Best portable fish finders: 6 versatile models for small boats and kayaks

Best portable fish finders: 6 versatile models for small boats and kayaks

Keep a portable fish finder on board to give you the best chance of landing more fish, no matter what kind of angling you do.

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From kayaks to frozen lakes, the best portable fish finders help put fish in the cooler without putting a dent in your wallet. Designed with versatility and budget in mind, portable models are smaller and more basic than most fixed units, but what they lack in technology they more than make up for in savings.

All major manufacturers produce some form of portable fish finder. Some come as a bundle that includes not only the head unit but also the transducer and a carrying case for both the fish finder and its power source. Others network with your smartphone, and some even operate off a castable transducer attached directly to a fishing rod.

Whatever style of angling you pursue, if you need to see what’s going on beneath the surface, a portable fish finder might be just the ticket to less time fishing and more time catching!

6 of the best portable fish finders

Best Portable Fish Finders_Garmin Echomap UHD 73cv Ice bundle

Garmin ECHOMAP UHD 73CV FishFinder/Chartplotter Combo with Panoptix Ice Fishing Bundle

Best touchscreen portable fish finder

Reasons to buy:

• Top-of-the-line portable fish finder
• Wide 7-inch touchscreen with keyed assist
• Panoptix LiveVü Forward and LiveVü Down imaging
• GPS with premium built-in charts

Reasons to avoid:

• Very expensive for a portable unit
• Heavy at 16.7 pounds (with battery)

If you want a portable fish finder that will do just about anything a console-mounted unit will do, consider the Gamin ECHOMAP UHD 73CV FishFinder/Chartplotter Combo with Panoptix Ice Fishing Bundle.

It’s the only truly touchscreen fish finder in this line-up, and it comes with everything you need to find fish from a boat, a kayak, or through the ice. The included Panoptix PS22 transducer features forward- and down-imaging sonar so you can see what’s going on in front of or below your position up to 100 feet away.

And the display is in real time, not some archival image of fish that have already passed under your bow. An additional CHIRP transducer gives traditional sonar readings below the boat.

The bundle comes with an array of accessories, including a carrying case, a CHIRP transducer float and a swivel mount for the Panoptix transducer (both for ice fishing), a rechargeable battery and charger, a swivel-mount head unit bracket, and all the necessary hardware and cables.

This is also a GPS unit that comes pre-loaded with premium Garmin LakeVü maps as well as Navionics data for true chart-plotter functionality.

RRP: £1,700/$1,900

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Best Fish Finders_Garmin Striker 4 Portable Kit

Garmin Striker 4 Portable

Reasons to buy:

• Advanced technology for such a compact unit
• GPS enabled
• The carrying case also holds a rechargeable battery
• Can upgrade to premium transducers

Reasons to avoid:

• Larger boats would probably need a bigger head unit
• GPS marks waypoints but not onboard maps

The Garmin Striker 4 Portable puts everything an angler needs in one tidy, mobile package. Even the rechargeable 12-volt battery rides neatly in an included carrying case.

A suction cup holds the transducer squarely in place. That means you can go from kayak fishing in summer to ice fishing in winter and still use the same setup.

Although you don’t get a chart plotter in the package, the Striker 4 GPS tech is perfect for marking brush piles, ledges, and other fishy structure so you can return to the same hotspots again and again.

Switch between color graphic displays for fishing from a boat and a traditional “flasher” display for ice fishing. Auto-zoom mode keeps track of the depth to give you more or less field of view according to how deep the water is.

You can also alternate between wide and narrow sonar cones depending on the water depth and the level of detail you wish to see.

RRP: £197/$220

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Best Portable Fish Finders_Humminbird PiranhaMAX 4

Humminbird PiranhaMAX 4 PT

Reasons to buy:

• Comes with a transducer and carrying case
• Versatility ranges from kayaking to ice fishing
• Down-imaging technology

Reasons to avoid:

• Some reviewers report errant displays at high speeds
• No chart plotting capability

Humminbird has been producing some of the best fish finders on the market for decades, and its Piranha line marks the entry-level unit of this stalwart brand.

For $200 the PiranhaMax 4 PT comes complete with a Dual Beam transducer that will read bottom features up to 600 feet. Toggle between a wide or narrow beam depending on whether you want more detail or more coverage.

In addition to the handy carrying case, you get a 7 amp-hour rechargeable battery that will last long enough for a full day of fishing.

The control head comes with a tilt and swivel mount that can be used in the carrying case or mounted on a boat console or used in a kayak. With Fish ID+ technology to indicate the depth of each fish and down imaging views up to 320 feet, you won’t miss a strike with this easy-to-operate and affordable fish finder.

RRP: £179/$200

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Best Portable Fish Finders_Lowrance Hook2

Lowrance HOOK2 GPS All-Season Pack

Reasons to buy:

• Good screen clarity
• Horizontal rather than vertical display
• GPS for marking custom waypoints
• CHIRP transducer is included

Reasons to Avoid

• No chart plotting ability

On small vessels such as kayaks, canoes, and johnboats, space is at a premium. Larger fish finders often are impractical, and a 4-inch vertical screen seems to be the most common configuration. But you can maximize your viewing area by opting for a horizontal screen.

The Lowrance Hook 2 is available with a variety of options, including with or without GPS and as an all-season pack for ice fishing.

The no-nonsense GPS technology is useful for marking brush piles, drop-offs, creek beds, and other underwater structure. But it is not a chart plotter. For that, you have to get into larger screen sizes in the Hook 2 series.

Use it as a fish finder on your kayak or canoe in summer, and in winter tease fish off the bottom by watching the action on screen in real time. This is a year-round and versatile set-up that is great for learning to use a fish finder while exploring your local waters.

RRP: £251/$280

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Deeper CHIRP 2

Deeper Sonar CHIRP 2

Reasons to buy:

• CHIRP technology for more detail
• Touchscreen controls on a smartphone
• Applicable to ice fishing

Reasons to avoid:

• Somewhat awkward to use mounted on a fishing rod
• When using this device, you are not fishing!
• Relatively expensive for limited features

Of all the advances in angling technology over the years, none seems as obvious and yet as counterintuitive as the castable fish finder. Of course, a fish finder should network with a smartphone mounted to your fishing rod! But, of course, if you are casting a transducer, you aren’t casting anything that will catch a fish.

Other than the nifty connectivity features, the great plus of units like the Deeper CHIRP 2 is that you can use these devices anywhere you can cast a line. From shore, a kayak, a boat — just toss out the little magic sphere and reel it in to see what lurks beneath.

You can create bathymetric maps of your lake or pond, and it will even mark fish as they swim beneath the transducer.

As a traditionalist, I find it hard to see the appeal of castable fish finders. But if you just need a quick look at bottom contours and composition or want to build a custom map of your favorite fishing hole, then the Deeper CHIRP 2 is state-of-the-art in this most portable of all fish finders.

RRP: £322/$360

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Hawkeye Fishtrax

Hawkeye Fishtrax 1C Handheld Fish Finder

Best budget portable fish finder

Reasons to buy:

• Affordability
• Down and dirty view of water depth and bottom contour
• Color screen
• Dual sonar frequencies

Reasons to avoid:

• Small screen
• Not a feature-rich device

There’s nothing that says a portable fish finder has to be mounted on a boat or come with a carrying case. Sometimes, a handheld unit is the best option.

Hawkeye is a trusted brand in depth sounders, and at the end of the day, that’s basically what a fish finder is. You want to know the depth and also pick up interpretive signals between the bottom and the surface.

The unit’s FishTarget system replaces standard sonic “fish-arch” signatures with a fish icon, making it easy to read for first-time fish finder users. It also has an alarm mode to alert you to the presence of fish.

A flasher mode is good for ice fishing, and the portable transducer makes the FishTrax 1C suitable for frozen fishing. It will also display the surface temperature, which is often just as important as depth.

There is no networking, GPS, or chart plotting capability, but that is to be expected at this price point.

RRP: £134/$150

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What to look for in the best portable fish finders

Many standard fish finders on the market are also available as a portable “bundle.” That usually just means it is the same fish finder you might buy to mount on a console, only it is packaged with a carrying case, battery, and sundry accessories. For those who fish out of multiple vessels or ice fish in winter, these combos are ideal.

Battery life is a key consideration, so pay attention to the amp-hour rating when comparing units operating off of 12-volt batteries. Lesser priced and handheld units sometimes require AA or AAA batteries. Invest in rechargeable batteries at the outset, or you could end up spending about as much on batteries as you did on the unit itself.

Another key component of any portable bundle is the transducer. Most include a standard CHIRP transducer, while others include only a dual-frequency transducer for either a wide or narrow cone angle.

Sonar cone angle and frequency affect depth and sensitivity. Broadly speaking, lower-frequency sonar emits a wider cone and penetrates deeper, but with less detail. A higher frequency emits a narrower cone with more detail, but less depth.

Portable fish finders aren’t right for every angler. With few exceptions, they feature entry-level technology with an emphasis on affordability and ease of use. But in the right applications, such as all-season fishing or kayak angling, a portable unit is often the best choice.

Didn’t find what you’re looking for? Head to Amazon’s dedicated boating page for more marine products.

This article Best portable fish finders: 6 versatile models for small boats and kayaks appeared first on Motor Boat & Yachting.


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