable and a big upgrade on some of the dual beam options out there. This is one of the cheapest ways to get your hands on a CHIRP option of fish finder.
What stands out?
Extremely affordable fish finder
Has GPS which is reliable and provided by Garmin
Allows you to set waypoints
Works up to 1600 feet deep
What cons did we manage to find?
Not the best display, so it can be tough to see the data
Many of the models on the market are designed to be used mounted on a boat or kayak, but the HawkEye Fishtrax 1C Fish Finder is great for use handheld, and is small and easy enough to do so. You can mount this, too, if you wish, so you can get the best of both worlds.
The HawkEye doesn’t look like the most impressive model on first glance, but the features are pretty good, and suited well to either inshore fishermen or beginners who aren’t planning to take to overly deep waters. This only works up to 240 feet deep.
The dual beam sonar is pretty good, and this model has a built-in fish depth scale as well as a fish alarm for when certain fish are found. This is an audible alarm unlike some of the other options, which tend to be just visual.
The LCD screen display shows depth and also shows the raw data provided by sonar if you wish.
This is powered using 4 AAA batteries, which makes for a product that can be used whenever you need, without fear of having to recharge – as long as you have taken batteries out on the water with you!
What makes it stand out?
Good for inshore fishing and easily handheld
Has a lot of add-ons and extensions which can be bought for mounting
Very rugged and well-made in spite of a slightly ‘toyish’ appearance
Which disadvantages must you keep in mind?
Doesn’t work at more than 240 feet in depth
Can go through a lot of batteries, as four AAA batteries may only last a few hours
This is the best inshore model of fish finder and is also one of the best castable fish finders. What this means is that the LUCKY Fish Finder FF718LiC has two parts: the handheld fish finder with a screen that you can use to view the data, and a castable section which goes out on the water while you can stay on the shore.
This model can also be used for ice fishing, and while the dual beam sonar is not perfect for large bodies of water that are very deep, inshore it can be perfect.
The LUCKY Fish Finder FF718LiC can be used when trolling or kayaking, too, but its castable nature means that we don’t really recommend this, when the other options can be mounted on your boat or kayak.
The brand may not be hugely well known in the USA, however in other parts of the world is has been one of the best performing fishing brands over the last decade or so.
The depth is not particularly impressive, as it can work up to 328 feet, which is another reason we don’t recommend it for taking out on large lakes, but it can be good for smaller bodies of water.
What makes it stand out?
Easy to see the data on the screen
Castable and good for inshore fishing.
Very compact in size
Suitable for ice fishing
Which disadvantages must you keep in mind?
Not the best option for taking out on the water, and only strongly recommended for inshore fishing
It is important to understand exactly what you need as a consumer from a fish finder. At the lower end of the market there is a huge amount of variation in the features that are on offer. Think about whether you need something with GPS, or whether smartphone compatibility is for you. Spending a little time learning about fish finders and how they work is important, and you can also get an idea of what you can gain from one of these products. The place you are fishing, as well as your own personal preferences, can play a part in the decision and our buying guide is designed to help you to make this choice.
How does a fish finder work?
A fish finder works by sending signals downwards (sometimes at an angle) to detect when a fish (or school of fish) is nearby, and at what depth these fish are. There is a transducer, which can either be installed on your vessels such as a kayak or boat, and there is a display, which is the section you will be looking at to see the data.
The fish finder works by using sonar. It detects where the beams it is sending are interrupted by a fish or other objects and relays this information to the fisher. Because of how many different ways these models can work in terms of whether they are castable and whether they work with your phone, it is important to understand where the transducer is and how this works.
What can I expect from a fish finder under $200?
Fish finders under $200 tend to be pretty basic. Don’t expect a model that is absolutely packed full of the latest features. You will be getting minimal features, but for casual fishermen, this can be enough.
You can find options with GPS functions, especially those offered by Garmin, such as the Garmin Striker Plus 4Cv. Garmin has such a huge network of GPS that is very reliable and offered with most of their products.
At this price range, some of the features you won’t find include the option to expand memory with an SD card, a high maximum scanning depth, and you may have to go without the more powerful CHIRP sonar (though some of the best fish finders under 200 dollars do offer CHIRP sonar). Accompanying apps and feeds as well as existing maps of lakes and the like will also be a lot less likely in the cheapest fish finder options.
Features to consider when choosing a fish finder
So what are the most important features to consider when you are looking to purchase a fish finder? What sort of things should you expect at this price and can you expect to get a high quality set of features without breaking the bank? We’ve explained the best, most common features to help you decide.
Of course, it is worth looking at the size of display, but it is not likely that you will find very big fish finders at this lower range of the market. Our editor’s choice, the Humminbird 410190-1 Helix 5 Series Sonar G2, has a five-inch screen, which is on the smaller side. There are many alternatives on the market with seven or nine-inch screens. However, for a fish finder under $200, this is a pretty generous size.
Other display features include the color, whether it has an anti-glare screen and even whether there are options to change the display to your own personal preference.
Type of sonar
There are multiple types of sonar out there. While at this price most have a standard dual beam, which doesn’t work at extreme depths, but can give a pretty good indication of what fish are about. Some also offer CHIRP. This has become the industry standard for sonar when it comes to fish finders and is very reliable. CHIRP sonar tends to work deeper in bodies of water than the other types.
The maximum depth is impacted by a few different things, but each of the products we’ve picked out as the best fish finders under $200 have a rating for depth, which is clearly displayed. These vary hugely, some can scan almost 2,000 feet, and others can only scan about 200 feet down. Think about where you plan to fish and how deep the water will be before you make your purchase, if you are going out on great lakes then a 200-foot fish finder may not help with your navigation.
The maximum depth can be affected by the type of water, too. If you are fishing in freshwater it can usually operate slightly deeper than in saltwater.
This is displayed as an IPX rating for how waterproof or water resistant the product is. IPX7 is on offer in a lot of the products under $200. This is enough for most fishermen. An example of a product with this water rating is the Garmin Striker 4 with Transducer, which offers great value for money. If you are kayaking or out in a space where the fish finder might be exposed to water regularly then it is worth paying attention to the water rating.
As well as the screen size, the overall dimensions are important. If you are low on space or want to find a fish finder that can easily mount onto your small boat then you probably don’t want something too big or bulky, or that feels like a 90s cellphone! The products on this list all have their dimensions listed so you can compare. Whether you will be handholding or mounting, this is important to a lot of anglers.
A warranty is always something that electronic products should have. A one-year warranty is pretty standard when it comes to electronics and fish finders, but some do have different warranties. Naturally, these products do take quite a bit of water on and can become damaged, so don’t expect a 10-year warranty. The Vexilar SP200 T-Box Smartphone Fish Finder does have a generous warranty (as far as fish finders are concerned) with a two-year protection for the consumer.
Some fish finders include additional features to try and make them a more attractive proposition for potential buyers. As time goes on, the manufacturers are finding more exciting ways to get their unique selling point on the market. Things like connectivity to a smartphone, the number of maps that can be included within the model, and whether it connects to Wi-Fi (or even creates its own Wi-Fi signal) are some of the extra features. In truth, not many of these are available under $200, and the very basics are likely to be what you will be looking to purchase when you are setting yourself this kind of budget.
How to use a fish finder
Using a fish finder is relatively simple. It can vary from product to product. For instance, a smartphone compatible fish finder may be very different to a mountable fish finder with GPS. You can find full instructions on how to use your fish finder in the manual when you purchase your product, but in general, the steps include mounting the fish finder (including the transducer if this is separate). You will then need to adjust the sensitivity and change settings regarding fish identification and even the alarms of the fish. If you have GPS, you should also read the manual for more information on how to use the GPS settings. There may even be maps already included that you can work from.
You may need to adjust the sensitivity of the fish finder depending on the type of water you are in, otherwise, you may get false alarms and frustratingly find objects that aren’t really there.
Your manual should also come with a description or ‘key’, which shows the screen and how the data from your fish finder is presented to you as a consumer.
With CHIRP technology especially, fish finders are becoming more and more accurate. They can show the depth of certain fish and other obstacles with some reliability, and though you have moving targets, the best fish finders can give you really consistent data, especially if the sensitivity settings are correct.
Yes, they work in salt water. However, you should keep in mind that the maximum depths have been calculated using fresh water, this means that the maximum depth at which they can scan will be hugely reduced in salt water.
Castable fish finders have the same sort of principle, but instead of a transducer which is inbuilt or which mounts on a boat or kayak, they have a transducer built into a castable object such as a float, this then relays data to the handheld section of the fish finder, or even to a smartphone or tablet.
The Humminbird 410190-1 Helix 5 Series Sonar G2 is our editor’s choice product and gets a rating of 9.9. As well as being very reliable and having excellent sonar, it has compatibility with a lot of different Humminbird charting apps and is compatible with the LakeMaster software a lot of anglers use.
The Vexilar SP200 T-Box Smartphone Fish Finder is also very highly rated at 9.8. This is most suitable for people who want something quick and easy to set up and use with their smartphone. It also has a longer warranty than most alternative products and it is also great for inshore fishing.
The Garmin Striker Plus 4Cv also gets our recommendation as being the best fish finder with GPS under $200. It uses Garmin’s excellent network to give all the benefits of a GPS model at a much smaller price than many of its competing models of fish finder. We’ve rated this 9.6.