I get hit with a lot of questions about sonar fish finders from anglers. These questions always cover a wide variety of topics, everything from how to install them correctly, how to find fish, which type of sonar is best for catfish or crappie, etc.
One of the most common questions is about choosing a sonar fish finder, what you need, what you don’t, and how to make the right decision before you drop a load of cash.
Then there are the anglers that have recently purchased a Humminbird or Lowrance fishfinder and come to me for on-the-water instruction on how to set it up and learn to read it who realize they failed to do enough research before they purchased.
They’re faced with dealing with the unit they’ve got and “making it work” or replacing it and taking a financial hit through selling what they have a purchasing a new sonar fishfinder with the right features and it’s almost always because they didn’t research or were given some really bad information.
I’ve been using a fish finder for decades. I’ve had experience with the old flasher-style units, spent some time using paper graphs here and there, all of the latest technology available today, and a lot of everything in between.
I’m a bit of a geek when it comes to electronics and technology and a major fishing geek so the attraction to the technology behind fish finders is natural for me but when it comes to choosing and using a fish finder there’s not a lot of great information out there. For that matter, there’s not a lot of good information either.
This is especially true when it comes to using one and interpreting the images to help you put fish on the end of your line.
If you’re scared of technology it should be factored into your decision to purchase a fish finder and which fish finder you buy.
If you’re not willing to take the time to learn how the technology works as well as why and how you’re seeing the images on your screen, that should be considered as well.
How far you want to go “down the rabbit hole” to find fish is a factor as well. The wants or needs of an occasional recreational angler that just wants a few basic tools and a bit of an edge locating and catching fish (or shad for catfish bait) is different in many cases from the hardcore catfish angler, guide, or tournament angler and what they’ll want or need.
Then There’s The Big “B-Word”
Take all of the other factors out of the equation and it all comes down to one thing for many anglers and that’s the BUDGET and how much you’re willing to spend.
Here’s the cold hard reality.
You can spend a LOT of money really fast investing in a fish finder or trying to stay up with all of the latest and greatest technology.
Fish Finders Technology Is Changing, FAST
Like anything else technology-based fish finders are no different, the technology is changing FAST. It seems that as soon as you’ve invested in something there’s something bigger, better, and faster available a few weeks later and heaven forbid you to wait a year or two, you’re dealing with an antique in the technology world or at least many would make it seem that way.
This is an area that you’re best at figuring out exactly what you need, buying it, and making it work for as long as possible because trying to keep up with the Jones would put you in the poorhouse (unless you’re just independently wealthy).
Not only is the rapidly changing technology something that can take a toll on the pocketbook but it just makes everything that much more confusing, even for people like me that spend a lot of time immersed in technology and all of the latest trends and product releases.
I’ve even had numerous conversations with staff at Humminbird and Lowrance were the same words come from their employee’s mouths and they admit that the breakneck pace of changes is a bit overwhelming at times.
I’m covering a series of tips (overtime) on choosing the right fish finder for catfish (or any species of fish), what’s important, what’s not, and how to get the most bang for your buck when making a purchase as well as some more in-depth information on actually using the darn thing when you get it installed on your boat.
I’ll be adding more resources here as they’re created so check back for the latest updates or better yet, make sure you’re signed up by email so you don’t miss anything!
The Biggest Mistake In Choosing Sonar Fish Finders For Catfish
There’s a lot that goes into choosing a sonar fish finder for catfish, making sure you get the right sonar fish finder that will provide the biggest advantage to locating and catching fish and getting the most bang for your buck.
Because there are so many variables to the different types of sonar, fishing styles, budgets, and even the type of fish finder technology for specific fishing styles there’s a lot of information to cover.
For now, we’ll start with what I consider the most important part of choosing a fish finder and where most people go wrong, and that’s size.
Again, there’s much more to making the right decision beyond the size of the screen but the single biggest mistake I see anglers mistake is having a basic understanding of the types of sonar and what they need or want for catfishing but they end choosing a screen size that’s way too small and they can’t make use of the features they paid for.
Types Of Fish Finder Sonar (The Basics)
There’s a LOT of different fishfinder technologies that come into play with the latest innovations.
Let’s focus (for now) on the basics of each technology and how it impacts choosing a fish finder for catfish for now in attempts to keep things easier to understand, I’ll be back in the future with some more details on these technologies and what’s important to locating and catching catfish.
Here are the primary technologies available at this time that are of concern to the catfish angler.
2D Broadband Sonar
2D or broadband sonar is a technology that has been around for years with black and white on-screen displays that have since transformed to color on-screen displays. This is a “traditional” fishfinder view that many would think of when they think of a sonar display and allows the angler to see directly below the boat.
Down Imaging or Down Scan
Down imaging or down scan imaging is newer technology and similar in many ways to the 2D broadband sonar. The down imaging technology allows you to see directly below the boat but provides more detail and definition than the older broadband view.
Side Imaging or Side Scan
Like down imaging or down scan imaging side imaging sonar provides a more detailed image of what’s in the water. Side imaging however allows you to see a larger area than the down imaging technology as it shoots a sonar beam to the side. This allows the angler to view a much larger area of water when searching for fish rather than simply seeing what’s below the boat. Side imaging also gives the ability to search shallow water as it doesn’t require being directly over the fish or structure to
see what’s below.
GPS and Topographic Maps
GPS systems are commonplace these days in cars and trucks and sonar fish finders are no different. They’re an incredible tool to help you navigate the roads and traffic and can be an incredible tool for searching for catfish, navigating hazards, and getting back to locations you’ve previously found. When combined with detailed topographic maps they unlock a whole new world of finding and catching fish of all species, especially catfish.
360 Imaging is one of the newest technology of all those listed above and is available as an addition to the sonar technologies listed above. You can purchase a sonar fish finder that provides 2D sonar, down imaging, side imaging, and GPS all in one unit but to add the 360 imaging view you’ll need additional components to use the technology.
Which Fish Finder Technology Do You Need?
That’s a difficult question and one we’re going to avoid because there are so many variables to the question.
Each different technology has an advantage excels in a particular area. The “need” could vary based on the type of water you fish, the time of year you fish, the species of catfish you’ll be targeting, and how much time and energy you’re willing to invest in learning to use them.
Anglers that fish primarily in shallow rivers for flathead cats could theoretically rely on one technology all or most of the time where the angler targeting monster trophy blue cats in deep water rivers, lakes, and reservoirs would need more.
Most anglers will find that each technology has a time and place and will rely on a combination of 2D sonar, down imaging, side imaging, and GPS at different times or even a combination of two or more of these technologies at the same time and that’s why SIZE MATTERS.
Putting It All Together
The critical mistake I see most often is anglers spend the time doing some research on the different fish finder technology but get bad guidance on what happens when you put these technologies together in one place.
They decide they want broadband sonar, down imaging, side imaging, and GPS maps and they have a use for each of these technologies.
Then they start shopping and looking for something that’s within their budget that has all of these technologies and that’s when it all goes wrong.
The statement I hear most often is “I’ve got a tool I can’t use because I didn’t do the research”.
Why Size Matters
The detailed images that are available in today’s sonar fish finders are mind-blowing. They provide the ability to see amazing details that were never before available that go so far as to be able to specifically allow you to identify species of fish and pretty much anything else under the surface of the water for that matter.
The ability to see the details needed to locate and identify fish and structure is directly related to the screen size of the sonar unit, especially with the down imaging and side imaging technology.
Even when viewing a single sonar view, like side imaging, for example, a really small screen size can make it difficult to see and interpret the details needed.
The smaller the screen size the more difficult it is to see the details needed and with a smaller screen size it becomes virtually impossible to use multiple views at one time on the screen which is the part most catfish anglers find beneficial of all these technologies.
While there are occasions that an angler may use one sonar view at a time (especially side imaging), most anglers I know (myself including) rely most often on multiple sonar views at one time so they’re using a combination of multiple sonar technologies at once like side imaging and GPS or 2D broadband and down imaging or 2D broadband and down imaging and side imaging all at once.
When you’re trying to view multiple screens or use multiple sonar fish finder technologies at once and doing so on an already small screen the technology becomes next to impossible to use.
What American Sniper Can Teach You About Catfish Fish Finders
Here’s the example I like to use when I’m asked about choosing sonar and trying to explain just how important the screen size is.
Think of an action video, let’s say American Sniper as it’s a popular movie of recent.
Take that movie and play it on your smartphone. You’ll be able to watch on an iPhone and have a good understanding of what’s going on and you could get through the movie.
Now play that movie on your computer. You’re going to see more and notice more details beyond the main focus of the picture that you wouldn’t likely be able to see on your iPhone.
Now play that same movie on a big TV in your home. You’re going to see more details and notice much more than you did on the iPhone or the computer.
Finally, if you watch the same movie on a big screen in the movie theater you’ve got something totally different. You’re going to see much more detail than you did on any of the other screens and notice a lot more than you did in any other format.
That’s why size matters.
Here’s The Video
Here’s the video walking through using multiple types of sonar at once and some of the common screen options I use for finding catfish and some examples of why screen size is so important!
Which Fish Finder Should You Buy?
There’s a lot more information to cover, a lot of explanation of the various sonar technology types, and more understanding needed of what’s important when it comes to choosing a sonar fish finder.
I’ll be back with more details you need to make an informed decision on which technology you need (or don’t) and even give some of my top picks for the best fish finder units you can buy in a wide variety of budgets.
For now though, if you’re about to take the leap and invest in a new fish finder make sure you follow this one simple rule.
Buy the absolute biggest screen size that you can afford and if you’re not two hundred percent certain you’re making the right decision, WAIT and don’t make a decision you’ll regret.
I’ll be adding more tips, tricks, and information on sonar fish finders for catfish as well as much more in-depth information on choosing and using fish finders. Make sure you’ve signed up here to get all of the latest updates and information.