How to Read A Fish Finder Screen – Tips for Beginners

 Without the ability to read a fish finder screen, finding fish would be pointless. So if you’re going kayak fishing and you don’t know how to read a fish finder screen, you’re better off not going. This article gives you some not-so-popular tips for reading a fish finder screen.

The real question is, now that I’ve got your back, will you actually do it?

The first thing you need to do to get started is to actually look at the display. What do you see? To better understand what you see, it’s important to know how fish finders work.

Let’s get that out of the way.

How Do Fish Finders Work?


A fish finder uses Sonar Technology which stands for Sound Navigation Ranging. Hence, SO-NA-R. Get it?

This means that the device sends sonar pulses into the water to detect movement and fish. This technology can also detect other stuff like stones and vegetation. And based on how long it takes to reach the bottom and reflect back on the surface. It determines depth and speed as well.

Sonar scanning technology for fish finding is a bit unique. Unlike traditional fish finders, it doesn’t detect in a straight line through the water. Sonar scans in cones which improves its efficacy in finding fish faster and in wider areas.

Now you know how a fish finder works. It’s time to learn how to read one.


How to Read A Fish Finder Like A Pro

1.   Fish Icons & Fish Arches

The one thing you need to start looking for is (duh!) fish. This means looking for fish icons and fish arches.

Fish icons look like fish icons. It comes up on your screen as a result of the sonar tracking technology. Even the most expensive fish finders aren’t always 100% accurate. But with deeper fishing data, you can track fish easily using fish icons.

Once you’ve understood how fish icons work. Most likely, you’ll want to dig a little deeper. The fish finder may mistake a stone or a swaying plant underneath as a fish. So it’s not always the most reliable route for professional kayak fishing.

That’s where the charm of the fish arches come in.

Fish arches show up on the fish finder display as small arches – a slightly curved dash. This tracks the movement of a fish from the beginning to the middle to the end of the sonar cone. And the fish finder detects the movement and speed and shows it immediately on the screen.

You can easily spot a fish like this. But here’s the trick.

Not all arches will be the same. Each fish arch will differ in length and width. If it’s a longer fish arch, that just means the fish is hanging around the sonar cone for longer. And in terms of width, the deeper the fish, the wider the arch. And remember sonar technology tracks in a cone. So the lower down the cone it gets, the wider the circumference of tracking.

2.   Determine Underwater Structure

This is the second step to freedom. The only way to understand the geography inside the water is by the underwater structure. The depth of the water and the shape of the land under.

Here’s the tip that will change your life. Never keep the fish finder stationary.

The thing about fish finders is that they keep scanning. So if you keep the fish finder stationary, it will show the bottom structure as flat. Even if that is not so. So to get an accurate reading of the bottom contour, keep the fish finder moving, no matter how slowly.

The second most important point is to read the correct depth. The fish finder scans multiple depths at the same time. So it’s important to know which is which.

The top right reading is the depth that’s directly under the fish finder. The right side of the screen shows you accurate depth reading under objects or fish. So if you have certain drop off points to scan, both depth readings will be different.

3.   Spotting Vegetation and Weeds

Places where you spot thick vegetation and weeds can be a good drop off point. You can mark it off as a place to start from or an area you’ve just covered. And you can return to it in terms of need.

There are two ways to spot vegetation and weeds on a fish finder screen. In the form of vertical lines or bumps on your fish finder screen. This, in the fish kayaking world, is also labeled as “depressions” and “points.”

Depressions are V-shaped dips in the bottom contour. If you’re reeling or strolling, the fish finder will show you what’s under.

Points are spots that make better drop-offs than depressions. It also provides an accurate account of the incline. But getting this reading is only possible if you’re continuously strolling or reeling.

Narrower sonar beams pick up depressions and points easily. The wider the beam, the longer or inaccurate will be the reading.

4.   Bottom Thickness & Graphics

These two features go hand-in-hand. Allow me to explain why.

Bottom thickness or hardness of water gives you easy access to the feel of the water. If the display looks cloudy or grainy, it means the water is harder in that area. Then the display shows a straight line from where the water loosens up a little.

If the display shows no grains, this means the water is softer and easy to penetrate.

Now the graphics, which are color vs. 2D graphics, is crucial. If it’s color, you can see darker and lighter colors easier. This makes finding objects, fish and identifying every aspect of the water easier.

The same thing in 2D graphics which is traditional black-and-white is a bit different. A fish finder lightens and darkens shades of black to give you an accurate reading.

For example, if the screen shows a darker shade of black for an echo, this means there’s hard water. If it’s lighter and more spaced out, this means it’s soft water.


Different fish finders have different margins and displays. But these features cover the ideal structure of a fish finder screen. And they help you beginners find the ideal setup for fishing.

After reading this article, I hope you’re less intimidated by this whole process than before. Fish finders are exciting and versatile tools for fishing. They give you plenty of insight and prove to be very useful for a productive and successful fishing trip! Wouldn’t you agree?

About the Author

I'm Rodney Heaton and I love hunting in the wild. In the past, I was in the military for over 5 years. After that I became a licensed hunter and a mountain guide.