Last Updated on June 15, 2022
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When I hear the word “cheap” all I hear is “sacrifice.” When you’re shopping for something solely based on price, you never end up getting exactly what you want. That might be the case much of the time, but it’s not when it comes to fish finders.
The best fish finder under 500 dollars doesn’t require you to really give up anything at all.
In fact, the Garmin Striker Vivid 7 offers everything you could want in a fish finder bundled up beautifully with GPS as the cherry on top.
Large color display, down imaging, side imaging, GPS, mapping; that’s a lot to ask for in a fish finder under $500.
Let’s see if it lives up to its promise.
Comparison Table – Best Fish Finders Under $500 on the Market
Best Fish Finder GPS Combo Under $500
Best Side Imaging
- Comparison Table – Best Fish Finders Under $500 on the Market
- The Best Fish Finders Under 500 Dollars: Our Favorite Options
- Guide to Choosing the Best Fish Finder Under $500
- Final Thoughts
The Best Fish Finders Under 500 Dollars: Our Favorite Options
Garmin Striker Vivid 7
- Size: 7-inches
- Imaging: ClearVU, SideVu
- Main Feature: Affordable side imaging
- Great 800×480 pixel seven-inch screen
- ClearVU and SideVU technology
- High-quality GPS
- Chartplotting with 1-inch contours
- No MicroSD slot
- Price gets more expensive as you add more features
Why We Chose It
It’s sometimes difficult picking a few reasons why we chose something as the top option for a certain category. In this case, we’re looking for the best fish finder under $500. In a sea of unnecessarily expensive fish finders, the Garmin Striker Vivid 7 is refreshing.
I think Garmin does a nice job at keeping their fish finders affordable anyway, but this one offers a lot of features packed into a fish finder for under 500.
It has some of the highest quality visuals plus both side and down imaging which is almost impossible to find in this price range.
The Vivid doesn’t have a MicroSD slot which is really it’s main flaw. It takes the mapping capabilities back a notch because you can only save whatever plotting you do on the unit itself and can’t transfer it to a different fish finder.
All-in-all, I think most anglers are looking for a great screen and top notch imaging when seeking out a low priced fish finder. The Vivid 7 from Garmin will exceed your expectations.
Humminbird Helix 5 Chirp GPS
- Size: 5-inches
- Imaging: Dual Beam CHIRP Plus
- Main Feature: Autochart Live
- Reliable and fiercely accurate
- Dual Beam sonar
- Priced below $500
- No wireless networking
Why We Chose It
The best fish finder under 500 dollars won’t always have the “bells and whistles.”
That’s the Humminbird Helix 5.
This is the base model Helix without all the fancy GPS, chartplotting, and imaging. It comes with Dual Beam Chirp which was at one time the most advanced technology.
Now, it’s the most basic type of sonar. Granted, it’s still more than enough to get the job done and some of you who aren’t looking for anything complicated will actually prefer it.
Dual Beam sonar narrows in on an image by allowing you to choose what type of sonar beam you want to send into the water. If you’re scouting, you can spread the beam out wide to get an overall idea of what’s happening below.
If you’re focusing on a specific target, you can narrow the beam to look at it more closely.
The main downside is that you don’t get any type of wifi connectivity with this fish finder. The good news is that it has a microSD slot so you can save your maps and charts to the SD card and transfer them to another fish finder if you like.
It’s pretty clear that this fish finder isn’t up to par with the Garmin Striker Vivid because it doesn’t offer side imaging and the GPS technology isn’t quite as good. That’s why I chose it as my runner-up. You could upgrade to the Humminbird Helix 7 if you’re looking for more features but expect to pay more as well.
Lowrance HOOK Reveal 7
- Size: 7-inches
- Imaging: SplitShot
- Main Feature: FishReveal Technology
- FishReveal is one of the best sonar features on the market
- Amazing 7-inch SolarMAX display
- Great color palettes
- Lacking GPS or mapping capabilities
Why We Chose It
I’d like to turn your attention back to the pros written above because there’s a lot of technical jargon in there. Let’s break down some of these to help you understand why they are positive features.
FishReveal is one of my favorite features from Lowrance. It combines structurescan with fish arc technology. It provides more detail about the structure while still displaying fish arches as you’re moving through the water in realtime.
The feature helps you better solidify the reasons why fish are holding to a certain area because you’re better equipped to identify the structure in that area.
SolarMAX is another unique feature to Lowrance. It’s a high resolution wide-angle screen that provides some of the best viewing in fish finding technology. It’s designed to prevent glare from impacting your view. It also ensures that you can clearly see the screen from any angle.
So, if you’re standing up on a bass boat and your fish finder is close to the deck, normally you’d have to crouch down or turn your head to see it. SolarMAX prevents that by allowing you to see it no matter what.
Last but not least, the color palettes. Years ago, fish finders had a white or black background with one-size fish arches with one color. Lowrance has contributed to the increased number of color palettes making it easier to identify fish and their size.
With the enhanced colors on the Lowrance HOOK Reveal, you can get a better idea of what you’re after and how big it is.
This fish finder doesn’t offer any type of mapping or GPS capabilities but it’s a sacrifice you make to get the best fish finder with this level of advanced imaging.
Garmin ECHOMAP Plus 44cv
BEST FISH FINDER GPS COMBO UNDER $500
- Size: 4.3-inches
- Imaging: ClearVu
- Main Feature: Quickdraw Contours and Mapping
- Excellent mapping and plotting technology
- ClearVU scanning
- Bluetooth sharing
- Easy to mount and remove
- Small 4.3-inch screen
Why We Chose It
If you can’t tell by now, shopping for the best fish finder under 500 requires a bit of sacrifice. Each option is going to boast a lot of features in one area but lacks in others.
In this case, you get industry-leading mapping and plotting but you’ve got to look at it on a 4.3-inch screen.
The ECHOMAP does offer ClearVU scanning which is great sonar technology with top of the line target separation. It also comes loaded with coastal maps through the BlueChart G3 feature. It offers mapping off the East and West coast plus the Gulf of Mexico and Great Lakes.
It’s also the best fish finder for small boats because of its size.
A smaller screen isn’t always a downside if you’re looking for a kayak fish finder or something less bulky for a jon boat.
The ECHOMAP also offers Bluetooth and wifi capabilities so you can share your maps and charts with other similar devices nearby. This fish finder packs a lot of great features into a small unit for less than 400 dollars.
If you’re looking to splurge a little, you should take a look at the upgrade of this model, the Garmin Echomap UHD. It’ll cost you more than $500 but you’ll get all the bells and whistles that Garmin offers.
Simrad Cruise 7
- Size: 7-inch
- Imaging: CHIRP
- Main Feature: Ergonomic and easy to use controls
- Amazing 800×480-pixel resolution
- Loaded with C-MAP US Coastal maps and Worldwide Basemap
- Intuitive operation with rotary dial and keypad
- Lackluster accuracy
- Price (slightly over $500)
Why We Chose It
Simrad fish finders are known for offering top of the line displays with the most crisp imaging and this one does not disappoint. The resolution and overall screen quality are what I would expect of a fish finder in this price range.
The main standout feature of this one though is the actual operation of the fish finder. I’m a known hater of touchscreens so this Simrad comes with a rotary dial and a variety of buttons on the right panel for you to control everything happening on the screen.
I’m a huge fan of this because I find that the fish finder operates better and holds up more over time when it’s button-operated.
The Cruise 7 also features great mapping with C-Map and Worldwide Basemap. It comes with a 32GB MicroSD slot so you can use the preloaded maps or import other maps based on where you plan to fish. If you fish the coast in canals and things of that nature, you’ll benefit tremendously from these maps.
I have a problem with the accuracy of Simrad sonar though. I find that the target separation could use some improvement as well as the 83/200 khz transducer lacking accuracy at the higher frequency.
Humminbird Helix 5 Chirp SI
BEST SIDE IMAGING FISH FINDER UNDER $500
- Size: 5-inches
- Imaging: Dual Beam with Side Imaging
- Main Feature: Side Imaging
- Sold 5-inch display
- CHIRP sonar with side imaging technology
- Humminbird Basemap offers 10,000 plus lakes and coastal coverage
- Wireless GPS and Bluetooth
Why We Chose It
If you’re having deja vu, don’t worry, you are seeing the same Humminbird Helix again. The main difference is that this one comes with side imaging. The other difference is that it comes at a higher price tag; a price that is higher than $500.
I wanted to make sure I offered the best side imaging fish finder and didn’t exclude it simply because it’s a little over 500 dollars. Bear in mind that prices fluctuate but at the time of writing, the Helix 5 SI is going for around $750.
So, what does the extra $250 get you?
It gets you industry leading side imaging technology. Now you can scan the water more accurately while you’re moving and also get a better idea of what’s happening beside you where you can’t access with your boat. Side imaging is preferred for this reason and I think it’s well worth the extra cost.
Keep in mind, a lot of anglers grow out of their fish finders after a few years. By scraping up the extra money and upgrading to a better fish finder now, you’re reducing the likelihood of needing to purchase a new one in a few years.
Other than that it comes with Worldwide Basemap which is the preferred mapping and charting technology. Plus, Humminbird is a highly favored brand in fish finding and GPS technology. All in all, the Humminbird Helix 5 in general is one of the best fish finders to ever hit the market.
Guide to Choosing the Best Fish Finder Under $500
Cheap doesn’t always have to be a bad thing. Manufacturers make low-cost fish finders for a reason and many of them are still rich with a ton of amazing features.
I also want you to keep in mind that scanning sonar isn’t strictly business. It’s here to improve the fishing experience, help you find more fishing spots, and to make it easier for beginners to get into the sport.
In the following sections, I want to outline some of the things you’ll want to look for in the best fish finder under 500 dollars. Let’s get into it.
Sonar isn’t exactly an exciting thing to talk about but it’s the most important feature because it directly impacts the way you view fish on the fish finder. There are many different types of sonar but you’ll find three most commonly in affordable fish finders.
For many, CHIRP is still a new feature and while it’s incredibly common in most modern-day fish finders, a lot of people still don’t understand what it is. It stands for Compressed High-Intensity Radiated Pulse.
CHIRP fish finders have a much longer sonar pulse which means more energy is sent through the water resulting in a clearer picture.
It’s an upgrade from traditional sonar. This type of sonar also has variable frequencies meaning you can dial it up or down based on what type of image you’re trying to create. High frequencies work well in shallow water because they produce the highest quality image.
When you’ve narrowed down on a specific area that you want to target, you can use high-frequency sonar to identify a precise location where fish are holding out.
If you’re in deep water, low CHIRP sonar works best because the frequency is lower meaning it’s providing a less precise image but a wider band of sonar. You’ll be able to cover more area and deeper water while producing a lower quality image.
When you’re trying to get the best fish finder for the money, CHIRP is the standard in today’s world. You don’t have to settle for traditional 2D sonar because many CHIRP fish finders are priced as low as $200.
When you upgrade to down imaging sonar, you’re going to increase the price a little but also provide yourself with a better chance of catching what you want. Down imaging fish finders use a super narrow high-frequency band to create pictures of everything beneath the surface.
Down imaging or downscan imaging is used for identifying structure and school of fish. If you compare down imaging to CHIRP, the main difference is the detail of the images. While CHIRP only provides an infrared color palette, down imaging technology offers literal images of everything beneath the water.
It’s as close as you can get to having an ice fishing camera under the water.
As mentioned, fish finders with this technology will increase in price and can easily run up to $1,000 or more if there are a lot of added features. The good news is, most of the down imaging fish finders out there are less than $500 and nearly every single option in this review offers down imaging.
Side imaging or sidescan is the cream of the crop when it comes to fish finding sonar. All the best fish finders out there offer side imaging.
Now you can take that thin beam that was sent vertically down and extend it outward on both sides. You’re now scanning everything on each side of the boat instead of directly beneath you.
This feature offers a 180 degree view as far as 400 feet on the side of the boat. The images you see are called “slices” and will indicate both the right and left side. Sometimes these images can be difficult to interpret because it looks like you’re viewing a fish lens but once you get the hang of it, you’ll realize how powerful side imaging can be.
The main reason why side imaging is more valuable is because it enables you to scan the areas you are actually going to cast. Most bass anglers fish the shore so being able to scan 400 feet towards the shoreline from your boat is extremely powerful.
Plus, side scanning also allows you to identify structure as clear as day. Most fish finders that come with side imaging also feature down imaging via splitscreen. This means that you can have both on your screen for the ultimate display.
You will notice that side imaging does push most fish finders over our $500 limit. Most of these will run between $500-750 but I can promise that it’s worth the added cost.
GPS and Mapping
One thing that a lot of anglers don’t think about when purchasing fish finders is GPS and mapping. This might be something you didn’t even know fish finders could do.
Keep in mind that many of the companies that make fish finders also used to make GPS units. Companies like Garmin and Humminbird have been doing this for decades.
There have been many times where GPS has come in handy on a fish finder whether it was helping me get back to the launch when I didn’t have phone service or letting me mark down certain areas on the lake where I had success so I can go back there again.
The best GPS fish finders usually fit into one of the following three categories from the most popular brands. They each have their own type of GPS and here are some of the options.
This GPS and mapping technology is from Garmin and it comes with two different settings. The first option is Basemap Land. This is your traditional GPS that covers roads, towns, and landmarks. You won’t likely use this that much unless you don’t have a phone that has maps or anything like that.
Where you’ll benefit is from the Marine Basemap. It features all oceans and rivers down to 100 feet including creeks and streams. You’ll find any lakes in the United States larger than five square miles as well as airports, urban areas, and major interstates.
So, why is this important. Why do you need this to catch fish? Garmin uses this in conjunction with charplotting technology and Navionics. Think of it like adding a transparent piece of dry erase paper on top of the map.
Now, you can look at the map of the lake you’re fishing and mark down where you’re going, where you’ve been, and where you’ll want to go again.
You can jot down waypoints you liked or places you caught a lot of fish. You can also mark areas where you struck out and might want to avoid for a while.
BlueChart G3 is an optional upgrade you can add to your fish finder that offers coastal mapping and charting. Many fish finders only come with “inland” lakes and waterways. These are often included in the price of the fish finder or you can download them online.
Very few offer saltwater mapping and this is where BlueChart comes in. Keep in mind that this feature is extremely expensive and limited to specific areas. For example, it costs around $300 just to add Southeast Florida to your fish finder. But, if you do a lot of offshore fishing, it could be a worthwhile investment for you.
Many anglers get confused about the difference between LakeVu and Worldwide Basemap. The basemap is the standard offering that doesn’t give you anything extra. Once you get LakeVu, now you’ve got maps, auto guidance, depth range shading, shallow water shading, and access to the ActiveCaptain app to save all your data.
LakeVu takes those 18,000 freshwater US lakes and kicks them into overdrive. You’ll be able to identify contours so you can have a better idea of drop offs for finding fish. It’ll also display points of interest on the screen such as fish attractants, structure, or hazards.
Display and Screen
If you don’t like the screen or you find it hard to read, what good is your fish finder? You need to make sure that the display on your fish finder is good enough to meet your needs.
Everyone has different needs. Some people may not mind a smaller screen if it means they get more features in a different area. Others might want a larger screen but don’t mind that their fish finder isn’t that portable.
Let’s break down some of the most important considerations for displays.
I don’t think I need to tell you why screen size is important but let’s talk specifically about how this pertains to the cost. You won’t likely find a fish finder with a screen larger than seven inches for under $500.
The screen size you choose can also impact how many features you’re able to get. If you elect to go with the bigger screen, you might sacrifice in other areas such as GPS or sonar type.
I wouldn’t recommend going with a screen smaller than 4-5 inches though because it will become difficult to read, especially if the sun is shining. Choosing a backlit fish finder can help compensate for a smaller screen. Most fish finders nowadays come with a backlight anyway.
800×480 pixels is the standard in today’s world so I wouldn’t recommend going much lower than that. For a fish finder under $500, that’s quite good. The higher the resolution, the easier it is to pick up on whatever the transducer is sending back.
A high resolution fish finder will make it easier to identify structure and fish arches without having the images blend together or become fuzzy looking. I wouldn’t worry too much about this though.
Finding the best fish finder under 500 dollars is simple. You want to get the most bang for your buck but it’s important to figure out what features are most important to you. When you’re shopping for a cheap fish finder, what stands out most?
Is it the type of sonar? A larger screen? Or advanced GPS and mapping? You need to sacrifice in one of these three areas and only you can decide which one it is.
I think the Garmin Striker Vivid 7 does a great job of limiting the amount of sacrifice necessary to get an affordable fish finder. It’s the cheapest side imaging fish finder and the only Garmin fish finder to offer both side and down imaging for less than $500.
Go through the options again, give it some thought, and choose whichever fish finder speaks to you. Good luck out there!