The 10 Types of Fish Finders Explained: Complete Guide

Whether you are a brand-new fisherman, or a professional angler, using a fish finder may be somewhat confusing for you. Over the past decade, fishing electronics have changed and improved …

Whether you are a brand-new fisherman, or a professional angler, using a fish finder may be somewhat confusing for you. Over the past decade, fishing electronics have changed and improved in dramatic ways to help give you a clear view of what’s under the water and around your boat.

Fish finders are some of the most popular and valuable fishing electronics you can use when searching for your next fishing hotspot. This article will take a closer look at the many types of fish finders available, and how the right fish finder can turn your next weekend fishing trip into a successful outing.

What Are the Different Types of Fish Finders?

There are a handful of different types of fish finders that can offer more or fewer features depending on what you are in need for your next fishing trip. 

In addition to the multiple types of fish finders, we are also including CHIRP sonar on this list even though it isn’t technically an independent fish finder.

It is instead commonly found on a majority of fishing sonar technology on the market today, so it won’t be surprising if you purchase a fish finder that has CHIRP imaging sonar technology included.

What Is a Fish Finder?

In short, a fish finder is an electronic sonar technology that helps anglers locate fish in the lake. A fish finder can also be used to find underwater structures and the contours of the bottom of the waterway.

Fish finders make use of an underwater transducer that sends sonar into the lake to cause reflecting waves to return and create an image of the surroundings on your fish finder’s display.

Anglers that use fish finders are looking to get a slight edge on fishing since they can easily see where fish might be hiding or can locate underwater terrain that is suitable for fish to be in or spawn in.

Fish Finder vs Depth Finder – What’s the Difference?

A fish finder will provide a wide range of information on the water around your boat. This information includes images of fish, water temperature, water depth, GPS coordinates, and more. A fish finder can be a somewhat complex gathering of information which may take some time for new anglers to learn.

A depth finder, on the other hand, is much more simple and will only show information on the depth of the lake directly below your boat. This depth finder can be very useful for locating drop-offs where certain fish may gather, giving you a heads-up on where your next trophy fish might be hiding.

Different Types of Fish Finders Explained

2D sonar image
A 2D sonar is an underwater imaging system that generates a 2-dimensional picture of objects in the water or the seafloor by sending and receiving sound waves.

2D Sonar

As one of the oldest sonar types, 2D sonar transmits information in a cone shape below the boat with the use of a rounded transducer. 

With a 2D sonar cone presentation, you won’t get the highest imaging details on your display but can still see viable images in water up to 150 feet deep

The image from a 2D sonar cone may not be as detailed as you would hope, but it can still provide you with enough information to locate a good fishing location or a spawning spot.

lowrance downscan image
Down Imaging Fish Finder is a type of sonar technology that provides high-resolution images of the underwater environment and fish activity beneath a boat, allowing anglers to locate and identify fish with greater accuracy.

Down Imaging Fish Finder

While not too different from 2D sonar cones, down imaging will transmit the sonar directly below the boat for a considerable distance. 

The beam is somewhat thin and is more of a cylinder shape than the cone shape of a 2D beam, making it somewhat more directional than the previous sonar option.

A more narrow sonar beam can be great for showing high levels of target separation which helps improve the resolution of the images sent back to your display screen.

Best side imaging fish finder feature image
A Side Imaging Fish Finder uses sonar technology to create a detailed, side-view image of underwater structures, fish, and other objects to aid in fishing and navigation.

Side Imaging Fish Finder

Side imaging sonar makes use of two cone-shaped sonar beams which are directed to the left and right sides of the boat.

This narrow sonar beam can find fish and structures to the sides up to 250 feet away, making it a great option for narrow waterways, canals, or checking locations near the shore.

Side imaging uses higher frequencies and short wavelengths of sonar to generate a high-quality image of the side, and is great for scanning for potential spawning locations or hiding spots.

Fish Finder With CHIRP sonar sidescan and downscan
A fish finder with CHIRP sonar technology that provides both side scan and down scan imaging for enhanced underwater detail and improved fishing accuracy.


Short for Compressed High-Intensity Radiated Pulse, CHIRP sonar is not an independent fish finder but is instead a type of sonar that a majority of fish finders will use.

CHIRP sonar uses several wavelengths to reduce the chance of inaccuracies in the images it displays, while traditional sonar only uses a single wavelength.

Regardless of the brand or model, you can find CHIRP sonar in a wide range of down and side imaging and 2D fish finders.

Fish Finder With Live Sonar
A fish finder with live sonar works by transmitting sound waves into the water and using the return echoes to create a real-time image of underwater objects, including fish, displayed on a screen.

Live Sonar

Common on some Humminbird, Lowrance, and Garmin fish finders, live imaging sonar is a recent technology that produces images that are updated in real-time.

This live imaging sonar technology can be absolutely outstanding for watching fish travel to and from certain locations or to give you a clear view of how fish are moving towards your lure or bait.

If you have ever heard the term “video game fishing,” chances are the angler that used this term was referring to live imaging sonar for instant updates on fish movements.

360 degree sonar image
360 Imaging Sonar uses sonar beams to create a 360-degree underwater image, displayed on a fish finder screen.

360 Imaging Sonar

Somewhat similar to side imaging traditional sonar, 360 sonar transmits imaging beams in a sideways manner that can rotate in a 360-degree circle to get all sides of the boat.

This sonar option can be a great choice for anglers fishing in very shallow water or in waterways that are narrow and hard for more traditional sonar to penetrate.

3D sonar scan
A 3D fish finder uses advanced sonar to create a 3D image of underwater objects and structures.

3D Fish Finder

This unique option makes use of computer software to piece data together from various transducer information to create a highly detailed 3D image.

While you will receive very unique and highly impressive images, you won’t get real-time updates on fish movement or terrain changes which can potentially put you at a disadvantage.

Ice fishing flasher
An ice fishing flasher fish finder is a compact, specialized fish finder designed for ice fishing that uses sonar technology to display real-time underwater information in a flasher-style format to help locate and identify fish.

Ice Fishing Flasher

Highly desirable when doing vertical fishing, a flasher is the number one choice of anglers that focus on ice fishing.

The purpose of the flasher is to give you a clear view of your lure as well as fish moving towards or away from it well under the ice.

While not extremely common with a quality fish finder that is installed permanently on a boat’s dash, when it comes to portability, most fish finders with flashers on their imaging sonar are great for ice fishing.

Castable Fish Finder
A castable fish finder is a portable fishing device that uses sonar to locate and track fish and wirelessly displays real-time underwater information to a display device, making it a convenient tool for anglers.

Castable Fish Finder

Castable fish finders are one of the few truly portable options that you can use from anywhere, including from shore or from a kayak without any trouble.

These wireless sonar can project information directly to your smartphone or tablet, or a portable fish finder screen, letting you see the same information as a larger and more expensive fish finder without the same investment.

Castable fish finders are small enough to be carried in a pocket or tackle box and are often not much larger than standard bobbers making them highly valuable for ice fishing, shore fishing, or mountain reservoir fishing.

Chartplotter Fish Finder 1
A chartplotter fish finder combines the functions of a chartplotter and a fish finder, providing a complete and integrated navigation and fishing system for boaters and anglers.

Chartplotter Fish Finder

Perfect for anglers that do a lot of traveling around both new and familiar lakes, modern fish finders with a chartplotter can provide advanced mapping capabilities so you can track your position, set waypoints, and more.

Chartplotters make use of very accurate fish finder GPS combo technology to pinpoint your location when you want to update maps, set new courses for your navigation system, or if you are trying to find a specific fishing location.

As an included part of many fish finder models, chartplotters can not only send out sonar waves to locate more fish but can also set specific paths for your trolling motor to use.

What Is the Easiest Fish Finder to Use?

When asked, many anglers that have had a chance to try out multiple different fish finders will say that the Lowrance Hook Reveal is arguably the most beginner-friendly and easiest fish finder to use.

Not only does it come with a number of optimized settings direct from the factory which are typical of most fish finder technology, but it can be out of the box and display detailed information within minutes.

For anglers that don’t want to spend a lot of time trying to learn how to read their fish finder information, Lowrance has an option that can work for you when you want to locate different types of fish.

What Type of Fish Finder Should You Choose?

Choosing the right fish finder will depend on your unique needs and expectations. Fishing technology is always changing and advancing, with more and more different brands becoming more affordable for new arrivals to the hobby.

If you are looking for a well-rounded fish finder, you should try to find one that includes both down and side imaging capabilities, 2D sonar, and an all-in-one transducer that can be installed in a variety of locations on your vessel.

A fish finder like this will usually cost around $500.00, but it’s not uncommon to find these units on sale direct from the manufacturer, especially if they are releasing a newer replacement model or pushing out some changes to the existing model.

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Jeff Knapp is an expert fisherman, guide and outdoor writer whose work is widely published across a range of sites including Tackle Village. Jeff is based in Pennsylvania and loves exploring the waterways of that state in pursuit of smallmouth bass, largemouth, panfish and trout.
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