Choosing the Best Fish Finder for Small Boats: Choose Functionality over Complexity

Last Updated on March 2, 2021 by Coty Perry

Best Overall

Humminbird Helix 5

4.5/5

Best Value

Garmin Striker 4

4.7/5

Best Castable

Deeper Pro+ Smart Sonar

4.3/5

The best fish finder for small boats is both portable but functional. Isn’t it great to live in a world where technology doesn’t have to be huge to be efficient? Even if you’re fishing from a small jon boat or kayak, you too can have a high-quality fish finder with advanced technology. 

I’ve tried over 25 fish finders in my life and I’ll tell you one thing, they have more similarities than differences. That’s why I had to dive deep into these six units to put together this buying guide. By the end, you will have a firm understanding of which small fish finder is right for you.

Our Reviews of the Best Fish Finder for Small Boats

Humminbird Helix 5

BEST OVERALL

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Ideally when you’re looking for a small boat fish finder, you need something that is smaller than your average device. While this one is a little bulky, you’re getting all of the best features so you’ll never have to purchase another model. 

It offers the best sonar money can buy with dual beam, CHIRP, down, and side imaging on a clear screen with GPS and mapping as well. What more can you ask for? It’s perfect! 

Garmin Striker 4

BEST Value

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If you’re looking for something a little more portable and affordable the Garmin Striker 4 is very popular. I love the fact that it’s so small yet it brings quite a few features to the table. You get the GPS navigation, waypoint mapping, and also information such as speed, temperature, and depth.  

Deeper Pro+ Smart Sonar

BEST Castable

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Let’s address the drawbacks first. When you’re connecting something this way there’s always going to be problems. It’s whether or not they become so intrusive that they ruin your experience. Also, I can’t help but worry about casting this thing and damaging it on rocks and stumps. 

That said, it’s accurate, easy to use, lightweight, and even fun sometimes. Just be sure to play it safe with your casts and you’ll likely be okay! 

Humminbird Piranhamax 3 DI

BEST Mountable

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Sometimes less is more and that’s the case with this fish finder from Humminbird. If you’re looking for something with down imaging that will help you find fish, then you’ve got it right here all packaged up in an affordable device that’s easy to install and use.  

Lucky Handheld

Best Portable Fish Finder

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This fish finder is a bit different than some of the other options because it comes with a transducer that you’ll hook up to the receiver and drop it into the water. It uses meters only for depth which is a bit frustrating but the readings are accurate, it’s affordable, and it’s great for small boats and kayaks. 

Deeper Chirp Smart Sonar

Best Wireless

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FEATURED SPECS
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BUYING ADVICE
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Many people would prefer a wireless fish finder so they don’t have to deal with clunky wires in their boat, that makes perfect sense. The good news is, you don’t have to sacrifice having a great fish finder because this one is as accurate, efficient, and useful as any other wired option. The only downside I find with these is the fear of damaging it on the cast. 

How to Choose the Best Fish Finder for a Small Boat

best fish finder for small boat with three men in a boat

Knowing what these fish finders are is one thing but knowing how to pick one out of the crowd is another. There are a few different factors to consider as you do this. Here are some of the most important things to keep in mind while you look for the best fishfinder for a small boat. 

Screen/Display 

When you’re dealing with a smaller fish finder, you’ll likely have to sacrifice a few things. The first area where most people sacrifice is on their screen size, resolution, and pixels. This doesn’t always have to be the case. All the fish finders above with standard screen displays offer great picture quality and imaging. 

Technology has come a long way and we can now look at a 2.5-inch screen that has the same picture quality as a 70-inch TV screen. Just keep in mind that you can still find affordable fish finders with great picture quality, even in lower price ranges. 

Also, remember that the quality of your images will help your fishing as well. If you’re looking at a tiny screen and you can barely even make out what you’re seeing, you’re likely to struggle fishing as well. Try to find a fish finder with a backlight so it can adjust based on the amount of sunlight. 

Another factor is the number of features and functions on the display. Some fish finders will show things like water depth, temperature, time, travel distance, GPS coordinates, mapping, and more. I recommend trying out a touchscreen fish finder versus a keypad one. A touchscreen might sound better but they can be clunky sometimes. 

Just keep all of these aspects in mind as you choose because you want to make sure you’re getting a good deal. All of the fish finders above contain at least the bare minimum features when it comes to the display. 

Frequency 

The frequency of your fish finder has to do with the transducer and sonar. For example, when you see that a fish finder has a frequency of 200 khz, that’s the fish finders ability to push through obstructions and resistance and send sonar waves into the water. 

Many people think that having the highest frequency means you’ll get the highest range and most accuracy. That’s completely false. 

High frequencies are more accurate in shallow water because they provide a more precise signal. You’ll get a clearer image but as you start to go deeper in the water, the image will become less reliable. 

If you’re using something with a low frequency (less than 200khz), you’ll have more range but decreased accuracy. 

The best choice you can make is to choose a fish finder with dual-frequency because you can choose what frequency you want to use based on where you’re fishing. 

Transducer/Sonar 

I talk a lot in these fish finder reviews about transducers, sonar, and imaging so it’s easy to get confused about what these are and how they impact your fishing. 

The transducer is the part of the unit that goes in the water (or near it) that sends sonar waves into the lake. There are a few different types of these and each of them has its own set of pros and cons. 

For example, if you see something that says transom mount transducer; it means that you mount it on the outside of the back of the boat near the trolling motor. 

If it says internal transducer, it means that you can mount it inside the boat. Some transducers have cords that hook up to the receiver and you drop them in the water. They come with a floatation device so they float around the water and you hold the unit in your hand. Some fish finders are castable and they go on your line like a bobber. These are great for research but challenging if you don’t have another person fishing with you. 

As we talk about transducers, we also have to discuss the different types of sonar. You’ll hear things like sidescan, downscan, clearvü, flasher, and CHIRP. All of these words are types of sonar and they refer to the method the transducer uses to send sonar waves into the water. 

Sidescan and downscan are the way the sonar waves penetrate the water. Sidescan fish finders send waves horizontally at an angle away from the boat. Downscan sends a cone down into the water vertically. Some are combo deals and they do both while many just have downscan. 

Mounting

If you’re looking for the best fish finder for a jon boat or other small boat, you’ll need something that’s easy to mount. Most will mount around the base and they provide screw holes and hardware to make this possible. 

I think your best bet with small boats is to have a portable mount or something that you can install and remove. Keep in mind that many fish finders require a power source so you’ll need to have that if you’re fishing from a small boat. The rechargeable portable fish finders are always good for small boats as well. 

Size and Portability 

One of the most important things for anglers is portability. Whether you’re fishing freshwater, saltwater, ice fishing, or kayak fishing, you need a fish finder that is small enough so it doesn’t get in the way. 

Thankfully, all of the options recommended in this article are small and portable enough to work with all smaller boats. 

As you consider portability, you also want to factor in power. The power source of your fish finder will impact how portable it is. If it requires a 12V power source that really limits what you can do and where you can go. But, if it uses batteries like some of the portable options above then you don’t have to worry about it as much. 

Water Resistance and Durability 

The last thing you want to do is spend a bunch of money on a premium fish finder only to have it get damaged on one of your fishing trips. Most depth finders are water resistant but there’s a big difference between resistant and proof. 

Very few fish finders are waterproof and they’re very expensive. That means it’s your responsibility to protect the device by ensuring it doesn’t get too wet. If you’re looking for a kayak fish finder, water protection is likely important. Some companies sell covers for your fish finder and there are a variety of other products you can buy to protect them as well. 

As for durability, you shouldn’t have to worry too much about the fish finder getting banged around. Most of them use a hard plastic cover but just be careful with the screen and how much direct sunlight it gets.

FAQs

It’s only necessary if you think it is! The best GPS fish finder combos come with chartplotter technology that allows you to build your own maps and keep track of your favorite fishing spots. Look for the Garmin EchoMap and other similar units.

Brand is an important buying factor for me when I spend a lot of money. By sticking with highly recommended brands you guarantee yourself improved customer service and a better overall experience. I stick with brands like Garmin, Humminbird, Lowrance, Raymarine, and Deeper. 

Final Thoughts

Choosing the best fish finder for a small boat isn’t complicated but you need to keep a few things in mind. Size, portability, display, and value are important. 

When you’re dealing with limited space you can’t have a fish finder that gets in the way and becomes a hazard. But, you’re also spending a decent chunk of change so you need to make sure you’re getting enough bang for your buck. All the fish finders in this buying guide are perfect choices for your small boat or kayak. 

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