Best kayak fish finder for beginners and advanced anglers

Kayak fish finders illustrated
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A kayak is a fantastic fishing tool because it lets you go just about anywhere there’s water. To maximize your fishing effectiveness out on the water, be sure to bring along a fish finder for your kayak!

We also share some background information regarding kayak fish finders towards the end of the article. This will allow you to make an informed decision when choosing the best kayak fish finder for your next adventure.

IN A HURRY? HERE ARE OUR TOP PICKS…

Best kayak fish finder review

Garmin Striker 4cv With Transducer

The Garmin Striker 4cv is an excellent unit for detecting fish both deeper in the water and near the surface with its range of sonar capabilities. The down-imaging coupled with the CHIRP technology generates high-resolution images from under your kayak.

The screen is bright and easily readable on the sunniest of days or after the sun has set. Built-in GPS and mapping let you program routes and always get back to those high-yield fishing spots.

There are limitations on how wide the transducer will capture since it has no side-imaging capability. Although the unit is relatively affordable, you’ll have to shell out money for a battery as well.

Pros
  • Includes transducer with fish finder unit
  • Features CHIRP and ClearVü sonar to cover a wide range of frequencies
  • Uses down-imaging sonar
  • Mapping software to create and store up to 2 million acres of maps
Cons
  • Does not come with a battery
  • Has no built-in maps
  • No option to connect SD card for more space
  • Not designed to be immersed in water
  • Does not detect fish in a wide range around your kayak

Garmin Striker Plus 4 With Dual-Beam Transducer

The Garmin Striker Plus 4 shares many features with its big brother, the Garmin Striker 4cv (reviewed above). The CHIRP sonar transducer scans in multiple frequencies under the water to cover considerable distance and provide quality images on the viewfinder.

Still, it does not scan as many frequencies as the Striker 4cv. The screen runs 4.3″ from corner to corner, but the resolution is slightly on the low side. The GPS is top-notch and will track your routes through the water. It’s easy to create waypoints at locations of interest and areas of high fish concentration.

Like other Garmin units, this model does not come with a battery and relies on a 12-volt battery to recharge. These batteries are bulky and bothersome to take out on a kayak. Although lacking the range of frequency of the Striker 4cv, this model runs cheaper and may work better for someone on a tight budget.

Pros
  • Unit comes with sonar transponder
  • Uses down-imaging sonar
  • GPS finds and maintains your position out on the water
  • Quickdraw contours to easily map surroundings
  • Saves up to 5000 waypoints
Cons
  • Does not come with a battery
  • Display has a low resolution
  • No NMEA port
  • Not designed to be immersed in water

Garmin Striker 4 with Transducer

The Garmin Striker 4 has been a staple in the fish finder space for a few years now and doesn’t show any sign of stopping. It has many great features, including a built-in flasher and GPS to create routes to and from your favorite fishing spots.

It has a down-imaging transducer which limits its ability to capture data in the shallows around your kayak but does great in depths of up to 1600 ft. The transponder uses CHIRP frequency technology to provide accurate, precise readings.

The screen is in color, but some users have complained that it’s a little on the small side. It’s also not waterproof, and care should be taken when using it out on the water. The base fish finder is quite affordable for all the features it comes with, but the price quickly escalates once you tack on a 12-volt battery and a mount to keep it safe in your kayak.

Pros
  • Includes transducer with fish finder unit
  • Features dual-band CHIRP technology for crisper images
  • Uses down-imaging sonar
  • GPS allows for quick travel to favorite fishing spots
  • Waypoint map to view, mark, and navigate to locations
  • Max sonar depth of 1600 feet in freshwater, 830 feet in saltwater
Cons
  • Base unit does not come with a battery or mounting device
  • Not designed to be immersed in water
  • Does not detect fish in a wide range around your kayak
  • 3.5” viewfinder which is on the smaller side

Deeper PRO+ Castable and Portable Fish Finder

The Deeper PRO+ fish finder is a self-contained all-in-one unit that is easily castable off the side of a kayak. It has its own built-in Wi-Fi transmitter that effortlessly sends data to a mobile device, so there’s no need for mobile data or internet. Downloading a proprietary app on said device will allow you to view the sonar scan from the fish finder in real-time. The fish finder’s GPS will create maps of your fishing spots and will save them to the cloud for future viewing.

The Deeper PRO+ is designed to be cast from a fishing rod and then reeled in as it scans the area for fish, but the castable fish finder is quite heavy at 3.5 oz and might break thinner rods. The battery life is clearly on the lower side, only lasting on average 5.5 hours before needing a charge. Pay attention to where you cast this device, as above surface or submerged objects like logs or rocks can cause it to break.

Pros
  • Operates using built-in Wi-Fi
  • Connects to smartphone or tablet using the free app
  • Uses down-imaging sonar
  • Can be thrown or cast from the kayak
  • Delivers high-quality clear image to your mobile device
Cons
  • Heavy for a castable fish finder
  • Low battery life
  • Can break if cast into rocks or logs

LUCKY Handheld Fish Finder

The Lucky Starter Handheld Fish Finder is a very inexpensive device that sits firmly at an entry-level design. The display, while bright, is more of an animation representing what the transducer is detecting as opposed to an actual sonar display. This makes it easy to read but less realistic. Also, the display features 3 color display modes for showing underwater contour display.

This portable fish finder is rechargeable via a USB cable and also comes with a cigarette lighter adapter for charging in the car. Once fully charged, this fish depth finder can work for about 5 hours at full capacity. Another nice feature is the fish alarm, which alerts you when the fish finder detects fish that match what you are looking for.

The transducer runs at only one frequency and has to sit at least a few feet under the water’s surface. Although it produces a 45-degree cone, it misses out on everything above where it sits. This must also be cast out from the kayak with a fishing rod where it will start recording readings on the display via a 25-foot cable.

Pros
  • Very inexpensive
  • Great for beginners
  • Down-imaging sonar
  • Good resolution LCD display
  • Includes mountable transducer
  • Sonar produces a 45-degree cone
  • Up to 300 feet scanning depth
  • Rechargeable
Cons
  • Transducer needs to be cast from the kayak
  • Very basic display
  • Transducer floats under the surface of the water
  • Operates at only one frequency
  • No GPS

How to choose the best fish finder for your kayak

Choosing the best kayak fish finder isn’t that straightforward, especially if you’re just starting out. You might be tempted to choose one with the most features or what your friends recommend.

However, if you can’t translate your needs into the must-have features of a kayak fish finder, you’re most likely to end up disappointed. Here are some features to consider when purchasing the ideal kayak fish finder for your next adventure.


How Far Out Will You Go?

Before browsing through the different fish finders for kayaks, first, ask yourself where you like to fish – or how far from shore you might be fishing. The depth of water you are fishing in plays a huge factor in the type of fish finder you’ll want to purchase. If you plan to stay closer to shore or prefer to fish near an offshore structure that brings fish to the surface (think weed lines or reefs), consider a side-imaging device. If you see yourself out in open waters, a down-imaging device is likely the way to go.

Side-Imaging OR Down-Imaging

These sonar technologies are two methods that allow you to see where fish might be hiding beneath the waves. There are significant differences between the two, so here’s what you need to know:

Side-Imaging Sonar

As the name implies, side-imaging sonar allows you to see fish both in front of and behind your kayak while you’re at least relatively still in the water. They do cover more water than down-imaging and give you two distinct images on your screen. Since it does not allow you to see what is directly below your kayak, it works well in shallow areas.

Down-Imaging Sonar

Best for deeper water, a down-imaging fish finder lets you see what’s happening in a cone shape under your kayak. Although the cone is in three-dimensions, the screen you’ll be looking at is only two-dimensional, so you’ll be left guessing which side of the kayak that big fish is on. A real benefit of down-imaging though is that you can use it even as you race around the lake, so you’ll know at a glance if you just passed over a potentially big catch.

It is possible to find fish finders with both side and down-imaging technology, but be prepared to pay a significant sum for it.

How about the Fish Finder Screen?

Wireless Portable Fish finder

Speaking of that display, you’ll be spending a lot of time looking at it while you’re hunting for that next catch. It’s important to make sure it’s clearly visible and understandable but also small enough that it fits well given the limited space available on a kayak. Depending on the size of your kayak, anywhere between 3 and 5 inches is probably reasonable.

Screen resolution is just as important as screen size when it comes to picking out a fish finder for kayaks. Anything below 240×160 will be too low quality to make anything out, but if you’re looking for something really nice, consider shopping for a resolution of 640 x 640 or even larger.

Consider GPS for Added Trackability

GPS fish finder

Having a kayak fish finder with a built-in GPS gives you a considerable advantage while out on the water. You can use this feature to track your routes and log where you had the most success, and you can revisit that exact spot next time you go out. It also gives you the freedom to travel further out or to areas unknown, as the GPS can bring you back to land at the end of the day. You can also use it to locate areas of high fish concentration that others have found.

Shallow water fishing or Deep Water fishing?

A fish finder’s transducer sends out sonar at specific frequencies to detect what’s going on underwater. Some fish finders are limited to one frequency, but others have dual bands, multiple bands, or even broadband for more precise scanning.

A higher frequency will give the finest detail on your screen and is best at picking up smaller fish around your kayak while picking up less background noise. This works great for shallow water fishing, but higher frequencies aren’t able to penetrate deeper water. 

Lower frequencies, as you might imagine, pretty much do the opposite. These frequencies are able to cut through the water for readings much deeper than anything a higher frequency could do. They are also great at identifying larger fish on your display, but images will be less detailed and you’ll see more noise on the screen.

Relatively new on the market, broadband fish finders, commonly known as CHIRPs, continuously send out a range of frequencies as they scan the water. These scans provide much higher resolution and more accurate images than any other device at different water levels. Although they won’t cover the entire gamut of frequencies kayak fishermen will desire to use, they are worth the price increase.

For more background information on the available fish finder frequencies, have a look at the following video:

Check the Angle of Your Cone

The sonar that a fish finder uses to detect fish is always emitted from a transducer in a cone shape. Keep in mind that the angle of that cone has a profound effect on what your fish finder will pick up as it searches. Even though the image on the viewfinder is in two-dimensions, your sonar is scanning in three-dimensions and layers the images on top of each other.

Because of this, a narrower cone will provide a more focused image on the screen, and you’ll more precisely know where those fish are hiding out. It will also penetrate a bit deeper into the water than at a wider angle. However, a wider angle does cover more area underwater and can pick up fish further from your kayak that a narrow cone would miss. This means you can spend less time searching and more time fishing.

Don’t Let Your Battery Run Out of Juice

If you’re going to be out on the water for a full day or even a few hours, you want to make sure your fish finder can go the duration. In a kayak, space is limited to carry a large battery, so most kayak fish finders use either AA, AAA, or a 12-volt marine battery. Some portable units come with a proprietary battery that allows them to do more for longer. Be sure to verify how long the fish finder you’re looking at can go before needing a charge or a battery change, as either one of these can be challenging to manage in a kayak while out on the water. Also, keep in mind that even the best kayak fish finders don’t include a battery right out of the box.

Our verdict

The clear winner of the fish finders reviewed in this article is the Garmin Striker 4cv. This fish finder for kayaks has a clear, high-resolution display that can be seen in any light and the CHIRP technology it uses to locate fish is some of the best out there. These two features alone make it worth spending the extra few dollars to upgrade from the Garmin Striker Plus 4 or the Garmin Striker 4. Also, it comes with a high-quality GPS unit built right in, which will not only track your location but also allow you to create maps and waypoints to all the best fishing areas you’ve found. With room for 2 million acres of data, you’ll be hard-pressed to ever fill that up.

While castable transducers have their merits, they also add the additional work of needing to be cast out and reeled in before you can even consider starting fishing. With a mountable transducer like the one that comes with the Garmin Striker 4cv, you can continuously collect real-time data while fishing and adjusting on the fly. This, coupled with the accurate down-imaging sonar, make this fish finder for kayaks a tough one to beat.

Couple fishing illustration of young man and woman in boat with rods on lake

Where To Install That Kayak Fish Finder?

Since kayaks are so limited in space, it’s essential to think about where you’re going to mount your fish finder and transducers. If you find yourself in a small kayak, consider picking up a castable sonar unit that will send data directly to your phone through the manufacturer’s proprietary app. Just make sure you attach the sonar unit to something so it doesn’t float away!

Portable units almost always come in a self-contained bag and hold the fish finder unit, transducer, battery, and all the cables the device needs to function. These are handy for kayaks as they can be easily removed at the end of the day and won’t take up space when you’re not using your kayak for fishing.

Mounted fish finders take a bit more work to rig up to your kayak but can be positioned in the ideal place to clearly see the screen while fishing. These can be fixated to the hull using a built-in vice grip or even silicone for a more permanent hold. There are also some models that can be mounted in your kayak using a well-placed scrubber hole.

Except for castable units, you’ll also need to consider how to mount your transducers to your kayak as well. Most likely, you’ll be sticking the transducers to the front, back, or even the bottom of your kayak. Consider making use of scupper holes to feed cords through. Make sure your kayak is designed in such a way to accommodate these little devices. 

For more detailed information, here’s a video showing you how to mount a fish finder and transducer to your kayak along with some tips & tricks.

Noah
Noah
Noah is a world traveler who loves getting out in nature any chance he can get. When not exploring the world in search of adventure, he enjoys sharing his experiences with others through content writing and blogging.

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