It can be difficult or downright impossible to mount a traditional fish finder on a kayak or small boat. Oftentimes there is no practical way to mount the transducer or the display screen. The good news is that there are portable fish finders developed specifically for use in kayaks and other small watercraft.
Portable fish finders have numerous benefits, especially for certain kinds of fishing. Below, we’ve broken down each of the factors that you should consider when shopping for a portable fish finder. We’ve also reviewed four of the best portable fish finders in 2018.
Benefits of Portable Fish Finders
Portable fish finders are perfect for the fisherman who needs mobility and wants options in his angling. You can throw them in your tackle box and cast off a dock, kayak, riverbank, bass boat, or anything else you can think of and with technology advancing as it is, you won’t have to sacrifice much functionality for portability.
Portable fish finders are:
- Ideal for Small Boat Fisherman
- Perfect for Fisherman Who Switch Between Fishing from a Boat and Fishing from Land
- Highly Maneuverable
- Usually Less Expensive than Mounted Devices
5 Things to Consider
Fish finders are comprised of multiple components that work in harmony. Fishfinders vary greatly in their technical specifications and capabilities, and knowing how to compare each feature will allow you to make a more well-informed choice when buying a fish finder for a kayak or small boat.
1. Transducer Capabilities & Settings
The transducer sections of the best portable fish finders are just as powerful as those of many standard fish finders. Mounting a transducer can be a hassle on regular boats and even more frustrating on kayaks, so many fishermen use portable fish finders for convenience and they don’t really lose any of their tracking capabilities
2. Power Source
Regular fish finders can be wired to your boat’s electrical system to provide you with power whenever the boat’s battery is on. Some models can be disconnected relatively easily and connected to external power sources. If you use a portable fish finder, the display screen will come with a charger. Transducers for portable fish finders work with an internal battery that comes with a charger, or they use AA or AAA batteries. Be aware of the battery life of your fish finder to avoid unnecessary downtime during fishing trips.
3. Display Screen
Most new fish finders come with full-color screens. This allows the use to see schools of fish, individuals, depth and other conditions more clearly. The minimum resolution you want for a fish finder is 240 x 160. These numbers represent that number of pixels on your screen. The higher the pixel count, the more detailed your images will be. You also need to pay attention to the screen’s size and weight. The most popular portable fish finders never weigh more than a few ounces and the display screens are usually 2.5” to 4” in size (they are almost always less than 6” for mobility and convenience purposes). Fishfinders like the Deeper Smart Fish Finder allow you to use your smartphone or tablet as a display screen and many anglers find this convenient as they are already accustomed to using those devices on a regular basis.
Fishfinders should be durable and guaranteed against water damage. They should be easy to program and use. The screens should be user-friendly and the transducer should fit snugly into place without getting in the way of other boat components.
When it comes to portable fish finders, a design is even more important because the equipment needs to be truly mobile. If a fish finder comes in a huge case then it isn’t truly portable. The best portable fish finders can be held in the palm of one’s hand, and the transducers are often no larger than a bob.
Additionally, many portable fish finders were designed with tablet and smartphone users in mind. Depending on the model you choose you may be able to download an app that controls your fish finder and tracks the data it obtains.
5. GPS Technology
Modern fish finders are often equipped with GPS technology. This is convenient because you don’t have to purchase a navigational tool separately. Angling is much easier when your fish finder has GPS capabilities because you can save fishing hot spots and routes that you’d like to take or avoid. Portable fish finders that are GPS-equipped may be slightly more expensive than those without this technology, but in the minds of most fishermen, it’s an easy decision to opt for the more advanced device.
Best Portable Fish Finder For Kayaks and Small Boats
Deeper Smart Sonar PRO+ Portable Fish Finder
Deeper Smart Sonar PRO+ is the best kayak fish finder. This little 2.5” ball of tech is quite a departure from what we’ve seen. At a featherlight 3.5oz this unit combines bathymetric map making, integrated Wi-Fi, and fish finder capability all with onboard GPS. Castable with the right reel setup, you’ll literally toss the unit into the water where it will float along and scan an area 330ft in width and up to 260ft deep. You’ll even be able to connect with the unit using your smartphone or compatible tablet from up to the max range of 330ft.
With real-time map-making features, you can archive and access maps even in offline mode at any time. This will enable you to eventually create layers of valuable navigation and fishing information that your device can use to improve efficiency and accuracy. This little guy would make an awesome choice for anglers fishing in shallow water, narrow corridors, or using angler kayaks and smaller boat setups. It’s compact, light, efficient, and powerful.
Deeper Smart Sonar PRO+ Pros
- Full-color viewing uses your phone as a screen so the visual quality is as good as your phone
- Adjustable sonar sensitivity for cloudy or muddy water
- Lightweight and compact (3.5oz and 2.5”)
- Portable fish finder
Deeper Smart Sonar PRO+ Cons
- Low depth penetration (max of 260ft)
- Limited maps in offline mode
- Limited options and features compared to more robust boat-mounted options
This is one of the most well rounded portable fish finders on the market.
Garmin Striker 4 Portable Fish Finder
The Garmin Striker 4 is a classically styled, utilitarian fish finder. It has reliable sonar and a built-in GPS waypoint marker so you can catalog fish activity at specific spots, which I found to be very helpful; if you’re getting good bites at a certain spot you can mark it and come back the next day. This will make your overall fishing more productive as you can see, over time, which spots are hitting and which spots don’t seem to ever get much action.
Its rugged build means it can handle the everyday wear and tear of being on a boat and keep on working. You won’t be getting a lot of extra frills with this device. If you’re looking for all the bells and whistles, you’ll have to search out some higher-end models, but what it does offer works well, so if you’re after something that can simply get the job done with no flashiness this is a good option.
A couple of times when I was out on the water the Striker told me I was moving when I was anchored and sitting still. This is the only inaccurate reading I got during my time with the device and it quickly corrected itself, but it’s always concerning when a fish finder shows noticeable bugs in the software design. It shouldn’t affect your fishing and can be written off as a minor inconvenience.
It has reliable CHIRP sonar (which I’ve always been fond of and is consistent throughout Garmin devices), high sensitivity GPS, and a built-in flasher which lets you view your data in the classic flasher format. At the end of the day, this is a well-built device that will get results out on the water.
If you like this device also consider taking a look at the Garmin Striker 4DV; this device can see a little deeper than the 4, and also incorporates Downvu technology, which we’ll talk about in more detail later, but basically gives you a 3D view of what’s under the water. For a moderate step up in price you get a few extra features that you’re likely to get a lot of use out of.
Garmin Striker 4 Pros
- Will do exactly what it is advertised to do
- Excellent build quality and functionality
- Portable fish finder
Garmin Striker 4 Cons
- Not a lot of extras to speak of
- Occasionally buggy
- Apparently some issues with no transducer being included in the box; a phone call to customer service and they’ll send you one, but still frustrating if you have to deal with it
FishHunter PRO Wireless Portable Fish Finder
Like the Deeper Smarter Fish Finder, this device is castable and dependent upon an app on a phone or tablet to view the sonar readings, however, unlike the Deeper Smarter, the Fish Hunter Pro uses a WiFi rather than a Bluetooth connection.
The Device is a bit tricky to set up initially, but after a little experimentation, I discovered that in order to get a strong connection the finder needs to be IN the water. Don’t try and connect it first and then cast it. After I got it connected I didn’t find any issues with the connection dropping out.
As with any new gadget, it takes some time to learn to use properly. I found this device to be pretty easy and intuitive all in all.
I found the connection to be much more reliable and, as the device claims, much faster than the Deeper Smarter’s Bluetooth connection.
It has a casting range of 150 feet, which I found to be more than enough particularly if you are in a small, maneuverable boat.
On a smooth lake this device will work like a charm, however, I found that if the wind picks up and the water gets rough the device’s functionality really suffers. On choppy waters, the Fish Hunter Pro yielded many false positive results and I opted to pack it up and wait for a clearer day.
The depth finder on the device is very impressive though. Even on the rough water, I was able to get accurate depth readings and a clear picture of the topography on the bottom of my lake.
Fish Hunter PRO Pros
- Strong, Reliable Connection
- Highly Portable
- Accurate Depth Readings
FishHunter PRO Cons
- Inaccurate On Choppy Waters
- Initial Set-up Issues
Bonus: How to Mount a Fish Finder on a Kayak or Small Boat
There are a couple of different ways to mount a traditional fish finder in a kayak or small boat. If you have an access panel to the hull you can glue the transducer onto the hull and then run a wire to the display screen. This takes some work, though, and it isn’t very convenient to have to run a wire through the kayak. You could also run the wire through one of your scupper holes or use a scupper mount designed just this specific purpose.
You could mount a metal plate near the kayak’s rudder and attach the transducer to the plate. If you use this method make sure the transducer is higher than the rudder and the bottom of the kayak to avoid damage to the transducer. The problem with this method is that you have to run a wire over the top of your kayak, and could take some serious time and effort to install the metal plate and then the transducer.
The most convenient way to mount a fish finder is by using a portable transducer. These devices use suction cups and do a great job at staying firmly attached to the boat. Alternatively, you can attach your portable transducer to a fishing line and cast it into the water. These devices are wireless and battery-powered. You can have a handheld display screen at your fingertips and not have to do any drilling, gluing or wiring whatsoever. This is why portable fish finders are ideal for use in kayaks or small boats.
It’s clear that angling from a kayak or small boat has its own unique challenges. You can eliminate the fish finder issue by opting for a portable model. As you can see, there are many affordable models available that are reliable and easy to use. We hope that you’ve been able to glean some valuable knowledge from this article and that now you’re more comfortable with the idea of buying, mounting and using a portable fish finder. If you’ve had success with any of the best portable fish finders mentioned above, or if you have any questions or comments regarding the subject, we’d love to hear from you via the Comments section below. I must mention that the fish finder reviews are a must-read article.