One of the biggest challenges that fishermen face is finding out where the best place to stop and start fishing is. After all, you can’t necessarily see below the water to tell what’s going on. That’s why many fishers want to find out what the best fish finder for small boat is.
Our Top Pick:
However, just like if you were looking for bait for fishing or a pair of sunglasses, there are plenty of options out there to choose from. Here, you can find not only a guide for how to choose the best fish finder for your small boat but some of our favorite models as well.
Top 5 Fish Finders for Small Boat:
1. Garmin Striker 4 – Best for Navigation
The Garmin Striker 4 is a handy tool because it serves not only a fish finder but a navigation system as well thanks to its built-in GPS. You can even use this system to mark locations such as docks, brush piles, and stumps as well as set direct waypoints that you’re trying to move towards.
In freshwater, this system can a depth of up to 1,600 feet. In saltwater, the maximum depth measures 750 feet. It uses a CHIRP sonar system as well. This means instead of sending a single frequency out, it uses multiple frequencies and combines those results into a single accurate and crisp reading on the screen. CHIRP also offers greater target separation than standard frequency measurements. It includes better bottom contours as well.
The screen also displays in full color. So, it’s easy to read and it won’t be difficult to read if it’s too cloudy or too sunny. The display resolution is 480 x 320 which makes it easy to see what you’re reading as well without distortion or over-pixelization.
The Garmin Striker 4 also displays additional helpful information on the screen. At a glance, you’ll be able to see data such as your current speed and the current water temperature.
2. Humminbird 410210-1 HELIX 5 – Best Array of Features
If you’re looking for a high-tech option with plenty of features, the Humminbird 410210-1 HELIX 5 is ready to deliver. This fish finder runs at a powerful 500 watts and a 5-inch display. This display is full-color and 800 x 400 pixels, making it easy to see what you’re looking at in any lighting.
This is another option that relies on CHIRP sonar. Again, you’ll get to take advantage of the use of multiple sonar frequencies to create a detailed map of what’s below you. The unit also uses side imaging which means that it uses a thin beam to constantly scan from left to right under your boat. This gives you a wider coverage area and more data to work with.
The fish finder also relies on a feature that’s often associated with higher-end models called down imaging. This makes what’s below you crystal clear compared to what sonar alone can offer. The SwitchFire feature helps you control what you see as well. This feature lets you toggle between the Max display mode and the Clear display mode which lets you seamlessly control the level of detail on your screen. The Max mode offers more detail than the Clear mode.
3. Deeper PRO+ Smart Sonar Fish Finder – Best Casted Option
The Deeper PRO+ Smart Sonar Fish Finder uses an interesting design compared to most of its contemporaries. Instead of being a small, handheld screen, the Deeper PRO+ is shaped as into a sphere that you cast into the water just like you would your bait. From here, it connects to your phone to display the results.
It’s made to be widely compatible and connects to both iOS and Android phones. While it doesn’t require an internet connection, the fish finder connects to your phone via your WiFi connection – much like a hotspot – rather than via a Bluetooth connection. While not perfect, this gives you a stronger connection that’s more likely to stay tethered while the fish finder is in use.
The fish finder reads at a depth of 260 feet and the transducer it uses sends out 15 scans every second. This gives the readings a target separation of only 0.5” and gives you incredibly accurate results. You can even save these readings on the Cloud and create your own detailed record. This feature, of course, does require an internet connection since the Cloud is inherently online.
4. LUCKY Handheld Fish Finder – Best for Your Money
The LUCKY Handheld Fish Finder is a handy option that gives you a clear reading of the fish in the water around you as well as the contour of the bottom of the body of water you’re on. It’s made for use in a kayak but still remains very versatile. Whether you’re ice fishing or shore fishing, this handheld fish finder will work just fine. The only potential downside is that the readings it displays are only in meters. This generally isn’t a problem but it can create a learning curve if you’re used to U.S. measurements.
The transducer reads down .6 meters to 100 meters or about 3 feet to 328 feet. It has a 45-degree beam angle with a frequency of 200 kHz which is great for fishing in shallow waters. The reason it’s so versatile whether you’re shore fishing or ice fishing is due to the fact that it has a wide range of operable temperatures. It’ll work just fine in temperatures as low as -14 degrees Fahrenheit or -25 degrees Celsius to temperatures as high as 122 degrees Fahrenheit or 50 degrees Celsius.
The unit is powered by four AAA batteries, so you won’t have to worry about keeping a power source handy as long as the batteries are in good condition.
5. Phiradar FF688C Fish Finder – Best Option for Versatility
The Phiradar FF688C Fish Finder is a versatile option that is made to be used by both amateur and casual fishermen as well as professional fishermen. It even has some adjustments that you can make so that anyone can use it no matter if you prefer your readings in meters or feet and even offers 15 language options.
The fish finder has a 3.5” screen. Despite having an LCD display, it’s carefully designed to be readable in sunlight. It shows you not only the fish below you but the contour of the bed of the body of water as well.
It reads multiple levels of depth thanks to a dual-beam design with 1/10th precision. It has a depth reading ranging from 1.8 feet to 984 feet or 0.6 to 300 meters. It even has a depth alarm from 3 to 99 feet or about 1 to 30 meters.
Tips for Finding the Best Fish Finder for Small Boat
If you’re looking for a new fish finder for your small boat, you might find yourself feeling overwhelmed by all your options. The best way to narrow down these options and make the whole process seem less intimidating is to know what you’re looking for.
That’s why, on top of giving you a list of our favorite fish finders, we’ve broken down a buying guide. You can reference this while you search for the right fish finder for you.
The material that the housing of your fish finder is made of affects its durability and its compatibility with the hull of your boat. For instance, bronze housings work well with wood hulls while aluminum or steel hulls work best with stainless steel housings. This is an especially important guideline to follow if you’re using a thru-hull or in-hull transducer mount.
When you’re considering a fish finder for a small boat, plastic is a fairly universal choice. It’s a material that is inexpensive, durable, and compatible with most hull types. Casual and recreational fishers are likely to find that plastic housing works just fine for them.
Water Resistance Rating
It makes sense that if you’re going to use it in a boat, you don’t want your fish finder to get damaged easily if it comes into contact with the water.
It’s a good idea to look beyond whether or not a fish finder has a water resistance label. Instead, you’re going to want to check the JIS or IPX rating that the fish finder is assigned. These ratings range from four to eight.
With a rating of four, your device will be safe if it gets splashed with water. This is the lowest ranking and isn’t ideal if you’re in a boat that’s likely to have a lot of water splashing into it. In other words, you’ll want to look for a higher rating if you are fishing from a kayak, for example.
At a rating of five or six, your fish finder will be able to handle jets of water. For instance, if it was directly sprayed with water, you wouldn’t see any damage.
A rating of seven means that you could drop your fish finder in the water and it’ll be fine for up to 30 minutes. This works in water depths up to 10 feet. If you drop the finder in deep water, it may still cause damage to the unit.
A JIS/IPX rating of eight is the highest rating that a fish finder will have. This means that your fish finder will be able to survive underwater for an extended period of time.
Power and Wattage
As an electronic, the power of the fish finder you’re considering is important and should be considered compared to your specific needs. The power for these units is measured in watts. The higher the wattage, the more power the unit has, the faster the waves move, and the more powerful and accurate your fish finder’s reading will be.
You’ll also want to look at the power source of the fish finder. If the fish finder needs a specific external power source, you’ll need to account for that when you’re out on the water.
Considering Multiple Frequencies
Fish finders typically fall into one of three categories. They’re either single, dual, or multiple frequency units. Generally speaking, most fish finders fall under the dual-frequency category.
The frequency of a fish finder is measured in kHz which is a separate measurement from wattage. The most common frequencies used are 50 kHz, 83 kHz, 192 kHz, or 200 kHz.
High frequencies work best in shallow water. So, if you’re fishing in a shallow depth, it’s best to opt for a 192 kHz or 200 kHz model. If you’re fishing in deep water such as commercial or professional fishing, it’s best to opt for a 50 kHz model.
To explain how these frequencies are measured, if you have a 50 kHz model with 100 watts of power, you’ll have access to readings up to about 400 feet. If that kHz is changed to 200 kHz and the wattage stays the same, you’ll receive a depth reading of up to 100 feet.
Higher frequencies also give you better imaging. The higher the frequency, the more accurate that the imaging on the finder will be. This means that higher frequencies will give you clearer images on the unit’s display.
Even if you find the right best frequency for you, the quality of the images that you see depends on the resolution of the screen. This is measured by the number of horizontal pixels by the number of vertical pixels – just like if you were considering the resolution of a TV or video. Numerically, this is displayed as 320 x 320, for example.
At the very minimum, you should look for a fish finder with a screen resolution of 240 x 160 pixels. However, this is a very low resolution and while you’ll be able to read what you’re seeing on screen, it won’t be remarkably clear. The higher the resolution is, the better the imaging will appear on the screen.
Black and White vs. Full-Color Screens
Staying on the topic of a fish finder’s display, you also have the option of choosing between a black and white screen or a full-color display. Black and white displays are often found in budget choices but are generally less detailed and difficult to read in direct sunlight, in cloudy weather, and generally in dark environments. They’re a good starter for casual fishers with a lower budget but you’ll want to opt for a full-color display if you can or if you fish frequently.
Related: check our article about best fish finders under $200!
Anymore, full-color screens are the standard for not only fish finders but most electronics overall. They offer a more detailed visual output thanks to a wider range of colors and have a better level of readability.
It’s important that when you take your boat out, you have some sort of navigation system to help you return to shore safely – no matter how far out you go. You can save time and money by using a two-in-one fish finder and GPS. Many of these will not only help you navigate but set waypoints and markers to certain destinations as well. For example, if you see an area where fish tend to frequent, some models will let you mark it in the system’s memory.
Type of Water
Depending on if you’re saltwater fishing, freshwater fishing, or ice fishing, you’ll need to consider the type of unit and power level that you need. Ice fishing and saltwater fishing require higher power levels than freshwater fishing for accurate readings.
Cone Angles and Beams
When you use your fish finder, it doesn’t cast out a net of sorts around and below your boat. Instead, it uses a cone-shaped beam projected directly downwards. The smallest point of the cone is at the fish finder itself and it expands outward the further down it goes.
The level of expansion is measured in degrees ranging between 9 degrees and 60 degrees. Most models fall into a range between 16 degrees and 20 degrees. If you’re switching between water types and want something that will work for you in a wide range of different scenarios, a 20-degree beam is the best choice.
Some fish finders offer additional functionality by producing more than one beam. This is often associated with more advanced units rather than conventional ones. This can include dual beams, triple beams, and even side beams. As expected, the more beams that a fish finder emits increases the area around your boat that it scans. These are great options for large bodies of water such as lakes.
Dual beams are also better in shallow water since you’ll find more fish covering more area when depth isn’t as crucial to consider.
The standard transducers that most fish finders use depend on sonar imaging to compile the readings they display on the screen. This gives you a general idea of what’s below you but doesn’t create a picture-perfect image of what’s down there.
If you want to go the extra mile to get an exact picture of what’s below you, you might want to consider down imaging. This is considered a luxury feature – it isn’t necessarily a downside if your fish finder doesn’t have it unless you specifically want it.
Down imaging still uses sonar but the technology it relies on is much more advanced. It quickly and accurately tells you what’s below you whether that’s a fish, a bed of rocks, or a bunch of weeds. It’s a good idea for any skill level since its accurate but, again, it’ll add to the cost of your fish finder.
Console vs. Bow Mounted Units
Where you mount your unit will also affect your decision. The difference between a console and bow mount is that the former fits into the dash or gimbal at the driver’s seat while a bow-mounted unit fits closer to the front of the boat.
If you want to keep an eye on your unit while you pilot your boat, it’s a good idea to look into console units. If you’d rather check it while you fish off the front of your boat, a bow-mounted fish finder is probably what you’re looking for.
While some units can be permanently mounted, you probably don’t want to choose a fish finder that can’t travel with you if you decide to take a different boat out one day or have to replace the one you have. That’s why most units are made to be portable and go with you wherever you go.
Finding the right fish finder for your small boat to get ready for your next fishing trip takes careful consideration. If you’re going to invest in one of these devices, you want it to be high quality and tailored to meet your specific needs. Luckily, finding the perfect fish finder for you doesn’t have to be a difficult task.
With the buying guide we’ve broken down here and detailed reviews of our five favorite fish finders, you can find what you’re looking for in no time.