Kayak fishing is one of the oldest outdoor fun activities, so much so that it’s getting extremely popular among anglers. One of the reasons for the increased popularity is the fact that kayaks have become more budget-friendly. Fishermen also love the idea of being able to drop their kayak and fish virtually anywhere in the water.
Since time immemorial, anglers have relied on their powers of observation, wits, and experience to find fish. But it’s hard to know where fish are swimming in bigger numbers. It’s called fishing and not catching fish for a reason as it’s possible to go back home empty-handed.
Unlike hunters who can see their quarry, fish are rarely visible from the water surface. The good news is modern innovations like fish finders have made it easier to locate fish and enjoy bountiful fishing.
This is not to say that they are the most intrinsic tool during fishing, but that they will help maximize your fishing experience on the kayak. After all, the main goal of fishing is to catch as much fish as possible, right?
Modern fish finders help you to locate fish underneath among other things while providing a host of supplemental data and capabilities for the ultimate fishing experience. Basically, these devices make it easier to see what’s happening underneath your kayak and around it from all angles.
As new technologies transform the fishing industry, the market is exploding with all kinds of sophisticated devices with some of the best features and at affordable rates. There’s so much to choose from that your indecision might complicate the buying process.
But buying kayaks fish finders don’t have to be tricky or overwhelming. There are a few things you need to ask yourself when selecting an electronic fish finder, such as:
How deep do you fish?
How far do you travel?
How much room do you have?
What is your power source?
What is your budget?
In this article, we are going to help you understand the basics of a fish finder and provide you with other important pieces of information so you can independently choose the best kayak fish finder for you.
As you read through it, you will become familiar with the most basic, as well as additional features of this device so you can determine that ones that you really need to justify a purchase. Without further ado, let’s get started:
How Do Fish Finders Work?
As the name suggests, fish finders are essentially small electrical devices used to locate fish underwater. In addition to showing the fishes around the boat, they also indicate depth and other pieces of information about the overall surroundings like obstacles and underwater organisms with a high degree of accuracy. Here’s a look at the basic mechanism of a fish finder:
This device consists of two main parts: the computer with display, which is sometimes called the head unit, and a sonar transducer. The former is often considered the brain of the fish finder while the latter would be its eyes and ears.
The transducer does the real job of detecting what is underwater and sending the information to the computer/display unit for processing. It has a piezoelectric sensor that vibrates at a particular frequency and emits high-frequency sound waves into the water that bounce off any solid objects in their path.
The time and strength of the return signal are converted to an electrical signal and then sent to a small computer/display unit where it is processed and the data displayed on the screen as digital and graphic images.
The process basically involves calculating the time it takes for a sound wave to hit a solid object and bounce back to the transducer. This enables anglers to determine the distance between the object and the transducer.
The signal’s strength, on the other hand, determines the characteristic of the object. For instance, the sonar signal that is reflected off a weed bet, a group of fish, and a rock will all differ.
Just as different fish finders emit signals of different frequencies, there are different types of sensor elements available depending on the frequency used.
The old 2D sonar features a round shapes sensor that emits a low amount of frequencies compared to most modern sensors. The CHIRP sonar, which is the most modern option, produces frequencies of much broader bands, which is why it’s often called the broadband sonar.
The computers and displays used in these devices also vary in terms of quality and performance. Entry-level ones generally present crude images while high-end ones offer photograph-like images that are rich in detail.
Categories of Kayak Fish Finders
There are several different types of fish finders on the market to choose from. And, while all of them can help you catch fish, it’s best to go for that best for your situation and needs.
You’ll find conventional fish finders that typically perform one main function: collect data about the world underwater using sonar technology and displaying it on the screen to help the angler.
Such units provide basic information like water temperature, water depth, as well as objects and major structural features underwater like vegetation, sunken tree, shipwrecks, and, of course, fish that are present.
Then there are combo fish finders that come with additional features like a good GPS receiver and perfect map among other things. These can be highly useful for scouting, navigation, as well as marking waypoints so you can return to your favorite fishing spot another time.
Some even can create a map of unmapped water areas. All you’ll have to do is travel that area in a zigzag pattern for the software in your equipment to automatically generate a map for you.
Networking with Fish Finders
Some serious fishermen may need more than one fish finder at a time: one attached to the steering wheel (console) and another or two attached to the bow where casting is done. It’s not easy to keep track of all these devices at a time, which is where the networking mechanism comes in. These devices can be linked using a hub or directly within themselves, thus allowing you to share screens and even the functionality of your fish finders.
What Features Should You Consider When Buying Fish finders for Kayaks
As mentioned earlier, there are many brands of fish finders with each boasting different specs and numbers. You can easily get confused with the sheer amount of information and end up buying the wrong kayak fishing stuff.
The easiest way to choose the best kayak fish finder is checking out the features of each and matching them to your individual needs. Whether you want one that’s budget-friendly, ultra-portable, or packed full of tech features, you can rest assured that you will find your fit. Without much delay, let’s get right into the important features of fish finders for kayaks:
Transducer Style and Compatibility
Although most fish finders come with a transducer, some don’t. The transducer is the heart of a fish finder’s system as it’s the part that emits and receives the sonar waves. A high-quality transducer is essential to good readings and will make all the difference between a great day of fishing and a wasted trip.
Several things make up a good transducer, including cone angles and beams, frequency, power rating, and so on. We will take an in-depth look at each one of them later on. For now, it’s important to identify the compatibility of the unit with your kayak, especially if you are going to mount the transducer on your kayak. There are three major ways you can mount a transducer on your kayak:
Hull mounting: This is the most common kayak fish finder mount. Here, you can create housing on the bottom of the hull using a sponge, pool noodle, or small foam in a DIY process. Then, secure the transducer with silicone or marine goop.
Transom mounting: This method uses fish finder mounting brackets to attach an arm to the kayak. Unlike hull mounting that takes up space and clutters the kayak, transom mounts easily attach at the rear end of the stern of your kayak with a simple clamp.
The transducer is affixed at the bottom of the mount where it is submerged in the water. This mounting method puts your transducer in a potentially dangerous spot as it can run into huge rocks or stumps and risk damage.
Scupper mounting: Some kayak brands come equipped with custom scupper spots for transducers. If that is the case for your kayak, look for a transducer that can be easily mounted through your kayak’s scupper holes.
The installation process is as easy as dropping the transducer in the hole, no drilling or glue is required, making it the best method to secure a transducer to a kayak. However, since the scupper is responsible for draining the water from the kayak, this mounting option will keep your kayak from draining water as fast as it should.
Whatever mounting method you use, the most important thing is to ensure the model fits your kayak snugly and won’t slip when wet. Without proper installation of the transducer, it may result in lapses and inaccuracies with the signals and readings.
Most importantly, look through customer reviews for mentions of accurate reading. You can move to the next features to narrow down your search.
Cone Angles & Beams
Transducers emit cone-shaped waves to show you what is lurking underwater. Think of it as a triangle that starts at the transducer under your kayak. Naturally, wide cone-shaped waves offer a wide underwater picture since more area is covered underneath.
But the deeper the water, the less sensitive the reading will be. Cone angles usually vary between 9° and 60°, depending on the transducer. The majority of fish finders feature a 20-degree cone angle because it’s a good starting point for those who fish in various depths of water.
It’s important to angle the cone in the direction you want to fish. Different fish finders use different types of imaging techniques, namely:
Side imaging: Here the sonar uses a wide-angle to show what’s on the sides of the kayak. Although these waves don’t go very deep, they are ideal for showing what’s around you and as a result, great for kayak fishing in shallow water or along the shoreline.
Down imaging: The sonar uses a narrow-angle, allowing you to read what’s directly underneath. Since the wave travels farther, these kinds of models are ideal for kayak fishing in deeper waters.
While most models stick to a single beam, there are more advanced transducers with more than one beam, allowing for both side and down imaging on the same device.
Dual-beam fish finders allow you to play around with wave-degree settings and choose between a narrower or wider view. This is ideal for maximizing efficiency and it’s more adaptable to the kind of fishing you wish.
The frequency of a fish finder determines how much detail you can see on the display. Units with low frequencies penetrate the water better, allowing them to see deeper. However, they lack fine detail for locating schooling fish. High frequencies, on the other hand, provide more detailed pictures of what is underwater.
That’s because more sonar waves are sent out into the water and received by the transducer. They are, however, not good at passing through water, which makes them ideal for fishing in shallow waters and as such suitable for use on a kayak. The common frequencies range from 50, 83, 192, and 200 kHz. Fish finders usually fall into four categories:
Single-frequency units: Operate at one frequency level
Dual-frequency units: Offer a pair of one low and one high frequency, meaning they can operate at both 200kHz and 50kHz
Multiple-frequency: These units give you more control over what frequencies to use with variable settings, thus providing better accuracy and more data.
Compressed High-Intensity Radiated Pulse (CHIRP) technology: This is a military-grade state-of-the-art tech that emits a variety of frequencies simultaneously to provide the most complete sonar image available today.
Power & Wattage
The power output of a particular fish finder determines its level of efficiency in sending and picking up signals. A powerful unit emits stronger signals that can reach deeper underwater while giving faster and more accurate readings.
This makes it the ideal depth fish finder for kayaks. The power of these devices is usually measured in watts. Higher wattage means a more powerful unit that produces stronger and faster waves for much clearer and detailed readings.
The lesser the wattage, the weaker the sonar waves will be, which will ultimately lead to fuzzier readings. This makes a less powerful unit more ideal for those planning to fish in shallower waters.
The type of water you’re going fishing in also matters. For accurate readings, saltwater fishing and ice fishing will require higher power levels than freshwater fishing.
The quality of the kayak fish finder battery is just as important to ensure they offer longevity and won’t die on you when you need them the most.
It doesn’t matter how much efficient your fish finder is at collecting data if it can’t display the information properly. After all, analyzing the readings is vital for the best fishing experience. Needless to say, you’ll need to invest in a high-quality display screen. Here’s what to look for in a display screen:
Screen size: Fish finder screens typically measure 3-6 inches (diagonal). Bigger screens give better and clearer picture quality. This makes it easier to view images, whether you are closer to the unit or fishing at the other end of your kayak. Some even show multiple sonar data at the same time. Numbers and tiny details like sonar arches, echoes, and fish icons are easier to notice on larger screens. However, since kayaks are fairly compact and don’t have much space to spare, a massive display will only get in the way. Plus, a larger display will also add more weight and need a stronger support system.
Sun glare: It’s usually sunny for most fishing trips. The glare from the sun can make it hard to see what’s on the screen, which is why you should consider selecting a unit with a glare-resistant screen. Alternatively, you can use an LCD film to combat the glare. Similarly, if you plan on fishing during the night, you need a screen with a backlight to see what’s on the device in the dark.
Resolution: The quality of the image you see will depend on the screen resolution. This is usually measured by the number of horizontal and vertical pixels that a particular unit features. The screen resolution for your fish finder should be at least 240 x 160 pixels. This should, however, serve as base value when selecting screen resolution as the detail won’t be high enough. The higher the resolution, the better the imaging will appear on the screen. A high-resolution display is around 640 x 640 pixels or higher, but 320 x 240 pixels will also offer more detailed images.
Screen color: Fish finders are equipped with black/white or colored screens. Monochrome screens are usually found in budget units but they are generally less detailed and more difficult to read in dark environments, direct sunlight, or cloudy weather. Colored screens show a whole lot of detail, giving you a better view of what’s going on underwater. They are also easier to read in dark overcast conditions or when there’s intense glare.
When buying a fish finder for kayak fishing, it’s important to consider whether you want one that is mounted permanently to the kayak or a portable fish finder for kayaks.
There are pros and cons to both types of fish finders. If you own a kayak, you can consider investing in a fixed fish finder as this will be set up and ready for use at any time. Permanent designs are, however, constantly exposed to elements and there’s the risk of theft when left outdoors.
Portable designs, on the other hand, are often more convenient as they can be used on different vessels and you get to carry it wherever you go. This is a great option for those who don’t own a kayak and rent one instead.
Portable fish finders also take up less space, which is a great plus since kayaks have limited space. On the cons side, these designs are usually more costly and require much time to set up every time you want to use it.
Modern kayak fish finders come with a whole host of extra features to give users the ultimate fishing experience. Some will show you the speed you are travelling, water temperature, alarms to notify you when it finds fish, and more. Some can even hook to your Smartphone while others have Wi-Fi for more synchronized operation.
But perhaps the most common and useful add-on is the Global Positioning System (GPS). This is software that uses satellites and navigation technology to pinpoint locations, as well as give coordinates of positions.
It enables anglers to mark hot fishing spots so that can come back fishing another time. Kayak GPS fish finders can also help you trace your direction back home.
Some units even combine GPS with pre-loaded maps, which allow users to create waypoints and fully plan their kayak fishing route.
If you find the best kayak fish finder for your needs but it doesn’t have GPS capabilities, don’t fret as you can always purchase a separate handheld marine GPS. Keep in mind that any added feature(s) will add to the overall cost of a unit. So, consider if these extra features are truly essential or just an unnecessary cost.
Price is usually an essential factor to consider when making any kind of purchase. Luckily, fish finders for kayaks are available in a range of price tags to accommodate every budget. Prices usually range from $50-$300, although you can still find units that are below or even way higher than these pricing points.
On the cheaper end of the scale, you’ll find minimalistic units with basic features while on the pricier end, the devices come with a lot more additional features like GPS and connectivity settings.
Choosing a fish finder for kayak fishing based on price alone is a big mistake. It’s important to check what a unit offers for its price. Does it have the features you need; furthermore, are the reviews good?
While it’s possible to find good inexpensive fish finder for kayaks without breaking the bank, you must not compromise on essential features. Typically, expensive units from reputable brands offer heavy-duty quality that can last for years.
Tips for Using a Kayak Fish Finder
Now that you’ve already purchased the best kayak fish finder for you, there are a few things you must do to keep it in good condition so it can function at its best. Here are a few do’s and don’ts to get you started:
Ensure you follow the manufacturer’s manual for proper installation
Follow battery specifications
Install it on a safe and secure spot on the kayak where you can see and access it easily
Run the wires through the hull to keep them dry and secure at all times to prevent accidents
Consider buying a waterproof protective cover to prevent it from damage
Check your equipment regularly for damages and to ensure there are no lapses with the software.
Don’t use harsh materials to clean the transducer. Simply use soap and water, and if there’s any marine growth, use an emery paper or fine-grade sandpaper to carefully remove it.
Avoid operating the transducer out of the water as it could overheat and eventually get damaged. You can let it run for just a few minutes, only if the air temperature is low.
Why Do You Need A Kayak Fish Finder?
If you are still skeptical about whether or not you need a fish finder for kayak fishing, here’s a summary of some of the benefits this device offers to anglers as seen throughout this text:
Provides underwater display
These fish finders have a transducer, whose main job is to gives you underwater environment display. The transducer produces ultrasonic waves, these waves cover the underneath environment and convert the signals to readings.
The arcs and bars displayed on your device enable you to locate fish easily. In addition to fish location, you get an excellent layout of underneath water conditions; hence you can avoid obstacles as you paddle. Whether you’re preparing to go fishing with a rod or using a reel combo for a productive fishing trip, kayak fish finders provide you with detailed images and views of the kayak.
This makes your fishing much easier as you can use this visual aspect of your kayak and catch more fish. Units on the device scan side images of the kayak and show readings of its terrain, mostly on the shoreline or if you’re fishing near the banks.
Other fish finders contain a down imaging ability that gives a nice view below the kayak; these images are advantageous if you are fishing in deep water.
Allows For In-Depth Fishing
A kayak fish finder can be used for deep fish searching. It is capable of gathering information and data about the best fishing locations, how deep the water is and where to find the fish.
These Kayak finders improve your fishing chances as they also unravel information on water temperatures, and they can determine potential water hazards. This will help you evaluate water conditions and best fishing spots. The navigation feature of these fish finders allows you to fish in deep waters far from the banks.
Fish finders are basically designed in compact shapes and sizes and are usually lightweight, hence their portability. Kayaks have little space to mount gears; therefore, it’s imperative to mount devices or gears that are easily portable.
Whether you go on fishing trips alone or with a group of friends, you are able to carry the fish finder to any place you go. Kayaks are mostly used for recreation purposes; as a result, the fish finders for kayaks are designed to be portable to fit in the small kayaks.
Direction and spot marking
Fish finders have the GPS feature, this allows you to mark your favorite productive fishing spots and use them in the next fishing trip. Fishing with a kayak enables you to access places that can’t be accessed with a ship, which makes it’s easy for you to lose your way. A fish finder keeps track of all the places you go and you can use these records and return home.
It’s highly versatile
Kayak fish finders’ sole purpose is to provide anglers with intuitive fishing details. To make kayaking experience enjoyable, they also have additional features incorporated in them. Some have programmed temperature readers while others are multifunctional and can detect fish during ice fishing. It also performs navigation functions and can be used to find routes to good fishing spots.
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