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How to read a fish finder

by Rick Wallace 17 Oct 15:09 UTC

As kayak fishermen and women, we are often sharing the water with motor boats. In heavily trafficked areas such as bays, marinas and harbours you won't always see complete harmony between different types of watercraft users.

The congested spaces in this type of water and the fact that fish often congregate in particular locations makes for a recipe for tensions.

With many people returning to recreational fishing as COVID loosens its grip on society in some areas, we wanted to share four ways we can each make life easier for each other.

Four ways motorboats can help kayak fishers

  • Slow down when you are in close proximity to kayak fishers. The bow waves from even a medium-sized recreational or fishing boat travelling at speed can easily swamp a kayak, especially if the kayak is side-on to the waves. If there is already a bit of swell or surface chop, the kayak angler is already going to be managing that meaning they have less capacity to deal with bow waves too.

  • Keep your eye out for kayak fishers - actively scan the water ahead. Peddle kayaks are popular with fishermen (as opposed to paddle kayaks) as you can have your hands free to cast easily. Most of us are lure fishers, so this is a real plus for that. But the flipside to that is these kayaks aren't as visible when they are on the move as you don't have a moving paddle that tends to attract the eye.

  • Abide by speed limits and no go areas. Most boat fishermen and users are fine, but jet skis can be a particular problem in some areas.

  • Get to know us - don't be afraid to stop for a chat on the water and ask us what we are doing. The more we can understand the ways we each fish and how we go about it, the more we'll work well together. Many of us are powerboat fishermen too, we just sometimes fish in a kayak because it helps us reach narrow spots or we don't want to deal with a busy launching ramp at peak times!

Four ways kayak fishers can help motorboats

  • The best way to help motorboats avoid you is to make sure that they see you. Wear bright colors, always have your flag installed and raised and if you are out in poor light or close to darkness make sure you have your lights with you and turned on. Take your lights and connect them to your battery even if you think you'll be back before dust - they are a great help even in murky daytime conditions. You can pick up hi-vis clothing very cheaply from a wide range of stores and it is a great help in making yourself seen. A loose high-vis vest can fit over the top of your PFD.

  • Carry a whistle or horn to alert a boat that might not have seen you and is heading towards you.

  • Make friends with boat fishermen and women who share the same waters as you. It makes sense from the point of view of building an understanding of how each party goes about fishing and can boost your catch rate by sharing tips. A lot of boat anglers, especially those using electric motors, are fishing in pretty much the same way we are anyway.

  • Launch on the beach not on ramps - it makes no sense using a busy launching ramp to launch a kayak if you can do so off a pontoon or a beach. Beach launching gives plenty of time to get your sounder and rod holders and all your other gear installed at your own pace.

Kayaks and fish finders/sounders:

If you are wondering how kayak fishers such as ourselves get onto fish with a reasonable amount of success, often it is via the use of a sounder.

It comes as a surprise to some boat fishers that you can put a sounder on a kayak, or an electric motor for that matter.

We run Lowrance Hook Reveal sounders on our fishing kayaks. They mount on the gimbal with a simple screw mechanism so you can remove them while in transit or if you can't store the kayak in a secure place.

The Hook Reveal models we use are 2D (ie they don't have sidescan) but you can fit a 3D sounder with sidescan to a kayak easily enough. You have to have pay more attention to mounting the transducer though, as it has to be on the water side of the hull and that requires a mounting kit.

Most kayak fishers use a five or seven inch screen for their kayak fish finders rather than the larger model found on boats. Space is often tight and you've got rod holders and multiple rods and a net to take care of, along with lure boxes and sometimes a bait board. Throw in a big and angry fish on the line and you can see that space is sometimes critical.

These smaller-screen models are also significantly cheaper than their larger cousins. Screen size is the biggest determinant of the cost of a sonar unit these days.

We use the conventional sonar and structure downscan images side by side on the sounder screen to find fish and to investigate structure. With a kayak you can move quite slowly when required and so you need to get used to reading the images and working out which returns are fish and which are weed or structure or something else.

There are lots of good videos on YouTube on interpreting sonar images and our guide to reading fish finder images is a great starting point in terms of articles that break down how to identify fish for beginners.


So we hope this article has helped dispel some of the preconceptions both types of fishermen and women might have.

Really the most important thing is not what kind of watercraft you fish from, but how you go about it. Practice tolerance, patience and an open friendly attitude and chances are you'll have a great day on the water and help your fellow boat and kayak fishermen and women to do the same.

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