If you’re in the market for a portable fish finder, but restricted by the size of your boat, you may feel as though there aren’t many choices available. However, there’s certainly more quality choices for your future fishing trips than you probably think.
Table Of Contents
- Best Portable Fish Finders For Small Boats
- What’s the size of your “small” boat?
- How do you plan to power this thing?
- Where do you do your fishing?
- What’s your budget?
- Final Thoughts
Best Portable Fish Finders For Small Boats
- iBobber Bluetooth Smart Castable Portable Fish Finder
- Lowrance Elite 9Ti2 Portable Fish Finder
- Humminbird Helix 5 G2 Chirp GPS 410210-1
- Garmin STRIKER Plus 5c GPS
- Raymarine Dragonfly 4 Pro portable fish finder
In this article, we’ll compare some features, and then we’ll give you our list of the 5 best fish finders for small boats. So sit back and relax, because we’ve got you covered…
So let’s start at the beginning: what does a fish finder do, and how does it work?
Simply put, it’s an instrument used for finding fish in deep water. They’re either handheld or mounted, and basically use sonar technology to reflect pulses of sound energy back to a visual receiver.
More modern units can display size and depth of the fish, and they’re used by both sport and commercial fisherman, alike.
Portable fish finders got their start as a GPS/sonar hybrid (commonly referred to as a chartplotter) used for charting position, heading, speed, and water-depth. These early models acted as more of a safety measure than fish finding aid, typically being utilized by larger craft. But as additional uses became more and more obvious, these devices developed a better commercial value for fishermen.
What distinguishes the various types of portable fish finders, and what important features should you look for when making your selection?
Remember, we’re talking about smaller boats, so you won’t likely see these units featured on The Deadliest Catch. Even still, there’s a few things you want to keep in mind:
What’s the size of your “small” boat?
Do you own a canoe or a kayak? Maybe a Jon Boat or a skiff. Just like your boat, portable fish finders come in all shapes and sizes. For a smaller vessel, you may not really need something working on a high-frequency. And the bigger the unit, the fewer mounting-options you’re left with.
How do you plan to power this thing?
A standard 12 volt marine battery will handle the draw, and several models feature a rechargeable battery, but you’ll still need to monitor your time on the water.
Where do you do your fishing?
Lake, river, or even off a pier? You paddling, or using a trolling motor? How deep is the water? Will a depth-reading of 100 feet suit your needs, or do you require something deeper? How’s the water; calm or choppy? Will down imaging suffice, or do you need a unit featuring side imaging, as well?
Speaking of where you fish, do the pre-programmed maps get the job done, or do you like to plot your own waypoints?
What’s your budget?
Portable fish finders can range from under 100 bucks, to well over four grand. Now, just because a device costs the most, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best. But for a top of the line unit with all the bells and whistles, expect a comma in the price tag.
Features like portability, higher frequencies, GPS, screen-size, expandable memory through a micro sd card, maximum depth, and the ability to utilize a transom mount transducer can all affect your decision, and the cost. So it’s important to do your research, and know what you need.
Hopefully, this article will help to make your decision a little bit easier!
If you’re on a budget, the iBobbers’ a fun, and cost-effective little gizmo!
It’s tiny, but don’t let it’s size fool you! There’s a whole lot of practicality packed into less than 2 ounces. It may fit in the palm of your hand, but with a 10 hour rechargeable battery, it’ll help you fill your cooler.
Bluetooth technology allows the iBobber to connect to your smartphone or tablet from up to 100 feet away. Although ideally suited for shallow water, It can reach a depth range of 135 feet, and works with or without cellular reception. And best of all, there’s nothing to install!
This units definitely pretty small, and that’s really the only downside. It’s basically a golf ball, so it can get lost fairly easily. However, it’s the perfect gadget for anglers, and non-anglers alike.
Reelsonar.com called the iBobber “exceptionally accurate, and fun to use.” I own this device myself. I agree…it’s easy and fun. You simply turn on the app, cast your line, and fish.
Both Amazon and Bass Pro Shop give the iBobber Smart Castable Fishfinder 3.5 stars. It can vary in cost by a few dollars depending on where you make your purchase, so make sure you check prices. However it typically retails for about $89.
- Designed for portability, the iBobbers intended for ease of transport and functionality
- Significant battery life, but will drain faster when using the light-feature for night fishing
- Underwater mapping and fish alarm work well whether kayak fishing or shore casting
- The mount, a metal bushing with a minimal amount of plastic, can break easily
- There’s no power switch, so the unit remains on, keeping constant drain on the battery.
If you take your fishing more seriously, the Lowrance Elite-PTi2 might just tickle your fancy. While it’s not the most expensive option, it’ll still set you back a mortgage payment.
Although loaded with versatile features, this unit certainly isn’t the most portable. However, it’s practical for use on smaller boats and kayaks.
Granted, the 9 inch color display makes this device large for a smaller vessel. And for the price, the addition of a split-screen display would certainly make the cost a bit more palatable. But at 5 pounds, it’s still relatively lightweight.
The Elite PTi2 comes equipped with Active Imaging, allowing it to maintain an accurate depth reading at speeds up to 50 mph.
It also comes with an updated depth finder, CHIRP technology, and more advanced navigational features such as Genesis Live, a tool allowing users to chart their favorite fishing spots.
- Works with the US2 Transducer on the MinnKota. (Adapter cables required)
- Includes 25 foot-long Active Imaging 3 in 1 Transducer cable
- The unit displays both speed and depth, and includes the Navionics+ card
- Though flush-mounting remains possible, there’s no method for attaching to a trolling motor
- When connected to the Lowrance HDS GEN 2, it will only share digital data
As a solid mid-range unit, the Humminbird Helix 5 boasts many of the same features as the more expensive models, but with a lower price tag.
The Helix 5 features a split-screen view of flasher, 2D sonar and GPS, making it ideal for fresh or saltwater ice fishing.
Dual Spectrum CHIRP sonar, and CHIRP Interface Rejection remain available upgrades on the Helix models with CHIRP, while the Dual Beam sonar option comes standard on the non-CHIRP models.
The 5 inch full color touch screen display allows for complete customization, regardless of water temperature.
While not necessarily considered a “beginner’s” device, it’s not overly complicated to use. The main downside to this unit comes from the lack of wi-fi capability.
- GPS included as standard feature. Humminbird Helix 4 did not support GPS
- User friendly. Easy to operate right out of the box.
- Larger screen-size makes it more easily readable from farther away
- The depth finder, often erratic in choppy water, can misread depths as much as ten feet
- Memory compartment features a removable door for replacing the SD card
This unit features a 5 inch full color touch screen, easily viewable in bright light, with a fully-interactive interface.
Built-in Garmin Quickdraw mapping software allows for the creation and storage of up to 2 million acres of maps.
The included transducer works with traditional CHIRP sonar, as well as CHIRP Clearvu scanning sonar.
Built-in GPS allows for the creation of routes, marking of waypoints, and monitoring of the vessel’s speed.
The STRIKER Plus screen-display guarantees trolling at the correct speeds in wake-controlled areas.
- Ease of use. Garmins’ revolutionized GPS technology for over a decade
- Multiple language options for programming and useability
- The easy to use quickdraw contours provide a great addition to the mapping software
- Misidentification of individual fish can occasionally occur.
- Despite the ability to create maps and waypoints, no existing charts come pre-installed
At just under 1.5 pounds, this compact and lightweight unit comes equipped with a 4 inch high-resolution touch screen. And being waterproof to a depth of up to 3 feet makes this quality fish finder ideally suited for small boats and kayaks.
And speaking of screen resolution, this unit exceeds expectations with both down scan and side scan functionality. Whether in direct sunlight, or overcast conditions, the color screen display will remain crystal clear.
The highly intuitive interface makes it easily programmable. And the three-button design makes the Dragonfly 4 one of the simplest devices on the market today.
The updated CHIRP sonar technology shows incredibly life-like images, both 3D as well as traditional sonar, to a depth range up to 1000 feet. And the built-in GPS can help you find your way should you end up in unfamiliar waters.
Another advancement allows you to connect the unit to your Apple or Android device through a downloaded app. This makes it possible to stream live data on multiple screens. However this feature does require wi-fi.
- 4 inch screen with backlit LED display
- The 50-channel GPS Chartplotter allows plotting of up to 3,000 waypoints
- Dual-channel sonar enhances transmission of sonar signals into the water
- Requires the use of wi-fi for compatibility with smartphone or tablet
- The rechargeable battery does not indicate the percentage of remaining power
With so many options available, it can seem impossible to find the right portable fish finder to suit your needs.
For a less-experienced fisherman, it might make sense to start off with a lower-end device. (Again, I own the iBobber, and I love it.)
Much like a lure or a reel, the right portable fish finder can make a cherished edition to your tackle box. Selecting the correct one can enhance your day on the water, and provide hours of fun!