Wouldn’t a giant, 10-inch fish finder look rather strange on a small rowboat? Or perhaps a kayak? As much as we could be tempted to fit the biggest possible fish finder on our kayaks or rowboats, it’s not always the best choice – it will usually get in the way!
To get a better idea of how big a fish finder will look on your boat or kayak, check out our fish finder screen size comparison chart.
You can also shop by screen size – we’ve divided up all the fish finders we have into three categories: Screens 4 inches or less(perfect for small boats and kayaks), screens that are 5 inches(might be a little cramped), or screens larger than 5 inches(the only way you can mount one of these is using a ram mount).
If you are looking for the best fish finder [period], we’d recommend seeing that page first. If your primary selection criteria is your budget, check out this page for the best fish finder for the money.
What makes a fish finder good for a kayak
Fish finders have three main components:
- Display – this is the actual unit – the screen and buttons
- Transducer – this is the part that sends signals into the water and receives them. After receiving, it sends the signals to the display, which translates it into images we can understand
- Power source – On a regular boat, this is your standard 12V marine battery.
Display: In choosing a kayak fish finder, the display size is the most important thing to consider. Anything larger than 5-6 inches will become too clunky and just get in your way – especially since kayaks are not very wide.
Something very big will also be very heavy, so it gets trickier to mount, too – if you use a ram mount on one side of the kayak to mount the display, you are adding 5-10 pounds of weight(from 7 inch plus units).
Bottom line – go for something less than 6 inches.
Transducer: All fish finders that we carry come with transom mount transducers out of the box. You can either mount it inside the hull, where it will shoot through the plastic without a problem, or you can run it through a pipe though the scupper hole. Lowrance also makes a suction cup mount that you can use to stick it on the side/back of your kayak.
Power Source: When you install a fish finder on your kayak, you’ll have to set up a power source, too. This can be a standard marine battery put in a waterproof(very important!) box – then you can run the wires from the battery to the transducer and display. If you don’t want to do all of that DIY work, you can opt for a portable fish finder, which have waterproof battery packs built into the case. Just pop in some store bought cells and you are good to go.
With all that being said, we’ve made a list of our favorite models below. These are all economical, will perform great, and will install easily and quickly onto a boat of any size.
Our favorite mid-size fish finder
Raymarine Dragonfly 4 Pro Fishfinder/GPS Combo – 4″ Color Display – The Dragonfly is our new favorite fish finder – we don’t have enough words to describe how awesome it is. At 4 inches, it’s best suited for small boats, kayaks. If you are looking for something a little larger, it’s 5″ bigger brother is good for larger boats and charters, too.
It’s incredibly intuitive and easy to use(just three buttons needed), and the amazing CHIRP technology shows you incredible life-like images – so you get both 3D SONAR and traditional SONAR up to depths of 1000 feet. The GPS and inbuilt charts show you where you are, and you can even connect via wifi to your phone to stream live SONAR data. The screen is newer and better than the older Dragonfly model, too – this time, it’s all-weather viewable, so no matter if the sun is in your face or if it is raining, you’ll see the screen clearly. For less than $400, this is the best your money can buy.
If you are buying something for a small boat, you have to consider how you are going to install your fish finder. The transducer will mount fine on the transom, but you need some space to put the actual finder itself.
GPS or not?
If you have a small boat that has a small motor and you mostly use it in your backyard lake or neighborhood lake, you can shave a few dollars off of your budget by not opting for GPS – you aren’t getting lost in your backyard, after all!
If you have the cash to spare, GPS is a good option, since you can mark waypoints – so you don’t have to “find” your best fishing spots every time.
Garmin EchoMap 44dv The Garmin EchoMap 44dv is compact but powerful. Sporting a 4.3 inch screen, making it a very comfortable fit on your kayak or small boat. Don’t mistake its small size for a lack of features, though – this little guy has everything you could ask for. DownVision – which is Garmin’s 3D SONAR – shows you an incredibly detailed and life-like view of the underwater world, and that is coupled with traditional SONAR and Garmin’s precision GPS. What is really cool about this fish finder is the ease of installation – the cables plug into the mount instead of the unit, so when you want to store your kayak, just pull the unit off and you are good to go!
Lowrance Elite-3x The Lowrance Elite-3x delivers the reliability and ease-of-use of the Elite series of fish finders, but now in a much smaller and affordable package. This is a pretty basic fish finder, with 83/200 kHz SONAR that lets you fish comfortably in fresh water. 200 kHz is good for shallow water, and anything deeper than 200 feet, you can see better with the 83 kHz SONAR. The Elite-3X has a small 3.5 inch color screen, so if you are tight on space, this is the way to go!
3D SONAR is when your transducer sends out a really high-frequency beam that gets you much, much better returns than a traditional SONAR. Known from Lowrance as DownScan Imaging and from Humminbird as Down Imaging, and now there is also DownVu from Garmin. This technology uses a frequency of 455/800 kHz that will show you an incredibly photographic image of the underwater world. The beam angle will be much narrower, though, which means you will see a tighter spot, and the maximum depth will also be less. This isn’t a problem if your targetfish live at the deepest in 150-200 feet of water. The image below has traditional SONAR on the right and Down Imaging on the left:
Humminbird and Garmin both offer 3D SONAR units – in small packages, and for low prices, too. For example, the Garmin EchoMap 151dv – is a great choice that has 3D SONAR that you can see really nicely on the grayscale screen. But don’t let it fool you – this screen is actually a very well performing screen in direct sunlight. With 3D SONAR, you can see life-like images of the underwater world. A grayscale screen is actually better suited to 3D SONAR than 2D SONAR, so the 151dv is an inexpensive and sturdy choice. This unit also has GPS built into it, and the link below is a model that has US and Canadian charts built in.
The Humminbird PiranhaMax 197c is an excellent offering for under $200. The PiranhaMax series is compact and delivers solid performance with both Down Imaging and traditional SONAR. It also has the traditional bells and whistles found in all Humminbird fish finders – fish alarms, depth alarms, and screen zoom.
For extreme portability, check out the Hawkeye FishTrax series fish finders. These fish finders are about the size of a smartphone(slightly thicker, though), and pack all the features of a full-size fish finder. The transducer can be adapted to any situation: shore fishing, kayak fishing, trolling, or even ice fishing. They can penetrate up to depths of 240 feet in freshwater(advertised, actual depth may be around 200 feet or so), and you can adjust the sensitivity settings to show you the exact image you want to see.
The FishTrax series come in three versions: FishTrax 1, which has a very simple icon-display, the FishTrax 1X, which has a black and white display capable of showing proper SONAR returns, and the FishTrax 1C, which has a full color display capable of showing you vibrant, clear SONAR returns. For less than $200 for the higher end model, you can’t go wrong.
While you can hook up almost any fish finder on a kayak, there are a lot of newer fish finder apps that take portability to a whole new level. If you really don’t want to do any drilling or fastening any screws, then these fish finders are an excellent choice. They range from plastic units that you can toss into the water, attach to your line, and one even attaches to your boat(some installation required). These then transmit the data to your smartphone or tablet, so this is really the most portable option there is.
The great thing is that your phone already has GPS built in, and with an internet connection, you can get crowdsourced fishing spots, share your experiences, and view other people’s experiences and data, too.
The only downside is that while fish finders are waterproof, smartphones are not – so you’ll need to get yourself a waterproof case, too.
The FishHunter is an awesome fish finder made of military grade materials and priced very, very competitively. You attach the unit to your line and cast it, and the finder will return signals to your phone.
The Vexilar fish finder has a transducer that mounts onto your boat’s(or kayak’s) transom, so it is a more permanent installation. It’s also less hassle in the long run and more effective for trolling.
The iBobber fish finder is very, very inexpensive and probably delivers the best value for your dollar. It is similar to the FishHunter, but don’t expect the same build quality.
The Deeper fish finder is the pioneer in smartphone fishing. It is solid quality, but it’s depth is less than the other fish finders.
Hold on, do you need a kayak? 🙂
All this time, I’ve been assuming you’ve already got a kayak. But what if you don’t? Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered. Check out our buying guides on:
- Inflatable fishing kayaks
- Most stable fishing kayak
- Sit-in fishing kayaks
- Sit-on-top fishing kayaks
- Kayak fishing paddles