Best Portable Fish Finder of 2019: Review and Buying Guide
Updated on November 20, 2019. In Reviewsby
Fishing has a lot to do with patience. But there’s only so long you can wait for fish to bite, especially if you went through the trouble of driving all the way to a lake. A portable fish finder takes the guessing game out of fishing. You can spend more time fishing and less just sitting around.
These devices use sonar technology to detect the presence of fish. Using it, you can guide your boat to where there’s more fish to catch. Since they’re portable, you don’t need to mount them anywhere. Some models will even fit in your pocket—that’s how small they get!
In this article, we’ll go over the 9 best portable fish finder gadgets. We’ll review them based on key features, ease of use, convenience, accuracy, and price. Then, you’ll find a buying guide to help you pick the perfect fish finder for you. Lastly, you’ll see a bunch of frequently asked questions that we’ve answered for you.
1) Garmin Striker 4 Fish Finder: Best Overall Pick
The Garmin Striker Fish Finder is one of the most popular choices on the market today. It’s the brand’s smallest gadget to date and its new-and-improved functionalities make it well worth the money.
This specific scanner uses CHIRP sonar technology, meaning it continuously sends a sweep of frequencies to scan the area for fish. This results in a much crisper and wider picture of what’s below the surface.
Despite being a compact device, the 3.5-inch screen is easy to read. And since it uses colors, your job of finding fish gets much easier.
Perhaps the best feature is the integrated GPS system. When you’re on a boat on a lake, having navigation tools is always a bonus. With this scanner, you can check where fish are at the same time that you see your geographical position. Even better: you can create custom paths to go over your favorite spots at the lake.
Surprisingly, this unit is pretty affordable. For only $119.99, it’s one of the most reasonably priced gadgets on the market. Especially taking into consideration the fact that it has GPS.
- Integrated GPS system
- Clear color image showing the fish position
- Mark specific points on the map
- Waterproof IPX7 system
- Good quality transducer
- Must be plugged into a 12V battery
2) Humminbird PiranhaMAX with Protective Cover: Runner Up
The 4.3-inch display Humminbird PiranhaMAX is lagging just a bit behind, but it’s putting up a fight. This device accurately tells you where fish are in a way that’s easy to understand.
The Humminbird unit has a dual beam sonar. This means you can employ either a wide or narrow sonar beam. If you choose the former, you’ll get a broader perspective of what is going on beneath the surface. If you pick the latter, this device will give you detailed information on what is near you.
Despite it looking like a simple model, it is anything but. You can fiddle around with fish alarms, depth alarms, and zoom for a more tailored experience.
Luckily, it comes with a portable carrying case. It protects your device from any splashes of water and winds. Not to mention it makes it much easy to carry with you on your fishing trips.
- Works with a dual-beam sonar
- Entirely waterproof
- Uses rechargeable batteries
- Good quality transducer
- Lacks an integrated GPS system
3) ReelSonar Wireless Bluetooth Smart Sonar Fish Finder
Another popular choice is the Reel Sonar Wireless scanner. It’s a bit different from the ones we’ve reviewed so far, as it uses your phone to show you where the fish are.
It doesn’t get more portable than this. The transducer (the piece that emits the sonar waves) fits in the palm of your hand. It’s shaped like a small ball and sends the image of what it scans to your smartphone. You can the two via Bluetooth.
On top of all that, the unit allows you to mark fish, map the depth contours and underwater structures, save the water temperature, and memorize your specific location. Then, you can share all this information on social media.
As if that weren’t enough, you can use the unit with its GPS functionalities. Thus, you can mark on the map your favorite spots, a dock, water depth, and so much more.
It’s also worth mentioning that the iBobber has a built-in LED beam and a strike and fish alarm. All this makes it a great option for ice fishing or nighttime fishing.
- Shows the image on your smartphone screen
- Has a LED beam and alarms for ice fishing
- Fits in the palm of your hand
- Works with the GPS system
- The battery only lasts 8 hours
- May disconnect to Bluetooth with some phones
4) Deeper PRO+ Smart Sonar: Luxury Pick
A similar device is the Deeper Smart Fish Finder, but it works much better. For just under $200, you can get yourself a scanner that fits in the palm of your hand and pairs up nicely with your phone.
The built-in GPS system gives you a lot to play with. You can create bathymetric maps for the shore, map out certain spots of the lake, and look at them later when you’re home.
Issuing fifteen scans per second, you get a clear image of what’s below the surface. The device doesn’t just indicate how deep a spot is. It also gives you the rough position of fish. Plus, since it has dual beam technology, you can choose if you want a broad or narrow scan.
The battery lasts for up to eight hours. You will need to charge it right before you leave the house to ensure it won’t run out of power while you’re fishing.
- Connects to your phone using WiFi (as a hotspot)
- Uses dual beam sonar technology
- Has a built-in GPS
- Maps out the water depth for shore fishing
- All maps are saved on the app and can be transferred to the Cloud
- The battery life is not the best
5) Venterior VT-FF001 Portable Fish Finder: Budget Pick
Good luck finding a cheaper but still functional fish scanner. That’s okay, we’ll wait. The Venterior model is one of a kind. It takes a much more minimalistic approach to its job but it still works wonders.
You won’t see the scans in colors on the display. There are no fancy display methods. Instead, you’ll get the information in black and white. That doesn’t have to be a drawback, though. We find it much easier to read the scans this way, without any weird blotches showing up on the screen.
This device does a lot more than just scan for fish. It gives you readings of how deep the water is and of where rocks, sand, and tall plants are.
You can use the Venterior fish finder at night. Simply turn on the backlight setting for the screen. The fish alarm also helps with nighttime fishing or even ice fishing.
- Uses disposable AAA batteries
- Works even at 0ºF temperature
- Has a built-in GPS function
- The screen lights up at night
- The screen is not waterproof
6) Humminbird Fishing Buddy MAX: Best Mounted Gadget
This is another Humminbird fish finder, but this time you can mount it on practically every boat, canoe, and kayak. It’s perfect for a more hands-off approach to fishing.
The Humminbird MAX’s best feature, in our opinion, is its mounting system. The LED display is attached to a long metal structure that has an adjustable clamp. Using the screw, you can tighten or loosen its hold on your boat, kayak, or canoe.
The fact that it has dual beam sonar technology is also a big plus. You can get both a narrow and wide view of what’s beneath the surface according to your needs. Wide sound waves are useful for shallow-water fishing, while narrow waves work best in deepwater fishing.
Its 3.5-inch color display makes it easier to read what’s on the screen. Furthermore, this unit can discern between a rock and a fish. This will come in handy, as it will stop you from wasting time scouring spots that are nothing but pebbles and rocks.
Lastly, you’ll need AA batteries to power this device. That’s a great thing, if you ask us, since you won’t need to constantly recharge it before leaving for your fishing trips and won’t need to connect it to a 12-volt power outlet while using it.
- Uses disposable AA batteries
- The 3.5-inch color screen is easy to read
- The clamp lets you mount the device on most vessels
- There have been complaints of factory defects, so beware (and get warranty)
- It doesn’t always work for depths over 15 feet
7) LUCKY Portable Fish Scanner with LCD Screen
The LUCKY fish scanner is also an affordable option, costing shy of $80. It’s smaller than other units, and so more easily transported, but works just as well.
You’ll find that the screen of this fish scanner is much smaller when compared to others on the market. It measures just 2.4 inches diagonally, but it’s still big enough for most people with no visual impairments to see the readings perfectly.
The unit tracks water depth, underwater contour, water temperature, and—of course—where fish are.
A unique feature is the fish attractive lamp. The transducer is yellow and, at the bottom, has two light beams meant to attract fish. It also helps you see the transducer in the dark if you go night fishing.
Both the transducer and the handheld scanner can be recharged. They come with two USB cords for this purpose. The scanner itself has a battery life of approximately four hours, while the transducer lives for up to 10 hours.
- Uses rechargeable batteries (4-hour and 10-hour battery life)
- Suited for night fishing because of the two light beams
- The small and compact design makes it easy to carry
- The color screen shows a wealth of information
- It’s waterproof
- In some cases, it may mistake suspended particles and rocks for fish
8) FishHunter PRO Smart with Wireless Technology
This futuristic-looking gadget is pricier than most, but it’s worth every dollar. It not only tracks where fish are but it also gives you information on water depth, temperature, and a lot more.
To make it easier to understand the readings, the FishHunter lets you see them under two settings. The first is the “Fish View.” It is a simulated image using icons of fish and weeds to show you what’s beneath the surface. It’s incredibly easy to understand. The second setting is the “Raw View.” Instead of simplifying things, the image you get on your display is exactly what the transducer reads. That is, you’ll see lots of blotches at different depths.
It’s a great device to use for ice fishing. The transducer floats in the water in the ice hole and can withstand temperatures below -22ºF.
Perhaps best of all is its connectivity. The transducer pairs with your smartphone using WiFi (which is more reliable than Bluetooth). That’s where the readings will show up. When you’re done fishing, you can always review the data at home and even upload it online.
- Uses rechargeable batteries (10-hour battery life)
- Can be used for ice fishing
- Connects with all smartphones using WiFi
- Processes the data for you and presents it in clearly to you
- The plastic transducer may not be the most durable
9) RICANK Handheld Portable Fish Scanner
The last item on our list is quite modest and affordable. It just goes to show that a good fish finder doesn’t need to cost an arm and a leg!
Sure, the RICANK screen is black-and-white and doesn’t have any fancy display settings. But that’s not a bad thing! For once, it’s a lot easier to read and understand than other fish scanners. It’ll clearly point out to you how deep the school of fish is.
The yellow float connected to the transducer makes it easier for you to spot it in the water. Whether you’re fishing in a lake, river, or by the shore, you won’t lose sight of your precious sonar.
This device has a depth range of up to 300 feet. You can use it in shallower water or deeper waters alike. The sound wave cone emitted is 45 degrees. While you don’t have the flexibility to narrow or widen it, it’s still a decent angle for most kinds of fishing adventures.
Lastly, you can recharge the batteries of both the handheld scanner and the transducer. They both have a battery life of up to 5 hours, but if you turn on the battery-saving setting, it will last you longer.
- Affordable and easy to carry
- Uses rechargeable batteries (5-hour battery life)
- Easy-to-read black-and-white display
- Has great reviews on Amazon
- Doesn’t offer integrated GPS for a more thrilling experience
What Is a Portable Fish Finder?
A portable fish finder is a small device that uses sonar technology to detect things beneath the surface. It is great at detecting all kinds of fish, both small and large ones.
The best thing about these gadgets is that they don’t need to be mounted on a boat to work. Traditional fish scanners need to be hardwired to a boat. With these, you can fish from the shore without having to worry about logistics.
As you can imagine, they’re pretty lightweight. The smallest ones fit in your pocket and pair up with your phone. But even the biggest models are compact enough to fit inside a small backpack.
How Does a Portable Fish Finder Work?
Portable fish finders use sonar technology, like many other gadgets. The transducer emits sound waves. If there’s an object in their way, the waves will hit it and bounce back. When those waves reach the transducer, the software calculates how far away the object is. It does this by analyzing how many seconds it took for the waves to bounce back from the obstacle.
Luckily, you don’t have to worry about doing any math. The fish scanner does that for you. On the screen, you’ll see how deep the fish are based on the readings the transducer did. If there are quite a lot of obstacles in the way of the device, you can pretty much deduce it’s a good spot for fishing.
Do Portable Fish Finders Work?
Yes, they do! The higher-end models can detect small fish with a lot of precision. They can also tell a rock or bank of sand from a school of fish, so you’re never induced in error. The cheaper models will still accurately tell you where fish are. Yet, they’re not as sensitive as other items and will only be able to detect medium-sized fish (larger than 10 centimeters).
Who Should Get a Fish Finder?
Fishing fans can benefit a lot from getting one of these devices. For starters, fish finders lead you to good fishing spots. Pick an area of the lake or shore that’s home to a larger amount of fish. No more waiting for hours for something to bite.
How to Use a Portable Fish Finder
Technology can be a bit daunting, but in this particular case, it doesn’t have to be. All models are different and give you the readings in different ways. In spite of that, to use most fish scanners what you have to do is:
- Turn on the scanner and, if it applies, pair it with your smartphone.
- Adjust the settings to your preferences.
- Cast the fishing line into the water with the transducer attached.
- Keep an eye on the screen and wait for fish to show on the screen.
Step four is where the models diverge. Some will show red-and-yellow botches to tell you there are fish nearby. Others will only show the icon of a fish at the depth they’re at. That’s why it’s useful to read the instructions manual when you get your gadget. All in all, the screen shouldn’t be hard to read.
Where to Use a Fish Finder?
You can use a portable fish finder pretty much anywhere you can fish. Lakes, off a quiet beach, slow streams, you name it. Just beware of waves and suspended particles. These will throw off the readings and make them inaccurate.
What Can I Use My Fish Finder For?
The best portable fish finders work in a variety of situations. The more extra features your device comes with, the more places you can take it.
You can go ice fishing with a portable fish scanner. After all, wouldn’t it be great if the hole you drill in the ice sheet is near a school of fish?
There are two ways you can go about using the scanner. The first is by cutting a separate hole for the fish finder and checking to see if it’s in a good area. If it is, go ahead and drill another hole next to it for your fishing line. The second way is by clearing snow piled on top of the ice sheet, making sure there are no cracks or bubbles in the ice, and placing the scanner here. If your sonar tells you that’s a good place to cut a hole, go ahead and do that. While the readings may not be as accurate with some models in this situation, it’s the most hassle-free way of scouring for a good fishing spot.
This is one of the most popular uses for portable scanners. Yet, it can get a little tricky with installation—and not all devices will work on a kayak.
First, make sure your fish scanner uses either rechargeable or disposable batteries. If so, great! Some models need to be plugged into a 12-volt battery, like that of a boat or car. With those, you won’t be able to go kayak fishing.
Second, find a way to mount the scanner on the kayak. Larger, clunkier models may come with suction cups at the bottom that you can attach to the front of the kayak. You could also find a spot on the floor of the kayak to set up your fishfinder. Alternatively, if you’re using a scanner that sends the readings to your phone, you could attach your phone to the fishing pole. There are ways of making this less precarious. For instance, you could get a phone mount and fix it securely in place on the pole.
An obvious use for these portable scanners is sea fishing. When you go out on a boat, there’s plenty of room to set up the scanner: on the side of the boat, on one of the seats, on the floor—get creative. You’ll just have to watch out for waves. These interfere with the accuracy of the transducer readings, leaving you with a bad reading. But if the sea is calm, it’s a great place to use your new device.
You may be concerned about how accurate your sonar’s readings are in saltwater. Don’t be. Most portable fish finders are adapted for both freshwater and saltwater fishing.
Portable fish finders are used to get a clear picture of what’s happening below the surface. They’re your second pair of eyes, only adapted to seeing underwater. As useful and handy as they are, they’re no good for underwater fishing. After all, you would be using your own eyes to find your next catch.
What’s the Difference Between a Portable Fish Finder and a Marine GPS?
Marine GPS systems (only) give you an idea of where you are geographically. They’ll show your position on a map. You can use them to save specific spots on a map and to create a custom route, if you want. They’re super handy when you go out on a large lake and want to be back to the port from where you left. Despite all their useful features, they won’t create water depth maps for you. Nor will they detect where schools of fish are.
For that, you would need a portable fish finder. These devices can be simple or complex. The simpler models will (only) give you a picture of where to find fish. They won’t show your position on a map or anything of the sorts. But the more complex models usually have an integrated GPS system! That means that at the same time you could have on the screen the position of schools of fish and your position on a map. What’s best about these state-of-the-art devices is that you can save your favorite fishing hotspots for future visits. And they’re not that expensive.
Different Types of Portable Fish Finders
There are essentially three kinds of fish finders. Which one you should get depends on what technology you think you’ll get along better with and on what you expect from your gadget.
Portable finders are the most common models. They’re a bit larger than your hand but still lightweight enough to take with you on the go. The transducer sends the readings to a screen—some models have fancy color LEDs while others have much more simplistic displays—and there are a few buttons you can press to play with the settings.
These units are hard to beat. They’re reliable, give accurate readings, and have a decent battery life in most cases. They’re also easy to use when it comes to reading the graphs on-screen.
If we had to point out a flaw, it would have to be that they’re not super compact. Carrying them around isn’t too much of a problem, as long as you still have room in your fishing supply bag.
These are more futuristic devices that use Bluetooth and WiFi to connect to your phone. The transducer (the part that emits the sound waves) looks like a ball and fits in the palm of your hand. It will pair with your phone so that you can analyze the readings. Most models work with both Android and iOS devices.
Their main advantage is how portable they are. They fit in your pocket easily! If you’re strapped for space inside your fishing supplies bag, this might be an option to consider.
They have some downsides, especially because they’re such recent technology. The first is that the connection between the transducer and the phone can be weak at times. On top of that, older or clunkier phones tend not to support the app very well. Some people have had their apps crash when they were out fishing. Lastly, their batteries tend to last only up to 8 hours, and this gets worse the more you use it.
These are the least common units. Their display looks like any other portable fish finder. But the twist is that they can easily be semi-permanently mounted on a boat or kayak. They come with a c-clamp you can tighten or loosen to adjust the grip. This makes them perfect for kayak fishing, boat trips, and canoe fishing.
Important Fish Finding Add-Ons
Not all fish finding devices are equal. Some are cheap because they only use sonar technology and others are more expensive because they have fancy add-ons built-in. These upgrades can take your fishing experience to the next level.
GPS Fish Finders
As we’ve mentioned, some fish finders come with a built-in GPS system. It still finds schools of fish, but on top of that, it shows you your position on a map at any given time.
You can do some cool things with these units. For instance, you can find a fishing spot you really like and save its position using GPS. Then, when you go fishing next time, you can tell the GPS to guide you to your very own fishing hotspot. Or, if you’re on a lake, you can devise a route and save it on the device leading you from the dock to some new spots you haven’t explored yet, and back.
Standalone Fish Scanners
These are the stripped-bare scanners. Their only job is to find schools of fish and to show you how deep the water is. This isn’t to say they’re not good units—they are! They’re perfect for a more traditional and off-the-grid approach to fishing. Those who have a hard time getting along nicely with technology will surely appreciate these minimalistic (but accurate!) devices.
Connectivity Fish Finders
Meet the crème de la crème: the connectivity portable fish finders. These units typically have a GPS system built into them but offer even more features. Their main point is to make fishing a more dynamic experience.
You can connect these scanners to your phone. Create a depth map of the lake, place digital pins on your favorite fishing locations on a map, and then download all that information onto your phone. It’s that easy. As if that weren’t enough, you can also upload all this information online. For instance, you can share with your fishing buddies the details of your latest fishing excursion through email or on Facebook.
What Should I Look For in a Portable Fish Finder?: Ultimate Buying Guide
Finding a fish scanner that is suited to your needs is crucial. They’re not cheap devices, so it’s important to find one you love at the first purchase.
With so many units available online, it can be easy to lose yourself. That’s why we came up with this portable fish finder buying guide: to lead you in your search. When you start browsing online or at a store, look for these features. The best fish finder will check most of these boxes.
Quality of the Transducer
A high-quality transducer is key to good readings. It’s what emits the sound waves (sonar) and tells you if there are any fish nearby. A crappy transducer is worthless. Companies don’t always advertise how good (or how bad) these pieces are. Look through customer reviews for mentions of “accurate readings.” If you found a lot, hurrah! You can move to the next point.
All fish scanners have a power rating measured in watts. Some models have a lower rating and others have a higher rating. While they both work, the best units have a high wattage. They’re able to get accurate readings for higher depths. So, if you planning to go depth fishing, we recommend getting the most powerful unit you can afford.
There are three ways of powering your unit. Either using a rechargeable battery, disposable batteries, or plugging it into a 12-volt power source. Look into the specs of the scanner you’re interested in to find out how it’s powered.
Be careful of which one you choose. While 12-volt scanners are typically the cheapest, they have to always be plugged into your boat. This makes them a lot less portable, doesn’t it? We recommend getting the disposable batteries (which you can recharge with a separate gadget) one. It’s what works best in the long run.
Portability and Ease of Transportation
How good is a portable fish finder if it’s too clunky to take with you when you go fishing? You need to find a unit with a compact design that will be easy to pack and carry with you. If hauling it around seems like too much of a hassle, maybe that’s not the model for you.
You need to analyze the readings clearly for the best fishing experience. Thus, investing in a quality display is a good idea. Will color graphs help you understand better where fish are? Do you have trouble seeing and need a bigger screen? It’s entirely up to you!
Also, keep in mind that it will be sunny for many (or at least some) of your fishing trips. Because of that, you’ll need a screen that doesn’t get dark when it’s bright out. Similarly, if you plan to fish at night, you need a screen that has a backlight. Otherwise, you won’t be able to use your precious device.
Most screens we’ve seen measure at least 3.5 inches diagonally. Some models have larger screens and others have even smaller displays. Which one you get depends on how well you see things. What size screen will you feel comfortable with?
If 21st-century technology is your thing, getting a scanner that can be paired with your phone is probably a good investment. You’ll be able to share details of your fishing trip with friends and also analyze maps later from the comforts of your own home.
Connectivity is not at all a crucial feature. Keep in mind that it makes these devices more expensive. Yet, a fish finder that can’t connect to other devices gets its job done just as well as a fancier one.
Transducers emit cone-shaped sound waves to give you an idea of what’s lurking beneath the surface. We’ve mentioned that getting a good transducer is key. But that’s not the full story.
To get a wide underwater picture, you need wide cone-shaped waves, namely 60 degrees wide. Narrower angles (such as 20 degrees) work best for deep fishing. Dual beal finders are the only ones that let you choose whether you want a wider or narrower view of what’s under you. That’s why they’re more expensive. Other scanners usually only use a 20-degree angle when it comes to their waves.
We recommend getting a dual-beam fishfinder, so you can play with the wave-degree settings. It’s more adaptable to whatever kind of fishing you want.
Some units will let you adjust the frequency of the sound waves the transducer emits. That’s pretty helpful when you want to do both deep sea and shallow water fishing. It lets you get a clearer, sharper picture of what’s beneath the surface. Higher frequencies work in shallower areas—190 kHz and 200 kHz. In deeper areas, a low frequency (50 kHz, for instance) works best.
Funnily enough, not all fish finders are waterproof. Transducers always are, but the LED screens can get damaged with splashes of water. You’re better off spending a little more money getting a waterproof unit. It’s the best way of maximizing your investment.
Finally, draw up a budget for your portable fish finder and stick to it. You’ll find units for anywhere between $50 and $350. On the cheaper end of things, you’ll see minimalistic units with no GPS and no connectivity. On the pricier end of the scale, the units will have a lot of fancier settings. Yet, at the end of the day, they all find fish.
Final Words: What Is the Best Portable Fish Finder?
Best portable fish finder for ice fishing: FishHunter Wireless Scanner
Best portable fish finder for kayak rentals: Humminbird Fishing Buddy MAX
Best portable fish finder for canoe: Deeper Smart Wireless Finder
Best portable fish finder for shore fishing: Garmin Striker 4 Fish Finder
Frequently Asked Questions about Portable Fish Scanners
Q: Are portable fish finders any good?
Yes! If you’re unsure how accurate a specific fishing scanner is, we recommend reading customer reviews. People usually share updated reviews of how well (or how poorly!) their scanners have held up after months of use.
Q: How to set up a portable fish finder?
There’s no single answer to this question, unfortunately. It truly depends on what model you’re getting. Sadly, all we can tell you is to read the instructions manual. Alternatively, you could look on YouTube if any customers have uploaded instructional videos on how to set up their devices.
Q: Can a fish finder replace a map?
Sadly, no it can’t. A map will still be a must if your fish finder doesn’t have integrated GPS. If it does, you can ditch the map at home and take advantage of this feature.
Q: Do fish finders come with GPS systems?
Not all of them. The more expensive models do, though.
Q: Are all fish finders waterproof?
Unfortunately, they aren’t. Cheaper models aren’t waterproof or water-resistant at all. A splash of water could fry the whole system. More expensive models, though, are waterproof.
Q: How do portable fish finders work while ice fishing?
They work the same as they do in the water. You just have to take some extra precautions. For instance, you shouldn’t use it in extremely cold conditions. Temperatures below 0ºF are usually all it takes to ruin your device. Do keep an eye out for the transducer when it’s in the ice water, so the ice sheet doesn’t freeze around it.
Q: How are fish finders powered?
They’re powered in three ways: by 12-volt batteries, rechargeable batteries (like those of a phone), or disposable batteries.
Q: Can you tell what fish are underwater using a fish scanner?
No, you can’t. The sonar technology will only tell you that there’s a fish beneath the surface, not if it’s a bass, carp, and so on. You’ll need to wait for it to bite to know that!