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Posted by on Jun 20, 2014 in Fishing, Marine Electronics | 2 comments

Fishing Friday: Time for a New Fishfinder?

Is your fishfinder utterly obsolete? Chances are the answer is yes, even if you bought it a few short years ago.

While chumming for stripers a few days ago, one of the guys onboard asked me how to fix a glitchy fishfinder. It seemed his transducer wire was on the fritz, and now and again the unit ceased receiving information from it. I had just one question for him: how old is the unit? When he told me he got it with his “new” boat in 2008, I had one simple recommendation. Throw it away, and buy a new one.

fishfinder on a boat

A modern fishfinder is one built and installed within the past couple of years. Beyond that…

Sad as it may be, a unit built in 2008 is, by today’s standards, hopelessly outdated. Sure, it still seems modern. But it’s not. Are you carrying a cell phone from 2008? Of course not. Have you updated your computer since then? Of course. Marine electronics evolve and change just as rapidly as these other consumer electronics, and if you haven’t updated your fishfinder in the past year or two, you’re missing out in a big way. Here’s why.

1. The advent of scanners
High-resolution does not mean what it used to mean. “Scanners” (also called down-vision or down-view by some manufacturers) utilize a high-frequency fan-shaped beam to gather far more detail than your old 210 kHz beam could ever hope to pick up. And it’s available in quite modest units, with low price tags. In fact, you can pick up a combo scanner/fishfinder/chartplotter for barely $500—now that’s a bargain. To learn more about these scanners and how they stack up against traditional fishfinders and modern CHIRP units, read Sonar Smack-Down.

2. Side-finding
While side-scanners are not exactly new, they used to require a much more substantial investment. You had to buy and mount a black-box, add a transducer, and buy a high-end head unit. These days, however, most mid-range fishfinders built by most manufacturers have the know-how for side-finding built into their brain. All you’ll need to add is a transducer, which doesn’t add much cost to a new system. To learn more about side-finders, read Seeing Sideways.

3. 360-degree views
At least two companies, Lowrance and Humminbird, have relatively low-cost systems on the market which allow you to look in any—and every—direction. They have limited range so their utility is limited to anglers targeting fish close to structure within a couple hundred feet of the boat, but just imagine what this can do for an angler casting to the shoreline, or working along visual structure. Get a glimpse of it in action, by checking out Forward Looking Fishfinder.

We’re just scratching the surface here, folks. Improved software, the inclusion of chartplotting functions in all but the cheapest of units, improved pre-loaded chartography with detailed contours, and the ability to chart your own contours are just a few of the other areas where fishfinders have advanced in the past few years. If your unit is more than a year or two old, yes, it is time for a new one.


  1. Hi Lenny, I want to buy a new GPS/Fishfinder combo. I’m looking at Lowrance HDS7, Raymarine a78, Simrad NSS7, I just can’t choose. Any help?

  2. Hi Paul – There’s no easy answer, but I think I can help. All of these are quality units which you’d probably be happy with, but all also have different user interfaces. And the one factor that seems to affect people the most is how well the unit’s user interface and menu systems “mesh” with you, as an individual. I may find the Lowrance easiest to use, but you may find the Raymarine easier, while person X finds the Simrad easier to figure out. So, what I always recommend is that you go to a large marine electronics store, where you can play with all three units one after the next. Take your time and try to figure out basic functionality. Set a waypoint, adjust fishfinder sensitivity, bring up different screen splits, etc. Spend a good 15 or 20 minutes with each machine, and you should get a feel for which is the most intuitive and easy to use for you, as an individual. Good luck – and good fishing!