How to Read a Fish Finder Screen – Tips for Beginners

As an Amazon Associate and affiliate of other programs, I earn from qualifying purchases.

A fish finder is most useful to fishermen that are looking for very specific things in the water.

It can also just be a cool gadget that you use when you want to see what’s going on under the surface of the water.

They can help you locate certain kinds of locations where certain species congregate or know better where your bait is in relation to the fish in the water.

Fish Finder Screen

Most fish finders use sonar to create an image of the underwater area.

The sound waves bounce off of objects and fish, and the readout allows you to see where they bounce back from.

This doesn’t give you the most accurate visual of the water below you, but with a few tricks, you’ll be able to read the screen of your fish finder quickly and effectively enough to understand what is happening in the water around you.

Top Down View (Down Imaging)

While the sophistication of different fish finders varies and really depends on the kind of price that you are paying, you might find that there are several factors that go into a read-out that don’t really depend on the price of the fish finder.

Because of the use of sonar, the images that are created with fish finders often include arcs. These arcs can actually be indicators of where fish are. It is the visualization of the sound bouncing off of the fish. Some fish finders will be able to help you by identifying arcs for you, but that isn’t always the case.

There are certain top down radars that will be able to give you more precise images of what is going on, but the top down view typically just returns an arc. 2D sonar actually creates an image to give you a more detailed view of the water under you. Those kinds of sonar, while more precise, are not as good for understanding a large area like the top down view sonar.

However, the higher quality top-down view can really help fisherman see the schools of fish and see what they’re acting like.

A more expensive fish finder will be able to give you more direct information. This makes it slightly easier to use. If you are looking into a fish finder and want a less expensive one, then you may have to take some extra time to become familiar with the readout.

However, the kind of read out is mainly for the top down view of the water. There have been a couple more types of fish finders invented, including a view that shows what’s off to the side of you instead of what’s directly below you.

Side Imaging and Other Views

Side imaging is a way to see a little bit more. The sonar is pointed out to the sides of the boat which allows you to see a little bit more and get a better idea of the surrounding structures, but it won’t let you see what’s directly below you.

Because of the different view, you have to tackle it a little bit differently. The screen is split down the middle with left and right showing the different sides of the boat. You will be able to ‘see’ what’s going with this different kind of display.

Side imaging uses shadows to help you see what you’re looking for. It doesn’t matter if you’re looking for rocks that fish gather around or if you’re looking for the fish themselves, you’ll want to be aware of shadows. Those shadows are created because the sonar reaches something and bounces back where it was. Most side views will be able to create in shadows for the spots where your sonar has already seen something.

Side imaging will take a little bit of practice, just like top-down views of the sonar range, but side imaging can help out a lot more than you think. It’s especially useful for people that want to see the water around them while they’re kayaking. It can help let you know how far down the bottom of the body of water is, as well as what kinds of rocks would be in the way.

Now there is one more kind of sonar that we need to cover. This is 2D imaging. It is also usually a top down view of the water below you, but this image is actually going to be a much more clear vision of what’s going on. So you sacrifice the breadth of what you can see for something that really allows you to get a better sense of what’s going on below you.

Using the 2D imaging can be helpful and it comes as an option on most fish finders that you can switch between, but it won’t be as wide sweeping and won’t let you feel out the area.


Regardless of what kind of fish you’re looking for, a fish finder can be a useful tool in your arsenal when you get out on the water. All of the different ways that a fish finder shows you the fish and floor of a body of water below you or around you will require you to spend a little bit of time out the water practicing with the tool. But you’ll quickly be able to get the hang of it with a little bit of time.

Photo of author

Louis McCarthy

With over 40 years of fishing experience, I am a true veteran of the sport with a passion for reeling in the big ones. From coast to coast, I have lived in some of the best fishing spots the US has to offer. I enjoy sharing my knowledge and love for the sport, one catch at a time. Join me as I explore the great outdoors and share my expertise in the art of fishing. Follow me on Twitter and Facebook.

11 thoughts on “How to Read a Fish Finder Screen – Tips for Beginners”

  1. May I just say what a relief to find someone that truly understands what they are discussing
    over the internet. You actually understand how to bring a problem to
    light and make it important. More and more people really need to look at this and understand this side of the story.
    I was surprised that you’re not more popular because you surely have the gift.

  2. Thanks for the marvelous posting! I seriously enjoyed reading it,
    you will be a great author.I will make sure to bookmark your blog and will eventually come back someday.
    I want to encourage you to ultimately continue your great work, have a nice holiday weekend!

  3. Close settings …… The state of Washington received federal approval to use a drone to simply help it monitor
    the wildfires.

  4. Thank you for a very well done and informative tips. I feel that I learned a lot from your post . Definitely I am going to try your advice.

  5. Helpful information. Fortunate me I found your web site unintentionally, and I’m surprised why this
    coincidence didn’t happened in advance! I bookmarked it.


Leave a Comment