Wouldn’t it be great if you could take a snapshot of everything under the boat? Fish, features, snags… Well, the great news is that you can.
A fish finder is an absolute blessing, and it will increase your catch rate and make you a better angler.
Choosing the best fish finders for small boats can be a little tricky. It’s a bit technical. But I’ve used a few, so I really know what’s hot and what’s not.
I’m going to talk you through them today and give you some great ideas you might want to look into.
Let’s dive into the deep and take a look.
Table of Contents
- A Quick Guide to Fish Finders
- Top 5 Best Fish Finders for Small Boats 2023
- Complete Guide to The Best Fish Finders for Small Boat
- Fish Finder – FAQ
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A Quick Guide to Fish Finders
Ok, here’s the deal.
A fish finder will help you catch. It is really that simple.
Fishfinders work by sending a sonar ‘ping’ down to the bottom. It then bounces back up. Anything that gets in the way is presented on a display. This can be piles of weed, the odd branch or two, and of course… A massive shoal of fish!
To take full advantage of sonar technology, especially in small boats, you will need to make sure you’ve got a few boxes ticked:
Fish Finder Screen Size and Resolution
You can get fish finders with tiny screens. But like tiny fish, in this instance, it isn’t what you really want.
A larger screen will be easier to see. It also affords you the option of split displays showing different types of data.
Paired with this is resolution. Once you become experienced in using it, provided you have a high enough resolution, you’ll be able to differentiate between fish and other features under your boat, such as weeds and floating detritus.
Some of the best small fish finders have a great feature.
The sonar returns are not always consistent, and some reflect better of bigger or smaller things. The way to make sure you’ve got a great overview of what is going on beneath your boat is to make sure that you ‘ping’ everything.
Guess how this is achieved?
By using a range of sonar frequencies. Split frequencies will allow you to get accurate data all the way from the surface down. They also allow for a wider beam, letting you see more fish.
A GPS fish finder is an amazing addition.
It serves two purposes.
- It lets you mark spots and features that are likely to hold fish so you can return again and again.
- It helps you to navigate, which is particularly useful in bad weather.
It isn’t a 100% requirement, but having used a fishfinder with GPS, I think I’d struggle to go back to anything else.
If you are a small boat owner, you’ll already know that they come in different shapes and sizes.
And here’s what you want…
Look for a fish finder that can be mounted in a variety of ways. That way, you have ultimate flexibility regardless of your boat’s geometry.
I like to use an adjustable mounting system to tilt the fish finder regardless of where I am stood or sat.
With fish finders for big boats, this isn’t such a problem. If you are in a small boat, there is a fair chance that you are going to get wet. This could be from splashes from the water or from fishing in the rain.
It makes no sense to invest in a fish finder to have it break when it gets wet. Make sure you pick one that is waterproof.
If you are looking for a great day out on the boat, you want to make sure that you have the means to find the fish all day.
By choosing a fish finder with decent battery life, you’ll be able to keep fishing without having to guess.
Now we’ve covered the basics, let’s take a look at a few best fish finders, many of which contain most, if not all, of the above features.
Top 5 Best Fish Finders for Small Boats 2023
Lowrance HOOK2 Fish Finder
This has to be one of the easiest fish finders to mount and is jam-packed with some really nice features.
The Lowrance Hook2 fish finder is available in both GPS and non GPS options.
Here’s what I think.
Take a look at the price difference, and for a few dollars more, pony up and spend the extra. Trust me, it is well worth it.
And there’s more…
At 4″, the screen is a reasonable size and is really easy to see. It is high resolution and color, too, meaning you can spot those tell-tale arches that indicate fish are present.
It comes with a wide cone transducer that is really easy to fit. If you don’t want to drill holes in your boat, there are even options to mount it on an arm over the side. This projects a wide cone under the boat, so you’ll pick up plenty of features.
The user interface is also pretty simple. It features an auto-scan mode that will automatically alter the display and depth, turn it on, and go! The menus are super intuitive.
You’ll be presented with a whole range of data, including the depth, water temperature, and your position.
- Included bullet transducer.
- Optional GPS.
- Easy user interface.
- High-resolution large screen.
- Single-frequency scanning only.
- The GPS is a little basic compared to more expensive models.
This isn’t the most advanced fish finder out there, but it really works. If you are looking for the best depth finder for a small boat, then this is right on the money. Simple, easy, and effective. Job done! It even works for fishing kayaks!
If you are looking for dedicated fish finders for kayaks, I’ve got another guide just here; there are some great portable solutions.
Garmin Striker Vivid 7SV Fish Finder
If you are looking for top-notch quality, then you are in the right place.
Garmin has been making navigation equipment for as long as I can remember, so you know that you are getting quality.
As a GPS fish finder goes, this is best in class. It is accurate to within 2′. The bright 7″ is the perfect size for a small boat. When paired up with the depth finder, this gives you something special.
A 2D overhead map complete with contours and mapping. This comes included as standard.
I know what you are thinking.
It is a little expensive, but listen, you actually get a lot of bang for your buck. This features chirp side-scanning, so you can see what’s around your boat and not just what is directly under it.
You also can mark waypoints with a really high degree of accuracy.
The thing I love most is this fish finder is super accurate in differentiating between bottom features and fish.
The user interface is really intuitive too.
- Superb quality from Garmin.
- Included multiscan wide beam transducer.
- Best in class for mapping and GPS.
- Great multi-angle mount.
- The price!
I wouldn’t expect anything but the best from a company as prestigious as Garmin. This fish finder truly shines. Granted, you pay for such quality, but this fish finder will last forever provided you look after it. You wouldn’t need anything else.
Humminbird HELIX 5 Fish Finder
Hot on the heels of Garmin comes Humminbird. If you like the Garmin but want something just a little more compact, this could be the fish finder.
Here’s what I love.
The screen is pin-sharp and clear. With an overhead mapping feature that is easy to read, you’ll observe contours on the bed and look for fish simultaneously.
The transducer is amazing too. Offering CHIRP dual beam, you will get a crystal clear return all the way from the bottom back up. If it is all getting a bit cluttered, or you want to spot big fish, only there is a variable mode that will allow you to turn the gain up or down automatically.
This also allows for side imaging too. You won’t have to boat over features to know that they are there and get a really great idea of what is on the bed all around the boat.
What’s it like to use?
This fish finder features a large arrow selection button and a few other buttons. All of which is assigned a dedicated ‘one press’ function. It is pretty straightforward to set up and use right out of the box.
- Side imaging as standard.
- Amazing map technology.
- Easy to use.
- The only downside is that the screen is smaller than the Garmin. Bearing in mind it’s around the same price, this could be a deal-breaker for some.
Aside from the screen size, this is every bit as good as the Garmin Striker 7sv. If you are fishing on a smaller boat and want to minimize the fish finder ‘footprint,’ this could be a great option.
Garmin Striker 4CV Fishfinder
A small boat doesn’t really need a huge 7″ screen. If you want all of the good stuff featured in our other Garmin fish finder, but want something a little more compact and light, then take a look at this.
In three words…
I love it!
Unlike some fish finders, this display is mounted in portrait mode, saving space. It’s particularly easy to see when you are stood up.
How does it work?
The mapping feature scans all around and returns a pin-sharp image of contours to give you a really good idea of what’s on the bottom. With an automatic variable brightness display, it is easy to see even in direct sunlight.
The screen can be split to show both a map and the bottom or just one or the other. The returns from the fish finder are easy to read and pretty clear.
- Lots of Garmin features in a compact unit.
- Dual-frequency scanning, both wide and narrow beam.
- Low power device, great for battery life.
- Easy to read in the sunlight.
- With a split display, it can look a little cluttered.
- Separate 12V battery required. This adds to the bulk.
For a small boat, you don’t want huge screens getting in the way. This fish finder is easy to install and super easy to operate. You are getting many features found in a more expensive Garmin at a fraction of the cost. Overall it’s a great fish finder.
LUCKY Portable Fish Finder
Alright, listen up.
You don’t have to break the bank to get out and find fish.
Case in point
The Lucky portable fish finder. It’s a really cheap deal that works. It also has one or two key features that are missing from fish finders that are 10X the price.
For a start, you don’t need a separate battery. Just charge using USB, and you’ll be good to go. The transducer can be mounted on the boat, or alternatively, you can cast it with the attached float (not recommended).
The screen is the smallest of our range, but this is to be expected. It still provides a good image with good bottom mapping. Unlike with our other fish finders, you don’t have to interpret anything. It displays fish icons when passing over a shoal.
This is a great unit for several applications, including ice fishing… If you want to get kitted out with a fish finder for ice fishing in winter, check out my article here.
- Really affordable.
- Good bottom returns.
- Easy to read and use.
- No separate battery.
- It is a little basic.
- No GPS.
- Sometimes gets confused between weed and fish.
You know my mantra. You get what you pay for. Because it is simple to use and portable, this would be the best fish finder for a small Jon boat.
Just hang it off the back and read the results. It isn’t packed with features. But as a basic model, it would be great for beginners or occasional anglers.
Complete Guide to The Best Fish Finders for Small Boat
Ok, so you’ve seen some decent options there. But which would be best for you.
Let’s take a quick dig down into the tech, so you know what to look for when buying.
Fish Finder Transducers
Ok, if you are going to buy a fish finder for your small boat, you need to know a little about transducers. It’s pretty simple.
I’ll talk you through it.
A transducer is what fires your sonar ping out of your boat and back. They can work in several different ways. They shine a beam similar to a flashlight down to the bottom. Just like a flashlight, the beam spreads as it goes down. This means that returns on the edge of the beam might not be as clear or accurate.
Why is this relevant?
Because the frequency of the beam determines how much the signal spreads. Ideally, you want a fish finder that offers both narrow and wide beams to give you the greatest number of returns and accuracy.
And there’s a name for it…
CHIRP sonar. This is a system that cycles through several frequencies each second and gives the clearest returns. You’ll normally find it on more expensive units.
If your choice of fish finder doesn’t have it, it isn’t a deal-breaker. It just means your returns won’t be quite as accurate.
If you want to know more hummingbird have made this handy video, it’ll take you all of two minutes to watch
If your anything like me, you are going to be moving around the boat a lot. Being able to move and change your fish finder’s position is pretty crucial, especially if you want to see it when navigating and when fishing.
Here’s the solution.
Look for a fish finder that is easy to mount and to move. Some come with removable ball mounts, and others are more of the fixed-based variety. If you cannot move your fish finder from its housing, it’s maybe time to look at one with a bigger screen.
This is down to personal preference. I have fished with a 2.5″ screen and a 7″ inch screen.
Here’s the thing…
I caught about the same number of fish.
It’s overkill to install a huge fish finder on a small boat. Likewise, you might be under-gunned if you choose one too small to see from one end to the other.
So what’s the answer?
Pick a fish finder that matches your boat in terms of size. The bigger the boat, the larger the screen you will need.
Mapping and GPS
Like I said at the start, this isn’t a deal-breaker, especially on smaller waters.
But you need to know this…
It is a really nice feature to have.
I used to have one or perhaps two ‘spots’ that I’d keep in my back pocket if I had a hard day. And even then, I was only fishing in the general area. Nowadays, after using a fish finder with GPS, I can easily navigate to around 30 ‘saved’ spots. I even have them organized by species!
Here’s something that you might not think GPS offers. But it does.
Using a GPS fish finder, I can be sure I am accurately over the right spot to a high accuracy level.
Even if you’ve never fished a venue or mark before, you can quickly navigate to, and identify areas that are likely to hold fish.
Here’s an example of someone doing exactly that…
If you’ve got a bit to spend, go for a GPS. If you haven’t checked out the Lowrance Hook2, it features GPS and costs only a tiny amount more than their budget model.
Portability is important. Are you going to leave your fish finder mounted on your boat, or are you going to take it safe in the house at the end of a hard day fishing?
If you are borrowing a small boat or want something easy to remove, you will need to come up with a portable solution.
Fishfinders aren’t the biggest bits of kit anyway. I stow all of my fish finder gear in a small waterproof dry sack which I take down to my boat, but I have the transducer fixed permanently.
If this isn’t an option for you, invest in a handheld portable fish finder, such as the Lucky fish finder. You won’t even need to bring a battery.
Speaking of which.
The battery is worth thinking about for a few reasons.
Most fish finders require a 12V battery. These can be a little cumbersome and heavy. Throw into the mix that the battery is not waterproof and requires its own storage, and all of a sudden, that tiny fish finder becomes a bit hard to manage.
If you are looking for a portable fish finder, there are options. Some of which can be charged via USB
Suppose you have a bigger unit or are on a serious fishing session. In that case, you will need to make sure your battery has enough capacity to keep your fish finder juiced up for the day.
Generally, a bigger battery offers longer endurance and can power a larger fish finder. You may find that it’s a balancing act between battery endurance and what you can comfortably stow and store, depending on the size of your boat.
How’s your electrical know-how?
Here’s why I ask.
Fishfinders for small boats often need a little knowledge to connect them to a battery. Many aren’t ‘plug and play’. If this is something that has you recoiling in horror, it might be worth looking at something simpler with its own dedicated onboard battery.
Here are a few examples of fish finder batteries and how to choose one to suit:
Fish Finder – FAQ
Have you got a few burning questions?
Here are the things I get asked often about fish finders…
What is the best small boat fish finder?
The true answer is that it all depends on your boat’s size and where you are going to fish. I really like the Lowrance Hook2. It is relatively cheap and has some amazing features such as a decent-sized screen, GPS and a really clear display.
Bearing in mind it isn’t much more expensive than the Lucky fish finder, you are getting real value for money.
What is the best inexpensive fish finder?
If you are looking for a cheap fish finder, the Lucky fish finder is pretty great. It will allow you to see what is on the bottom and will identify fish.
It isn’t as advanced as some others on my list, but that said, it would act as a great introduction to the world of fish finders, especially on smaller boats.
Is side imaging worth the money?
Absolutely! Side imaging basically lets you see through the water and paints a really clear picture of what you are drifting over. It essentially gives you a birds-eye view of features. Spot a sunken feature… Mark it and fish over it!
If you want to see how to interpret it, check this guy out (try not to be jealous of his fish finder… In my opinion, it’s far too big).
What does CHIRP mean on a fish finder
CHIRP stands for ‘Compressed High-Intensity Radar Pulse’. Essentially this means that your transducer will cycle through and emit a wide range of frequencies to produce a really clear image.
Some frequencies have a wide beam, some have a small beam. CHIRP allows you to cycle through them (often automatically) to maximize any details beneath your boat.
Here’s Mike Smedley to explain more about them. He’s a really good teacher, and it’s well worth a watch:
How do I read a fish finder
Honestly? It takes practice. But it is pretty easy to master once you know what you are looking at.
Fish are normally displayed as ‘worms’ or ‘arches’. Some experienced guys can tell the fish’s size and even the species from the quality of returns. This return is actually a reflection of the fish’s swim bladder and internal organs.
There are various ways to read a fish finder. Do you want me to talk you through it, or do you want me to show you?
I thought so. Here you go.
This video is a little long, but by the end, you’ll know everything about fish finders and how they work.
Remember that even with the best fish finders for small boats, you’ll still have to catch once you have located the fish! That part is entirely up to you.
Choose a unit that is the right size for your boat, has enough onboard technology to let you see what you need to, and is easy to use, and you should see a real climb in your catch rate!
If you are here for a while, why not swing by my other pages? I cover everything related to fishing. I’ll even show you how to get a really cheap fishing kayak!
Ever seen anything weird lurking on the bottom? Let me know in the comments! I love hearing from you guys.