Kayak fishing is a sport that is exploding in popularity. People who try it once are many times hooked, and soon find themselves shopping for a fishing kayak at the sporting goods stores. What is the draw towards this kind of fishing? There are numerous reasons, but the most popular ones are affordability, exercise, the excitement of close quarters fishing, and the fact that kayaks can be launched from and fished in just about any kind of water.
Once you have your new fishing kayak, it’s time to start outfitting it into an efficient fishing machine. One of the very first additions to your kayak will be a fish finder. Choosing the best fish finder for kayak fishing requires some different considerations from that of a boat. Read on to see our guidelines and recommendations for the best fish finders for kayaks.
Quick Overview: 5 Best Kayak Fish Finders
- Garmin echoMAP PLUS 73sv – Editor’s Choice, the 7 inch touchscreen and CHIRP, ClearVu, SideVu, built in maps and Quick Draw, make this the kayak anglers dream.
- Garmin echoMAP PLUS 63cv – Great unit if SideVu isn’t in your budget, and a little smaller to fit in more kayaks.
- Lowrance Hook2 7 TripleShot – Great price and full of features, including Down and Side Scan, plus excellent mapping.
- Humminbird Helix 5 DI GPS G2 – Best cheap Down Imaging fish finder for kayaks.
- Garmin Striker PLUS 5cv – A good GPS and ClearVu imaging fish finder, you can save some money if you don’t need maps.
Matching the Fish Finder with Your Fishing Style
The first thing you should think about, is how and where you like to fish, or where to plan to fish with your kayak. This will point you towards the best kayak fish finder suited for your style of fishing.
If you prefer fishing on offshore structure like weedlines, humps, and deeper reefs, then a nice cheap DI or SI GPS combo fish finder could suit you perfectly. The GPS helps you stay over the structure you want to fish, and the DI sonar capabilities help you identify rocks, brush, and other objects you might want to cast to. If you like to fish larger lakes or even the ocean, you would be smart to consider getting a good fish finder GPS combo for your kayak. Also, the last thing you want when fishing big water is to be disoriented far from land.
Editor’s Choice: Garmin echoMAP PLUS 73sv
The echoMAP PLUS 73sv is a kayak anglers dream. This unit is a big step up from the Striker PLUS. It it a 7 inch touchscreen fish finder, with built in Wi-Fi. This is basically unheard of until now. In addition to the amazing screen, is SideVu and ClearVu imaging sonar with CHIRP.
Basically, this is a full featured fish finder that is compact enough to fit in your kayak. And if you don’t really want to spend the money to get SideVu, there are other great units in the Garmin echoMAP Plus family like the 63cv and 7cv.
If you aren’t convinced yet, the echoMAP PLUS 73sv is also pre-loaded LakeVu maps that cover over 17,000 bodies of water. There is also a microSD card slot that you can use a Navionics card for mapping. I can’t tell you how important it is to have contour maps for fishing, so if you can swing the extra cost to upgrade form the STRIKER, I would do it for the mapping alone.
The Hook series has been revamped this year, now called the Hook2 series. They go by the odd names of SplitShot and Triple Shot. SplitShot is the Sonar plus Down Scan model, and TripleShot adds Side Scan to the mix. The pricing on these units is extremely aggressive. The 7 inch models are a nice chunk of change cheaper than comparable Garmin and Humminbird units.
The 7″ is an ideal size for a serious fishing kayak. The Hook2 7 fish finder has a 800×480 pixel screen with a compact base, making it ideal for kayak fishing where space is limited. The Hook2 7 TripleShot has regular 2D sonar, Down Scan, and Side Scan imaging, plus CHIRP in medium and high frequency ranges, making this unit one of the most versatile kayak fisher finders available to fishermen today.
The new Helix CHIRP G2 series from Humminbird is an excellent place to start. The Helix 5 has a kick ass screen, measuring 5″, packed with 800×480 pixels. There is a Helix 5 version that could be a good match for almost anyone. Check out the Helix 5 CHIRP SI GPS G2, or Helix 5 CHIRP Sonar GPS G2. We think the 5″ screen is the perfect balance of size and screen visibility for fishing out of a kayak. New with the G2 series is CHIRP sonar. CHIRP pings over a range of frequencies, which provide clearer sonar returns, and can help separate fish from other clutter on the screen.
This new 5″color combo unit is an excellent choice as well, with excellent screen visibility to pair with the detailed images of the ClearVu imaging sonar. Like the Helix 5 the screen is super bright and packed with 800×480 pixels for an excellent picture. The Striker PLUS 5cv has a nice small gimbal bracket that is simple to adjust, and small enough to fit on the hull of a kayak.
For 2018, Garmin has upgraded to the PLUS series, going from “5dv” to a “5cv”. As far as I can tell, the only difference is they call the down scanning sonar “ClearVu” now instead of DownVu. On the forums, it appears the ClearVu is a new transducer in response to losing a lawsuit with Lowrance.
Many kayak fishermen simply like to cruise the shoreline on smaller bodies of water, casting to shallow vegetation, laydowns, and docks. If you plan on doing most of your fishing on ponds, coves, and small rivers, then a small fish finder combo might suit you since you might not need the extra cost of a GPS to help you get around.
This fish finder is the little brother of the Hook2 7 SplitShot, with a slightly smaller screen but all the same GPS/Sonar combo features, making it a perfect size for a small fishing kayak. You still have the 2D and CHIRP sonar as well as the imaging views of the bottom with down scan and down scan overlay. The features and compact size make this unit an excellent fish finder for kayak fishing.
This color Garmin fish finder is a good alternative to the Lowrance model. The Echo 301dv has DownVu sonar imaging, which looks really great on the 3.5″ QVGA screen. This unit has a compact design that would sit nicely either on the gunnel of your kayak, or on the center pod near your feet. This unit is very similar to the Striker 4, except it has the benefit of built in lake charts, which is well worth the additional cost in our experience. Fishing out on a kayak is challenging enough that having lake maps is a huge bonus.
If you want the biggest screen for your dollar, than the Helix 5 CHIRP Sonar G2 is the way to go. Unlike the others we’ve recommended, this fish finder uses a landscape orientation, which can be very handy on a kayak. If you fish shallow, you will make a lot of low side arm casts and pitches to cover, so having a fish finder that doesn’t sit as high on your gunnels can be a benefit. New for this year is CHIRP sonar, which can help provide visual separation of fish from other returns.
How Much Mounting Space?
Next, think about how much space you have on your kayak for a fish finder. You’ll need space for a RAM or Scotty fish finder mount, a small 12V battery, cables, and all your rods and tackle. You’ll also want your fish finder to have a screen that is big enough to see detail, yet compact enough to not constantly be in the way while you’re paddling and casting. Something with a 5″ screen would be ideal, but on smaller kayaks you may want to go down to the 4″ or even the 3.5″ size screens.
One final thing you might want to consider when choosing the depth finder for your kayak, is what brand you have. In the last few year, kayak makers have teamed up with the fish finder manufacturers to make scupper holes that perfectly match the transducers to make their installation seamless and fast.
If you have an Old Town, Ocean, or Necky kayak you might want to favor Humminbird because they are all owned by Johnson Outdoors, and they exclusively design their scuppers for Humminbird transducers. On the other hand Hobie and Wilderness Systems kayaks have made their boats Lowrance ready with similar mounting features on their kayaks.
Kayak Fishing Resources
Once you’ve picked out the best fish finder for your kayak, your fun is only beginning. Your next tasks will be to rig your fish finder onto your kayak, and this includes batteries, cables, transducers, and mounts. There are lots of ways to do this yourself, and these guides can get you started.
- Best Fish Finders Reviewed
- How to Mount a Fish Finder to a Kayak
- How to Mount a Transducer to a Kayak
- Kayak Fish Finder Batteries and Battery Boxes
- Portable Fish Finder Reviews
- Side Imaging Tutorial, Tips and Tricks
- Compare similar fish finders with our Fish Finder Comparison Tool.