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Updated Jul 28, 2023 12:01 PM
Whether fishing out of your kayak after work, on the boat for the weekend, and or on the ice in winter, portable fish finders come in handy. And just because you fish different ways doesn’t mean you need different fish finders. The best portable fish finders are adaptable and powerful to cover the water wherever you fish.
The concept of a fish finder is nothing new and pretty basic—a device that helps you determine structure, depth, water temperature, and, of course, find fish. Traditional fish fish finders are permanently mounted on the boat with a transducer on the bottom of the hull. But modern fish finders have revolutionized the game, allowing anglers to take their devices wherever they fish whether it be from a boat, kayak, through the ice, or from shore. I tested out some of the best portable fish finders on the market so you can find the perfect fit for your fishing style.
How We Picked the Best Portable Fish Finders
The best portable fish finders, well, need to be portable. The idea of being mobile while still performing at a high level was at the core of my testing. A reliable portable fish finder needs to be able to take abuse in all different environments and fishing styles without blinking an eye. For each category, I compared apples to apples, looking at the most popular models with similar features and price tags to find the best portable fish finders at the best value. Then, I took to the kayak, boat, and even onto the ice to test how the parts came together for easy operation and effective performance.
- Size: How well does the display, transducer, and accessories fit into a portable carry case?
- Performance: Does the fish finder give accurate readings of structure, water temperature, and depth?
- Durability: How well does the fish finder take abuse? Can it withstand being transported from boat to kayak to the ice shack?
- Setup: How difficult is it to setup and transport?
- Value: Does the quality of the fish finder match the price tag?
The Best Portable Fish Finders: Reviews & Recommendations
- Weight: 4.5 pounds
- Dimensions: 18” x 10” x 6”
- Screen Size: 4 inches
- Less expensive
- User friendly
Balancing a color display, dual-beam sonar, basic navigation, compact size, and low cost, the Lowrance Hook2 4x is the best portable fish finder for the widest range of users and also one of the best Lowrance fish finders. The wide-angle transducer produces bright, detailed images of structure and fish.
On the navigation side, the Hook2 4x has a GPS plotter to mark waypoints, set a course and track progress. This versatile portable Lowrance fish finder and GPS is housed in a sturdy carry case with room for tackle trays and a battery. Best of all, this Lowrance fish finder is available at a great price, and they have solid models at varying price points.
- Weight: 16.7 pounds
- Dimensions: 12.3” x 14.5” x 10”
- Screen Size: 7 inches
- Live view sonar
- Premium charts
Combining the best live view sonar and navigation charts in a convenient carry case, the Garmin Echomap UHD 7 Panoptix PS22 offers top-of-the line performance, making it one of the best Garmin fish finders. The seven-inch touchscreen display is easy to operate and the right size to take anywhere. CHIRP sonar sends signals on two frequencies to produce a detailed image of fish and structure. Switch to LiveVu Forward or LiveVu Down to get a real-time, video-like live image of fish up to 100 feet away.
To find the most productive water, the Echomap 7 UHD is preloaded with Garmin’s premium LakeVu charts and Navionics navigation data. Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity allow you to access navigation data and update charts with a smartphone.
Garmin’s most advanced fish finder and GPS also comes in a convenient carry case that holds transducers, battery, and display. The bundle includes a swivel pole to position the LiveVu transducer under the ice and a traditional transducer for CHIRP sonar. The Garmin UHD 7 Panoptix bundle allows you to take one of the most powerful fish finders anywhere you wet a line. (If you want to dip your toe into Garmin’s offering before shelling out $1,900 for the Echomap, consider their entry-level Striker 4).
- Weight: 3 pounds
- Dimensions: 10” x 9” x 5”
- Screen Size: 2 inches
- Uses standard AAA batteries
- Color screen
- Dual-beam sonar
The Hawkeye Fishtrax 1C-K’s glare-resistant color display is the smallest and lightest in my review. The display and transducer arm mount to a base that connects to any standard gear track, making it quick and easy to install and remove in seconds. The universal transducer works well on a boat or kayak, and it floats for ice fishing.
In addition to the kayak kit, Hawkeye offers an ice fishing bag and other accessories to make the Fishtrax 1c-K even more versatile. Or, use your own accessories; the universal TraxNut connects to any ¼ – 20 threaded mount. Best of all, the FishTrax 1c runs for 30 hours on four AAA batteries, so there’s no need for a bulky external battery and wires.
- Screen Size: 9 inches
- Power Draw: 2.4 amps
- Maximum Depth: 1,200 feet
- Live view sonar
- Premium charts
- Lithium-ion battery included
- Protective case not included
Mainstays of the fish finder market, Humminbird is the industry standard. They created the ultimate portable fish finder and GPS with the Ice Helix 9 MEGA. The fish finder features Humminbird’s latest MEGA Live sonar producing the clearest, most life-like images of fish and structure up to 100 feet around the angler. For the full spectrum of sonar options, the Helix 9 also includes CHIRP, down scan, and side scan imaging.
On the navigation side, the Helix 9 includes Humminbird’s top-of-the-line LakeMaster and CoastMaster charts with depth contours to one foot and up-to-date navigation data.
A great fish finder for ice fishing, the Helix 9 has a huge nine-inch screen that’s bright and clear whether you are fishing on the blinding ice or in the glaring sun. Controls are intuitive and easy to operate even with fingers that are frozen or covered in fish slime. The Humminbird fish finder comes with ice fishing accessories, or you can add a base for the control head and bracket for the transducer to take the Helix 9 onto your boat or kayak.
- Screen Size: 3.53 inches
- Dimensions: 5.9” x 5.32” x 2.95”
- Maximum Depth: 260 feet
- Fits in a pocket
- Connects with smartphone
- Least expensive
Get a powerful sonar and basic GPS on your smartphone. Connect the Deeper Pro Plus to its iOS or Android app, tie the transducer ball to your fishing line, then cast it up to 300 feet away and retrieve slowly. The unit’s dual-signal transducer transmits images of the fish and bottom along with depth and water temperature straight to your smartphone screen.
Turn on the mapping feature and the Deeper Pro Plus will create custom maps of the bottom. The GPS plotter also offers basic navigation and waypoint recording. My favorite feature is the digital fishing log and online social network to record our best catches and share with friends.
What to Consider When Choosing a Portable Fish Finder
There are many choices for the best portable fish finders and great options at every level. To meet the need of anglers fishing from kayak, boat, shore, and on ice, manufacturers are packing the latest portable fish finders with the most modern features like live view sonar and premium charts. And they’ve perfected keeping the control unit, battery, transducer and other accessories compact enough to fit in a take-anywhere carry case.
To pick the best portable fish finder, consider how you will use the sonar and navigation system. For shore and kayak anglers, a basic system with sonar and GPS plotter is easy to install and transport. However, anglers looking to carry their portable fish finder from boat to ice to kayak will appreciate the advanced live and scanning sonar and premium charts. Here are three things to think about when choosing the best portable fish finder.
The most obvious consideration is choosing the best sonar for your fishing. Portable sonars are available with the most advanced side-view and live-view sonar offering a photo-like image of fish and structure below the water. But anglers looking to save some money and space in the boat can get a small color display and basic GPS for a bargain.
In addition to finding fish, the best portable fish finder will help you find your way to fishing spots and back home. Whether you need a basic GPS plotter to mark hotspots or want navigation charts with advanced features and detailed depictions of underwater structure, the best portable fish finders include accurate navigation information, a valuable fishing tool and an extra layer of safety.
Portable fish finders are more than just a fish finder in a bag. They need to be versatile, allowing anglers to transport them easily and use them in any situation. The carry case or shuttle houses protects the control head with room for accessories and battery. To go from boat to kayak to the ice, the best portable fish finder will have attachments that make it easy to install the display and transducer. After all, the most important job for a portable fish finder is going places.
Q: How much do portable fish finders cost?
Portable fish finders range in price from just over a hundred dollars to thousands of dollars. Of course, most of the price is in the control unit. A large nine-inch touch screen display costs more than a two-inch screen. Adding an advanced sonar and premium navigation also increases the price. An advanced sonar will require a more powerful and more expensive transducer to send and receive the signal. Portable fish finders come with a carry case or shuttle and other accessories, which can add to the price as well. Manufacturers sell the case, display and transducers separately, but you can save some money by purchasing a pre-packaged portable bundle.
Q: Can you use a fish finder without a boat?
Yes. The best portable fish finders will be just as useful from a boat or kayak, but anglers can certainly use a fish finder without a boat. If you are fishing from shore or on the ice, you still have options for electronics. Most portable fish finders can be turned into an ice fishing fish finder by adding a special broadband transducer to produce real-time images of the fish and structure below the water. To use a fish finder from shore, choose a castable transducer and smartphone application (like the Deeper Pro Plus). Then cast the transducer away from shore and it will transmit images of fish and structure to your smartphone.
Q: Do I need a GPS on a portable fish finder?
The best portable fish finders double as a navigation tool. In addition to sonar to see fish and structure below the water, a fish finder with GPS helps you find the most productive fishing locations and safely navigate on the water. But all GPS and fish finder combos are not the same. The best navigation systems offer detailed charts and navigation data. Less expensive models will have less detailed charts best for basic navigation. The least expensive option is a GPS plotter. A plotter doesn’t display maps but saves tracks and waypoints to mark fishing hot spots and important locations. Some anglers fishing from shore, a small boat, or on a kayak may not need a fish finder and GPS combo. While you don’t need a GPS with a portable fish finder, today’s technology makes it easy and affordable to combine sonar with navigation.
Best Portable Fish Finders: Final Thoughts
The most advanced sonar and navigation tools work well on the kayak, boat, ice, and even from shore, allowing you to catch more fish and have more fun. To choose one of the best portable fish finders, consider how and where you will use the unit. For shore fisherman, a castable sonar allows you to stand on the bank and virtually see through the water to the bottom. For anglers who fish from a kayak, boat, and on the ice, a more advanced fish finder with GPS helps locate fish and navigate safely.
Even anglers looking for the latest live and scanning sonar technology will find the top-of-the-line fish finders in a portable package. The best advice for choosing electronics is pick the model with the features you use most often, and a control head and transducer that fit your fishing platform.
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