7 Best Side Imaging Fish Finders: Reviewed, Rated & Compared

No need to fish blindly and waste time at an unproductive fishing spot. In addition to sonar straight down beneath the boat, some fish finders send it out to both sides. Side imaging fish finders can be used for a general sweep with side scan and then a more detailed look at certain places with a down scan.

Preview

Product

Frequency Range

Depth Range

Check Price

Humminbird 410230-1 HELIX 5 CHIRP SI GPS G2...

Humminbird

410230-1 HELIX 5

50 - 200 kHz

400 Ft.

HDS-7 LIVE - 7-inch Fish Finder No Transducer...

Lowrance HDS-7

40 - 200 kHz

300 Ft.

Humminbird 410210-1 HELIX 5 CHIRP GPS G2 Fish...

Humminbird

410210-1

50 - 200 kHz

400 Ft.

Lowrance HOOK2 5 - 5-inch Fish Finder with...

Lowrance

HOOK2 5

Kayak, transom

200 - 800 kHz

Garmin Striker 7SV with transducer,...

Garmin Striker

7SV

50 - 800 kHz

2,300 ft. freshwater, 1,100 ft. saltwater

Humminbird, Helix 7, CHIRP MSI GPS G3N

Humminbird

Helix 7

50 - 455 kHz

1,200 Ft.

Simrad GO7 XSE Chartplotter/Fishfinder...

Simrad G07

XSE

50 - 200 kHz

1,000 Ft.


Understanding Side Imaging Sonar

If you imagine a flashlight that can narrow or widen its beam, you already have some idea how side scan differs from down scan. The transducer shoots sonar sound waves out and receives them back differently depending on what they bounce off. It can be a little confusing to read the information at first, but new imaging technology has resulted in crisp, clear results where the fish and landmarks are readily seen. This principle is called target separation.

While you can’t use side imaging alone to determine how far away things are from your boat, you can plot waypoints to come back to later. A side imaging fish finder with GPS built-in is well-suited for this. Learning to read the information and use it to strategize takes some time, but if you ever hope to use a fish finder effectively, you'll need one with a strong signal and high-resolution display.


Choosing a Quality Side Imaging Fish Finder

Fishing Boat/Kayak

Most of the good side imaging fish finders come with mounts that allow them to be used on just about any watercraft. Other heavy-duty models are more tailored to transom mounting. Kayaks might call for portable finders that can operate on their own battery, and the smaller models are usually more suitable for that purpose.

Whether you’re trolling on a boat or a kayak, you probably only need to go about 2 miles an hour. Going faster can give you distorted readouts on your fish finder. Make sure you match the chart speed on the device with your boat’s speed.

Transducer

Transducers should send strong signals and fit with your style of fishing. Ice fishing ducers that can handle colder water are easy to find. CHIRP sonar is a must-have if you want to get the best information on your readouts.

The cable on the transducer is one of the most commonly broken elements on a finder, so be mindful of the cord and store it securely. Transducers have different frequencies that dictate whether they are in CHIRP mode or whether they're side scanning or down scanning. You can customize your fish finder by adding a different transducer.

Frequency Range

Fish finders transmit their signals somewhere between 15 and 200 kHz, but for most models, 50 kHz is the lowest available frequency. Knowing when to use which frequency is key to getting the best performance out of your fish finder.

Lower frequencies are best for deep water and a wider cone, while high frequency down scans are great for looking at what's going on in the water column underneath your boat. This is because the wavelengths of the higher frequency signals are shorter than the low-frequency signals. Lower frequencies usually give higher-resolution readouts as well.

Display

Like any electronic device, the resolution of the screen is important on a fish finder. The best transducer receiving sonar feedback won’t be any use to you if you can’t tell what you’re looking at. The screen should also be bright enough to read in direct sunlight.

Most models come with different color schemes to suit user preference. Bigger isn’t always better when it comes to the screen size. Kayak anglers and ice fishers might want a more portable model. More space for a down scan and 2D imaging gives a full picture of what’s happening under the water, though.

Durability & Portability

It’s not unheard of for fish finders to be dropped on accident. They should be able to take a beating and withstand sunlight and, more importantly, water. It stands to reason that an electronic device that will be used so near to the water absolutely has to be waterproof, and the best side imaging fish finders are.

The weight of a fish finder might not be that important if you're going to have it mounted on a boat, but for kayakers and ice anglers, the device will probably be more beneficial if it's easy to carry.

Mounting Style

Fish finders can be mounted in a few ways on a boat. A transom mount, where the transducer is on the flat section of the stern where the two pieces usually come together, is one of the most common mounting styles. There’s also through-hull mounting where the ducer sends sonar through the hull.

Many fishing kayaks have fish finder mounts built-in. For side scanning, some anglers like to install their transducer on their trolling motor while they're parked and fishing. This allows them to move the motor arm and get more information about what's happening in the water.

Price & Warranty

While a 1-year limited warranty that guards against defects from the manufacturing process is nearly universal, it's relatively rare to find other types of warranties for fish finders. Lowrance and the five-year upgrade program stand out.

Bearing in mind that these devices have electronic components like processors and wires inside, you should expect to invest some cash. There are cheap fish finders with side imaging that are worthwhile, but there’s going to be a marked difference. One option is to upgrade to a stronger transducer later, but keep in mind that the display will be limited on a budget option.


7 Best Side Imaging Fish Finders Reviewed

1. Humminbird 410230-1 HELIX 5

Our Top Pick

Screen Size

5 Inches

Mounting Options

Hull, transom, kayak

Frequency Range

50 - 200 kHz

Depth Range

400 Ft.

Transmit Power/Wattage

4000 watts

Warranty

1-year limited

The best of both worlds and an all-around boon for fishing in all sorts of conditions, this Humminbird sends out high-strength CHIRP sonar and regular sonar signals and produces high-quality images to help you search out cover, structure, and fish.

The Humminbird side imaging fish finder is built to perform well in every season, meaning you can use its dedicated ice fishing viewing option to graph in the winter or use its 2D display mode to snag giant bass in bluegill beds in the summertime. Being able to take a general look around with side-scanning and see the water column directly beneath you with down-scanning is the most useful feature a fish finder can have.

For that matter, graphing is a breeze with the included Lakemaster and Lakemaster Plus, Humminbird’s digital chart program. Drop waypoints on a quick scouting mission around familiar lakes or take a couple of hours to get the lay of new fishing spots without having to spend too much time fussing around with settings on your electronics with the simple button spread on this model. Boat mounting gear is included so you can secure it to your preferred watercraft.

A feature for charging your glow jigs will appeal to night anglers, while daytime fishers will love the brightness of the display that remains easily readable even in bright sunlight. Its 9-hour battery life will last long enough to keep you informed through longer fishing trips, and it's portable enough at 5” to fit in with your other gear without taking up too much room. It comes with a gear bag to transport it and its accessories.

If you’re handy with software you’ll love Humminbird’s SmartStrike, which allows you to enter additional information into this model to predict where the fish will be. Interference rejection does a pretty good job keeping other anglers’ noise from blowing up your readouts.

A micro SD card slot enables users to download maps or transfer information like maps and waypoints from successful fishing trips for later use. There’s also an included GPS function to help you gauge the distance to targets and find your way around. This Humminbird has got to be the best fish finder with down and side imaging just for its sharp target separation and ease of use.

Pros
  •  All-season model
  • Great target separation
  • SmartStrike included
  • Carry bag included
  • Various viewing modes
Cons
  • Possible software learning curve

2. Lowrance HDS-7 LIVE

Top of the Range

Screen Size

7 Inches

Mounting Options

Transom, hull, kayak

Frequency Range

40 - 200 kHz

Depth Range

300 Ft.

Transmit Power/Wattage

500 watts

Warranty

2-year manufacturer’s

For a bit of extra screen space, this top of the range Lowrance is a great option. The first thing you’ll probably notice about it is that the transducer is not included. While it is a bit annoying to have to buy one separately, it does allow you to customize your setup and get a transducer that suits your eventual purposes.

There are lots of advantages to the HDS Live series, but the standout feature is the eponymous live imaging that lets you follow your lure and moving targets in real-time. That live information may seem less useful when you’re just scoping out with side imaging, but it actually helps cover and structure pop up when you’re nearer to it so you can stop to check it out if you want to.

The maps included in this model are accurate and detailed. GPS is included, and it's straightforward to update your existing maps with new GPS information. FishReveal eliminates the need to display both CHIRP sonar findings and downscan results, giving you more room for side scanning results or one of the other viewing modes.

There’s also a feature on the 16 and 12-inch models that links this fish finder to your smartphone so you can get text notifications onscreen, which is helpful for some but an unnecessary compromise to our current ubiquitous digital age to those who like fishing for the solitude it offers. It is handy to view Google Maps or other information when your smartphone is paired, though.

Pros
  • Fits 2 micro SD cards
  • Real-time results
  • FishReveal software
  • GPS mode
  • Good target separation
Cons
  • Transducer not included

3. Humminbird 410210-1

Best Budget Side Imaging Fish Finder

Screen Size

5 Inches

Mounting Options

Transom

Frequency Range

 50 - 200 kHz

Depth Range

400 Ft.

Transmit Power/Wattage

500 watts

Warranty

1-year limited

It can be challenging to find a cheap fish finder with side imaging, but there are some. Few of them perform well enough to merit the savings like this one does. Don't blink, now, because this model does look exactly the same as our Top Pick Humminbird. It has many of the same features for a fraction of the cost, which should give you some idea of how good this fish finder is.

It still has CHIRP sonar and, while it’s not a dedicated side scan mode, the wide-angle mode of the dual-beam scanner works fine to check out the area around your boat. There are fewer display moves, but the essentials are still there. You still get the standard base map from Humminbird as well, though you won’t find the fancier ones that are available on our Top Pick.

There are also fewer mounting options for this Humminbird. It still has an SD card slot, and some of the performance specs are upgradable with software updates or additional accessories like a transducer. Like most fishing gear, you get what you pay for with this model. It's likely the cheapest side imaging fish finder on the market, but whether you want to invest a bit more for better performance and more features is worth considering.

Pros
  • Dual-beam sonar
  • LakeMaster compatible
  • Good display resolution
  • SD card slot
  • Base map included
Cons
  • No dedicated side imaging mode

4. Lowrance HOOK2 5

Best Side Imaging Fish Finder for a Kayak

Screen Size

5 Inches

Mounting Options

 Kayak, transom

Frequency Range

200 - 800 kHz

Depth Range

500 Ft.

Transmit Power/Wattage

200 - 500 watts

Warranty

1-year limited

This super-portable model is great for carrying in a backpack and bringing along on shorter fishing trips. For those who don’t have their own boat yet, this Lowrance is the best side imaging fish finder for a kayak. One of the nicest things about this fish finder is the autotuning, which will calibrate itself and let you stay concentrating on rowing or fishing.

The triple shot transducer gives sharp results in three different visual styles. GPS enables you to mark your own waypoints and preloaded maps of over 4,000 US lakes should save some time for American anglers who pick up this model. 

There’s an SD card for updates and upgrades. This fish finder also comes with Lowrance’s five-year upgrade program, which allows you to replace it with a more current model if it should fail within five years of the purchase date. If you aren't looking to get this model for use on a kayak, there are also larger versions up to the 12-inch model.

The install can be a little time consuming, but it's nothing anglers aren't used to already with our other gear, plus once it's set up, you don't have to worry about it any further. Other than that, this is a perfectly good little fish finder if you just want to see what’s underneath your kayak.

Pros
  •  TripleShot transducer
  • 5-year upgrade program
  • Preloaded maps
  • Autotuning mode
  •  Strong CHIRP sonar
Cons
  • Time-consuming setup

5. Garmin Striker 7SV

Best Side Imaging Fish Finder Under $500

Screen Size

7 Inches

Mounting Options

Boat, portable

Frequency Range

50 - 800 kHz

Depth Range

2,300 ft. freshwater, 1,100 ft. saltwater

Transmit Power/Wattage

500 watts

Warranty

1-year limited

It's hard to imagine a situation where this fish finder won't cut it. It has all but the fanciest options and capabilities. It has the standard GPS and waypoint-plotting options, and it also has some unique things thrown in like the Smooth Scaling that keep the display imagery constant when you’re changing depths.

There are a few other background features to this fish finder as well. The transducer is really strong, as you’ll notice from the crisp fish arches on its high-resolution display. This Garmin can also measure your speed, which is perhaps not essential all the time but can be helpful occasionally.

It's portable enough for ice-fishing, and it has a built-in flasher mode for that purpose as well. There's a carry case included so you can bring this fish finder with you wherever you want to use it. Target separation on this finder is sharp, and structure comes across very clear.

It's not often you get this kind of performance out of a fish finder for less than a grand, so to find it on this Garmin for under 500 is a nice surprise. It's especially nice to have the GPS integrated so that you can use it as a guiding device as much as you can use it to graph.

Pros
  • GPS integration
  • Strong ducer
  • Portable, carry case included
  • Smooth Scaling technology
  • Crisp, clear display
Cons
  • Sometimes loose transducer cable

6. Humminbird Helix 7

Value for Money

Screen Size

7 Inches

Mounting Options

Portable, transom

Frequency Range

50 - 455 kHz

Depth Range

1,200 Ft.

Transmit Power/Wattage

500 watts

Warranty

1-year limited

We're returning again to the Humminbird Helix series because it's simply got the best side-scan capabilities on the market without dumping tons of cash out for it. Not only is the Helix 7 relatively inexpensive, but it also has a considerable amount of features, even for this product line.

It has GPS and the LakeMaster Plus capabilities in addition to powerful dual-spectrum CHIRP sonar and great down imaging that suits the sharp images that come in from its side-scan function. There are maps and an SD card slot to update them and export information.

This fish finder has a high level of connectivity as well. It’s Bluetooth and ethernet capable. It’s likely to have some upgrades fairly regularly since it’s part of the One Boat Network, a collaborative effort Humminbird uses to improve its products.

This fish finder has a huge frequency range, and they've built it to block out interrupting signals from other anglers' equipment. The displays are fully customizable, and the return from the sonar is always really accurate. There's not much negative you can say about this fish finder, especially when you match it with its cost.

Pros
  • Clear display
  • Mount included
  • Strong transducer
  • Detailed preloaded maps
  • Interference reduction
Cons
  • No carry case

7. Simrad G07 XSE

Best for Deep Sea Fishing

Screen Size

7 Inches

Mounting Options

Transom

Frequency Range

50 - 200 kHz

Depth Range

1,000 Ft.

Transmit Power/Wattage

500 watts

Warranty

1-year limited

Simrad has crafted a really powerful, robust deep sea fish finder with this model. It may seem like side imaging is not useful on the open ocean, but in fact, plotting out a section of the ocean around a reef or similar underwater structure can be every bit as useful there as it is in a lake. For one thing, it can scan at higher speeds. It can also penetrate deeper, and it has an IPX7 waterproof rating to make sure it keeps working even if some ocean spray gets on it.

The touch screen is a nice feature of this fish finder, and the resolution allows for crystal-clear readouts. It’s easy to plan ahead for your fishing trip with this device because it has something called TripIntel software that shares information from past trips that you or other anglers have taken. It comes with a really sturdy bracket so you can mount it wherever you like.

The charting on this model is in-depth, which makes it great for setting waypoints and find your way back to great spots on the ocean. It might be overkill for the majority of anglers, but if you like to chase the really big sport fish on the ocean, then you’ll love having this fish finder onboard.

Pros
  • Touch screen display
  • High-resolution
  • Waterproof
  • Detailed maps & plotting
  • TripIntel software
Cons
  • Shallower max depth

Side Imaging vs. Down Imaging

The side imaging vs. down imaging fish finder debate is thankfully not a fierce one since many models are now built capable of doing both. It is knowing when to use which mode is still a bit tricky, though.

Down imaging is for looking straight down into the water column beneath your boat. Side imaging sends a signal down to the bottom and then out to both sides of the boat, which is ideal for getting the general lay of the land beneath the water.

Down and side imaging fish finders allow you to see things like cover and structure, but a down scan will generally give you much more detailed information about a smaller area. Many ice anglers rarely apply side imaging with their fish finders, but it's always good to have because the wider sonar can penetrate more deeply. Some folks run both scans simultaneously to get a good look.


Mounting Side Imaging Fish Finders

Transom mounting is much more popular than a thru-hull mount because it's way easier, doesn't damage the boat, and the material of the boat doesn't physically block the transducer signal. Thru-hull mounting usually requires professional installation as well.

Kayaks almost always have space allotted for electronics on the side. Some sophisticated yaks will have a dedicated space in the center console where the ducer can drop through the bottom directly into the water. Remember not to mount your transducer on the same side as your yak’s anchor trolley, or else it could knock the transducer.


How to Use Side Imaging to Identify Fish

The readout may look confusing at first, but once you learn how to read it, it saves tons of time. Follow these steps:

  1. 1
    Troll at one or two miles an hour.
  2. 2
    Look for abnormalities in the texture of the lake bed.
  3. 3
    Look for cover and structure in addition to fish.
  4. 4
    Shadows can tell you how far things are from the bottom
  5. 5
    Brightness tells you what material you’re looking at.

What you see near the top of the screen is the most recent information. Learn everything you can about your target fish’s behavior, so you know what features to look for.


Tips for Getting Clear Side Imaging Images

There are lots of settings on a fish finder. To prevent distortion, set your speed and the strength of the sonar to match your conditions. You can adjust color and contrast to get a clear image. You don't want lots of noise on the screen.

Adjust the power of your ducer if there’s too much grain. You’ll also get more detail if your depth rating is accurate. Lastly, make sure you’re traveling in as straight a line as possible to prevent losing your orientation. Remember that side imaging is best used as a general scan. Use those waypoints!


Frequently Asked Questions

Do fish finders really help?

Yep! They aren't just for finding fish; they can also help check out habitats, hiding spots, and hazards like rocks that you might not see otherwise. Pair a fish finder with the right tackle, and you're sure to see a considerable improvement in your catch rate. Some Luddite types find that fish finders ruin some of the fun of fishing, but they can actually add a whole new strategic dimension when used correctly.

What’s the difference between CHIRP and sonar?

Regular sonar is a single wave that sounds out and comes back. CHIRP is tons and tons of those same waves at various frequencies that send out and return again and again, giving more up-to-date information and way crisper images with better target separation.

Are there any special maintenance steps for taking care of my fish finder?

As mentioned earlier, take care of that transducer cable. They tend to fray and can even short out if they are stored bent. There are lots of DIY fish finder storage options, and they occasionally come with their own carrying cases you can use to store the device. As far as cleaning the device goes, you can usually get by using a damp rag to give the device a once over.

What are the top side imaging-capable fish finder brands?

It can be overwhelming reading about all the different brands, but some have proven themselves on the market over the years. Garmin makes great finders with GPS integration. Lowrance makes high-performance and budget models. Marcum has a few models that do very well, and Vexilar has some very sophisticated models. Humminbird is probably the industry standard-bearer simply for their new tech and all-around reliability.

It’s hard to say which brand is the best on the fish finder market. Many claim Humminbird is the winner, while others prefer Garmin or Lowrance. Garmin for sure has better GPS and mapping tools than Lowrance or Humminbird, but if you want a powerful ducer and crisp images, you might prefer a Humminbird.

Does side imaging work in shallow or deep water better?

Side imaging can reach deeper into the water, but it's also perfectly fine to use in shallow water as well. Make sure your device can send out sonar in a wide enough cone to get information in shallow water. Anything below about 8 feet is unlikely to work as well, but it will still work. You can test the low end of your fish finder’s depth range on dry land if you’re curious to see how well it works at a shallow depth.

Does side imaging work on a trolling motor?

Not only does it work, but it might also even be the preference for many anglers. Some like to use the trolling motor to mount their transducers. Trolling motors are designed to propel watercraft at exactly the speed you want to run a scan with a fish finder. Make sure you match those settings to get the best and clearest image you can out of your device.


Conclusion

Learning how to use a side imaging fish finder will open up a whole new mental side to fishing. Taking the time to get the lay of the underwater land with side imaging will save you time later, and there’s no better device to do it than the Humminbird Helix 5.