6 Best Fish Finder For Small Boats: Portable Models Reviewed

If you want to maximize your chances of finding areas with a ton of fish and minimize your chances of getting lost in unknown waters, then a fish finder could be a great tool to add to your fishing arsenal. There's a ton of fish finders on the market today with GPS, Wifi, Bluetooth, and more.

So we've reviewed and compared the best fish finders for small boats to make your decision a lot easier. We cover good portable options from big brands, to budget-friendly devices that could fulfill all of your needs, without the high price tag.

Preview

Product

Screen Size

Max Depth

Check Price

Garmin 010-01550-00 Striker 4 with...

Garmin Striker 4 with Transducer

3.5, 5 & 7 inches

750 ft in Saltwater,
1,600 ft in Freshwater

Humminbird 410160-1 PIRANHAMAX 4 DI (Down...

Humminbird PiranhaMAX 4

4.3 Inches

600 ft for 2D
320 ft for Down Imaging

Lowrance HOOK2 5 - 5-inch Fish Finder with...

Lowrance

HOOK2 5

5, 7, 9, 12 inches

500 ft for the 2D CHIRP
300 ft for SideScan and Downscan

HawkEye Fishtrax 1C Fish Finder with HD Color...

HawkEye

Fishtrax 1C

2 x 1.6 Inches

240 ft

Deeper PRO Smart Portable Sonar - Wireless...

Deeper PRO Smart Portable Sonar

No Screen

scans North to 260 feet

Lowrance 000-12635-001 Hook-3X Sonar, W/...

Lowrance

Hook-3X Sonar

3 inches

300 ft


Why Use A Fishfinder On Smaller Boats?

Gone are the days when anglers would scout and navigate new waterways and shorelines to find large schools of fish. Fast-forward to today, and things have changed a great deal with fishfinders doing the hard work for you. Small and portable fish finders work exceptionally well from piers, kayaks, canoes, and of course, venturing out on small boats to find perfect fishing locations.

Some fish finders may have better features than others, so it's good to know what you're looking for before buying a device you don't need. Once you decide on your perfect fishfinder, you could be tracking down schools of fish from your dinghy, bass boats, or aluminum fishing boat in no time.


What Kind Of Fish Finder Do I Need For Small Boats?

Water Conditions

When you’re choosing your fishfinder, you’ll need to consider where you’ll be doing most of your fishing since every fish finder can be suitable for certain fishing environments. One device could excel at targeting species in shallow, hard to see water, but it may perform terribly in rough sea conditions.

If you're confident you'll simply be taking your small boat to lakes and enjoying freshwater fishing, you've narrowed your search further. Overall, there's no need to worry; there's an array of affordable fishfinders that are very versatile.

Mounting Type

There are many different fish finders on the market today, but most of them are either mounted, handheld, or even wireless. They work in the following ways.

  • Mounted Fishfinders
    A fish finder can be mounted onto your small boat so that the transducers are released directly vertical to the waterline. There are 4 ways to mount your fish finder, but the most common for small boats is by the 'Transom Mount.' It's when the anglers mount the transducer below the waterline at the transom.
  • Portable Fishfinders
    These are very common for anglers on small boats. They’re small in size and weigh nearly nothing. These fish finders can fit perfectly into the palm of your hand and don’t need to be mounted to get good readings of fish targets.
  • Castable Fishfinders
    Wireless or castable fish finders are quite new to the scene, but they work very well, especially from small boats. You can cast this device with a spinning or baitcasting rod, and you'll receive all of the information directly to your smartphone. These devices can be connected through wifi or Bluetooth and can scan waterways as far as 300 ft.

Power Source

Batteries in fish finders can range just as much as the materials used to make them. Bigger devices tend to use Lithium batteries as they're smaller in size and lighter in weight than SLA batteries. But when you're looking at buying a smaller device, you can find fish finders using AAA batteries that work well for up to 30 hours. It's good to remember that a bigger battery can lead to higher-priced products, so don't buy it if you don't need it.

The Transducer

The type of transducer you use will have a tremendous impact on how your fishfinder performs. It’s essentially your fishfinder’s eyes and ears in the water. The three main types of transducers for small boats fall under a cone angle, beam angle, and a dual-beam angle. Cone angle transducers are great for freshwater applications, whereas beam angles work well in saltwater fishing. If you’re looking for a device to suit both, focus on dual-beam angles.

Dual-beam devices can listen back for the 83kHz wide beam, while a single frequency device (like a beam angle) filters it out. Dual-beam fish finders are also very useful in shallow water, like 30' and less. So you can find hard-to-see fishes in water plants and debris with ease.

Display Screen

The display screen can be vital to a good fishing trip; there's no point purchasing a fish finder if you can't see the screen due to sunlight. You'll want to focus on LED over CCFL screens as they're a bit more efficient since they flicker much less.

You can also adjust the brightness for different lighting conditions, and some can have 4-12 different brightness levels, so you really won’t have a problem seeing the screen. Also, LED-backlit screens consume way less battery, so you can fish without worries.

  • CHIRP vs. Traditional Sonar
    CHIRP stands for Compressed High-Intensity Radar Pulse and has been around for quite a while. It’s a better way to process and display traditional 2D sonar images onto your fish finder device. It tends to cost a little more than standard transducers as it gives anglers a much clearer and distinct target separation on fish throughout waterways.Even though CHIRP has its benefits, so do traditional sonar devices, too. They can transmit powerful pulses of energy into the water at a specific frequency, which in return, picks up the echo. You'll get a good combination of depth and detail if you use a device that can work on a dual-frequency or even triple-frequency transducer.

Performance Features

Good quality fish finders come with a ton of perks and nifty features. Some you won’t need but will appreciate. If your device can connect to WiFi, you should be able to pair it to your smartphone.

You can save maps and routes straight from your device, as well as how quickly it operates. As I briefly mentioned previously, you also want something easy to transport. It shouldn't be bulky or overly heavy, especially if it’s for a small boat.

Some other key features to look out for are viewing angles, visibility shots, scanning, extra SD storage, and whether or not it’s a good portable device. These are all added extras catered for you and can really help you target schools of fish.

Price & Warranty

No matter which fish finder you choose, there’s also more reassurance when there’s a warranty of some sort on your product. If you can’t decide between two fishfinders, check to see which one has the better warranty. It could save you money in the long run by choosing the device that’s covered.

You’ll need a model that caters to your needs but stays within your budget. No matter how high or low your budget may be, there's at least one fishfinder on this guide that will suit all your needs on a small boat.


6 Best Fish Finders For Small Boats Reviewed

1. Garmin Striker 4 with Transducer

best fish finder for small boat

Screen Size

3.5, 5 & 7 inches

Resolution

480 x 320 pixels

Max Depth

750 ft in Saltwater, 

1,600 ft in Freshwater

Mounting Options

Portable or bracket

GPS Built-in

Yes

Warranty

1 Year

The first fish finder on our list is the Garmin Striker 4 with Transducer. It’s our top pick for small boats as it’s portable and very versatile.

Choose between three display sizes 3.5 inches, 5-inches, and 7-inches and they all have a water rating IPX7. It has a high-quality key interface with clearly marked buttons and is incredibly easy to use and install. It also provides a glare-free HVGA color display that can be easily read in all conditions and at all times.

The Striker 4 fishfinder operates with CHIRP sonar, which helps in seamlessly pinpointing locations with decent amounts of fishes. It continuously sweeps a range of frequencies, which provides a broader range of information for anglers. Once you find a good fishing ground, the device allows anglers to easily view, mark, and navigate to locations such as brush piles, stumps, and docks.

What makes this device even more of a catch is its maximum depth. In saltwater, it can operate at a depth of 750 feet, whereas in freshwater, it can go as low as 1,600 feet. If you’re wondering how it will hold up in shallow waterways, there’s no problem.

The Garmin Striker 4 also has a DualBeam Sonar, which allows for fishing in shallow as well as deep waterways. So you can enjoy fishing in narrow lakes or of the coastline. This device is even ideal for ice fishing or vertical jigging, so you can find fishes in a ton of fishing environments at ease.

Pros
  • CHIRP sonar is great for finding schools of species
  • Three size screens available
  • High-quality key interface
  • East to use
Cons
  • Limited networking options

2. Humminbird PiranhaMAX 4

Runner Up

Screen Size

4.3 Inches

Resolution

480V x 272H

Max Depth

600 ft for 2D

320 ft for Down Imaging

Mounting Options

Portable or bracket

GPS Built-in

No

Warranty

2-Year Limited

Our runner up for the best fish finder for small boats is the Humminbird PiranhaMAX 4 DI. The ‘DI’ in the name simply stands for ‘down imaging.' This helps to provide detailed picture-like images from directly below the boat.

The picture-like images are created by reproducing the return sonar signal more realistically. It can read the bottom of the boat at speeds up to 20-30 MPH, but the recommended speed for clear images and for a maximum of fish targets is at 6 MPH. It’s a perfect match for small boats without big engines.

This device can operate on two frequencies, 200/455 kHz, and it has two types of sonar, DualBeam (2D), and Down Imaging. What it doesn’t have is GPS charts or any other navigation functions. It’s a standalone, simple fish finder that works very efficiently on small boats, and can find schools of fish in a hurry.

The PiranhaMAX 4 DI comes with their exciting new feature- 'Fish ID.'  It reads sonar signals by using an advanced signal processing algorithm. This gives you the location of specific fish and shows you the size based on one of three sizes.

The Humminbird PiranhaMAX 4 DI has a ton of other useful fish features, like Real Time Sonar, a Fish Alarm, Depth Alarm, and a Bottom Lock, too. These features are especially helpful when you're slowly moving, looking for large species, even under tree limbs or other hard to see debris.

Pros
  • Affordable fishfinder
  • Sharp, picture-like images
  • Features Fish ID, Great for locating schools
  • Easy to use and maintain
Cons
  • Limited features, No GPS

3. Lowrance HOOK2 5

Top of the Range

Screen Size

5, 7, 9, 12 inches

Resolution

800 × 480 pixels

Max Depth

500 ft for the 2D CHIRP

300 ft for SideScan and Downscan

Mounting Options

Portable or bracket

GPS Built-in

Yes

Warranty

1-Year Limited

If you're a fanatic for lake fishing, then the Lowrance HOOK2 5 could be a fishfinder worthy of saving some of your dollars for. This top of the range fishfinder is one of the best devices as it's preloaded with US inland mapping that features 4,000 lakes with 1-foot contours. It also features a TripleShot transducer that gives you DownScan sonar, SideScan sonar, and CHIRP sonar views. It will be hard for even the smaller fish to go unnoticed.

If you’ll be out in some hot sunny days, you won’t have to worry about not seeing your screen. It features SolarMAX, which is more easily viewable in direct sunlight than ever before. The pixel counts are pretty standard at 800×480 for everything else. But you’ve got the option to higher your screen resolution by moving up to the HDS Carbon series that has the SolarMAX HD panels with a higher pixel density. With a choice of 4 sizes, you’re bound to find the best size to suit your needs.

Overall, this is one of the best fishfinders on the market today, so it has that higher price point. A big advantage with a great-quality fish finder is that it shouldn't go out of date, and this one definitely doesn't. It comes complete with an SD card slot for software and mapping upgrades, future features, and third-party maps to be added.

Pros
  • TripleShot transducer included and easy to install
  • HD color screen and backlighting
  • MicroSD card slot
  • Fast and accurate GPS location
Cons
  • Doesn’t support external GPS units

4. HawkEye Fishtrax 1C

Best Handheld Option

Screen Size

2 x 1.6 Inches

Resolution

200/83 pixels

Max Depth

240 ft

Mounting Options

Handheld or Bracket

GPS Built-in

No

Warranty

2-Year

You'll need a fish finder that's lightweight and highly portable if you're into long fishing trips with a ton of traveling.

The HawkEye FishTrax 1C is a great option as it’s loaded with premium features and designed to fit the needs of all levels of anglers, including the most experienced. And all anglers won’t complain about its size, especially when traveling. The Hawkeye Fishtrax series measures 6 inches long by 3 inches wide by 2 inches deep and fits snugly into the palm of your hand or in a pocket of your backpack.

Though it's so compact, Hawkeye still managed to fit a lot of features onto this fish finder. It has a VirtuView HD color display with LED Backlight that provides a glare-free view for excellent readability. There's also an ice flasher mode for winter fishing, so using this device in all weather conditions s viable.

Unlike most smaller fish finders, the HawkEye FishTrax 1C device allows you to adjust SONAR sensitivities to your liking. If you choose a lower sensitivity, the device will remove any clutters and give you a better bottom picture. In contrast, a higher sensitivity will show you a lot more detail but may clutter the screen a little bit. This is where experienced anglers will have some fun as it has 100 sensitivity settings for you to choose from, giving you unmatched accuracy and freedom.

Pros
  • Extremely portable and lightweight
  • Perfect for anglers changing sensitivities
  • Fish targeting was very accurate
  • Good pricepoint
Cons
  • Battery life lower than advertised

5. Deeper PRO Smart Portable Sonar

best portability fish finder for small boat

Screen Size

No Screen

Resolution

N/A

Max Depth

scans North to 260 feet

Mounting Options

Flexible arm mount

GPS Built-in

Yes

Warranty

1-Year Limited

If you're looking for a new age, high-tech option that is also good for portability, then let us introduce the Deeper Pro Smart. It's a castable device that is linked to a smartphone or apple app, has many valuable functions besides the sonar itself. With this product, you can cast off from your boat, from shorelines, and even enjoy some ice fishing. And if you add in the mounting bracket, this device can become a great addition to any small boat or kayak fishing trip.

The design itself is quite extraordinary. It’s a black sphere shape that is about the same size as a tennis ball and is constructed of ABS plastic. You can fit it in your hand perfectly and is small enough to put in a side pocket of your bag. This makes the Deeper PRO Smart fishfinder one of the most portable fish finders we’ve ever seen.

In terms of casting, you won’t be too disappointed with the outcome. The Deeper PRO Smart can cast up to 330ft with a good baitcasting rod. It can also scan down to 260 ft thanks to its dual beam sonar frequency. You'll also receive free access to a Lake book and Deeper' s bathymetric management platform where you can save, review, and analyze all of your maps on any Android 4.0 or iOS 8.0 device.

Pros
  • Perfect for scanning hard to reach areas
  • Small and portable
  • Good value for money
  • Connects to your smartphone to record previous fishing records
Cons
  • Issues with connectivity during rough waters

6. Lowrance Hook-3X Sonar

best fish finder for small aluminum boat

Screen Size

3 inches

Resolution

320 x 240 pixels

Max Depth

300 ft

Mounting Options

Transom Mount

GPS Built-in

No

Warranty

1-Year Limited

Whether you're hunting, fishing, jigging, or exploring in an aluminum boat, one thing is for sure, you're bound to run into some schools of fish.

The Lowrance Hook-3X is the ultimate choice for novice anglers as it's easy to use and has everything you'll need. This compact unit has high-quality features that help you spot fishes quickly. It uses traditional SONAR with dual-frequency beams for a view of the objects like fish targets, bottom contour, structure detail, bottom hardness, thermoclines & more.

Another great feature of the Lowrance Hook-3X is the Skimmer transducer. It can sense the water temperature so it can track the depth up to 75 mph. Another feature worth mentioning is the fish ID setting, which shows the fish icons so it can notify you regarding the presence of fish. You will also get other options, including trackers and alarm options, along with its broadband sounder.

Lastly, the 3” manageable screen size is situated above dedicated and easy to read buttons. It has a backlit LED color display with 11 adjustable brightness options to suit you for any type of fishing and in rain or snow. You get all the benefits of fancy of a higher-priced fishfinder in one handy and portable device.

Pros
  • Suitable in both day and night conditions.
  • ASP helps you find the fish quickly
  • You can easily switch between frequencies
  • Portable and travel-friendly
Cons
  • Not suitable for saltwater fishing

Tips for Installing a Fishfinder on a Small Boat

When you’re installing your new fishfinder onto your small boat, you may start feeling overwhelmed. On most modern boats, you'll have three choices: shoot-through, through-hull, and transom mounts. The most popular for small boats is the transom mount, as it works well for low speeds and causes the least amount of interference.

Watch this tutorial to learn more about connecting your transducer by a transom mount. Installing your transducer is just one of the challenging jobs when installing your fishfinder. Here are 3 more tips that could come in very handy.

  • Register your fish finder and install any software updates
    This will also activate your warranty for you. And, manufacturers can also email with updates and critical alerts.
  • Focus on power and objects that may cause interference
    Be sure to check if your device needs to be connected to the boat's sonar unit. If you have a 12V trolling motor, it won't be sufficient, as it may cause too much interference.
  • Position your fishfinder as close to level as possible
    Adjust the transducer's angle, check it in the water, and adjust again if needed. Many anglers don't check this, and it can be quite a pain when to fix when you're out on the water.

How to Use a Small Boat Fish Finder

There’s no point buying, installing, and setting up your fishfinder if you don’t understand which movements represent plants, rocks, or schools of fish.

Learning about fish arches will come in handy as it’s really how you can detect fishes over debris. Larger arches show that there’s a big fish detected. And half arches typically mean a fish has swum through only part of the sonar cone. If you see a number of these together, then you’ve found a school.

If you get a device with FishID, you won’t have to worry about learning to read each image. This technology shows "fish" in different sizes and lengths. There are also different icons to represent possible plants or rocks. It's an excellent way for novice anglers to be introduced to fishfinders.


Frequently Asked Questions

Do fish finders work in shallow water?

Yes, but this really depends on the brand and model you choose. Some fish finders work exceptionally well in shallow waters, like the Humminbird PiranhaMAX 4. Whereas others will show plants and debris as movements, leading you to believe there's fish somewhere when there's not. If fishing in shallow waters is necessary, be sure to check if it's an option on your device.

Are portable fish finders any good? What are its benefits?

Portable fish finders are great for travelers, on the go fishermen, or for anglers who only rent boats for a short amount of time. You can't go drilling holes into a rental, so this is where a portable fish finder will come in handy. It uses sonar technology, and you'll see on the screen how deep the fish are based on the readings, just like a regular transducer would do.

Which fish finder reviewed above is easiest to use?

Our top pick, Garmin Striker 4 with Transducer, is easy to use and features FishID. As mentioned previously, this technology makes it easier for anglers to read the information that's created by frequencies. It shows up as icons, rather than arches. And it also features an easy to understand keyboard interface with each button marked for its use.

Is it possible to make a DIY fish finder mounting system for small boats?

When it comes to drilling holes into your flotation device, it’s always better to ask, is it really worth risking your boat to save some dollars? There are a ton of mounting brackets that won’t break the bank on Amazon, with easy to install instructions. Some fish finders have a mounting system included with the device. And others simply don’t need a mounting system at all.

Are there any other necessary accessories to use with my fishfinder?

You can get a lot of specialized cables, adaptors, temperature sensors, and mounts for your fishfinder. You may not need all of these accessories, so be sure to check before you buy. If there are any anglers using fish finders in your area, it's great to ask them what they tend to grab when they’re out on the water.

Where can I find a good fish finder for my small boat?

When you’ve picked your favorite fish finder, the next step is to buy it. You can check out some of your local fisk tackle stores to see if they have the model you desire. Otherwise, you can always buy it directly from Amazon. They have a ton of customer questions and reviews so you can read other anglers’ opinions before you order.


Conclusion

Now that you’ve researched and read about the best fish finders on the market, it's time to decide on the best one for you.

Our top pick, the Garmin Striker 4 with Transducer, is a great all-rounder loaded with great features. If there's another device on our list that stands out to you above the rest, then go for it. It's best to choose the device that's perfect for your angling needs.