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How To Read A Fish Finder: Beginners Guide To Identify Fish Reliably

Reading fish finders is important since it can aid your fishing encounters tremendously in case you do not understand the guidelines. These advanced units have specific sonar features that let you see the underwater world that is beneath your boat. And yet, even for a novice, fish finders are packed with such symbols, numbers, and colors that after getting to know all of this – identifying the fish and other underwater formations becomes a piece of cake.

Here you will find out about the main concepts that you have to learn to make sense of the data displayed on the screen of your fish finder, the kinds of sonar signals, and all the rest, which will help you be a more successful fisher and have even more fun.

Related article: Best Fish Finders Under $200

Fish Finder readings

Fish Finders Basic Know How

Types of fish finders

Three main types of fish finders are commonly used: stand-alone, combo, and networked systems. Stand-alone units work better for small boats and beginners. The combo equipment has GPS and fish finding, while network setups are complex units with display, radar, and video.

Understanding frequencies of fish finders

The frequencies of fish finders vary. Frequencies of 200 kHz or 455/800 kHz are better for fishing in shallow waters and 50 or 83 kHz for deep water fishing. Others offer dual, multiple, or CHIRP (Compressed High-Intensity Radiated Pulse) frequencies for better resolution.

Reading a Fishfinder

The ability to interpret a display is critical to the efficient use of a fish finder. Fish are normally depicted as arches or dots. Vegetation might be shown by a line or a cluster of lines, and the boundary could be represented by a solid black line. Differentiation between these signals must be practiced.

Transducer placement

The transducer that transmits and receives the ultrasonic signals should be well-fitted since tilt will affect its emission and sensitivity. It is most often mounted on the hull of smaller boats but on the transom of larger boats (the flat surface forming the stern of a boat).

Power and cone angles

The power of a fish finder is given in wattage (W). Greater wattage equals faster readings. The cone angle is the measure of beam width in the transmitted signal. A wider cone on a catfish finder offers a large coverage area but little detail.

GPS integration

Modern fish finders are mostly equipped with GPS technology. This feature lets you mark productive fishing sites, trace trails, and sail waters easily. 

How do you read a fishfinder screen?

Fish Arches vs. Fish Dots

Beginners need to realize that the fish arches and dots on a fish finder screen are two different things. ‘Arching’ is the shape of a fish’s pulses, which are distorted as the movements of the fish sonar move through the main beam. A solid line or a cluster normally indicates a stationary object such as vegetation or structure.

Fish are presented as arches with their apex points facing the transducer. The height of the arch also tells about the height of the fish. Larger fishes usually have more prominent arches compared to smaller fishes, which appear as dots.

On the other side, dots may also stand for fish but are mostly smaller or farther away. Dots can be used to illustrate junk or other small objects in the water. In the downed image, fish will be seen as clear dots having a shadow below.

In down-looking images, fishes appear as dots, whereas down-imaging sonar uses a thin fan of vertical beams, making it tough to capture the whole object’s shape. In addition to this, it has a narrow sonar beam, which allows it to detect small objects like fish. However, a down-looking sonar does not yield a more accurate depth of fish than a side-looking one.

When you know what the difference between arch and dots is, you can take advantage of it when interpreting a fish finder screen. By examining the size and shape of each signal, you can classify the type of fish or object in the water column.

Understanding fish icons:

Fish icons or fish ID technology is a function of some fish finders that enables the user to easily identify and separate different types of fish. This technology utilizes preset data in the classification of some target species of fish using certain sonar signals.

How to read fish finder readings

Although that might seem a useful feature, it has to be said that these icons are not always correct. Sometimes, they take other objects or water turbulence to be fish. It is always better to rely on your knowledge and interpretation of the sonar signals rather than relying totally on the fish icons.

On top of that, some fish finders give you an option to customize those fish icons or even create your own fish icons based on your fishing experiences. It can assist dedicated fishermen in recording and later analyzing their fishing statistics.

How do we read down imaging vs. side imaging signals?

Reading down imaging:

In down imaging, the sonar beams are directed downwards with high frequencies that give a very clear view of the underwater terrain and objects just below your boat. This kind of imaging offers a more accurate image than the conventional 2D sonar.

While reading down the imaging signals, look for well-defined and clear shapes such as arches or dots. These may show the presence of fish or other things in the water column. It is, however, good to remember that even though down imaging may make it difficult to detect the fish from other objects, other features, for example, the fish ID system or your knowledge, could be used to verify the presence of fish.

Reading side imaging:

Side imaging has two sonar cones located opposite the sides of your boat that are pointed outside, giving a wider view of underwater plains and objects. This kind of imaging is designed for surveying larger regions and finding possible fishing areas.

With the side imaging signals, look for long and thin shapes or shadows on either side of the boat. These can show the existence of fish or anything like rocks or logs. Side scanning imaging is also useful in identifying changes in water depth and bottom contour, which in turn influences the location of fish.

Tips for reading fish finder signals:

  • Spend time learning and comprehending the various sonar technologies and how they operate.
  • Observe how strong the signal is – a stronger signal implies more accurate readings.
  • Practice recognition of signals by comparing them with underwater structures or objects of known appearance.
  • Utilize the zoom function to see the details of specific regions and signals.
  • Merge different technologies and elements to get a more detailed picture of the marine world.
  • Note that fish behavior also plays a role, so multiple techniques like observation or using other sonar technologies should always be used to confirm the readings.

How do you estimate fish size using a fish finder?

Estimation of fish size by a fish finder involves examination of the arches that appear on the screen, standing for fish. The thickness and length of these arches indicate the size of the fish as well.

A wider, longer arch typically implies a larger fish, whereas a narrower, shorter arch commonly means a smaller one. Also, powerful, solid signals can indicate that the fish’s density is considerable, and this usually corresponds to a larger size.

For more accurate estimations, it’s better to use fishlesses with updated features, including high frequency and CHIRP technology. They give higher resolution; therefore, it is simpler to classify between the sizes of fish that are closely massed.

Remember that gaining experience and practice with a particular fish finder’s imaging will increase accuracy in estimating fish sizes over time. You can enhance your skills at assessing the size of fish by routinely using a fish finder and mastering its signals.

Additionally, note that other parameters such as depth, water clarity, and bottom composition can also influence the image of fish on a sonar screen. All these parameters should be taken into account when estimating fish size with a fish finder.

How to read underwater topography on your finder?

You need to learn how to use the depth finder feature on your fish finder to read the underwater topography with accuracy. By studying the contours and structures that lie underneath the water’s surface, you can locate possible fish locations as well as plan your fishing strategy accordingly.

  • Start with setting the depth range on the fish finder to a level that shows the bottom and any possible structures or drop-offs.
  • Look for changes in depth, including unexpected rises or drops, as these can illustrate places where fish might be clumped together.
  • Be attentive to any types of structures like rocks, logs, or submerged vegetation, which might be a shelter and a source of food for fish.
  • Use side imaging or CHIRP technology to better understand the underwater topography and any possible hiding places for fish.
  • With increasing practice in reading underwater topography, try different settings on a fish finder to get the best results in different places.

How to read an ice fishing flasher?

The secret of catching fish while ice fishing lies in learning to read ice fish sounders. The flasher displays sonar returns with depth shown circularly on the vertical axis. When using an ice fishing flasher:

  • Identify the bottom: The flasher will display the lake or river bottom as a solid, thick line across the screen representing your depth reference point.
  • Look for fish signals: Fish will appear as lines or marks between the surface and the bottom. The thickness and location of these marks offer unique insights into the size of the fish and their actual depth.
  • Monitor your lure or jig: Put your line into the water and watch the appearance of the lure on the flasher. After that, you may wiggle the jig to startle the fish and observe their reactions to the lure.
  • Watch for movement: Fish will respond to your jig by swimming toward it if lively marks appear; experiment with a jigging technique to attract a strike.

How to read a Garmin fish finder?

Garmin is one of the most reliable brands concerning fish finders. You’ll spot a mixture of maps, sonar scans, and other information on the screen.

On the right-hand side, you will see the sonar display: This shows the depths of objects and fishes in the submerged section. The closer an object is to your boat, the higher on the screen it will appear.

On the left-hand side, you will see the map display of this bass finder. This enables you to see your position and drop any points of interest, such as where you caught a fish or where fish were detected. On Cabela Garmin fish finder, you can also make use of this functionality for traveling to different spots on the lake.

How to read a Lowrance fish finder?

Lowrance Hook Reveal 9 inch Fishfinders with Preloaded C-MAP Options

Amazon link of Lowrance Hook Reveal 9-inch Fishfinders with Preloaded C-MAP Options

Lowrance is another well-known brand of fish detectors. The design of their devices’ screens is quite similar to Garmin’s, but the features may vary.

Sonar chart: This graph depicts the underwater environment in real time using sonar sensor readings. You can see fish, structures, and other items underneath you.

Fish arches: Unlike Garmin’s fish alarms, Lowrance uses fish arches to represent fish. The sizes and shapes of the arches are the main indicators of the fish’s size and their depths at the moment.

How to read a Humminbird fish finder?

Humminbird 411670-1 Helix 5 Chirp DI GPS G3 Fish Finder

Some of the features, that make Humminbird fish finders the best in the market, are some of the top-notch functions. Here’s how to read their display:

Side imaging: It allows you to see more of the bottom of the sea and the objects on both sides of the boat. This is done by employing the sonar beams that offer a complete image of the bottom, and any structures or fish around it.

Down imaging: Like with side imaging, down imaging helps you get a clear picture of what is directly below your vessel. This is useful in fishing since it helps in identifying the fishing hiding from your view under structures.

SwitchFire: This feature enables you to select between sonar views, such as clear mode to see the fish and structures clearly and Max mode to see more details in the water column.

Wrapping up!

It must be kept in mind that though fish finder displays have remarkably changed the way fishing is done, the ability to read the show is very critical, especially for an aspiring fisherman. It may take some time to familiarize yourself with the machine’s characteristics as well as the display and possible findings, but the fishing procedure becomes faster in terms of identifying the fish. As you move and change locations, do not forget to change your settings too, while observing when settings are needed and if there are any changes around you. Through these tips and strategies, you will find it much easier to read fish finders as an expert.