Catching and Charting: The 5 Best Fish Finder GPS Combos
Between fish finders, chartplotters, GPS and other electrical equipment, we boaters have a lot of gear to carry around. And that's not even taking into consideration boat anchors, anchor lines, boat propellers, fenders and other necessities.
Wouldn't it be nice to be able to combine some of it? Whether you're into bass fishing, sportfishing, exploring new waterways or cruising around your local lake, a fish finder GPS combo makes a great addition to any collection of boating gear.
It's always nice when you can combine two devices into one. Some of the best fish finder/GPS combos even have Smartphone integration, which brings it up to three devices in one. That's nothing but a win-win situation.
Fish Finder GPS Combos: Best of Both Worlds
How a Fish Finder Works
Boat fish finders use underwater sound (sonar/sound waves) to locate objects (whether it be fish or a discarded tire). Sound pulses are sent into the water via active sonar. It waits for an echo. This tells it what the sound bounced off of. Hopefully a big tasty fish.
How a GPS Works
Since I'm a boater and not a scientist, I'll put it simply. A Global Positioning System (GPS) picks up signals traveling at the speed of light (through the galaxy or whatever).
Based on how long it takes for the signals to arrive, this calculates how far away each satellite is. Some sort of advanced math takes place to determine where in the world you are. No need to get into the exact science right now.
Put Them Together, What Do You Get?
Signals, sounds and satellites... it all sounds kind of space-y. And, technically, I guess it is. All you really need to remember is that a fish finder/GPS combo is a handy dandy system that can find the fish and tell you where you are and where you're going.
- Remind you where that great fishing spot is
- Find fish in new areas
- Get you to a safe harbor during bad weather
- Send alerts about weather
- Sync with your Smartphone
- Eliminate the need for two devices
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Features of the Best Fish Finder GPS Combos
From temperature gauges and color sonar to alerts, chart-plotting and dual frequencies, the best fish finder GPS combos mix all of the best features of both into one piece of navigational equipment.
- Color Sonar: If only for the cool factor, color sonar lets you see what's below your boat. Cool, but also quite useful. Color can help determine what the object is (whether it's the seabed, grasses or fish). Fish finders use color to show differences in hard and soft bottoms. As an example, hard bottoms will show up as bright orange while soft or sandy bottoms will be brown. Fish show up as icons or "arches" that give you an idea of how big the fish is.
- Dual-channel CHIRP Sonar: CHIRP stands for Compressed Hi-Intensity Radiated Pulse. With this type of technology, images are better than with traditional sonar. CHIRP sonar gives off longer pulses and transmits a sweeping range of frequencies, which results in the processing of more information. The military has been using CHIRP sonar for decades, and it's just recently become available to the rest of us. Thanks, military!
- Single Frequency Transponder: This type uses 200KHZ and is used in freshwater and lakes under 200 feet in depth. It can show single fish or schools of fish as well as rocks, grasses and other vegetation. It uses a narrow beam to provide great bottom definition, but it doesn't cover as much area as a 50KHZ, or wide beam.
- Dual Frequency Transponder: The 50KHZ covers a bigger area, but it doesn't have the definition of a 200KHZ. It just makes sense to combine the two into a dual frequency transponder, which has 50KHZ and 200KHZ. They're used in saltwater and very deep locations, as the signal is much better in depths over 200KHZ than a single-frequency transponder. If you fish and boat in a variety of locations and depths, I recommend the dual frequency.
Temperature and Depth Gauge
Find out water and air temperature to determine if this is a spot you want to fish or swim. Temperature often determines the type of fish that live in that area (some fish like cool water and others like warm), which can add to the day's catch.
Likewise, a depth gauge will let you know how deep the water is so that you can go after fish that congregate in specific depths.
Automatic Route Planning
Simply type in your destination and it's computed for you. How handy is that? You can figure out exactly how fast it's going to take you to get to a specific spot, or back to the dock in the event of bad weather.
If you're always out on your local lake, you may not really need a chartplotter. But if you frequently travel to other areas or large bodies of water, a chartplotter is an indispensable piece of marine gear. Basically, the chartplotter adds a map of the GPS location. A GPS alone doesn't necessarily do this.
Integrate the information from the boat fish finder GPS combo right into your Smartphone. This can help with future planning as well as remind you where you've been and what you've seen. Some have Wi-Fi and Bluetooth integration built-in.
When there's rough weather ahead, you need to know about it. Alert features can be customized to send reports about most anything you choose, including fishing reports.
- Large Screen: Who wants to squint and stare at a screen when they're trying to navigate the boat? I know I don't. A large screen is a must. This gives you a clear picture of what's going on below the surface.
- Touch Screen: Touch screens are a great feature to quickly and easily get the information you want. You don't have to worry with turning knobs and buttons or clicking on the data you want.
- Fixed Mount: A fixed mount fish finder GPS combo is mounted directly to the boat transom (or wherever you want it). This is the easiest method.
- Portable Mount: Portable fish finder GPS combos are much like an iPad. You can take it with you, which makes it perfect for a kayak or small boat. They often have suction cups that stick to the dash of the boat. You can also find specially designed holders.
The transducer is the main guts of the fish finder GPS combo. Or antenna, if you will. It sends out the sound waves and then gets them back to tell you what's under the water.
The transducer is usually mounted to the hull (a through-hull system). There's a mechanism inside of it that levels it to work with the angle of the hull, making sure that it faces straight down into the water.
The 5 Best Fish Finder GPS Combos
1. Garmin Echomap Plus 44CvCheck price on Amazon
Preloaded with BlueChart g2 charts, the Garmin Echo map Plus can take you all over coastal areas of the U.S.
Quickdraw mapping software creates on-screen fishing maps as you fish. The better to return later.
It has a transducer for Garmin traditional and sonar CHIRP, Clear Vu scanning sonar and transom and trolling motor mounts with quick release for easy installation and removal.
You can share wayward points with other Echo or Striker Garmin units. The 4.3-inch display is easy to read in bright sunlight.
- Screen Size: 4.3"
- Dimensions: 4" x 1.8" x 6.6"
2. Humminbird Helix 10 ChirpCheck price on Amazon
The Humminbird Helix 10 Chirp gets bonus points for its large 10.0-inch display. It has dual spectrum CHIRP sonar, GPS mapping, built-in Bluetooth and Mega Down imaging for great views of what's under the water.
It has charts of more than 10,000 lakes and coastal coverage. With Humminbird Baseball cartography built right in, you can create your own maps in real-time. Record up to 8 hours of time for underwater videos of the bottom, depth and vegetation.
Another bonus is the included gimbal mounting, which is an excellent feature in my opinion.
- Screen Size: 10.1"
- Dimensions: 20" x 13" x 10"
3. Lowrance HDS-9 Live Fish Finder GPS ComboCheck price on Amazon
The Lowrance HDS-9 Live has CHIRP sonar with StructureScan 3D or HD for great views. It's preloaded with C-Map U.S. maps and has a quad-core processor, dual-channel CHIRP sonar, Bluetooth connectivity and color sonar with high visibility contrast.
Use automatic route planning to find the quickest and safest routes at the touch of a button. The high-resolution SolarMax HD multi-touch screen is easy to see in bright sunlight, which is an excellent feature to have on a boat.
With the Smartphone integration, you can get notifications from your phone on the display screen. That's one less piece of gear to risk dropping in the water.
- Screen Size: 9"
- Dimensions: 12.68" x 9.05" x 9.45"
4. Raymarine Axiom 7 Fish Finder GPS ComboCheck price on Amazon
The Raymarine Axiom 7 comes with Navionics+ charts (coastal U.S. and Canada as well as more than 20,000 inland lakes and rivers), a quad-core processor, a transom-mount transducer and dual channel high-resolution and fish targeting CHIRP sonar.
The Lighthouse 3 operating system is fast, customizable and easy to learn.
Built-in Wi-Fi is paired with free Raymarine apps to view information from an Apple or Android smartphone.
- Screen Size: 7"
- Dimensions: 18" x 13" x 13"
5. Simrad G09 XSE With HDI Transducer
The Simrad GO9 XSE has a 9-inch multi-touch widescreen, a flush or bracket mount display and dual micro SD cart slots. It comes with C-Map charts and C-Map Easy Routing to plan trips and discover new places.
The transom-mounted HDI skimmer transducer and Broadband Sounder CHIRP technology let you check depth and find all the fish. DownScan imaging sonar creates picture-perfect images of below-water activity.
The Simrad Go chartplotter has a built-in GPS receiver and wireless access to charts and updates. This is a great choice for small fishing and sport boats.
- Screen Size: 9"
- Dimensions: 18" x 10" x 6"