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Best Kayak Fish Finders: Real Reviews by Kayak Anglers

Last Updated: April 22nd, 2021
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Kayak fish finders have come a long way. And while the fish finder market is still dominated by huge screens, companies like Humminbird, Garmin, and Lowrance provide smaller designs that are ideal for anglers who paddle.

Yes, the lion’s share of advertising and media hype still attends 7-inch and larger screens, but in the real world, that’s just too big. You won’t be able to find a place for it on your kayak that won’t interfere with paddling or side-arm casting.

Avid kayak anglers ourselves, we’re here to help you find the right kayak fish finder for your needs. Below, you’ll find reviews of some of our favorite fish finders for kayaks, as well as a complete buying guide tailored to your needs.

Quick glance at the best kayak fish finders available today:

Related: Best Kayak Fishing Rod, Best Fishing Kayak

Best Kayak Fish Finders Reviewed

Humminbird PIRANHAMAX 4 DI

Humminbird 410160-1 PIRANHAMAX 4 DI (Down Imaging) Fish Finder, Black

Amazon 

Display Size: 4.3”

Resolution: 272 X 480

Frequencies: 200/455 kHz

Side Scanning: No

Down Imaging: Yes, 320’

Maximum Depth: 320 ft (20) 455 kHz, 600 ft (20) 200 kHz

Transducer Angle: 28°, 16°, and 74° @ -10dB

Target Separation: 2.5”

GPS: No

Maps: No

While advertising copy touts larger screens every year, and the top contenders now sport 10-inch diagonals, experienced kayak anglers have come to recognize that what’s ideal for a bass boat just doesn’t make sense on a 12’ ‘yak.

Humminbird has known this for a while, offering a slim, phone-sized, vertically oriented fish finder that’s perfect for mounting on the center console of most kayaks. And while the Piranhamax 4 DI isn’t going to rival the Helix series in performance, it’s nonetheless a capable fish finder with outstanding down imaging.

The business end of the Piranhamax 4 DI is the excellent XNT 9 DI T transducer. Capable of dual-frequency sonar at 200 and 455 kHz, it’s not revolutionary tech by any means, but it gets the job done well--and at an excellent price point.

It also makes some impressive down imaging possible, and as you can see, this is much more than a marketing gimmick.

helix 5 vs piranhamax fish finder

While not rivaling the tech in the Helix 5, blobs become stumps on the Piranhamax screen.

That’s a feature apples-to-apples competitors can’t match, and if you’re in the market for a small, inexpensive fish finder, this is an excellent choice, in no small part due to this tech.

Target separation is more than acceptable with the Piranhamax, and you won’t have any trouble telling the difference between shad and crappie or distinguishing a bait cluster from the predators you’re targeting. 

So what’s missing?

CHIRP, side-scanning sonar, GPS, and maps. The otherwise capable Piranhamax can’t help you with waypointing, course charting, or GPS marking.

If there’s one complaint I hear from kayak anglers looking for a fish finder, it’s that most don’t want to be troubled with placing a 12v battery on board. I get that--and there’s no question that it’s a real concern when space and maximum capacity are limited.

This Humminbird runs on a small 12v that measures just 5.94" x 2.56" x 3.94", weighing in at a svelte 4.8 pounds. It’s easy to find a spot for, and it won’t cripple your ‘yak like a standard 12v battery can.

12v battery for fish kayak finder

A small, relatively light 12v system runs this fish finder.

Overall, Humminbird’s Piranhamax 4 DI is an inexpensive, easy-to-power fish finder that’s ideal for kayak angling--if you can live without GPS and maps.

Pros:

    • Awesome price!
    • Good screen size for kayaks
    • Easy-to-read screen with good target separation
    • Excellent down imaging
  • Powered by a small 12v system

Cons:

  • No CHIRP
  • No side-scanning
  • No GPS
  • No maps

Garmin Striker 4

Garmin 010-01550-00 Striker 4 with Transducer, 3.5' GPS Fishfinder with Chirp Traditional Transducer

Amazon 

Display Size: 3.5”

Resolution: 320 X 480

Frequencies: CHIRP 50/77/200 kHz

Side Scanning: No

Maximum Depth: 1,600’ freshwater; 750’ saltwater

Transducer Angle: ?

Target Separation: ?

GPS: Yes

Maps: No

striker kayak fish finder screen

The Striker’s standard fish finding screen is easy to read.

Like Humminbird, Garmin is well aware that big screens may be selling points on big boats, but that on a small ‘yak, they're just asking for trouble.

With that in mind, the Striker 4 offers a 3.5-inch screen that gives up some room to its Humminbird rival. It also doesn’t feature the Prinhamax 4 DI’s excellent down imaging.

But it might just be the better fish finder. Why?

One word: CHIRP.

The heart of the Striker 4 is an excellent CHIRP-capable transducer, broadcasting on frequencies ranging between 50 and 200 kHz. That provides great depth and range, as well as excellent fish identification. Simply put, CHIRP is much better at differentiating fish from the background.

Garmin has chosen not to disclose which transducer the Striker 4 is paired with, so we can’t tell you specifics like beam angles and target separation. But what we can say is that this unit works like a charm, is easy to navigate, and provides excellent budget-priced GPS features like waypointing and marking.

For my money, that’s a lot of impressive functionality.

And the icing on the Garmin cake is that this unit is powered by an in-built, lithium-ion rechargeable battery.

garmin kayak fish finder rechargeable batteries

No bulky, heavy 12v system required!

For kayak anglers, that’s an enormous selling point, and it goes a long way toward tilting the scales in favor of the Garmin Striker 4.

Pros:

    • Awesome price!
    • Good screen size for kayaks
    • Good imaging
    • CHIRP sonar
    • GPS
  • No bulky 12v battery system

Cons:

  • No side-scanning or down imaging
  • No maps

Humminbird Helix 5 CHIRP DI GPS G2

Bass Pro

Display Size: 5” diagonal

Resolution: 800 x 480

Frequencies: 3/200 (75-155/130-250 kHz), 50/200 (28-75/130-250 kHz), High (130-250 kHz), Low (28-75 kHz), Med (75-155 kHz)

Side Scanning: No

Down Imaging: Yes

Maximum Depth: 600’ (2,500’ with optional transducers)

Transducer Angle: 16°, 28°, 45°, and 75° @ -10dB

Target Separation: ?

GPS: Yes

Maps: Yes

You’ll find reviews of kayak electronics that encourage 7- and even 9-inch diagonal screens. That leaves me guessing about where, exactly, those reviewers mount those fish finders and how they manage to paddle and fish around them.

Unless you’re running a paddle-driven kayak in open water, where casting under low-hanging trees and bushes isn’t an issue, anything larger than 5 inches is likely to be trouble.

That’s why I like the Humminbird Helix 5 CHIRP DI GPS G2. It’s an incredible fishing machine that’s driven by a powerful CHIRP sonar and packed with impressive features. For anglers who can accommodate the larger dimensions of this fish finder in their ‘yak, it just may be the best option out there.

Maps, GPS, down imaging: this Helix has it all!

Thanks to CHIRP sonar and an impressive, easy-to-read screen, imaging is excellent. Fish really stand out from the background, and while Humminbird isn’t reporting this unit’s target separation, in practice, it’s apparently pretty small.

That makes it easy to see the difference between a bait ball and a fish, and this is further enhanced by viewing options that can declutter sonar pictures.

Humminbird Helix 5 CHIRP kayak fish finder clear mode

“Clear mode” reduces background clutter to make identifying fish easier.

This Helix 5 is also equipped with industry-leading down imaging that offers ridiculous detail. You’ll be able to identify the individual branches of trees, differentiate brush piles for aquatic vegetation, and get to know the bottom like you’re down there.

It also offers both GPS and maps, making this a full-featured option for kayaks.

Power can be delivered via Humminbird’s 9AH BK - 9 Amp Hour Battery Kit, which measures just 3.2 x 3 x 12 inches and weighs in at 6.14 pounds. There’s room and space for that on most kayaks.

Humminbird’s 9AH BK battery for kayak fish finders

Humminbird’s 9AH BK is enviously light and small.

Given the range of features this Helix offers, you’ll want to familiarize yourself with the manual before you hit the water. But once you’ve mastered this fish finder, it’s hard to imagine a better option for kayak anglers.

Pros

    • A large screen for kayaks that can accommodate one
    • CHIRP sonar
    • Awesome, industry-leading down imaging
    • Excellent resolution and image quality
    • Maps
    • GPS
  • Powered by a small, light 12v system

Cons

  • Menus and features hard to understand

Lowrance HOOK2 5

Lowrance HOOK2 5 - 5-inch Fish Finder with TripleShot Transducer and US Inland Lake Maps Installed …

Amazon 

Display Size: 5” diagonal

Resolution: 800 x 480

Frequencies: CHIRP, but the precise frequencies aren’t specified

Side Scanning: Yes, SideVu

Down Imaging; Yes, DownVu

Maximum Depth: ?

Transducer Angle:?

Target Separation: ?

GPS: Yes

Maps: Yes

Lowrance offers a Hook2 that’s perfectly sized for kayaks, and for the money, it offers a ton of awesome features.

The Hook2’s 5-inch diagonal screen is easy to read, offering lots of detail and color. Honestly, I have simply no complaints on this front, and while its Humminbird rival might be a smidgen better here, it’s almost apples to apples.

Lowrance’s screen is very, very good.

Where the high-end differentiates itself is electronics, and clearly, there’s a difference. Lowrance is cagey about the details, and even after an exhaustive search, we couldn’t find a precise frequency, transducer angler, or maximum depth information.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it does prevent direct comparison.

Performance in the real world is good, however, and the Hook2’s CHIRP certainly works, providing plenty of detail and allowing you to see the crappie next to the ball of shad. In the traditional fish finder mode, I’ve had no issues whatsoever--it works, and works well.

But to my eye, the down imaging suffers greatly in comparison with the Helix 5. It just doesn’t provide the stunning detail of the Humminbird, though the Hook2 offers side scanning that the Helix doesn’t.

For anglers who appreciate that feature--and many do--this budget-priced Lowrance is a fantastic buy.

Like the other powerful electronics on our list, any 12v 9ah battery can provide power, giving kayak anglers a better option than full-sized 12v systems.

Lowrance HOOK2 5 battery

This inexpensive 12v battery measures just 5.9 x 3.7 x 3.7 inches and weight about 5 pounds.

Pros:

    • A large screen for kayaks that can accommodate one
    • CHIRP sonar
    • Good down imaging
    • Good side imaging
    • Maps
    • GPS
  • Powered by a small, light 12v system

Cons:

  • Down imaging suffers in comparison with the Helix 5

Garmin STRIKER Vivid 5cv With GT20-TM Transducer

Garmin STRIKER Vivid 5cv

FishUSA

Display Size: 5” diagonal

Resolution: 800 x 480 

Frequencies: Traditional: 50/77/200 kHz and CHIRP (mid and high)

Side Scanning: No

Down Imaging: No

Maximum Depth: ?

Transducer Angle:?

Target Separation: ?

GPS: Yes

Maps: No

Garmin’s STRIKER Vivid 5cv is a powerful fish finder that’s sized right for larger ‘yaks that have more space to spare or for those powered by pedals. It’s also very competitively priced, coming in quite a bit lower than our other 5-inch options.

But don’t be mistaken: this Garmin is very, very good.

Its GT20-TM transducer is excellent, offering both powerful traditional and CHIRP options that pull fish out of the background with ease. Target separation in the real world is great, and I have simply no complaints on this front.

The screen is bright, clear, and easy to read, featuring many different color options to suit your eyes and your conditions well. You can count me as impressed by what it includes, especially at this price point. The automatic gain correction duplicates the “Clear Mode” Humminbird offers, providing crisp, clear images of fish while minimizing distracting clutter.

 

The Garmin STRIKER Vivid lives up to its name with bright colors and plenty of pallet options.

And while you’ll find neither side nor down imaging on the 5-inch model, if you can live without those features, you'll be rewarded by excellent GPS plotting and self-created maps with 1-foot contour increments.

That’s impressive, but this Garmin doesn’t offer in-built maps, a nod to the realities of pricing.

When powered by an awesome fish finder battery like those offered by Dakota Lithium, which measure just 5.94 x 2.55 x 3.78 inches, weighing in at just 2lbs 12oz, you've got a dynamite system for larger kayaks.

Dakota Lithium battery

This powerful battery weighs less than 3 pounds!

Pros

    • A large screen for kayaks that can accommodate one
    • CHIRP sonar
    • Really cool color options for the display
    • Great resolution and image quality
    • GPS
  • Powered by a small, light 12v system

Cons

  • No down imaging or side imaging available on the 5-inch screen

Buying Guide: What to Consider When Choosing a Kayak Fish Finder 

First, Check Your Cockpit

The very first step when buying a fish finder for your ‘yak is deciding where to mount it. This is critical and takes careful thought and experimentation.

Take a seat

Take your kayak out for a paddle, and as you do, note where a fish finder will get in the way. Be especially cautious and try some powerful strokes, stop your ‘yak abruptly, lay your paddle across the gunnels, etc. Do all the things that happen in real life. Where would your paddle hit a fish finder?

bigger fish finder for pedal driven kayaks

Pedal-driven kayaks can offer better mounting options for big screens, but side-arm casting can still be limited.

Many of the newer (read: larger) fish finders sport 7-inch diagonal screens at a minimum. That’s great for visibility, but they can be a tight fit in the cockpit. Rail mounting is always an option, but there’s simply no question that it’ll get in the way of paddling and side-arm casting there.

Try a cast or two

With your paddle stowed, start fishing, paying close attention to where you need to move your rod to cast under low-hanging vegetation or for real distance. Your fish finder needs to be mounted low and roughly in an arc of 90 degrees in front of you, and somewhere on the center console makes the most sense for most people.

best kayak fish finder

A 5-inch screen is about as big as you can work with in a kayak.

Cables and battery

Now, if you have a good spot picked out, think about where you’ll run cables for your battery and/or transducer. They need to be out of the way and perhaps even secured with duct tape to keep them from becoming an issue. A place to keep the 12V batteries that most models take will also demand careful consideration, too.

Frequencies

Fish finders use sonar to find fish, relying on pretty much the same tech that submarines do. Less advanced sonars use dual frequencies. The state-of-the-art sonar is currently CHIRP, or Compressed High-Intensity Radiated Pulse.

frequency of sound waves

  • Low frequencies penetrate the water better, allowing the fish finder to “see” deeper, but they lack the fine detail for locating schooling fish.
  • High frequencies carry more information. This allows them to offer greater detail and pinpoint fish, but they’re not very good at passing through water. For instance, they can’t tell you much about the shape of the bottom or see very deep. That’s something you need to know, especially when looking for the cover and structure that tells you where fish are going to hang out.
  • Dual frequencies allow a fish finder to do both at the same time, and typical frequency combos offer a pairing of one low and one high frequency.
  • The angle of the transducer beam is not as critical as you might be led to believe by marketing. Basically, wider angles are better at seeing fish suspended in the water column, whereas narrower angles excel at finding fish near the bottom. Which is better for you depends on what you’re fishing for, and every model we review should be fine for pretty much everyone.
  • CHIRP is king – CHIRP is military-grade tech that uses longer pings over a wide range of frequencies. Starting low and ending high, CHIRP systems offer better accuracy than dual frequency competitors and provide more data to the fish finder, improving its performance. 

traditional vs chirp

Check out the video below that explains a bit more on it:

Transducers

This is the beating heart of your system, and mounting it properly will mean the difference between a great day of fishing and a wasted trip.There are generally three ways a transducer can be mounted to your ‘yak:

  • Hull mounting - A tried and true method from the early days of kayak fishing. By cutting a sponge to accept the transducer and resting it on the bottom of the hull inside your kayak, it can send and receive sonar pulses with only a minimal loss of signal. If you really hate transom mounting, and some people do, you can always experiment with hull mounting your system and see how it affects its function.
  • Transom mounting - This method uses a mount to attach an arm to your yak. At its bottom, the transducer will be submerged in the water, like it should be. But this does put your transducer in a potentially dangerous spot, and running into a rock or stump will definitely risk damage.
  • Scupper mounting - Many kayaks come with scuppers equipped to accept common transducers. If your kayak does, look into fish finders that will fit, as this is the best method for securing a transducer to your ‘yak. Unfortunately, these are almost always added extras that you must buy in addition to the fish finder.

Maximum Depth

You want a fish finder with good maximum depth, and every model we review has you covered. But if you routinely fish deeper water, this is something to consider.

Display Size

More isn’t always better. Find the best balance for you--between easy-to-see and easy-to-miss with your paddle and rod. Large screens are easier to read, but they’re also harder to position out of harm’s way. Small screens can be hard to see well, but they can also be tucked away more easily.

Display Resolution

This is a measure of how much detail a fish finder’s screen can provide. It’s an important consideration: a small screen with great resolution can be easier to read than a large screen with only average resolution.

GPS

GPS and maps are powerful tools for anglers, allowing them to create waypoints and find the same honey holes again and again.

One of the best ways to use a fish finder is to map structure and cover, allowing you to return to where fish school and feed. Not all fish finders offer this feature, but it’s a great addition and something to consider, especially if you fish areas like massive lakes or the coast. Maps are a nice feature to complement GPS, and they can help you find the best places to fish quickly.

Batteries

Let's get real: finding space and capacity for a traditional 12v battery is a pain.

Instead, you want to run your fish finder with smaller 12v systems designed specifically for marine electronics. They’re much smaller and lighter than starting or deep cycle alternatives, and they provide multi-day performance for a fish finder without the hassle of excess size and weight.

For each of our products, we list the battery options, and for those of you who simply don’t want a 12v system, we’ve included the awesome Garmin Striker 4.

Final Thoughts

Too many kayak electronic reviews just don’t come from a place of experience, and while 7- to 10-inch screens might be awesome on a bass boat or center console, they’re a nightmare when you’ve got a paddle in your hand or need to cast under an overhanging branch.

We hope that our real-world experience tells in these reviews, and if we’ve helped you pick your next kayak fish finder, we’d love to hear from you!

Please leave a comment below.

About The Author
Pete D
Born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, Pete grew up fishing on the Great Lakes. When he’s not out on the water, you can find him reading his favorite books, and spending time with his family.
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