Best Fish Finders for Small Boats: Top Options for 2024

Owning a small boat doesn’t mean that you don’t need to go big with your fishing electronics, and whether you run a jon boat or a premium inflatable, the right fish finder is critical to maximizing your odds.

We get a lot of questions about fish finders, and there's no question that the options can be confusing. The big three - Garmin, Humminbird, and Lowrance - produce a wide range of models, offering a huge diversity in capability and price.

Figuring out what’s right for you can be tough!

We’re here to help with that process, and below, you’ll find reviews of the top fish finders for small boats like jons and inflatables.

Quick glance at the best fish finders for small boats:

Related: What Is The Highest Rated Fish Finder?

Best Fish Finders for Small Boats Reviewed

Lowrance HDS LIVE 12 Fish Finder/Chartplotter - Best High-End Fishfinder for Small Boats

Lowrance HDS LIVE 12

Available at: Bass Pro | Amazon  | Tackle Direct | West Marine

Display Size: 12”
Resolution: 1280 X 800
Frequencies: CHIRP (83/200kHz) as well as traditional 455/800kHz
Side Scanning: Yes, 150’
Maximum Depth: CHIRP 1,000’; DownScan 300’
Transducer Angle: ?
Target Separation: ?
GPS: Yes
Maps: Yes

Lowrance has earned a following in the fishing community, and its continued commitment to bleeding-edge tech and powerful fishing applications more than justifies this brand loyalty.

The Lowrance HDS Live 12 is as good a fishfinder as a small boat owner can buy, no holds barred - and I don’t say that lightly. Currently on sale, it’s a bargain at this price, and I’d buy one without hesitation if I were in the market for fishing electronics.

Clearly designed for anglers who earn their daily bread fishing, the HDS Live 12 lacks nothing you need or want.

The HDS Live 12 comes with a 12-inch diagonal screen. It delivers exceptional resolution, delivering crisp, detailed, easy legible information even in bright sunlight. The screen is touch-sensitive, allowing intuitive control, and it’s augmented by an auxiliary keypad offering more features.

The heart of this Lowrance is the capable Simrad Active Imaging 3-in-1 Transom Mount Transducer. CHIRP capable, it offers side and down scanning, though it surrenders the very high frequencies to Humminbird and Garmin, leading to slightly inferior image quality.

That’s not saying the HDS Live doesn’t provide good images - they’re amazing!

Some specifications are not available from either Lowrance or Simrad Yachting (the same company since 2006), such as transducer beam angle or target separation. Normally, that would give us pause: if you’re proud of a product’s performance, you’re going to offer that info! But real-world performance has demonstrated the HDS Live 12’s abilities beyond doubt, and we wouldn’t hesitate to use this fish finder.

CHIRP mode punches deep water like you’re fishing in a swimming pool, while DownScan uses high frequencies to provide exceptional detail at the cost of depth. 

Even “live” images cobbled together from sonar pictures are available, matching the ECHOMAP Ultra 126sv’s “Livescope.” This allows you to watch your lure or bait, see fish approaching, and tell when they’re coming in for the kill.

That’s all powerful tech that rivals Garmin and Humminbird. But where Lowrance pulls away is the integration of GPS tech and mapping software.

Here, their experience in marine navigation is more than evident. The excellent C-Map US Inland mapping and US/Canada Navionics+ card make GPS plotting and charting a breeze. And like Humminbird, Lowrance offers a real-time mapping feature, Genesis Live. Capable of creating ½-foot contour maps, it’s tournament-winning and customer-pleasing tech at its best.

As you’d expect from a professional-grade fishfinder, the HDS offers powerful connectivity options, including SmartSteer control for the Xi5 trolling motor and Outboard Pilot, an aftermarket course-plotting system for single and dual outboards.

Overall, we think this is the best fishfinder on the market for small boats, especially at its current sale price.

Pros

  • On sale!
  • Awesome screen and image quality
  • Good depth and range
  • CHIRP and standard sonar options
  • Powerful GPS and maps
  • Lake mapping feature
  • Pairs with your mobile
  • Powerful connectivity options

Cons

  • ???

Lowrance Elite FS 9 - Best Buy Fishfinder for Small Boats

lowrance elite fs 9

Available at: Bass Pro | Amazon  | Tackle Direct | West Marine

Display Size: 9”
Resolution: 800 x 480
Frequencies: CHIRP (50/83/200kHz) as well as traditional 455/800kHz
Side Scanning: Yes, 150’
Maximum Depth: CHIRP 1,000’; DownScan 300’
Transducer Angle: ?
Target Separation: ?
GPS: Yes
Maps: Yes

Serious anglers need serious electronics, but paying as much for your fishfinder as you did for your boat isn’t something a lot of us can afford. The good news is that Lowrance’s Elite FS is priced right, while still offering impressive performance that rivals Humminbird’s Helix and outpaces Garmin’s Striker.

Essentially, the Elite FS is the HDS Live without the advanced connectivity features, making it a great option for anglers who don’t want or need that capability. 

Price-conscious anglers will prefer the 9-inch screen. Of course, that’s a trade off in terms of absolute visibility, but Lowrance’s screen quality is amazing. Rest assured, it’ll be readable in full sun and provide detailed, crisp images that are sure to impress. 

The Elite FS is capable of Active Target imaging, which is nothing short of game-changing. Active target is live video produced by sonar, allowing you to watch moving images of the fish you're after, as well as your lure. That’s something the Helix simply can’t match.

The only downside to this tech is that it’s harder to see in direct sun than the standard imaging.

Lowrance supplies the Elite FS with theSimrad Active Imaging 3-in-1 Transom Mount Transducer. You read that right - the same transducer at the heart of the HDS series. As a result, the Elite FS enjoys the same image quality, target separation, and range as its much more expensive cousin.

Moreover, Lowrance includes the same excellent mapping, course charting, and GPS software, making this a very full-featured option for every serious fisherman to consider. And with access to the C-Map Genesis website - where you’ll be able to download tens of thousands of accurate topo maps of water near you - well, that’s a game-changer!

The result is an outstanding fishfinder at a great price.

Unless you’re a pro who needs the networking capability, the Elite FS delivers everything you want: awesome imaging, very high tech options like Actie Target, and a price tag anyone can live with.

Pros:

  • Awesome price!
  • Excellent screen and image quality
  • Good depth and range
  • CHIRP and standard sonar options
  • Powerful GPS and maps
  • Now with Active Target!
  • Lake mapping feature
  • Pairs with your mobile

Cons:

  • ???

Garmin ECHOMAP Ultra 126sv - Easiest-to-Use High-End FishFinder for Small Boats

Garmin ECHOMAP Ultra 126sv

Available at: Bass Pro | Amazon  | Tackle Direct | West Marine

Display Size: 12”
Resolution: 1280 x 800
Frequencies: 70/83/200 kHz CHIRP; ClearVü and SideVü 260/455/800/1000/1200 kHz
Side Scanning: Yes, 500’
Maximum Depth: Traditional: 800 ft freshwater; ClearVü: 400 ft
Transducer Angles: Traditional CHIRP: 24-16; ClearVü 0.52 x 52 @ 1000 kHz, 0.64 x 35 @ 800 kHz, 1.1 x 52 @ 455 kHz; SideVü 0.52 x 52 @ 1000 kHz, 0.64 x 35 @ 800 kHz, 1.1 x 52 @ 455 kHz
Target Separation: ?
GPS: Yes
Maps: Yes

If you’re a small boat fisherman, there’s a lot to love about Garmin’s ECHOMAP Ultra 126sv. Rivaling both the Lowrance HDS and the Humminbird Solix, it offers everything a serious angler can want, especially if you fish water that tends to be 60 feet deep or less.

Expect a big, bright, easy-to-read screen on the flagship Garmin model. Excellent backlighting makes it easy to read in direct sunlight, and a vivid color palette really makes the images pop. Overall image quality is top-notch, coming close to or equaling what the Solix is capable of.

Garmin is rarely forthcoming about some of the specs of its electronics, so we can’t say what the exact viewing angles are on this screen. Real-world experience tells us that standing well to the side of the unit, or viewing it with a buddy are no problem at all.

One place Garmin really sets itself apart from Lowrance and Humminbird is its easy-to-use interface. Decades of experience in the car GPS world taught Garmin important lessons, and you’ll find no better, more intuitive UI on any fishfinder.

For example, the ECHOMAP Ultra 126sv’s touchscreen works a lot like your smartphone, allowing scrolling and magnification with a swipe of one (or two) fingers. The learning curve is shallow, and you’ll be making the most of this unit in no time at all.

When it comes to performance, Garmin opts for the exceptional GT56UHD transducer, designed specifically around water that’s less than 60 feet deep. Broadcasting in 1200 kHz, it can’t punch through the water column much further than that, but it can provide startling detail within its range.

That can mean the difference between catching and fishing.

Better yet, the GT56UHD transducer is “LiveScope” capable, meaning that it can provide video-like images in real time. That’s game-changing tech that rivals the HDS Live, and it really can change the way you fish.

Garmin’s SideVü and ClearVü, simply proprietary names for down- and side scanning, are excellent as well, and those ultra-high frequencies really make a difference in image quality.

The ECHOMAP Ultra 126sv is designed around the needs of very serious anglers, and so it comes as no surprise that its networking options are extensive and easy to use. From your trolling motor to your smartphone, the ActiveCaptain app has you covered, allowing for some pretty impressive chartplotting, planning, and navigation options.

Add to that Garmin’s Quickdraw Contours, and you've got unbeatable mapping capability. Capable of drawing contours in 1-foot intervals, its amazing tech in its own right, and when you consider that you can download other anglers’ maps, well, you’re in good shape wherever you’re fishing. If that weren’t enough, preloaded BlueChart and LakeVu maps round out the mapping software on this unit, providing you the info you need to fish smarter.

Taken together, the features of the ECHOMAP Ultra 126sv are impressive, and there's little question that Garmin has closed the gap with Lowrance and Humminbird.

Pros

  • Awesome screen
  • Very easy to use; excellent UI
  • Excellent depth and range
  • ClearVü and SideVü
  • CHIRP and standard sonar options that cover a very wide range of frequencies
  • Excellent networking options
  • Quickdraw Contours mapping
  • Built-in maps and GPS

Cons

  • ???

Garmin Striker Vivid 9sv - Best Budget Fishfinder for Small Boats

STRIKER VIVID 9sv quality image

Available at: Bass Pro | Amazon  | Tackle Direct | West Marine

Display Size: 9”
Resolution: 800 x 480
Frequencies: 50/77/200 kHz CHIRP (mid and high); ClearVü and SideVü 260/455/800 kHz
Side Scanning: Yes, 500’
Maximum Depth: 800 ft.; ClearVü: 500 ft.
Transducer Angles: Traditional: 24°-16°; ClearVü/SideVü: 2.0°x50° @ 455 kHz and 1.0°x30° @ 800 kHz
Target Separation: ?
GPS: Yes
Maps: No

Beyond being shallow-water fishing machines, jon boats appeal to a lot of anglers for their value, typically costing just a fraction of a fiberglass bass boat. And for the budget-minded, there’s no reason to skip top-flight tech.

Enter the Striker Vivid 9sv.

This Stiker sports a bright, easy-to-read screen that’s a good compromise between size and price. Yeah, top-tier fishfinders offer larger screens - but they wear price tags that are four times as high.

The Striker Vivid 9sv uses a seven color palette that produces crisp, colorful images that certainly won’t disappoint you at this price point. And while this model can’t rival the high end on this front, if you’re fishing for fun and not money, I wouldn’t hesitate to pull the trigger on this fishfinder.

The Striker Vivid 9sv is equipped with a very capable transducer that uses standard sonar as well as CHIRP to deliver excellent image quality, especially in bottom and side scanning modes. Matching the Helix’s frequencies number for number, you’ll be impressed by how small the gap is between these radically differently priced units.

But something has to give for the money, and some imaging issues remain. Shadows plague the Vivid’s side-scanning, and overall image quality can’t rival the Helix, let alone the Solix, HDS, or ECHOMAP Ultra.

That’s not necessarily a deal breaker: consider what you’re getting for just a fraction of the price of these top-end electronics, and then add that the Striker Vivid 9sv is fully GPS capable, enabling waypointing and marking.

And as you’d expect from Garmin, the UI is intuitive, easy-to-use, and a snap to learn.

True, the bells and whistles like powerful networking and “live” ideo aren’t here, but for weekend anglers, this is definitely a bargain.

Pros

  • Awesome price!
  • Very easy to use
  • Great imaging
  • Excellent depth and range
  • CHIRP and standard sonar options
  • Very nice screen
  • GPS

Cons

  • Screen and image quality suffer greatly in comparison with high-end Garmin, Humminbird, and Lowrance
  • No maps
  • High-tech options are limited

Humminbird SOLIX 12 CHIRP MEGA SI+ G3 Fish Finder/GPS Chartplotter

Humminbird SOLIX 12 Chip

Display Size: 12.1”
Resolution: 1280 X 800 
Frequencies: Dual Spectrum CHIRP, MEGA Down Imaging+, MEGA Side Imaging+; Full Mode (28-75 kHz), Narrow Mode (75-155 kHz), Optional Deepwater (28-250 kHz), Wide Mode (130-250) kHz
Side Scanning: Yes (up to 200’)
Maximum Depth: 200’MEGA Down Imaging+; 1,200’ CHIRP (3,500’ with an optional 50 kHz transducer)
Transducer Angles: 20°, 42°, 60°, (2) 86° & (2) 55° @ -10dB
Target Separation:  no greater than 2.5”
GPS: Yes
Maps: Yes

Jon boats and inflatables can scoot in places where traditional V-hulls would bottom-out, giving them access to unpressured areas. That’s an advantage serious anglers will want to capitalize on by employing the best electronics they can afford.

If you’re a Humminbird fan, the Solix series may be the right choice for you, as the Solix 12 CHIRP MEGA SI+ G3 is simply amazing.

At the high end, the Solix can only be rivaled by Lowrance’s HDS Live series, which we think has slightly superior GPS and mapping capability when compared directly.

Let’s get into the details.

For 16-foot (or smaller) jon boats, the 12.1-inch screen is probably big enough for anyone, but there are larger screens available if you need them.

Humminbird typically delivers outstanding screen quality in terms of both readability and graphic capability, and this Solix is a great example of what you can expect from top-dollar fishing electronics. Its 12.1-inch screen produces very sharp images that are easy to read in bright sun and at severe angles, enabling you to get the info you need without needing to stop what you’re doing, shade the screen, and take a close look.

What you’ll see is impressive: the Humminbird Solix provides excellent image sharpness and detail, probably outgunning even the Lowrance HDS Live on this front.

Humminbird’s MEGA-capable transducers are simply amazing tech, and I guarantee you’ll be impressed by the detail and clarity of the images these very high frequencies make possible. 

And with powerful, unequaled image quality in side scanning mode (MEGA SI+), this model of the Solix series is a deadly addition to your boat. Expect a range of 200 feet and detail that puts you on the fish.

Just take a look:

This Humminbird transducer is legendary for a reason. Not only does it enable a wide range of more-or-less standard beam angles, it also offers a sweeping feature called “Mega 360” that provides side-scanning in full 360 degrees while sitting still.

That’s murder on everything from crappie and bass!

Of course, this transducer is CHIRP capable, meaning that it broadcasts across a range of frequencies to simultaneously deliver water-penetrating low frequencies as well as detail-providing high frequencies. In practice, that means you’ll get amazing, 2.5-inch target separation that lets you see the difference between prey and predator.

If there’s one flaw in the Humminbird lineup, it’s a complicated user interface.

The good news is that this Solix is a decided step in the right direction for Humminbird, and, at the push of a button, you can switch viewing modes, giving you the information you want without the distractions of things you don’t. But learning the complete UI will be time consuming, so be prepared to sit down and study the manual.

The Solix comes packed with charts and bathymetric maps, as well as two SD slots ready for even more. Powerful GPS mapping software allows you to plot your course and mark points of interest, making pres-season scouting really pay dividends. In combination with the AutoChart Live system that automatically creates contour maps of the bottom, and you’ll know more about the lakes, ponds, and rivers you fish than your competition.

For avid anglers who run small boats, it’s hard to do better than this Humminbird Solix.

Pros

  • Awesome screen and image quality
  • Fantastic range in side imaging
  • CHIRP and standard sonar options
  • 2.5” target separation
  • Powerful GPS, maps, chartplotting, and autopilot features
  • Lake mapping feature
  • Pairs with your mobile

Cons

  • Expensive!

Humminbird HELIX 10 MEGA SI+ GPS G4N

humminbird-helix-10-g4n-series

Available at: Bass Pro | Tackle Direct | FishUSA

Display Size: 10.1”
Resolution: 1024 x 600
Frequencies: CHIRP Full Mode (150-220 kHz), Narrow Mode (180-240 kHz), Wide Mode (140-200 kHz; soA Downar 50/83/200/455/800 kHz and 1.2 MHz)
Side Scanning: 800 ft. (455 kHz), 250 ft. (800 kHz), and 400 ft. (MEGA) (up to 800’)
Down Imaging: Yes; MEGA Down Imaging+
Maximum Depth: 1,200’ (3,500’ with an optional 50 kHz transducer)
Transducer Angle: 20°, 42°, 60°, (2) 86°, and (2) 55° @ -10dB
Target Separation: no less than 2.5”
GPS: Yes
Maps: Yes

If the eye-popping price tag on the Humminbird Solix is just too much for your budget, take a close look at the highly-capable Helix 10 MEGA SI+ GPS G4N. The flagship model for Humminbird only a few years ago, the Helix still delivers incredible fishing tech for a more reasonable price.

This Helix is exceptionally capable for the money, making it a strong contender for the best buy you’ll find in fishing electronics, though in the final analysis, the incredible Lowrance Elite FS is just too good for half the price. That said, I’d run this Helix myself, and unless you earn a living on the water, you’ll wonder why anyone would pay more.

Humminbird’s screen quality really sets the standard in the industry, and that’s just as true on the Helix as it is on the Solix. A variety of screen sizes are offered, but we prefer the 10-inch for small boats like jons and inflatables. Expect brilliant resolution and precise image quality. 

1500 nits of brightness make this Helix’s screen more than bright enough for direct sun, and as you’d expect, its legible viewing angles are pretty extreme.

And just as with the Solix, Humminbird arms the Helix with an amazing transducer, capable of advanced sonar. This model features the MEGA and SI+ image upgrades, and they’re nothing short of game-changing.

That may sound like advertising copy, but seriously, the Helix 10 MEGA SI+ GPS G4N offers image clarity and detail that’s every bit as good as the Lowrance HDS series - for about a third of the price.

If you find that hard to believe, have a look at the leaves on that tree:

 

The Helix’s XM 9 HW MSI T transducer is CHIRP-capable, employing very high frequencies to produce exceptional imaging. Upgraded with MEGA and SI+, the results are startlingly good for a “mid-range” fishfinder.

Expect target separation that equals the Solix. On the water, you’ll be able to see schools of shad being chased by bass with target separation of just 2.5 inches!

Just like the more expensive Solix, this Helix comes pre-loaded with detailed maps. Its powerful GPS tech enables AutoChart Live mapping, waypointing, and spot marking, allowing you to identify and return to the most productive areas on the waters you fish.

That’s not just nice, that’s revolutionary if you've never used this tech!

Humminbird’s user interface can be a bit complicated, and you’ll want to spend some time with the manual to unlock the full capability of this unit. Do that and you’ll be rewarded with amazing performance.

Finally, as you’d expect from a unit that used to be the cream of the crop, the Helix 10 MEGA SI+ G4N offers robust networking options, including navigation and accessory units. While not every angler needs or wants these, if you run more than one control head or want the option to operate a compatible trolling motor from your fish finder, this is a very cost-effective way to get hold of these high-end features.

Pros

  • Great performance for the money
  • Powerful CHIRP sonar
  • Awesome down and side imaging
  • Amazing image quality
  • Offers a wide range of transducer angles
  • Excellent screen
  • Excellent target separation
  • Powerful GPS and mapping options, including pre-loaded maps
  • Solid networking options

Cons

  • Complicated UI

Final Thoughts

Only you know your budget and needs, but rest assured, there’s a model on our shortlist for every small-boat angler out there.

If top-flight performance is a must, take a close look at the Lowrance HDS LIVE 12 Fish Finder/Chartplotter. Offering probably the best fishing electronics currently on the market, its mapping software leaves everyone else in dust. 

But if you've been frustrated in the past by complicated menus and hard-to-use UIs, Garmin’s ECHOMAP Ultra 126sv is a dream come true for you. Simple and intuitive controls make this fishfinder a real standout, and its tech is very nearly as impressive as the HDS Live.

For anglers whose budget just can’t stretch to the top end, the incredible Lowrance Elite FS 9 is a true bargain, offering everything the HDS has, minus the powerful networking options. It would be my pick for the money, and it’s an easy choice for the best buy on our shortlist.

Finally, if money’s tight, the Garmin Striker Vivid 9sv might be just what you need. Inexpensive, it offers powerful fishfinding, excellent image quality, and reliable performance.

We hope that this article has helped you make the right choice for you, and as always, we’re here to answer any questions you might have.

We’d love to hear from you, so please leave a comment below!

About The Author
John Baltes