Finding Nemo! The 10 Best Fish Finders for Kayaks in 2021


Technology is great, isn’t it?

There are some truly incredible inventions out there to help make life easier – and they’re getting better all the time.

As little as 20 years ago, you’d never have dreamed that one day you’d be catching fish with a personal SONAR device on your kayak.

That stuff was only meant for submarines!

But here they are – the best fish finders for kayaks in 2021. Nemo has nowhere to hide.

Let’s dive in.

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The 10 Best Fish Finders for Kayaks in 2021

Garmin Striker 4 Fishfinder with Transducer

The Garmin Striker 4 is a hugely popular fish finder with CHIRP sonar and transducer.

And that comes as no surprise, considering how much is packed into this compact, powerful, and highly portable unit.

The Clear-VU scanning shows more of what is around your craft, which offers near-photo quality renditions of fish, terrain, objects, and structures under the water.

Very easy to install, with keyed interface and user-friendly operating system, it has a waterproof rating of IPX7, and is housed in a durable unit that’s built-to-last.

A waypoint map allows you to easily navigate and mark locations of note, and it offers a maximum depth of 1,600 feet in freshwater and 750 feet in saltwater.

Pros

  • Great price point.
  • GPS included.
  • Built-in flasher for ice fishing.
  • Very highly rated.

Cons

  • Not easy to read in bright conditions.

Takeaway

There’s a lot packed into this Garmin fish finder, and the size makes it a truly awesome option for kayak and small boat fishing. Heck, you could probably rig it up on one of these compact float tubes, too! One of the best kayak fish finders available – especially for the money.

Lowrance HOOK2 5 Fish Finder

Lowrance is a by-word for fish-finding excellence, offering some of the best sonar devices in the world.

Their HOOK2 model is one such option, a five-inch fish finder with TripleShot transducer and US inland lake maps pre-installed.

It’s very user-friendly, with phone-like menus and auto-tuning SONAR, so you spend more time fishing and less time messing around with buttons.

A wide CHIRP SONAR cone provides double the coverage of rival models, and the SolarMax display gives crisp, clear feedback with excellent visibility in daylight. And a GPS plotter allows you to add waypoints and navigate the waters you’re fishing as you go.

Pros

  • Name to trust.
  • Super-simple user interface.
  • Down, side, and CHIRP SONAR functions.
  • Bright, vivid screen.
  • Perfect for limited console space.

Cons

  • Reports of some issues with the transducer bracket.
  • On the more expensive side.

Takeaway

The HOOK range of Lowrance fish finders are very popular for kayak anglers, and the five-inch version is ideal if you’re piloting a smaller craft.

But it’s probably that super-simple user interface that makes this a rear winner, as even the technophobes should be able to find a fish with this.

Vexilar SP200 T-Box Smartphone Fish Finder

A company that’s known for making some of the best ice fishing finders on the market, Vexilar brings us this ingenious smartphone fish finder – that’s as compact as your own device.

Offering a maximum depth of 240 feet, you can get a SONAR read right into your hands, with this system that’s easy-to-install as a permanently-mounted accessory.

It offers audible alarms for fish, shallow conditions, and low battery, and is able to work anywhere in the world. All you need is a 12-Volt power supply and a smartphone with compatible OS, and you’re good to go.

Pros

  • No cellular service required.
  • Water temperature and depth indicator.
  • Easy to install.
  • Neoprene armband for smartphone.
  • Free app download.

Cons

  • Low resolution images.
  • Gain adjustment can be problematic.

Takeaway

If you’re a kayak fishing angler that just happens to be interested in the latest gadgets and gizmos, this could well be the option for you.

Easily the best portable fish finder available, but it might be a good idea to invest in a waterproof phone case for extra peace-of-mind.

Garmin Echomap UHD 93sv Chartplotter

Another Garmin entry now from the GPS experts, this is their Echomap fish finder and transducer that offers key-assisted touch-screen capabilities.

The super-bright, sunlight-readable screen is nine inches in size, which is a great sweet-spot for the center console for most kayak anglers.

Over 17,000 US lakes are covered with the pre-installed software, and it includes a GT54 transducer for ultra high-definition reads, CHIRP and side-view SONAR capabilities.

Create personalized, Quickdraw maps with one-inch contours, which you can then share with the community if you choose.

It’s even compatible with the Force trolling motor which allows you to control the motor from the unit. What will they think of next?

Pros

  • Name to trust.
  • Super-clear visuals.
  • Excellent target separation.
  • Quick-release bail mount.

Cons

  • On the pricey side.

Takeaway

Sure, it might be a little more expensive, but this is a top-drawer fish finder from Garmin that comes with all the bells and whistles – and that super-bright screen is really useful when the sun’s out. And speaking of, you should be wearing a protective fishing hat if the sun is beating down to keep those UV rays at bay.

LUCKY Handheld Portable Fish Finder

Let’s dive down to the other end of the spectrum now with this highly portable, hand-held sonar device from Lucky.

The compact unit comes with a sonar transducer and is capable of displaying water depth, approximate fish location, short and tall weeds, as well as any sand and rocks on the bottom.

Capable of a 45-degree cone underwater, it has a maximum range of 328 feet, and has 25 feet of SONAR cable that comes with the device.

Offering five sensitivity modes, a fish alarm, depth and battery strength indicators, and backlight mode, this has all you need for finding fish for anyone using smaller, more compact craft.

Pros

  • Outstanding price point.
  • Portable and lightweight.
  • Versatile use.
  • Highly rated.

Cons

  • Limited battery use on four AAA batteries.

Takeaway

Probably the best cheap fish finder for kayaking you can buy, this is a popular and easy-to-use SONAR system that is all you need for giving you the extra edge when you’re out on the water. And it’s also available in a rechargeable model, too.

Humminbird PiranhaMAX 4 DI Fish Finder

It wouldn’t be an article about SONAR technology without arguably the most popular fish finder company there is.

Humminbird has developed a loyal and dedicated following thanks to their world-class products, and the PiranhaMAX4 has been specially designed for kayaks and small fishing craft.

The dual beam SONAR allows you to choose the size of your cone, which helps you identify what’s going on under the water, and the down imaging gives you a crystal-clear view directly below your boat.

A bright LED screen is easy-to-read and offers a full color display for reads at up to 600 feet, while the interface itself is very easy-to-use.

Pros

  • Affordable price.
  • Name to trust.
  • Super-sharp visuals.
  • Tilt and swivel mounting system.
  • Fish ID and alarms.
  • Zoom function.

Cons

  • No GPS functions.
  • Down imaging only.

Takeaway

An ideal fish finder for taking out on one of these awesome river fishing kayaks, the compact size and easy-mounting options make it perfect for smaller kayaks. Aside from that, it’s just a really solid unit all round.

Venterior Portable Rechargeable Fish Finder

This handy little device is a fully rechargeable fish finder that features a rather clever wireless transducer.

No more do you need to plug it in with a heavy cable or wire, as you simply attach some fishing line and allow it to float out onto the water – or cast it further if you so choose.

It’ll then work its magic, bouncing a signal back to the portable unit, to give you temperature and depth information, as well as fish sizes and depth, and bottom contour.

Able to be read in bright sunlight, the display is clear and colorful, and you’ll be able to get a reading up to a maximum depth of 131 feet.

Perfect for smaller craft, or if you just want one of the most accessible SONAR devices available.

Pros

  • Castable device.
  • Highly rated.
  • Charging cables and neck strap.
  • Choice of background colors.
  • Easy-to-read screen.

Cons

  • The unit is not waterproof – be careful.

Takeaway

An absolutely brilliant little device that is extremely effective and highly portable. Stick it in one of these practical kayak fishing tackle boxes the next time you set out – and see how much it changes your game.

HDS-7 LIVE Fish Finder

This Lowrance fish finder is up there with the most advanced technology on the market.

It allows you to view two CHIRP SONAR readings at the same time, to give you the best possible view around and under your craft.

It features a dual-core processor, to ensure it’s a super-fast unit with plenty of power to update quickly and accurately, with a dynamic color range and high visibility contrast on screen.

Identify objects and structures easily with near-photographic image quality, and you can navigate the channels faster with automatic route planning that auto-plots the shortest and safest course based on your vessel’s draft, beam, and height.

This is some next-level tech from Lowrance right here.

Pros

  • Powerful, accurate images.
  • Live, on-screen mapping.
  • Preloaded US map charts.
  • SolarMAX HD screen for bright sunlight.
  • Wireless and Bluetooth connectivity.

Cons

  • Pricey.

Takeaway

A seriously advanced piece of kit, this is a top-quality fish finder you can use on your kayak, boat, pontoon, or whatever you happen to be rocking. Just make sure you stick with the smaller size if you are on a kayak though – no larger than a nine-inch should be fine.

Humminbird 410220-1 Black Fishing Hook

This Humminbird fish finder is actually offered at a comparatively good price considering what you get – and should be more than enough for most kayak anglers.

It’s packed with features, including a five-inch full color display, with CHIRP technology that filters out noise for a much clearer view all around and below your kayak.

See beautiful, razor-sharp images to help identify fish, with a dual beam option for a wider search area, or to focus for more precision.

GPS mapping, AutoChart Live and Humminbird Base map are all on hand to help you navigate the waters and plot your course, with a transducer, power cable, and gimbal mounting bracket all included.

Pros

  • Large, sharp display.
  • Create real-time maps.
  • Two display modes.
  • Enhanced base map.
  • Backlight for bright conditions.

Cons

  • The map plotting isn’t the best.

Takeaway

You’re getting a lot of bang for your buck here – even if it is more expensive than the smaller, hand-held models in the review. If you’re looking to take a step-up with your current fish finding system – this might well be it.

Simrad NSS Evo3S Fish Finder

Simrad NSS evo3S Fish Finder

Now we’re talking! This is some seriously next-level kinda stuff here from Simrad, the latest and greatest in CHIRP SONAR technology with the NSS Evo3S fish finder and chartplotter.

With an integrated six-core processor it’s one of the most powerful devices of its kind on the market, with an ultra-sharp display with wide viewing angles that can be seen no matter the light conditions.

It’s positively overflowing with features, including all-weather touch-screen and keypad control, dual-channel transducers, highly-accurate GPS, preloaded C-Map enhanced US charts, and more.

If you can’t find fish with this, maybe it’s time to take up another hobby.

Pros

  • Market-leading technology.
  • Very powerful and accurate.
  • Wireless connectivity.
  • Low profile flush mounting options.
  • HALO Pulse Compression radar.

Cons

  • Exorbitantly expensive.
  • Might be overkill for kayak use.

Takeaway

Probably more suitable for larger craft, this is some mind-blowingly advanced fish finding tech from Simrad. But then, you’d expect nothing less from the marine electronics experts, although it’s certainly not the best budget fish finder for kayaks out there – that’s for sure.

How to Choose the Best Kayak Fish Finder

Fish finder technology can be a little tricky to get your head around – even for more experienced anglers.

Read on for a buyer’s guide to help you wade through all the babble – and hopefully help you find the right finder of fish for you.

fishing kayak with fish finder on-board

How a Fish Finder Works

Fish finders use SONAR technology to help locate and identify what is going on in those underwater realms that are far from our prying eyes.

Short for Sound Navigation and Ranging, it’s exactly the same technology that has been used by submarines since WW1, and an early form of it was invented by naval architect Lewis Nixon in 1906.

A device sends soundwave pulses into the water – often referred to as ‘pings’ – and these bounce back off any obstacles, terrain, or structures that happen to be down there.

Including fish.

AH-HA! Thought you could hide from me, did you?!

This information is then translated into readable data, and you can accurately find where the little critters are hanging out, as well as identifying any hazards, vegetation, or any other structure and obstacle under the water.

Advantages of Fish Finders

There are several advantages for adding a fish finder to your kayak set up – the most obvious being that they help you find fish.

You’ll certainly keep your freezer well stocked with one of these babies.

Aside from that, they can also be useful for locating and navigating around underwater hazards, creating your own fishing routes and plotting courses, adding points of interest, using GPS tracking, and more.

You need to make sure your chosen fish finder has all these capabilities though – as not every model is equal.

angler fishing from the kayak in the river

The Transducer

A transducer is the device that you lower into the water – or mount somewhere on the hull of your craft – that will send signals to your fish finder unit for what is located in the water column below.

How wide this column is will depend on the strength and quality of the transducer – as well as your own settings on the device.

More powerful transducers will be able to identify and read underwater activity and terrain more clearly and accurately.

Some transducers will also be castable, enabling you to get a sense of what is happening further away from your craft.

They’re most commonly found with ice fish finders and flashers, given that you can clearly see the water column below the hole, which you will likely have made with one of these powerful ice augers.

They are still a useful addition to craft on the move, as it’s good to see and know what’s directly under your kayak as well as what’s to the sides.

SONAR

It’s not just about seeing what’s in the column directly below your boat, and most kayak anglers like to have a wider reach when it comes to underwater activity.

Rather than write pages of waffle on a subject I don’t profess myself to be an expert in, you should check out the informative video below which will tell you everything you need to know on how SONAR works.

And – most importantly – how it helps us catch fish.

CHIRP

Compressed High Intensity Radar Pulse. That’s what CHIRP stands for.

This is the next level of SONAR capabilities, and you’ll only find it on the high-end models out there and in the review above.

It works by sending out a range of frequencies to give a far more accurate reading than a device that relies on a single frequency alone.

As such, you’ll enjoy the significant benefits of detailed underwater readouts all around your vessel – but at a price.

If this is important to you, look for devices that have CHIRP capabilities, as they will certainly improve your chances of success.

Frequency and Depth

The higher the fish finder frequency, the more powerful the device will be, thus significantly improving accuracy when it comes to locating your next meal.

The maximum depth figure is exactly that – how far down a fish finder is able to achieve readings. Remember, this is going to be a higher number in fresh than it is in saltwater.

You don’t need the technology to see right to the bottom of the ocean when you’re fishing from a kayak – a couple of hundred feet should be more than adequate.

But if you do want to fish larger and deeper bodies of water in a kayak, then get yourself a fish finder that’s capable of hitting the depths you need.

And don’t forget to wear a good quality fishing PFD – no matter how deep the water is.

Power and Portability

Something that can be overlooked, is how a fish finder is powered.

And the more powerful the fish finder, the larger the battery pack required.

This can put a serious dent in how portable the unit is, and, ultimately, how portable and efficient you and your craft will be.

Remember, you need to find the room to store battery packs if you’re using a very powerful device – which can cause issues when you’re tight on space.

And if you’re using more compact devices, you should consider if they require batteries, or if they’re rechargeable. The last thing you want is an expensive device dying on you when you’re in the middle of your hunt.

fisherman floats on a white fishing kayak in ocean along the coast

Display and Definition

HD screens are obviously the best visuals you’re going to get from your fish finder, offering the sharpest display and clearest target definition when it comes to those sneaky fish.

The screen size will play a part too, but having a jumbo HD fish finder isn’t always practical. You’re probably best using fish finders with giant displays on these pedal kayaks, which are often more accommodating for larger gear, equipment and accessories.

Having the very best images on your fish finder will cost you more, but there’s no reason lower-priced units can’t achieve similar results.

GPS

Having a Global Positioning System on your craft is a very useful addition to your setup – especially if you tend to stray into unfamiliar waters.

The very best fish finders will come with GPS included, enabling you to access at-a-glance maps of thousands of lakes, rivers, and watercourses.

GPS mapping is great for adding and navigating your own routes, as well as being able to tell you exactly where the hell you are if you get lost.

Ease of Use/Mounting

Good kayak fish finders should be easy to mount on your kayak, and the best will come with the right hardware to do just that.

And once they have been positioned correctly, you’re going to want to make sure they’re readable, easy to reach and adjust, and won’t get in the way of your fishing.

Look for devices that specify how to attach them to accessory rails and/or mounts. And check out this review of the best fishing kayak brands to find some great options on mounting hardware and accessories from YakAttack.

Alternatively, you might not want to mount anything at all, and you should go with a more portable, hand-held option such as a smartphone fish finder you can simply keep in your pocket.

Weatherproofing

Your fish finding device should be capable of at least keeping the weather at bay – given the nature of the activity you’re involved in.

Look for units that are waterproof or water-resistant to a high level. This will usually be confirmed with an IP rating. The higher the water number, the more waterproof the device will be.

If you are concerned about protecting the device from liquids, consider covering the unit with a waterproof case, or – in a pinch – a ziplock bag.

Cost

The latest and best SONAR technology doesn’t come cheap, and you can spend a small fortune on some of these devices that the US Navy would be thankful for.

That said, there are deals to be had, and you should always try and stick to your budget.

Remember, some traditional anglers see using fish finders as cheating anyway – so you don’t actually need one – they’re just really useful if you want to catch more fish.

Which makes a good model a sound investment over the years – when you look at how much money you could potentially save on food with a well stocked freezer every season.

Always buy the best you can afford, and consider how much you’re actually going to use it before parting with the big bucks.

man fishing from inflatable kayak on the autumn river

FAQs

Why should you consider a fish finder in your kayak?

Fish finders will certainly give you the edge when it comes to achieving more success out there on the water, and they can make a fun and practical inclusion as part of your kayak setup.

They’re also useful for GPS and navigation – should they offer those features.

Do I need a kayak fish finder?

No – you don’t need a kayak fish finder. You’re perfectly fine just going about your usual fishing practices and catching fish on skill and guesswork.

Just don’t be surprised if your mate Jeff comes back with a fishmonger’s worth of haul because he’s using one, and you’re not.

Don’t say we didn’t warn you.

Where should a kayak fish finder be placed?

Somewhere within easy reach where you can access the controls – and actually see the display.

For most kayaks, this will be directly in front of you, most likely in the center console. The best fishing kayaks come with a designated place to mount a fish finder and/or transducer, with accessory rails and/or scupper hole at a key location.

Just make sure it’s not going to get in the way of your paddling or casting, and if you’re using a pedal kayak, somewhere on the gunwale (kayak side) is probably best.

Should I use a portable or permanent fish finder?

That’s up to you. One isn’t any better than the other (it just depends on the quality of the device) and you should decide based on how portable you want it to be.

There are advantages and disadvantages to each, but if you choose to mount a permanent fish finder – it’s a good idea to make sure it has the capability to be removed easily – as you don’t really want to be leaving a $1000 piece of tech on there full time.

How well do fishing finders work?

Very well indeed. It’s a technology that humankind has pretty much perfected by now.

Obviously, it depends on the quality and power of each individual fish finder, but for the most part, these things are all but guaranteed to help you catch more fish – providing you’re reading them correctly.

Can you put a fish finder on a kayak?

Yes. At least, I think so. Otherwise, I’m not sure what I’ve been waffling on about in this whole article.

How does a fish finder work on a kayak?

The same way it works on any other vessel, craft, boat, or starship. It uses SONAR to ping sound waves into the water, and the findings are bounced back to the on-board unit or device, then translated into readable data.

See the buyer’s guide above and videos for more information – and you can always research how SONAR works for in-depth tutorials – it’s really quite clever.

Summary

The latest SONAR technology allows us to see the murky depths better than ever before, and ensures there’s no place to hide for our quarry.

I hope this article has helped you locate the best fish finder for kayaks in 2021, and you’ll be armed to the teeth with tech the next time you venture out.

Here’s to tight lines and fully stocked freezers!

Bob Hoffmann

The author of this post is Bob Hoffmann. Bob has spend most of his childhood fishing with his father and now share all his knowledge with other anglers. Feel free to leave a comment below.

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