Are you one of the aquatic adventurers who is on the lookout for a handheld GPS with built-in fishfinder? We’ve casted out our wide net to snag the 44 best handheld GPS for fishing and boating, compared them side by side, and now we’re ready to present you with the Top 6.
Anyone who is serious about boat fishing knows that there are only two digital devices that really come in handy when you are fishing: a GPS navigator to show you the contours of the lake, and a sonar-based fish finder that can tell you not only about how many fish are in the area, but also how deep the water is where you are boating.
Now, these two awesome devices have been combined into one, as a few of the industry’s top manufacturers have decided to add some basic fish-finding technology to their already popular portable GPS units. The result is a multi-purpose gadget that will help you catch more fish while also keeping an eye on your exact latitude and longitude.
Best Fishfinder with GPS Unit – Garmin Striker 4
|Display size||3.5″ diagonal|
|Depth Range||1,600′ (FW), 750′ (SW)|
|Power Output||200W (RMS)|
While the Garmin Striker 4 utilizes top of the line GPS-enhanced sonar to show you what kind of things are in the vicinity of your boat (like fish, for example) it is not technically a GPS unit, at least, in the traditional sense of the term. It doesn’t have mapping functions like most of the other models on our list, so it is actually more of a fishfinder than a GPS.
But the Striker 4 certainly excels at that task, with a maximum depth scanning of 750 feet in saltwater and 1500-1600 feet in freshwater. As you’d expect the unit is 100% waterproof and comes at a pretty impressive price for a GPS fishfinder. This is not a completely portable unit and instead is powered off of your boats 12V battery inlet, which is important to keep in mind if you want to take this thing out on a kayak or non-powered boat.
Editor’s Choice – Garmin GPSMAP 64st
|Display size||2.6″ diagonal|
|Battery life||16 HRS|
Unlike the Striker 4 that we reviewed above, the GPSMAP 64st is a fully function GPS mapping unit with enough features to keep even the most avid adventurers occupied for months. Basic features like an altimeter, compass, an pre-loaded topo maps make this a great survival tool to bring on adventures of any length, and more advanced features like an 8 GB built-in memory and a fish-finding function are the real selling point of this mid to high-end GPS unit.
Sure, there are fancier models out there, but this is a pretty good place to start if you are upgrading from a budget-level GPS unit. If you are using this for fish-finding, you should be extra careful not to drop it. Unlike dedicated fish finders, this baby will not float, but instead sink right to the bottom. This unit functions off of 2 AA batteries, which is convenient, but you can expect to go pretty quickly if you have this thing on for hours at a time.
Best for Boating – Garmin GPSMAP 78
|Display size||2.6″ diagonal|
|Battery life||20 HRS|
The GPSMAP 78 is not only cheaper than the GPSMAP 64st (above), but it also has a few features that make it even more marine-friendly for your next boating or fishing trip. Not only is it waterproof up to IPX7 standards, but it also floats in water, which is not something that you can say about a lot of GPS units. The rest of the GPSMAP 78is actually quite similar to the 64st, including the compass, altimeter, fish calendar… the whole shebang. We haven’t been able to fully test our theory but we feel like the 78 also gets more battery life out of a pair of AA batteries than the 64st. Perhaps one of our readers will be able to elucidate on this subject.
The software build on the 78 seems somewhat … outdated? While everything works fine, this certainly isn’t the most advanced GPS unit on the market, and instead hearkens back to a simpler time when electronic devices were not so complicated. One of the more common user comments out there was that the screen was susceptible to condensation buildup if left out in the sun, so keep an eye out for that.
Best High-Performance Handheld GPS for Fishing – Garmin GPSMAP 86s
|Display size||3″ diagonal|
|Battery life||50 HRS|
Here we have what is perhaps the most deluxe model GPS unit on our list. The GPSMAP 86s has more memory, more battery life, and more internal features than almost any other model (upgrading to the 86sci for about two hundred bucks is probably the best GPS that money can buy). One of the biggest upgrades that you are getting when switching to one of these “pro-level” GPS units is a rechargeable lithium ion battery, which takes the average battery life of a GPS unit from 10 hours max to about 50 hours max. For weekend fishing trips, this means you won’t need to recharge or have to keep swapping out the batteries. In terms of marine performance the GPSMAP 86 has got it where it counts. It is both water resistant and buoyant, though not quite as waterproof as some of the other units on our list. Smartphone compatibility lets users receive GPS alerts sent directly from the unit, which is another advanced feature that makes the 86s more than worth its hefty price tag.
Best of the Rest – Magellan eXplorist 310
|Display size||2.2″ diagonal|
|Battery life||18 HRS|
While it doesn’t have any of the more advanced aquatic features that might be important to the high-tech fisherman, the Magellan eXplorist 310 still managed to be one of the best all-around deals when it comes to simple GPS locating and mapping. A built in memory of 2 GB is enough to keep all the maps your need for an adventure, but it is far smaller than the more premium models that we looked at above.
The color screen is perhaps the best feature here, offering an impressive level of brightness for a clear readout at any time of day, even beneath the shining sun. The Paperless Geocaching function will be delight for anyone who is into Geocaching, as you can pre-load your target cache information before leaving the house and have your GPS lead you right to the treasure. The battery life is better that some units but not as good as others. It is fully waterproof however, which a lot of units can’t say about themselves.
Best Budget Fishfinder – Venterior VT-FF001
|Sensor Beam Angle||45 degrees|
|Depth Range||Max: 100m (328ft); Min: 0.9m (3ft)|
Even though the Venterior VT-FF001 is not a GPS unit at all, but rather a budget-level fishfinder, we figured we would add it to this list in case anyone was looking for something to help with their next fishing trip without forcing you to spend three hundred dollars on something that you might just drop in the lake anyway. The VT-FF001 is a simplistic device that utilized an old-school cable-mounted transducer with a 25 foot length. This makes it possible to get an idea of how many fish are swimming around directly beneath your boat. There are some basic adjustable settings, but it is important to remember that this is a budget-level unit that is not going to give you the same level of performance as one of the more expensive items. Also, it doesn’t have any GPS capabilities (which we realize is confusing based on the title of this article). But for less than forty bucks, the VT-FF001 is an affordable and effective way to catch more fish without spending too much of your bait money.
Must-Have Handheld GPS Units for Fishing [2021 Buyer’s Guide]
The six different gadgets on our list represent only a small number of what is actually available on the market. In fact, there are dozens of GPS units, and indeed dozens of brands of GPS units that we have decided not to feature here, simply because their design and/or functionality did not meet our recommendation requirements.
The best GPS fishfinders are hybrid technology that are making our fishing weekends more efficient and successful than ever, which is we recommend that anyone who even comes close to a boat should get one for themselves.
In case the GPS units features here do not quite tickle your fancy, we’ve put together the following informational guide that can make the shopping process a little easier for everyone. Afterwards, we’ll reveal our top pick digital fishfinder with built-in GPS functionality.
What to Look For in a GPS for Boating & Fishing
Here is a rundown of the most important factors to look at when trying to shop for a handheld GPS for fishing:
The Global Positioning System (GPS)
The GPS part of the unit is what you are really paying for here, because in all actuality, the fish-finding technology is not that expensive. GPS has been around for a while, and since its inception it has improved by leaps and bounds, to the point where almost every person you meet has a functioning GPS tracker in their pocket, built right into their smartphone.
Having a dedicated GPS unit can be more helpful than just relying on Google Maps, however. The ability to download, transfer, and store incredible amounts of topography maps make this type of unit an absolute necessity for serious backcountry explorers. In addition, the GPS programs on your smartphone usually don’t have any topographic information in them and really are only designed for established streets and roads.
Fish Finder Technology
If you are one of the lucky fishing enthusiasts who has purchased a GPS unit with fish-finding technology, then it might help to learn a little more about how that technology works, in hopes that you will be able to truly master it and become the ultimate fisherman that you have always wanted to be.
Fish-finding is something that is done by transduction, in which sonar waves are sent out into the water so that they might bounce off of objects and obstructions. The objects in this scenario are the fish, and the obstructions would be the lake or sea floor, or perhaps a big outcropping that you want to avoid.
The on-board transducers vary significantly in quality from model to model, and generally speaking the more you pay for a fish-finder the better transducer it will have, and therefore the better readings it can provide.
Fish-finders don’t actually use the GPS tech that the individual unit might also have, but when paired together they are a dangerous one-two punch for the fisherman who is really looking to get the job done.
Perhaps it goes without saying, but any piece of electronic technology that you are purchasing for fishing or boating should be water resistant at the very least, but if you are spending big bucks on something like a GPS fish-finder, then you might as well try and get one that is totally waterproof. You never know when you will be splashed by a water-skier, or simply drop the unit in the water and have to watch helplessly as it bobs there in the water.
DOES IT FLOAT?
If you are springing for a waterproof unit, then you might as well go the full yardage and get a unit that also can float. If you drop your GPS fish-finder off the side of the boat and it doesn’t float, then you can kiss that sucker goodbye. Maybe the fish will be able to get some use out of it at the bottom of the lake.
You can also purchase additional floaters, like the ones attached to boat keys to help make sure that you are not simply depositing your hard earned cash directly into the lake.
Screen / Digital Readout
A GPS unit’s screen is another element that will vary in quality, significantly so from model to model. The best device screens are scratch resistant, condensation resistant, and glare resistant. Remember, if you are out for a day of fishing, there is a good chance that the sun is shining and that always makes it harder to look at a screen.
One of the brightest screens that we have seen on a GPS fishfinder comes on the GPSMAP 86s from Garmin, a company that generally has pretty decent displays.
Cheap GPS Units vs. Expensive GPS Units
If you have another look at our list, one of the first things that you might notice is that the price range on GPS fish-finders ranges from about $40 to over $800. That is a pretty serious discrepancy, but it is really not that remarkable for the tech industry.
So what’s the difference between and cheap GPS and an expensive GPS?
On-board memory is one thing that you can expect to vary wildly. Some entry-level models have less than 1GB on internal storage, while top of the line models can have 20, 30, or ever 50 GB without breaking a sweat.
Installed Maps will vary from unit to unit. Many manufactures offer different versions of the same exact unit, where the only difference is the amount of topo maps that have been installed onto the hard drive.
Screen & Display Quality is certainly going to be different depending on how much you spend. The expensive units have glare-resistant screens with bright projection, which allows it to be used in the bright sun. Some of the less expensive units are very hard to read when it is bright outside.
Conclusion: The Best Handheld GPS for Fishing
Here’s the thing about fishing with a GPS unit: all you really need is enough on-board memory for your maps, as well as enough fish-finding tech to make the weekend a delicious success. You don’t actually need the absolute top-of-the-line model unless you want one (which we encourage), but on the same token, the cheapest one isn’t going to get the job done either.
Our Team Recommendation for the best Handheld GPS for fishing goes to the Garmin GPSMAP 65st. It’s not cheap by any means, but it is also not nearly as expensive as pro models. It has a great all-around performance for both fishing and navigating, and enough waterproof protection to keep it operating for years to come.
Frequently Asked Questions
If your GPS unit has a fish finder on it, then it is most likely taking advantage of an on-board sonar transducer. The GPS tech is not what is telling you whether or not there are fish under your boat. However, GPS units can be very helpful for navigating bodies of water on a boat, as you can get detailed topo maps and boating maps that you can follow along with on-screen.
If you are looking for a GPS unit that has a considerable battery life, then the first thing you want to check is what type of battery the unit you are interested in has installed. If the GPS unit takes AA batteries, then don’t bet on the device giving your more the 8 or maybe 9 ours of continuous operation, max.
Lithium ion batteries on the other hand not only last more than five times that much, but they have the added bonus of being rechargeable. So if you are going to be out on the boat every weekend, then the extra price of a more advanced GPS fishfinder might just be worth it when you think of how much you will save on batteries.
As far as the GPS units on this list are concerned, the Garmin GPSMAP 86s has the best battery life, clocking in right around 50 hours.
Most fish finders work with pretty basic transducer technology. Transducers are what makes sonar possible. Some transducers are sensitive enough to take sonar readings with nothing but their on-board technology, while some, like the Venterior VT-FF001 require you to drop the transducer into the water on an electric cable.
The sonar reflects off anything in the water, as well as the bottom of the lake so it can tell you how deep it is.
You probably can, but we wouldn’t recommend it. Why? Because your phone is neither waterproof nor buoyant, so messing around with it while on a moving boat is a good way to lose it to Davy Jones’ Locker.