I hear this question more often than any other: I plan to go shopping for a new fishfinder, so what’s the best way to go about it? Choosing a new fishfinder is a tough process, one in which we all second-guess ourselves, struggle through, and change our minds often. So, how should one go about it?
The single most important thing you can do is go to a store with lots of fishfinders on display, and scroll through their menus. Pretend you’re on the water, trying to do this, that, and the other thing. And find out for yourself just how easy or hard it is to figure out how the unit’s menu works. In the long run, this single factor usually trumps all others.
What about the fishfinder’s power, target discrimination, beam width, etc? Yes, all of these features are important. But if you have a tough time using the unit in the real world, they don’t amount to squat. And as a general rule of thumb, units in the same price range are going to offer similar performance. The world of fishfinders is a highly competitive one, and no one brand can survive without offering similar features as its competitors. If you’re looking at name-brand units in the $1,000 to $1,500 price range, for example, all of those you look at are going to offer relatively similar performance.
There are, of course, some other important factors to pay specific attention to: screen size, touch-screen versus buttons, networkability, side-scanning abilities, and expandability, for example. These should certainly play into your decision, and require some serious research. But when it comes to the shopping process itself, there’s no substitute for physical use – be it in the store, or on the water.
What about getting the best price? Should you shop at a marine supply store, a big-box tackle shop, or online? For starters, remember that a store with a location that’s convenient is always a plus, in case something goes wrong or you need some accessories. Most of the big-boxes (either marine supply or tackle shops) will have about the same pricing as online outlets once you account for shipping. But neither offer much in the way of technical assistance or physical service; for that, you’ll usually need to depend on the manufacturer. Here’s one hint that could be useful, though: in the past few years electronics manufacturers have started running spring rebate programs with some regularity. So you might want to time your purchase with one of these money-back deals. But don’t rush into things. Remember: spend the bulk of your shopping time pressing buttons and swiping screens. In the long run, this will tell you more than any other form of research.