How to Choose Fish Finders for Kayaks

Sneaking up on your prey while kayak fishing depends on two things:

First, you have to find where the fish are.

Second, you have to find where the fish are.

But you’re probably wondering:

“Didn’t he just say the same thing twice?”​

Well, soon you'll know you the difference between those two statements and how they can improve your kayak fishing immediately.​

All you need to do is carve out a few minutes of your day and follow these steps.

fish finders for kayaks guide header

You’ll know the secret to finding the kayak fish finders for kayaks and end up with more fish in your boat even if you're on a budget.



Best Kayak Fish Finder for 2017

Already done a bunch of research?

Just want to know what we recommend?

Here are our 2 top picks for 2017.

If these two aren't the ones you're interested in, click here for this year's 10 best kayak and portable fish finders.

humminbird helix 5si gps g2
best buy award

Overall Best Kayak Fish Finder

Humminbird HELIX 5 SI

  • Best capability mix (CHIRP, Sidescan/DownScan, GPS, charting)
  • Proven top-performer in powered boats and kayaks.
  • Wide display so you can see more of what's under your boat.
  • Some complaints about the interface being more difficult to work than the Lowrance Elite 5-Ti.
  • Not touch screen.
garmin striker 4 gps
top pick award

Best Budget Kayak Fish Finder

Garmin STRIKER 4

  • Includes CHIRP transducer (77/20 kHz) and GPS
  • 480x320: one of the highest resolution, small fish finders available.
  • Cheapest model with so many features and great expert reviews. Portable kit available.
  • Small display can be hard to see
  • No chartplotting or mapping
  • Not touch screen

Looking for a Castable or Portable Fish Finder?

Our Portable Fish Finder Buying Guide may be a better fit for your needs than this guide. But you're welcome to read this too...

CHAPTER 1

Limitations of Small Boats

Finding room to mount transducers and fish finders for kayaks​


​Yaks are great…

They’re small,

nearly silent,

and keep you closer to the action and the fish.

There’s only one problem: their size severely limits everything you do.​

So, every time you think about taking another rod or adding a piece of gear – like a kayak fish finder – you must give serious consideration to how much weight it adds, where you’re going to stow it while you’re paddling, and whether it will get in the way of your fishing.

You need to make sure your boat stays maneuverable in the water and the fishfinder isn’t in the way of your paddle strokes or other gear.

Oh…and you need to make sure the transducer is mounted in the best place and the display is within reach while paddling or kayak fishing.

Easy, right?!​

Test your available space with a dry run

loaded fishing kayak

Here’s how to do it:

First, get your boat out...

On the lake or on your lawn. It doesn't really matter.

Load it down with your regular gear just like you were out ready to paddle from shore to your favorite spot. Put your rod(s) in their holders or in the paddle keeper.

Now sit down, take out your paddle and begin paddling.

Make sure to do all the maneuvers you would normally do while getting to your spot and take note of where the paddle and your body parts are in relation to the possible locations you could mount a fishfinder.

​Stop paddling and put your paddle away in the paddle keeper.

​Place your rod(s) where they would be while you’re fishing and act like you’re casting. Take note of where the rods traverses as you cast and fish. Also consider where your net and other gear are stowed and how they’re used.

Finally, you need to make sure there’s a clear path from your mounting location to where the transponder and battery are mounted. Make sure the wiring won’t interfere with your pedals, paddles or gear stowage/use.​

Value Bomb

All fish finders for kayaks and small boats are waterproof, of course. But that doesn’t mean their batteries are. Some experts prefer portable fish finders for this very reason. The batteries of a portable unit are inside the fish finder, so they’re easily protected without getting a waterproof battery box.

There are as many ways and locations to mount a fishfinder as there are kayaks.

Here are some of the most common locations and methods.

Value Bomb

Consider whether you need to be able to quickly remove your fish finder from your boat or not. If you store your boat outside or are concerned about theft during storage, I’d recommend finding a system where the power and transponder cables connect to the mount rather than to the fish finder itself. This type of quick disconnect system can make life easier and safe wear and tear on your gear.

OK. So once you’ve found the perfect spot for the display, now what?

I recommend figuring out exactly where and how you’re going to mount the transducer.

Why?

Well, because your choice could affect how you buy your fishfinder...and the price you end up paying.

Most fishermen just accept the transducer offered as a kit with the fish finder they want to buy. This is often a great choice because you know the two will work together and it can save you money because they're sold as a kit.

If you do it this way, it's up to you to figure out how to mount that transducer in the best way possible.

But if you have specific constraints - i.e. particular transducer capabilities you need or limitations with your kayak fishing - you can purchase the two pieces separately. You may pay a little more, but you'll get exactly what you need.

Most transducers can be mounted in any of these ways, truthfully. In the end, it's just a matter of whether you have to buy a mounting kit or jerry rig some homemade solution together to make it work.​

You have four options of how to mount your transducer:

In the Hull

Probably the most common method because it's easy to do.

The transducer just rests on the inside of the hull so there's no drilling through the bottom of your kayak required.

Most yakkers put the transducer inside a hollowed out sponge so it can't move around, it's sitting as close as possible to the hull and there is no marine goop between the transducer and the hull.

Mounting with this method may give you a slight loss of signal quality because the sound waves have to go through the hull.

You have to decide whether the ease of installation outweighs that concern for you or not.

Transom mount near the rudder

Just like on a boat with an outboard motor, you can find a flat spot on the rear and attach a mounting plate or on an arm. The mounting plates are usually glued onto the hull.

One problem with mounting it on the transom, though, is it can more easily come out of the water. Especially if you like to stand in the front of your kayak while fishing and watching the finder.​

Flexible arm system

A number of companies like RAM and Scotty make flexible transducer arm mounts.

You can see some of these in the photos above. They may not be the prettiest install, but they’re fast and fairly easy.

Through the scupper hole

Some kayak manufactures (including Old Town,  Ocean,  Necky,  Hobie, and  Wilderness Systems) have partnered with Lowrance and Humminbird to make their boats scupper hole mounting ready.

The only drawback is you lose one of your scupper holes so your boat may not drain as quickly or efficiently.

Again, you have to decide if it's worth it to you or not. Personally, I'd go with this method because it gets the transducer into the water and it's still a very easy install.​

CHAPTER 2

Fish Finder With or Without GPS?


Do you normally go to the same spot to fish?

Is it the same spot you’ve been going to since you were a kid?

​If so, you may not need GPS or plotter functions in your fishfinder.

Some people just use their smartphones to get them where they’re going.​

​But maybe you’re like me and you want to scout out where the fish are, mark them on a map before you throw your line in the water.

Or maybe you travel frequently and need a dependable way to navigate around the lake and back to your launch spot.

Wanna save some money?

If you’re on a budget and don’t have a true need for the capability, getting a fish finder without it can save you a hundred dollars or more depending on which brand and models you’re considering.

For most folks, though, I’d recommend getting a fishfinder with it. It’s better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it…at least that's what the experts say.

Plus, you may find new ways to use it that will help you put more fish in your boat.

Life Saver

If you like kayak fishing over structure like brush, logs, rock or other structure in the water, a fish finder with GPS will allow you to stay on top of structure and more easily find your way back to it should you drift.

CHAPTER 3

Screens: Size, Resolution and Cost


​Are you one of those people?

You know…the guy with the massive cell phone and enormous TV? The lady with screen envy?

If so, it’s tempting to want the biggest screen you can get.

But that causes at least four problems on a small boat like a kayak.

  1. A fish finder with a large display may not physically fit on your yak very well.​
  2. Large screens come with added weight, complexity and power drain.
  3. Most mounts are made for 3 – 7 inch fish finders, not 9 – 16 inch models.
  4. Larger screens equal more $$$.

So what’s a tech-savvy fisherman supposed to do?

How can you get great display quality without emptying your bank account?

Let me tell you a little secret:

Your display’s resolution is as important as its size.

A high-resolution is what makes your smartphone or camera look great even though it’s a small screen – like your fish finder.

You can get smaller screens with higher resolutions! But you have to know what you’re looking for.

You’ll not only save some money, you’ll be able to tell the fish from the structure instead of just seeing blobs.

Do you like to pinch and squeeze?

If so, you should look out for models that have touch capabilities.

Most budget fish finders don’t include touch screens, however., so you have to upgrade to mid-level units with most manufacturers.

Beyond the Jargon

Click the term to learn how it relates to your fish finder...

Size

Resolution

​For demonstration, here’s a Lowrance Elite 4x with 480x272 resolution vs a Lowrance HDS 7 Gen 3 with an 800x480 resolution.

Value Bomb

There is some correlation between larger screen size and higher resolution, but there are often overlaps that can save you a lot of money.

For example: In Lowrance’s 2017 product line, their Hook series doesn’t get above 480x480 until you get to the 7-inch model, which runs about $400-450. But if you upgrade to the Elite-Ti series, you can get an 800x480 resolution in a 5-inch screen for the same $450 and get a much more capable fish finder.​

CHAPTER 4

Which Transducer Do You Need?


I’m not sure how to say this: if you don’t have the right sonar transducer, you might as well not have a fish finder.

So how can you choose one and know it’s the best one for the conditions you fish in?

The major manufacturers like Lowrance, Garmin, Humminbird and Raymarine don’t make it easy, do they?

They put confusing names like DownScan, SideScan, DownVu, DownVision and RealVision on their products and then leave it to fishermen to figure out what they all mean.

chirp sonar

If you’d like the in-depth explanation of CHIRP, SONAR and all these terms, check out the links in the resource box at the bottom of this page.

But the truth is – most transducers, regardless of which company sells it – are actually made by a company named Airmar Technology Corporation.

So they all have pretty much the same basic capabilities!

Especially when you’re discussing fish finders for kayaks...

All you need to know is…

The best kayak fish finder for you will have a CHIRP transducer with it.

That's it...plain and simple.

It will show you the best quality images with the greatest target separation.

Do you need even more advanced capabilities?

Depending on where you fish, consider a transducer with side scanning sonar so you can see what’s to the right or left of your boat.

Several companies also offer what they call high definition and/or 3D scanning as well as a 360-degree capability that ties the down and side scanning together so you have no blind spots.

These advanced capabilities are not available in the least expensive products offered from each manufacturer.

You have to upgrade to at least their mid-tier finders and – in some cases – to their top-tier finders.

And the prices go up significantly.

Instead of getting out the door for $400 – $1,000, you’ll be looking at $1,500 - $3,500…or more.

Don’t choke on that price, though, because I have good news...

If you’re on a budget, you can easily get a high-quality kayak fish finder with a CHIRP transducer for under $200.

Life Saver

Try to stay away from a brand’s newest model until it’s been out a season or two. After curating thousands of expert fish finder reviews, we’ve discovered that – regardless of brand – newer models have more complaints than older models. This has two benefits: lower cost and other anglers will struggle with the bugs instead of you.

CHAPTER 5

Hunting Fish Instead of Finding Them


OK…you made it.

You’ve successfully integrated your boat’s space limitations with your fishing requirements and the available fish finders for kayaks to come up with the perfect unit for you.

So what’s next?

I opened this article with by saying that sneaking up on fish in a kayak required two things:

  1. You have to find where the fish are, and​
  2. You have to find the fish are

Maybe that makes more sense now…

Probably not, though.

​I talk in riddles sometimes…just ask my wife or kids!

Here’s what I mean.

Let's go on a fishing trip together...​

Imagine it’s just before dawn at your favorite fishing spot. You’re getting ready to set out.

As you leave shore and point your kayak toward the hidden cove you always haunt, you have a problem.

Even after you arrive at the cove, you have a problem.

You have no idea where the fish actually are in the cove.

Actually, that’s not quite true.

Based on your years of fishing experience and knowledge of this cove, the fish’s behavior, the time of day, water temperature, etc, you have a good idea where they should be.

But you can’t see under the surface of the water, so you can’t be sure.

With your new fish finder, though, that’s no longer a problem. You can paddle around the cove using your side scan sonar and map exactly where they are.

​Problem one solved.

You’ve found where in the cove they are, but to hook these sneaky beasts, you also need to know where they are in the water column.

(click to enlarge or save full resolution)

how to buy a fish for a kayak infographic

(click to enlarge or save full resolution)

And what’s standing in between them and your little boat.

That’s where your down scan sonar comes in.​

You can float right over the top of them – or off to the side if there’s structure in the way – and drop your hook right where it will entice them to bite.

Problem two solved.

And now you’re the envy of everyone when you come back to the launch because your stringer is full.

fish jumping in front of kayak fisherman

You’ve gotten to spend another day on the lake in solitude doing what you were made to do – catch fish.

CHAPTER 6

2017's Best Kayak Fish Finders


Are you overwhelmed?

I know – it’s A TON of information…and I’m sure this isn’t the first site you’ve come to on your quest.

But hopefully this article helped guide you toward the best fish finder for your kayak and the kind of fishing you do.

Here are 10 best fish finders for kayaks in 2017:

  • On a mobile device? You can drag this table left and right to see all the columns.

Name

Product

Price

Screen

Sonar

Portable

Check Price

humminbird helix 5si gps g2
best buy award

$$$

5" diagonal

800x480 pixels​

CHIRP

Side/Down/Dual Beam

83/200/455 kHz

500 Watts​

No

garmin striker 4
top pick award

$

3.5" diagonal

480x320 pixels

CHIRP

Down/Dual Beam​

77/200 kHz​

200 Watts

venterior portable fish finder

$

Black on Gray

LCD​

Down

Max Depth: 330'​

Yes

lowrance hds7 gen 3

$$$$

7" diagonal

​800x480 pixels

CHIRP

Side/Down/Dual Beam

50/83/200 kHz

500 Watts

No

raymarine dragonfly 5dvs

$$

5" diagonal

800x480 pixels​

CHIRP

Down/Dual Beam​

No

garmin echomap chirp 54cv

$$$

5" diagonal

​480x480

CHIRP

Down (ClearVu)

50/77/200/260/455/800 kHz

500 Watts​

lowrance elite 5 ti
editor's choice award

$$$$

5" diagonal

​800x480 pixels

CHIRP

Down/Side/Dual Beam

50/83/200/455/800 kHz

500 Watts​

No

deeper sonar pro plus

$$

WiFi to Your

​Cell Phone

Down/Dual Beam

90/290 kHz

Yes

fish finder directional 3d
top pick award

$$

WiFi to Your

Cell Phone

Down

381/475/675 kHz

5 Transducers

Yes

lowrance hook 3x

$

3" diagonal

​320x240 pixels

Down/Dual Beam

83/200 kHz

180 Watts

No

Kayak Fish Finder Prices

$
Under $150
$$
Under $300
$$$
Under $500
$$$$
Under $1,000

CHAPTER 7

10 Top Rated Kayak Fish Finders

humminbird helix 5si gps
best buy award

Best for:

Those wanting a full-featured unit at a very competitive price.

Avoid If:

You need a portable finder or a touch screen.

Price to Features

Features that rival much more expensive finders.

  • Best capability mix (CHIRP, Sidescan/DownScan, GPS, charting)
  • Proven top-performer in powered boats and kayaks.
  • Widescreen so you can see more of what's under your boat.
  • Complaints about the interface being difficult to work with
  • Not touch screen.
  • Mapping is an optional upgrade, not standard
garmin striker 4
top pick award

Best for:

Budget conscious anglers looking for a highly-reviewed fish finder.

Avoid If:

Small screens challenge your vision or you want mapping/ chartplotting.

Price to Features

Excellent features for an entry/beginner-level finder.

  • Includes CHIRP (77/200 kHz) & GPS
  • 480x320 screen resolution. One of the highest resolution, small screen fish finders available.
  • Cheapest model with so many features and great reports from other fishermen. Portable kit available.
  • Small screen can be hard to see
  • No chartplotting or mapping
  • Not touch screen
venterior portable fish finder

Best for:

Anglers that just want a simple depth finder or those that fish the same spot(s) and know where the structure is.

Avoid If:

You want GPS or want highly accurate images of what's below you.

Price to Features

About one third the cost of the Garmin Striker 4, but way less capable.

  • Super easy to use and setup is as simple as installing batteries and throwing transducer in the water.
  • Well-liked by anglers.
  • Probably the least expensive finder on the market.
  • Handheld unit is not waterproof.
  • Will not detect bait fish.
  • Shows the presence of fish, but cannot indicate their size.
lowrance hds7 gen 3

Best for:

Those looking for top of the line features at a mid-range price point.

Avoid If:

Price is your primary concern or a 7" screen is too large for your kayak or small boat.

Price to Features

Costs more than other finders with many of the same features but has many more upgrade options.

  • Proven fish finder from a company known for its great support.
  • Well-liked by anglers.
  • The most capable finder on our list; especially if you purchase the TotalScan/SSS3D transducer.
  • Learning curve can be overwhelming
  • Is probably overkill for most kayak fishermen
raymarine dragonfly 5dvs

Best for:

Great capabilities in a small package.

Avoid If:

You need chartplotting. GPS and maps only come by upgrading to the 5 PRO.

Price to Features

Good mix of capability and lower price. Top pick for those that don't need GPS.

  • CHIRP transducer transmits on both frequencies simultaneously rather than sequentially like other brands.
  • Well-liked by anglers - especially those that use kayaks.
  • Powers on and acquires signal quickly.
  • Is not widescreen or touch screen
  • DVS does not have GPS. To get it, you have to upgrade to the 5 PRO.
  • Transom transducer attaches poorly to kayaks; has to be jerry-rigged.
garmin echomap chirp 54cv

Best for:

Anglers that love to map out every inch of their trip or mark structure themselves.

Avoid If:

You need/want SideScan or if you hate navigating menus. 

Price to Features

A little expensive for the capabilities, but you are getting the Garmin name.

  • Built-in maps and charts for US, Canada, Gulf of Mexico
  • Lets anglers draw their own maps with up to 1 foot contour lines.
  • Lots of reports of super clear imaging even at speed.
  • Is not widescreen or touch screen
  • Does not have SideScan. To get it, you must upgrade to the 54sv.
  • Some say the navigation menus are too complex and confusing.
lowrance elite 5 ti
editors choice award

Best for:

Fishermen that want top of the line features plus a touch screen at a reasonable price.

Avoid If:

You need a portable finder. 

Price to Features

A little more expensive than the Humminbird, but the touch screen makes it the Editor's Choice.

  • Proven top-performing fish finder in both powered boats and kayaks.
  • Excellent imaging with true DownScan
  • Built in maps with many upgrade options
  • Some complaints of screen not responding when fingers are wet.
  • TotalScan transducer can be difficult to install on a kayak
deeper sonar pro plus

Best for:

Shore, kayak or ice fishing. Can be used while paddling or pedaling.

Avoid If:

You want CHIRP or other advanced features like SideScan.

Price to Features

If you want a castable fish finder, I'd recommend the FishHunter below. It's cheaper with more features.

  • GPS enabled bathymetric mapping.
  • Castable or attach to boat with flexible arm.
  • Many comments about the accuracy of the imaging and underwater structures.
  • Depends on WiFi to get you the imaging rather than cables.
  • Some comments about location marking not being accurate.
fish finder directional 3d
top pick award

Best for:

Anglers that need a fully portable finder. Can be used while paddling or pedaling (under 2.5 mph).

Avoid If:

You want CHIRP or other advanced features.

Price to Features

If you want a castable fish finder, this is the one. The extra transducers give it 3D and make it a Top Pick.

  • Five transducers instead of one paint a larger, more realistic image.
  • Location-enabled bathymetric mapping.
  • Can do structure mapping - although some experts said this works better on the Deeper's portable fish finders.
  • Quick release bracket.
  • Depends on WiFi to get you the imaging rather than cables.
  • Some comments about having to switch between shallow water mode and regular mode at 16 foot depth. Could cause inconvenience if in a kayak or small boat.
lowrance hook 3x

Best for:

Beginners, those on a budget, or as a secondary unit.

Avoid If:

You want CHIRP, location, charting or other advanced features.

Price to Features

I'd recommend spending a few dollars more and getting the Garmin Striker 4 for CHIRP, though.

  • Advanced processing that changes sonar power automatically as you change depths.
  • Fish tracking and alrams.
  • Quick disconnect bracket.
  • No GPS.
  • Some comments depth readings not being accurate.

Useful Resources

Field & Stream Magazine – watch or read along as an expert installs a Lowrance Elite on a Hobie

Airmar Technology Corp – presentation on CHIRP technology in 2017. Very technical, but a quick read.