You may have come across the Shopping for the Right Fishfinder blog I wrote a while back, which went through a number of important factors to consider before you choose a unit. There’s just one problem: you and I both know that the number-one factor for a lot of people is, plain and simple, cost. So let’s take a look at super-cheap fishfinders, and figure out if you can get by with a simple unit that costs $200 or less.
The first factor to consider: how good are your eyes. Seriously. When I was 30 and my eyesight was sharp, I had no problem seeing the smallest fishfinder screens on the market. But today, I need a screen of at least five inches. Secondly, ask yourself if you can get by with minimal power. If you fish in less than 100′ of water, the answer is almost certainly yes. Thirdly, how much importance do you place on knowing the current water temperature? Most inexpensive units come with bare-bones transducers that don’t have temp probes. Fourth, do you need a chartplotter? They’re built into virtually all fishfinders of $500 or more these days (and you can get them for less) but if you spend your days fishing on a small lake or pond, it certainly isn’t a necessity. And finally, how important is target separation? If you need to differentiate between a catfish and the bottom, most inexpensive units (which often have target separation of four or five inches instead of one or two) probably won’t get the job done.
If all of your answers point to a low-cost fishfinder, you have many to choose from. Lowrance, Garmin, Humminbird, and Raymarine all make units you can get for a couple hundred dollars or less, which—despite their small screens and low power—work surprisingly well for the price-point.
If you want to save even more cash you may be tempted to go with a cheaper-than-cheap unit in the neighborhood of $100, but at this point, you’ll have to put up with a black-and-white screen. That will make it a lot harder to tell fish from structure, especially if you have old eyes like mine, and unless you have to choose between buying food and buying a fishfinder, that’s a bad move. Wait a sec—even if it takes up your food budget it’s still a bad move, because that super-cheap fishfinder will help you catch more fish for years on end, filling the fridge with fresh fillets.