The Complete Guide to Using Depthfinders Revised 1985 Edition by Buck Taylor.

In 1981 I received a nice present from my mother for Christmas. It was probably one of the most useful presents I ever received and one that would shape my fishing for my entire life – in fact it still does so today. That present was the book you see in the opening picture of this article, The Complete Guide to Using Depthfinders by Buck Taylor. Taylor wrote the original book in 1981, revised it in 1985 to include some of the liquid crystal graphs that were new to the market, but overall, the book itself was the bible when it came to interpreting sonar in 1980 and later years.

A few months ago, I saw the book for sale on Amazon and went to look for my copy. My luck wasn’t good as it’s located somewhere in the many moving boxes I still haven’t unloaded since moving 5 times in the last 7 years. So, a few weeks ago I ran across a copy of the revised edition on eBay and bought the thing. Last week it arrived and for the past few days I’ve been reacquainting myself with Buck Taylor and the wisdom he wrote between the covers of this unbelievable book.

One of the pictures Buck Taylor uses to describe how and mark, be it baitfish or bigger fish is shaped the way it is.

It’s obvious that this particular book I bought on eBay was well used. The color on the cover has been worn down and the binding is cracked from others reading it so much. The unfortunate thing, though, is the book was a discard from the Paramus Public Library in New Jersey and had probably been discarded from lack of use in recent years. The fact the book was discarded doesn’t reflect its value or the fact this book was used and used well in its time. The probable answer to the book’s demise was no one had checked it out for 20 years or more and, therefore, it was removed from the stacks.

I know this day and age is all about e-books, You Tube and the quick solution – but there’s just something about holding a book in your hand and being able to take that book with you on your fishing adventures. This book had so much useful information in it, it went with me in my boat on nearly every trip for six months. This book taught me how to use a paper graph and use it well.

Buck Taylor shows how echos can aid in determining what type of bottom you're going over.

Today there isn’t anything of its caliber out there on how to use graphs and interpret their signals. And I include You Tube in that statement. For example, this past winter, I upgraded my electronics from 2008 to 2021 and bought two 15-inch Solixs and Mega360. I’d never owned a side-imaging or down-imaging unit and had never owned a Humminbird to boot. I scoured You Tube for videos on setup, interpretation, etc. There’s a lot of videos out there but none of them get into the weeds on settings for different water conditions or even just basic setup. Seems I’m just going to have to teach myself.

Anyway, in Taylor’s book, he goes in-depth on installation, setup and interpretation of what exactly you’re seeing on the unit. Here’s just one example of why this book is so important and should be a must-read for all anglers.

Without a doubt today’s graphs with down imaging and side scan are light years ahead of what we had back in the 70s, 80s, 90s and even the early 2000s. But the basic technology is exactly the same. What we see on our graphs today doesn’t leave much to the imagination – we see actual pictures of trees, sunken boats, rocks and even fish. But one thing that the graphs of today do that the old ones didn’t do – and I’m specifically talking about vertical imaging here folks – is adjust for depth automatically so you have the entire water column, from top-to-bottom, on your screen. Yes, it’s nice to see that big picture of what’s below the boat but so much is lost when you use your finder that way.

Taylor continues his description of bottom composition and how to figure it our from echos.

I didn’t know this until I read Buck’s book back some 40-odd years ago. You see, he said in his book to always adjust your depth so that the bottom was displayed, at the most, within the upper half of the paper (in today’s talk that would mean the upper half of the screen). The reason for this is an angler can tell exactly what type of bottom he or she is over. A hard bottom will display an echo exactly at twice the depth you are over, while a muddy or soft bottom had no echo. A really hard bottom will actually display a third echo. What’s this mean? Well, we all know fish like hard bottoms and transition areas. If you can see these transition areas you are that much closer to catching fish.

Unfortunately, many of today’s anglers don’t know this and run their units in “Auto-Depth mode.” If they’d just turn off the “Auto-Depth” feature and reset their depth to twice the actual depth, then they’d see what I mean.

But, you might say, “I like the ‘zoomed’ effect of setting the depth so it covers the entire scree.” Yeah, I understand that. So, set the depth at 1/2 the screen on the first pass and then reset it to get a better look. That way you know where the hard bottom areas are.

Taylor’s book also goes into so much depth about image interpretation it blows my mind it’s out of print. Even with today’s high-tech units, all of the information provided is still useful and much better than anything else out there. Yes, you can pull up YouTube on your phone or bring your Kindle with you on the boat but how often do you fish in places that don’t have signal and when was the last time you saw an owners’ manual on your e-book?

If you’re serious about really understanding sonar, you might want to hit up eBay or Amazon and buy this “out of date” book. Yeah, it’s old school but you might be surprised what the old-school teachings can do for your fishing.