My very first kayak came with absolutely nothing that made it fishing friendly. Not even a rod holder, much less a depth finder. But paddle and pedal boats have certainly changed in the past 15 years — now they’re literally bristling with technology such as a kayak fish finder and chart plotter.
“It has been interesting to see the progression of how people use sonar and electronics on kayaks,” says Hobie’s fishing product manager Morgan Promnitz. “Most people started using low-end units because when you think of a kayaker, you think of more of a price-conscious angler. They were looking to install something so they could see the depth of the water, bottom structure, and to mark bait and fish. As we’ve progressed, we’re seeing more people mount kayak fish finders that cost more than the kayak itself.”
Several marine-electronics companies that build smaller-display units — Humminbird, Lowrance and Raymarine — have begun pairing with kayak companies like Hobie, Old Town, Ocean, Jackson, and Wilderness Systems to develop easy mounting solutions for transducers and head units. Garmin makes portable kits for its echo DownVu fish finders that kayak anglers have adopted.
Lowrance’s Lucas Steward started investigating the kayak-fishing market about five years ago. After starting a family, he transitioned from powerboats to paddle boats himself.
“I saw giant potential,” says Steward, who has worked with Hobie and Wilderness Systems to develop Lowrance-ready kayaks. “I started talking to people, and they didn’t want to put electronics on their kayaks because they didn’t want to drill holes and use messy adhesives. That’s when we first launched our scupper-mount transducer.”
Humminbird — whose parent company, Johnson Outdoors, also owns Old Town and Ocean — has worked with both manufacturers to generate boat-and-electronics packages that simplify setup. A fish finder “is just a standard feature for most guys now,” says Johnson Outdoors’ watercraft brand director David Hadden. (Most marine units are submersible to 3 feet for 30 minutes.) “After we started making one of our scuppers dedicated to a transducer, that’s taken the installation process from a week to now literally less than two hours.”
For its higher-end Old Town Predator and Ocean Trident fishing boats, Johnson Outdoors is even incorporating a bag mounted into the bow hatch to hold the small ATV-style battery that powers the display and transducer.
Kayak makers now predrill holes during production for wiring and mounting so buyers don’t have to fret about how and where to breach the hull. But any angler willing to study a few how-to videos on YouTube can still customize a vessel with any combination of accessories.
Maximize Real Estate
Lowrance has worked with Tallon and RAM, as have others, to create unlimited mounting options for kayak electronics and other gear. Jackson Kayak, partnering with Raymarine, launched the Big Rig this year, which is factory-configured for Dragonfly sonar/GPS. The boat also features a YakAttak GearTrac system that works with RAM’s ball-mounting system.
Hobie’s Promnitz says anglers either mount head units in front of them — often using a “center console” built into a boat such as the Hobie Quest 13 (or a Mod Pod on Old Town’s Predator 13) — or on the left or right gunwale.
Anglers with Mirage-drive (pedal-style) boats must choose the off-center positioning. “These mounting systems (also made by Scotty) allow a lot of adjustability: They allow a 360-degree pivot, and they’re easily removable,” he says.
RAM also makes an over-the-side arm for side-scan transducers, which need down and sideways clearance, Promnitz says. Hobie’s Lowrance-ready kayaks — which include Pro Angler, Outback and Revolution models — come with a cavity molded into the boat, a plate, a selection of gaskets, and predrilled holes with wire plugs installed.
The company also sells kits that work with 95 percent of the fish finders a kayak angler might buy. The kits offer three different options for power — including the ATV-battery setup and one that provides a small dry bag for eight AA batteries. The latter can power lower-end black-and-white units.
Size Doesn’t Matter
But ’yak anglers don’t always pick the smallest and lightest units. While 3-inch, black-and-white displays might have topped the list years ago, today’s anglers opt for color units in the 5- to 7-inch range, and even larger. And though sonar might have dominated anglers’ choices initially, more are now opting for combination sounder/plotters.
“A sounder is obviously important for knowing depth, and when you’re out a little deeper, you need a good fish finder,” says Steward. “But GPS is so important if the tide drops, and you’re down 3 feet and can’t see [landmarks] over the vegetation.”
Bill Carson, Humminbird field marketing manager, says side-imaging has grown in popularity with shallow-water anglers. “Side-imaging casts a huge shadow in shallow water,” he says. In 17 feet of water, for instance, a traditional sounder shows about 5 feet of bottom area; with side-imaging, “you’re actually looking at 88 feet of bottom,” Carson says. “You would never have seen that ledge, for instance, if you weren’t 20 feet to the right, but with side-imaging, now you can mark it as a waypoint and cast over to it.”
Offshore kayak anglers even have CHIRP options — such as Raymarine’s a68 and a78 units with CHIRP DownVision (like Dragonfly) — that are small enough for their vessels. Ocean Kayak’s Torque Series even comes with a trolling-motor lower unit for hands‑free electric power.
Ultimately, says Johnson Outdoors’ Hadden, as kayak anglers push their boundaries, “our vision is that we’re able to offer a boat in the new generation of kayaks that fishes as competitively as a skiff.”