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The Best Fish Finder For A Kayak (Top 3 With Reviews and Buyers Guide)

The Best Fish Finder For A Kayak Or Canoe (Save Space With These Small Boat Fish Finders)

I remember the first time I went fishing in a kayak. It wasn’t a very fruitful day. I paddled my way around one of my local fishing holes, and it felt as if I was wasting energy constantly switching between my paddle and my rod. I didn’t know where the fish were at. When you’re relaxing on the bank or in a nice bass boat, you can get by without a fish finder. In a kayak, you constantly need to move, and you act as the boat’s motor. So, you want to find the fish quickly to make the most of your day. That’s why I’ve picked my three favorite fish finders that are perfect for mounting on a kayak. There are a lot more options on the market than these three, but these are the ones that I feel will help you out the most during your fishing adventures.

(Quick List) Best Fish Finders For Kayaks 

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(Reviews) Best Kayak Fish Finders

1. Humminbird HELIX 5 Fish Finder With Side Imaging (Top Pick)

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The Humminbird HELIX 5 provides a lot of bang for your buck. It’s not the cheapest, but it’s definitely worth every penny, and there is a lower-priced model that removes the side imaging feature that this one has. That’s a good way to save money if you only fish deeper water.The standard HELIX 5 model comes with side imaging and down imaging features to make it a great option for both deep water and shallow water. It has a 2D display, but it’s fully colorized, and it renders images in high amounts of detail. The SwitchFire sonar feature is an interesting part of the package. It allows you to view your sonar returns in two different ways.  This is because it uses two separate beams to form its images, and SwitchFire gives you the option to combine those two beams to increase the detail of your sonar returns. This can negatively impact side imaging scans, but it’s great for deep water. It also features a base map that is already built into the unit. Unlike other base maps, the one on the Humminbird HELIX 5 was designed using data from  NOAA and LakeMaster. They’re the authoritative sources for saltwater and freshwater maps in the world, and that has allowed Humminbird to give you the best maps possible. It can also take a Micro SD card to help you add extra maps, and it comes with all of the mounting hardware you’ll need for your kayak.

Features:

  • Side imaging
  • Down imaging
  • SwitchFire sonar
  • Built-in base map
  • GPS
  • Mounting hardware

Humminbird HELIX 5 (Pros and Cons)

Pros

  • Extremely accurate sonar returns
  • SwitchFire gives you more control
  • It can be use for down imaging or side imaging

Cons

  • It’s a bit expensive. However, you can pick up a cheaper model that doesn’t have side imaging. 

The Take Away:

The Humminbird Helix 5 really is the best option for most people. It has pretty much every feature you could need from a fish finder, and is still small enough to work on any kayak or canoe. It’s also a breeze to set up and use. This is one you won’t regret picking it up and adding to your arsenal of kayak fishing gear.

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2. Garmin Striker 4cv Fish Finder

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The Garmin Striker is another fish finder with side imaging and down imaging built-in, but Garmin has taken to calling their side imaging system ClearVu. So, don’t get confused by their marketing lingo. Both imaging systems are reliable and easy to use, but they don’t produce the same high-quality sonar returns that the HELIX 5 does. The images are still great, they’re just not as good. Instead of having a built-in base map, the Garmin Striker allows you to make your own maps as you go. In fact, it can create maps for over 2 millions acres, and it allows for 1′ contours when you’re creating your maps. Finally, the Striker has built-in GPS and a high-quality screen. To protect its screen and internal parts during rough trips, the CHIRP is outfitted with an extremely rugged shell, and it can withstand just about anything that you can throw at it.

You can read more about the Garmin Striker 4cv over on Amazon and read through many more user reviews.

Features:

  • An impressively rugged shell
  • ClearVu and down imaging
  • High-quality screen
  • Affordable price
  • GPS
  • Map contouring

Garmin Striker 4cv (Pros and Cons)

Pros

  • Allows you to make maps on the go
  • ClearVu and down imaging
  • Great budget option

Cons

  • It lacks a couple of the fancier features found on the HELIX 5. 

The Take Away:

This is a great option for people who want the majority of the features found on the HELIX 5 for about half the price. It’s not the fish finder with the most bells and whistles, but it’s a very versatile and reliable unit that comes  with a very affordable price.

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3. Garmin echoMAP CHIRP 54cv

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The Garmin echoMAP CHIRP 54cv is essentially an upgraded version of the Striker, but it doesn’t have the rugged shell. It does improve upon all of the Striker’s features, though. 

The echoMAP does include the same ClearVu and down imaging systems as the Striker, but they work in conjunction with built-in maps that span the entirety of the United States. If you need maps of Canada, you can purchase those separately. 

The GPS is also a lot more advanced on the echoMAP. It uses a 5 Hz GPS system that can refresh itself over 5 times per second, and that speed gives you more accurate map readings than any other fish finder on the market. 

When it comes to its sonar returns, the images are pretty high-quality. They’re not on par with the sonar returns of the HELIX, but they only fall behind by a small percentage of clarity. They’re nearly photo-realistic. 

That clarity allows you to see the details on individual fish to determine their species, and it allows you to see every obstacle in your way to keep you from getting snagged or damaging your kayak in the shallows.

You can read more about the Garmin echoMAP CHIRP 54cv over on Amazon and read through many more user reviews. 

Features:

  • ClearVu
  • Down imaging
  • High-resolution sonar returns
  • Fastest GPS on the market
  • Detailed base maps of the entire U.S.

Garmin echoMAP CHIRP 54cv (Pros and Cons)

Pros

  • Excellent GPS system
  • High-resolution sonar returns for easy viewing
  • Includes side imaging and down imaging

Cons

  • It doesn’t beat the HELIX 5, and it costs quite a bit. However, it’s a great mid-range option.

The Take Away:

This is a great mid-range option for people who want a fancier fish finder but can’t afford the HELIX 5. It has a lot of different features, and the only thing it really lacks is a rugged shell. 

More Info On Amazon.com

Things To Look For In A Kayak Fish Finder

When it comes to fish finders for your kayak, you’ll want to look at 4 main features before you decide to buy a specific model. 

1. Size

Kayaks come in all kinds of sizes, and so do fish finders. You want to pick a fish finder that isn’t going to feel clunky on your kayak or get in the way of your movements. 

A general rule of thumb is to match your fish finder to the size of your kayak. If you have a smaller one-seater, then you’ll want to stick with a fish finder that is no longer than 3 inches wide across its screen. Bigger units will get in the way of your movements, and they’ll look tacky.

If you have a bigger kayak, you can go for a fish finder with a screen that’s between 3 and 6 inches. You should have more room to move around in a larger kayak, and the added size of the display shouldn’t get in your way. 

2. Scanning Technology

The two types of scanning technology you need to look for are side imaging and down imaging. Down imaging sends a beam directly towards the bottom of the water you’re in, and it’s better to use it for really deep water. 

Side imaging is a bit more complex, and you might have trouble figuring out if a specific fish finder has it. A lot of companies like to put their own name on their side imaging technology. As a rule of thumb, just look for an imaging system with a funny name. It’s pretty much guaranteed to be a side imaging system.

Side imaging sends beams out from the sides of your boat. This allows you to see more details around the sides, and it’s great for fishing towards the bank or in other shallow bodies of water.

Most decent fish finders have both forms of imaging nowadays, but you can sometimes find decent fish finders without side imaging for a lower price. That’s probably the best way to go if you’re on a budget. It’s a lot easier to find fish in the shallows, and side imaging isn’t a necessity most of the time.

3. Mapping

Mapping gives you a general idea of where you’re at and where you want to go. It’s a key part of using a fish finder. Therefore, you probably want a fish finder that has accurate maps built into it. 

You need to look for models with base maps that use data from well-known organizations. Cheap, poorly detailed, and inaccurate maps can leave you running into structures when you’re busy staring at fish, or you’ll have trouble finding specific points that you want to reach. Maps made by LakeMaster or NOAA are reliable. 

You can also get by with a fish finder that makes its own maps as you use it. The Garmin Striker that I reviewed does that, and it’s a good way to record your surroundings as you explore new areas. However, you’ll want to bring other maps for large areas if you go that route. You still need to know where you’re going.

4. GPS Navigation

GPS works with your maps, and it’s crucial when you’re navigating large bodies of water. Any decent GPS will work, but try to get the best model possible if you plan on taking long kayaking trips. 

If you want the best, try to find a model with a 5 Hz GPS. That will refresh extremely fast, and you’ll get a very accurate idea of where you’re located at any given time. 

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Final Thoughts

The HELIX 5 may not be the best budget option, like the Garmin Striker, but it’s the best of the best, is extremely popular among kayakers and is worth every single penny that you’ll spend on it. It has the most features, and each of its features do something that will add value to your fishing or navigation abilities. When you’re kayaking, that’s important. That’s why it’s my top pick. 

If you want to try any of these out for yourself, click the links I’ve included in each review. Thank you for reading, and make sure to check out the rest of the content on my site!

Written by Don

When I'm not bass fishing or looking for steelhead in my home state of Oregon I can be found working on house projects dreaming of my next fishing adventure.

I started this website to share just some of the things I've learned along my fishing journey, and the many things I'm still learning. Enjoy!

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