Heading out onto the water to get some fishing done is a great weekend hobby to have. And while just being out on the water and enjoying the moment can be rewarding enough, it’s always an even better reward to catch a trophy fish while you’re out there.
You’ve probably heard other anglers talking about their down imaging or side imaging fish finder and how it can make or break a fishing trip. But what exactly is a down imaging or side imaging fish finder, and do you need one? Can it really live up to all the hype it gets from other anglers down at the docks?
Let’s dive in and see what features the best side imaging fish finder has to offer, and then compare a few of the top side imaging models on the market today to see which pulls ahead as the best pick.
Best Side Imaging Fish Finders: Quick picks
One of the absolute best side imaging fish finders on the market today when it comes to quality of images, the Solix returns some photo-quality results you won’t find in other brands or models. It’s a great first fish finder for a beginner or can be a valuable tool for a more experienced angler too.
You won’t need to spend any time trying to learn how to use the Elite FS; this unit is extremely simple to learn, very intuitive, and you can get started right out of the box with this one! For someone new to imaging sonars in general, Lowrance has made this one easy for even the newest beginner.
The Striker 4 is a great choice for ice fishing, boat fishing, or those wanting something a bit more powerful than traditional sonar. Plus it is powerful and includes a lot of the same features you would expect in more expensive and higher-end models.
What is a Side Imaging Fish Finder
The entire purpose of a fish finder is to give you a set of eyes below the surface of the water. You could be cruising along in your boat, passing over dozens of world record fish and not even know it. But with a fish finder or some form of traditional sonar or imaging sonar on board, you can easily see what is lurking in the depths below your boat.
Side imaging fish finders are just one of a few different fish finder types you can purchase. After being mounted on the exterior transoms of your boat, the sonar of a side imaging fish finder will continuously scan the water as you travel to identify underwater landmasses, structures, and, most importantly, fish. It also includes a temperature sensor so you know exactly when fish might be active and when they will be a bit more sluggish.
What is So Good About Side Imaging?
Side imaging fish finders make use of two distinct beams of sonar on either side of your boat to create a very detailed view of your immediate surroundings. This side imaging sonar view is done in real-time and reflects back to a display screen on board which you can view at any time. Both down and side imaging scanners can make use of CHIRP sonar to give you an extremely detailed view of everything around and below your boat.
Whether you are looking for a specific underwater biome or want to target schools of baitfish, a properly positioned side imaging fish finder can help you do just that. While there are some variations in the distance the side imaging sonar can reach, most down-and-side imaging sonar technology can scan around 300 feet from your boat, giving you a wide view of things on either side as well as a bit below you. Or you may have a side imaging transducer that also has down imaging capability. In this case, the entire area below and around your boat will be scanned with the sonar beam so you can find more fish on every trip.
See something of interest on the side imaging scanner? You’ll know with enough advanced notice to be able to stop the boat and toss a line or two into the water to see what you can catch. Another huge benefit to using a side imaging fish finder is that you can get perfectly viable side imaging results regardless of the weather. You don’t need a bright and sunny day to get a good view of the water below you. In fact, you can even use most side imaging or down imaging sonar fish finders or other advanced imaging technology at night and still get perfectly accurate results.
How to Choose the Best Side Imaging Fish Finder: What Do You Look For?
There is a wide range of different features you can find on side-imaging fish finders, so selecting the best side-imaging fish finder might take some trial and error. Some of these features are pretty standard across the board in most fish finders, such as CHIRP sonar, and others may only be found on more premium units. Regardless of what features you may be searching for, there is definitely a suitable side imaging fish finder out there that will help you find more fish.
One of the biggest things anglers both new and experienced, may look at first in a side imaging fish finder is the price. We all like getting a good deal on equipment for our hobbies, so if you are stuck with a pretty tight budget, don’t fret. Fish finders and other sonar technology can come in a wide range of prices to suit most wallets. Fish finder manufacturers are always on the lookout for more ways to improve the quality of their fish finder imaging technology while ensuring the price is favorable to all anglers.
You may want to set aside around $200 to $300 for a fish finder or other imaging sonar. This is not an entry-level price point but is also not on the high end. It’s a good mix of value versus features and will get you a great start in using this type of technology on your next fishing trip. Obviously, if you want to spend more on a fish finder, you should – and additional features can make your fishing experiences even more enjoyable.
Fish finder frequencies are important to consider as they will determine what type of fishing area you will get good scan results from. For example, if you are fishing in shallow water with a lot of silt or mud on the bottom, weeded banks, and possibly a lot of underwater structures such as dock pylons, a fish finder that has a high band frequency is your best bet.
For deepwater fishing, where you might not need to worry about a lot of sea bed vegetation, structures or other debris in the water, a lower frequency is the best option for getting a clear and detailed picture in a higher water depth.
A growing number of fish finders and other side imaging technology use both higher and lower frequency bands so you have an option and are not limited to just one water depth, but if the fish finder you are looking at only lists one frequency, make sure it matches your normal fishing locations. If you’re looking for the best side imaging fish finder you can afford, try to go for one that has both side imaging and down imaging capabilities.
We all love getting results in rapid time, and when using a CHIRP sonar fish finder, you need to know what is in the water around your boat quickly. The higher wattage a fish finder has, the faster you can get these results – however, it will also mean more draw on your main power system.
If you’re fishing from a boat that has onboard power and you will be hooking the CHIRP sonar fish finder up your main line, this will be a moot point. But for smaller boats and kayak fishing, this is definitely something you want to consider. You may be required to have a small power converter on board and will need to ensure it can power the fish finder as long as you need it during your outing.
You’ve got the power to get quick results from your fish finder, but do you have one with the right screen resolution? Fish finders come in a wide range of sizes, and some will have larger screen resolutions than others. The higher-end models will have large color displays that show everything in extreme detail, while lower-end and more entry-level models will have small screens with less detail.
Both are still perfectly usable, and in fact, some anglers prefer the models with less bells and whistles. But if you want to get a clear view of your next trophy fish when it’s still in the water, focusing on finding a model with a high screen resolution for clear images is important. You don’t want to see something large and promising in the water only to find out it was a poorly displayed piece of underwater debris and not a fish at all!
Pay attention to both screen size and the resolution, which is normally shown in pixels. The larger these are, the better and clearer the image result will be. You also want to potentially consider whether or not the screen is backlit. A LED backlight can make a big difference in viewing ease, especially during sunny days.
In addition to screen resolution, you will be faced with choosing between a fish finder that has a color screen or one that is monochrome. Having a color screen will give you the best and most realistic clear images, but it will also come at a higher price point. Monochromes are much more budget-friendly but will not give you a very good idea of what you might be looking at on display.
Consider the Trolling Motor
Fish finders of all types, whether they are down imaging, side imaging, or a combination of those, will oftentimes interface with the built-in GPS unit in your trolling motor to provide accurate location information when charting and waypointing. However, not every trolling motor will link with every fish finder.
Additionally, by connecting your fish finder to your trolling motor’s built-in GPS, you can ultimately program the two to work together and give you a mostly hands-free day of fishing. Proper linking between the two units can help you avoid debris lines, find contour lines, underwater drop-offs, and more all while you have your hands on a rod.
A variety of trolling motor brands are great for connecting to some of the fish finders on this list. For example, trolling motors from Minn Kota, Garmin, and Lowrance are all almost universally accepted by most modern fish finder brands. The built-in GPS connections can be made via Bluetooth or ethernet to ensure you get a solid and reliable connection when out on the water.
How Big and How Much Unit Do You Actually Need
Fish finder units come in a wide range of sizes, and what you choose will depend on your needs. If you’re wanting a very portable unit that can be used from the shore or quickly moved onto a boat, you’ll likely be working with a smaller-sized unit and screen.
On the other hand, if you plan to permanently mount it on to your boat and have no plans of switching it out for a while, you can go for an extremely big screen. In fact, some of the biggest professional-level fish finder units on the market today include 22 or 24-inch screens to give you incredibly clear and highly detailed views of everything around you as well as leaving plenty of room for detailed maps on the screen at the same time.
For most beginners or the average angler simply wanting a good view and a decent range of information from their scans, a 7-inch screen is not uncommon. It’s small enough to be suitable for both large and small boats and yet is large enough to be easily viewed, so you get the information you want while underway.
If you’re new to fish finders, learning about the transducer may be where the confusion starts. In simplistic terms, the transducer is responsible for collecting the sonar signal and putting it on your visual display monitor for you to view. Fish finder transducers come in a variety of power ranges and capabilities, and this will directly affect how well the fish finder can do its job.
Additionally, both side imaging and down imaging transducers need to be mounted in specific areas on your boat to get the best results. For example, if you mount either the side imaging or down imaging transducer near the motor blades or water propellant jets, your resulting CHIRP sonar imaging will be extremely grainy and hard to distinguish, and water temperature results will be inaccurate as well.
Each type of fish finder may recommend a suitable spot for the transducer installation, so be sure to read the user manual on your specific brand and model. You may also be able to choose from a few suitable mounting locations to find one that works best on your particular boat. Transducers can also be mounted on smaller outboard-powered vessels as well as kayaks.
Side imaging Fish Finder FAQs
1. How to Read a Side Imaging Fish Finder?
The black line in the middle of the split screen is the unscanned area directly below your boat. The areas on the left and side of your screen are what is in the water off to either side of your boat, and the numbers at the top will tell you how far in feet that item or fish is located.
2. Does Side Imaging Work on a Kayak?
Side scan does, in fact, work on a kayak; however, you may need to adjust the chart speed on your fish finder to get the best results when it is mounted on a kayak. Side imaging technology that is made for boats might need a bit of tweaking in the interface to give proper results when used from a kayak.
3. How to Mount Side Imaging Transducer on Kayak?
There are a variety of mounting points for a transducer on a kayak, including the scupper hole, bottom keel, track-system arm mounts, and magnetic mounting kits.
Our Best Side Imaging Fish Finders: Full Reviews
If a clear and detailed image is your biggest concern, the Solix has you covered, as it provides near photo-like quality with astonishing detail and clarity for up to 125 feet from your boat in both shallow water and deeper water. It also offers a large and easy-to-navigate touchscreen with intuitive features and MEGA imaging, so you get nothing but pure information on your split-screen display.
Most anglers love how easy it is to get this unit to connect with smartphones as well as other units on the boat. You can use Bluetooth or ethernet to connect to a smartphone, external module, or other devices you may have on board to get the best and most versatile connection options around. With an LED backlight split screen, you'll have no issues with the imaging capability of this unit, even on sunny days.
- Incredibly clear photo-like return on sonar MEGA imaging
- Smartphone Bluetooth and NMEA connection options
- Very easy to navigate large screen with excellent interface
Helix will deliver extremely clear and magnified side scan images from up to 125 feet away from your boat with the dual spectrum CHIRP sonar. Being a dual-spectrum sonar, you will have access to both high and low-frequency bands to suit any fishing depth you may be cruising through. Quickly determine where you see fish arches or fish-holding structures, so you know exactly when to drop a line in the water.
Humminbird made sure this unit was equipped with their trademark LowQ transducer to give you an unobstructed view of individual fish as well as schools of baitfish. In addition, it comes complete with Basemap software to give you a collection of more than ten thousand detailed US lake and coastline GPS coverage for basic navigation and waypoints.
- Quick return on highly detailed and clear magnified images
- Dual spectrum CHIRP for both deepwater and shallow scanning
- Massive database of 10,000 maps for waypoints
If you’re tired of being limited to low-quality fish finders when you’re out on the kayak, stop your search with this side scan sonar. Lowrance has specifically made their Hook model a perfect addition to any kayak as well as a powered vessel, and they made sure it was at a favorable price point as well.
You’ll get up to 300 feet of detailed scan coverage from this fish finder, and it will be displayed in crisp detail to give you the information you need when you need it. While the GPS is not top-of-the-line, it still helps with plotting waypoints and navigating safely through unfamiliar waterways.
- Easy-to-navigate interface that is fully customizable
- Very versatile in mounting options on boats or kayaks
- CHIRP down and side scan capabilities with great image return
This compact fish finder is another excellent option for kayak anglers or those with small boats. While it might be smaller than you are used to, this portable unit has the features you want to make up for its size including a 7-inch screen with two display modes that is easily viewed even in bright sunlight.
It offers Garmin’s own SideVu and ClearVu CHIRP imaging to give you a very detailed view of not just the underwater terrain and structures that may be nearby, but also excellent detail on fish arches and baitfish schools. In addition, you’ll get access to more than 17,000 preloaded US maps covering lakes, rivers, and coastal waterways to help make plotting your way quick and easy.
- Accurate CHIRP down and side-scanning capabilities
- Very intuitive navigation on a large 7-inch screen
- Compact size with multiple mounting options
This dual-beam sonar is a great option for an angler that can’t decide on which frequency range they want more as it offers both a wide range frequency as well as a closer and more detailed option for the best fish finding around. It’s a very portable option as well which means you can use it from the shore, on a kayak, while ice fishing, or mount it on your boat just as well.
Screen size is somewhat small, but what it lacks there it makes up for in functionality and a budget-friendly price. The CHIRP sonar down imaging offers clear and detailed images even on a smaller screen that you can easily distinguish between sunken debris and actual fish arches.
- Very portable with abundant mounting options
- Powerful dual-beam CHIRP transducer
- Great first sonar for beginning anglers
This sonar scanner is a great choice for beginning and intermediate anglers looking to get ahead of their peers when out on the water. It features fast and accurate real-time sonar readings and imaging features that are easy to read and understand at a glance.
If you want to mark out some waypoints or save your favorite fishing spots, this unit includes more than 9,000 preloaded US lake maps with options for other regions and different waterways as well. Additionally, you’ll find it has 3-in-1 triple-shot transducer capabilities meaning it can give you great image results with down, side, or fish reveal scanning.
- Provides fast and accurate sonar readings
- Three in one triple-shot transducer for detailed scanning
- Easy to set up, mount, and get started using right out of the box
Final Thoughts on the Best Side Imaging Fish Finders
Side imaging fish finders are a great way to help ensure you are catching fish and not just floating around on a boat. No longer will they hide from you, and gone are the days when you return from a fishing trip empty-handed. Adding one of these handy units to your boat or shore fishing kit is an excellent option for beginner and advanced anglers alike.
You’ve seen the potential features a fish finder can have and have seen a few models that are the best at what they do. Now it’s up to you to decide on the best fish finder that will help you bring home the next world trophy fish. Whether you go for a simple model with a monochrome screen, or dish out the money for a model with all the bells and whistles, a fish finder of any type can get you catching fish and just generally improve your results on any fishing trip.