Is Side Imaging Worth the Money on a Fish Finder?

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Written By Donny Karr

Donny Karr is a Tournament Angler with more than 20 years of fishing experience and a writer whose work has been featured in magazines for over a decade. He is a member of the Outdoor Writers Association of America. He enjoys bass and crappie fishing in the lakes around the south-eastern United States. He also fishes for trout in the streams and rivers of the Appalachian mountains. Donny has written for Georgia Outdoor News, Paddling Space, Man Can Outdoors, Alabama Outdoor News, and Bassmaster.


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Side imaging is worth the investment on a fish finder for anglers seeking detailed underwater views, enhanced structure identification, and precise fish location. It expands search area coverage, improves accuracy, and helps target specific species. However, consider your fishing style, budget, and experience before making a decision.

If you’re an avid angler, you’ve probably become aware of the new side imaging technology that’s being added to many of the top electronic brands’ fish finder lineups. There’s no denying that the advertisements and video clips of side imaging look amazing, but is it actually as much of an advantage over the typical style of fish finder as these brands claim it is? Many anglers are asking the same question:

Is side imaging worth the money on a fish finder? 

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at this new technology and break down some of the ways that it can elevate your fishing experience to help you decide if it’s actually worth the cost. 

What is Side Imaging?

Side imaging is basically a very thin beam of sonar scanning that reads the areas to the left and right of your boat. Much like the down-scan technology, side scan is capable of producing exceptionally-clear images of what’s in the water around your boat. It looks more like a photo than a hard-to-read graph of colors and arches, which is why many professional anglers and guides generally prefer to use it. 

Side imaging is capable of providing you with a detailed picture of what’s to either side of your boat up to 400 feet. This means you’ll have as much as 800 feet of view as you move along. It’s usually not capable of reaching the same incredible depths that down imaging is capable of, but most good quality side imaging sonar systems can pick up clear images up to roughly 150 feet in depth on both sides. 

It was initially designed to be used for boats that spent a considerable amount of time trolling along more shallow parts of lakes or rivers. Instead of having to maneuver your boat or transducer directly over a spot, side imaging allows you to view a much wider area without getting too close to it. 

Side Imaging

Side Imaging vs Down Imaging

Down imaging has virtually revolutionized the fish finding industry as it provides anglers a means to get a crisp, clear view of what’s beneath their boat. Most of the top brands and models of down imaging sonar units can provide readings at depths of up to about 600 feet in most cases. There are some similarities in the capabilities of both down scan and side scan imaging, but which one is best for your needs really depends on the techniques and type of fishing you plan to do. 

Down imaging is better for anglers who are going after larger fish that are often found in greater depths. Most anglers that use vertical fishing techniques heavily rely on down scan imaging to get a sense of the structure below them, as well as any depth changes that fish tend to stay close to. 

Advantages to Side Imaging

For most bass anglers, being able to have a clear view of the bottom directly below the boat is not quite as advantageous as being able to clearly see what’s around your boat for hundreds of feet. Side imaging might only be capable of reading down to about 125 to 150 feet, but there’s virtually no need for bass anglers to see much farther into the depths as both largemouth and smallmouth won’t venture that far down toward the bottom. 

Side imaging also requires that you cruise at speeds of roughly 3 to 5 miles per hour to receive accurate, clear readings. It’s actually said that side imaging produces better readings when the boat is moving along at no more than 3 miles per hour. 

Side imaging forces you to slow down, which might be a greater advantage as it makes you study more of the area around your boat as you move at a slower speed. Down imaging actually works better when the boat is moving along a bit faster than this and makes it possible to cover large sections of water in a shorter amount of time, but you’re more likely to miss anything that’s just outside the down scan’s beam. 

Identifying Fish 

In addition to being able to spot various types of structure or depth changes, it’s crucial that the sonar equipment you’re using allows you to get an accurate read on what kind of fish are around your boat, as well as how many fish are in each section. It is said that there is a bit of a learning curve when using side imaging and anglers that are more used to reading down imaging will have to get used to the slightly altered perspective in order to spot fish and be able to distinguish what kind they are. 

Most anglers report that larger fish, when viewed on a side imaging sonar, will appear like a singular white line or streak while a large school of fish will look more like a group of these lines clustered together. A well-trained eye and properly dialed-in side imaging unit will also be able to pick up bait balls and schools of shad which typically look like rounded balls or clouds instead of singular white lines. 

Keep in mind that anything you view on side imaging will be less clear farther away. The greatest clarity in imaging will come in the initial 50 feet on either side of your boat. 

Do I Really Need Side Imaging?

In most reputable fish finder brands that offer down imaging, you can purchase the upgraded version of the same unit model that includes side imaging and down imaging. With premium units that cost well over a few thousand dollars each the down scan-only units usually cost less than those that feature both down and side imaging. 

If you’re a serious angler, especially one that fishes in competitive tournaments that offer large payouts, having a fish finder with both down imaging and side imaging gives you the best of both worlds. Side imaging will significantly decrease the amount of time you spend searching for fish and will also give you the ability to be more certain as to what you’re looking at instead of guessing. 

If you’re an amateur angler and fish mostly for pleasure, having a side imaging unit is not absolutely essential. If you’re more concerned with staying within a reasonable budget, going with a down scan system is perfectly fine. A down scan unit is also much easier and more simple to use and understand, as well as less frustrating to install. 


If you’re still on the fence about whether or not you really should get side imaging sonar, there’s a good chance that you’ll be happy with your decision if you do purchase a unit that offers side imaging. Having a side imaging sonar unit does take a bit of getting used-to before you’ll have the confidence you need to maximize its advantages in a tournament setting. 

There are numerous other topics that we could discuss in greater detail related to side imaging and it’s value, but whether or not it’s worth the money comes down to how serious you are about fishing. There’s a good reason why professional anglers see side imaging as a must-have for their tournament fishing boats and if you want to compete at the same level as the pro’s, you’ll need to have side imaging on your side. 

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