Fishing in Kayak

Should You Install a Fish Finder on Your Kayak?

Benefits Of Fishfinders in Kayak

I have a fish finder in my kayak and have really enjoyed using this tool. In this post I want to express my opinion of how useful these tools are and how they function.

As a young boy, I learned to fish at the knee of a man who woke up quietly at 5 a.m. and headed out to the glassy surface of the Georgian Bay in his green, tin boat full of rods, reels, nets, and tackle.

Fishing, was for a long time an area of my life in which I resisted technology, pushing back. Part of the reason that I kayak fish in the first place is that it reminds me of the quiet days spent in a portaged canoe with my dad.

Many of us who started fishing in the 70s, and 80s feel this pull between the desire for a simpler, low tech time and the promise of how technology can help improve our fishing experience.

So What Is a Fish Finder and What Does It Do?

In order to help you decide whether or not to install a fish finder on your kayak, you need to understand what this device does and how it works.

This device uses sonar to allow you to “see” what is happening in the water underneath you. The image created by the sonar signals shows you the number of fish, the depth of the water, and the underwater structures in your location. It can also tell you the temperature of the water and the type of fish. Some funits will also tell you the type of fish.

These instruments create images using a transducer, which is like an antenna. The transducer sends out many sound wave signals per second and measures how quickly those waves bounce back off of the surfaces below your craft.  In essence they create a visual image of the bottom and other structures using these echoes.

The tools detect fish because the sound waves bounce off the air in their swim bladders. This air changes the movement of the sound waves, and the finder detects the energy of this change. If you are interested in learning more about the sonar technology used in these devices, visit The University of Rhode Island’s Discovery of Sound in the Sea website.

Do You Need a FishFinder in Your Kayak?

Now that you know the basics of what these units do and how they work, it’s time to turn to the main question: do you need or want a fish finder for your kayak? Despite my dad’s disparagement of using new-fangled technology and my wanting the quiet time that kayak angling provides, my answer to this question is “yes.” If you are still unsure here are some points to consider to help you determine if this technology is right for you and your kayak.

Where do you fish? Are you mostly a river fisherman, or do you prefer angling in big, deep lakes? Do you spend most of your time in small backwater lakes, or are you primarily an ocean fisherman? Geographically, do you fish most in the North, the South, out West?

No matter how you answer these questions, there is a fish finder appropriate for your needs; however, some experts will tell you that fish finders are best used in deep water. The truth is that while these units can be useful in all depths, they are most useful in learning about areas that can’t be seen with the naked eye.

Every good angler knows that in order to find the fish, you need to study the shoreline, the bottom, and the structures in the areas that you fish. In shallow depths, much of this learning can be done by simply looking over the side of your kayak and paying careful attention.

In deeper water, these units allow you to learn the lay of the land beyond what you can see with your own two eyes. Regardless of depth, however it can provide you with information such as temperature and GPS location that you cannot gain with your eyes alone.

Fishfinder for Kayak
Fishfinder for Kayak

A Good Investment

While my father was convinced that the technology kept people from doing the mental and physical work that made them real fishermen, I have come to believe that a good fishfinder is a tool that enhances my experience rather than detracting from it. The fish finder on my kayak has improved my knowledge and skill in the following ways:

• The tool helps me find the structures below in all the waters that I fish. According to in its explanation of How to Fish Structure 101, structure is defined as the physical features of the lake, ocean, or river bottom that is either natural or man-made. Knowing the structure of the waters is important because a fish finder makes it easier for you to find ledges, holes, troughs, spines and other structures, which in turn helps you to locate specific kinds of fish at specific times.

• Many of these units will not only let you know where there are fish but also what kind of fish are under or around your kayak. Knowing the type of fish beneath you will help you to choose the correct bait, which will not only save time but also money. Fewer attempts to catch a fish translates into less money spent on live bait and less wear and tear on your lures.

• The more knowledge you gain about the different habitats of the various fish you seek, the more you will improve your chances of catching fish. When you know both the structures that fish inhabit and the cover that they use, you will be able to quickly assess an area and react, allowing you to increase your chances of catching the fish before they know that you are there.

• While the weedy shallows are often teeming with bass, northern pike, walleye, and muskies who are waiting to ambush their prey, an angler’s worst nemesis is a hook tangled with lily pads or a line wrapped around a fallen tree. Both are dead giveaways to the fish that something is amiss and cause the fish to swim away. A fish finder gives you the information you need about the underwater environment to avoid getting your line tangled in structure or cover.

• “If you can find the bait fish, you can find the big fish,” my dad was fond of saying. He loved to look for the bait around beaver dams and the cribs of long washed-away docks. I simply use my fish finder to locate schools of bait fish, which almost always lead me to their predators.

 While I always knew that different types of fish preferred different water temperatures, I never put that knowledge to use in finding them until I got my first fish finder. Many brands will not only tell you the depth and the number of fish below you, but they will also give you temperature readings. These readings can help you to locate the specific species of fish you seek. For good information about the temperatures that saltwater fish prefer, Salt Water Sportsman provides a nice chart, and Mepp’s offers the same information about several species of freshwater fish.

GPS to Mark Your Trail

Many units have GPS capabilities, a feature which I believe is so advantageous that it deserves its own section. Units with built-in GPS can allow you to record all that you have learned about the structure, cover, temperature, and location of a particular spot. This record makes it that much easier for you to return to places where you have experience success and avoid unproductive areas.

Similarly, for those of you who like to wander as you fish, GPS lets you roam without the fear of getting lost.

Picking a FishFinder

So are you ready to pick a one of these tools for your kayak now? If so, consider the following features when making your decision: type, portability, depth, screen size, extra features, and price.

Fisherman with Nice Catch
Fisherman with Nice Catch

Types of Fishfinders

According to Academy Sports and Outdoors, there are two types of fish finders: down scan and side scan. We recommend down scan finders for deep water because they give a clearer picture of what is beneath the boat and tend to be cheaper. Side scan technology is good when used for shallow water despite the added expense.

Ultimately whether you pick a side-scan or down scan fish finder will depend on what fish you want to catch and the depth of the water in which you plan to do it.

Portability and Versatility

Using a fishfinder in a kayak requires considering how easily you can carry the unit. You should look for a compact finder that is easy to carry on portage and allows your kayak to be taken in and out of the water quickly. You should also look for a device that can be used in different ways depending on the body of water in which you plan to fish.

Some people prefer to permanently mount their units on their kayaks, a procedure that I will discuss below. Others like the more temporary finders such as ones that hook up via blue tooth to your smart phone. Your choice will be once again dictated by the type of fishing you do and how often you switch between different types of environments.

Screen Size

Screens range from 3.5 inches to 16 inches. But before you decide on a size, decide where you will place your unit and how visible you want it to be at all times. Since kayaks are low to the water and small, a smaller, more unobtrusive screen is preferable.

Power Source

Another aspect to consider as you choose the right unit is how much power you will need and for how long. These two pieces of information will determine your fish finder model and its power source. The article titled “Kayak Electronics and Batteries” offers a clear explanation of basic electronic terms such as voltage and amperes.

The article then explains how to determine how much power you will need in order to run your fish finder by taking into consideration the features that your finder will be running simultaneously. For example, a finder with a 9 inch, color HD screen and GPS will need a much bigger battery than a 6 inch, black and white screen without GPS capability.

Finally, YakAngler address the different battery types: lead-acid, alkaline, or rechargeable. Each battery type has its own pros and cons. AGM or lead-acid batteries are inexpensive, easy to charge, and readily available. Unfortunately, they are heavy and can cause weight balance problems in your kayak. Alkaline batteries are easy to find and offer a lot of power for their weight. However, they are not rechargeable, so they are costly and must be thrown away each time they run out of power.

Newer rechargeable sources, such as lithium batteries, create less waste, are lighter, and can be charged thousands of times. Their downsides are that they cost a lot of money and require special charging equipment.

Like all of the other decisions you have made about your fish locator so far, you will need to consider what type of angling you will be doing, where, and for how long as you determine which power source to use.

Extra Features

It is possible to buy units with backlit screens, which will help you to fish in low light or darker conditions. Many finders also come with LCD, anti-glare displays that will help you to use your fish finder in bright sunlight. Finally, these units come with a variety of depth ranges. If you only fish shallow lakes in the Northeast, choose a fish finder with a depth range under fifty feet.

If you regularly go back and forth between the deep waters like those in Lake Superior and shallower lakes like Lake Greenwood in South Carolina, then it’s better to invest in a tool with a bigger depth range. Many, but not all, fish finders are GPS enabled. If plotting your course and not getting lost are important to you, then you should also consider these concerns when making your choice.


The price for these tools varies as widely as the types, sizes, and features. A quick search of “fishfinder for kayak” on Google or Amazon will result in units that range in price from units that cost under $100 to several thousand dollars. One thing to remember, though, more expensive does not always equate to better.

Consider how and where you will use the finder, the size that you prefer, whether you want a permanent or temporary mount, and what extra features are important to you. Then, do some research on the internet to find the fish finder that meets your needs at the lowest possible price.

Installing Your FishFinder

I have discovered that in the age of YouTube, there is an instructional video for just about every DIY job that you want to do. This includes installing one of these tools on your kayak. With a little forethought, some essential information, and a few basic tools, you can install your own funit with little to no problem.

Before you order your fish locator, determine whether or not you have a kayak with a universal transducer mount already in place. Many topwater Kayaks also come with side tracks that will allow for an adjustable RAM mount for your fish finder. If your kayak is equipped with these features you can mount your fish finder without drilling any holes in your kayak.

Other kayaks will require that you drill through the hull in order to install your equipment. Most installation instructions recommend that you use wire caps, a scupper hole mount, and silicone caulk to keep your installation leak-free and your fish finder wires connected neatly. Salt Strong provides a good basic instructional video for installation of a Lowrance Fish Finder.

Whether or not you need to drill in order to complete installation, searching YouTube for “mounting instructions” plus the name of your specific unit will more than likely result in specific instructions for your particular brand of finder.


If you’ve been reluctant to take the plunge and buy a Fishfinder for your Kayak, I hope this post provided you with the information to make a more informed decision. Also, I hope that you see that installing one of these units on your kayak will enhance your fishing experience, increase your ability to learn about fish habitats, and help you develop new fishing strategies.

My dad swore that an early start was necessary because that’s when the fish were biting and when we were most likely to catch enough bass to feed the seven to ten family members and friends who were likely to show up at our dinner table. Often, he towed a canoe in the wake created by his 15 horsepower Johnson outboard so that we could portage into small inland lakes.

He taught me not only when to fish but where. He knew the contours of every shoal, shoreline, and structure within thirty square miles. He taught me how to study the bay and the lakes that we fished. I also learned how important good gear and careful maintenance of that gear is. He was a mechanical engineer by trade and was quite persnickety about his tackle boxes and rods.

I have since gone on to fish the other Great Lakes, rivers, small lakes in both the North and South, and the ocean. Perhaps because I associate time spent on the water with my dad, I still love a quiet experience and have taken to bringing a rod and tack with me whenever I kayak. I am also a big fan of new tackle and gear; however, I have’nt forgotten the lessons of the man who used his five senses and an incredible memory to map out a large underwater domain.

Good luck on your new adventure, and may the holes in your net be no larger than the fish in it!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *