Developments in side-scanning sonar technology have been hot and heavy over the past few years, with a range of available products now offered by major manufacturers.   These include Lowrance’s StructureScan HD,  Raymarine CHIRP SideVision Sonar and Garmin SideVu; each promising to locate and display fish and structure up to hundreds of feet away on either side of the boat.


Considering that for decades traditional fishfinders have been limited to showing us just a narrow “cone angle” beneath the vessel, this technology offers a serious upgrade. The screen capture displays demonstrated at boat shows, in advertisements and sales brochures are compelling, but have you ever thought about if — and how — this technology might actually help you succeed?  The answers to these questions can vary, based on where you fish, what you fish for, and what techniques you use.


Here are some specific ways savvy anglers can use this technology to find and catch more fish.


Finding New Structure  — I’ve experienced this benefit repeatedly while running a friend’s Lowrance HDS 12 Gen 3 MFD with Structure Scan HD.  For years, we’ve fished the Santa Monica Bay Artificial Reef complex off the Southern California coast,  using GPS numbers to anchor up on specific rockpiles.   We thought we knew the area well — until we started exploring it with side-scanning sonar.   By driving a grid pattern through the area, we were able to find several previously unknown “stones” on the side-scanning display.  Then, by driving over these spots with the traditional down-looking sonar, we’ve been able to map out the orientation of these reef areas and “figure them out” as potential fishing spots.  As a result, we’ve learned more about this area of scattered reefs in the past year than we had in the previous decade — and added some productive new stones to our repertoire.   


Tracking Feeding Fish — Whether it’s offshore tuna boiling on the surface or largemouth bass busting schools of shad, run-and-gun “sight fishing” is a big part of angling success.    Once the fish “sink out” and the surface action subsides, most anglers are left scratching their heads and searching the horizon for them to pop up again.   Most of the time, they’re still down there feeding, you just can’t see them or know which way they are moving.  Side-scanning sonar gives you a technological edge in re-acquiring and tracking fish as they force bait schools deep.  By putting away the surface rigs and dropping baits or lures down to where these fish are feeding, you can extend the bite and score extra fish.


Catch Bait Faster — Many fishing days begin with finding and catching bait.  Whether it’s jigging up mackerel or sardines, cast netting “white bait” or dip-netting shad in western reservoirs, speeding up this process can get you on the fish faster.   The ability to scan a wide swath of water provides an obvious advantage when you’re hunting around to load up your live wells.   These systems let you drop a waypoint on a potential bait school using the cursor or touch screen, so you can quickly check it out with the down-looking sonar to confirm the depth and whether or not it’s what you’re looking for.


The More You Use It, The More You’ll Learn — If you only turn your side-scanning feature on once in while to show off to your friends, you’re not going to get that much benefit from it.   If you commit to using it together with your down-looking sounder all the time, you’re going to find more and more ways it actually works for your specific region and style of fishing.  Trolling or mooching for salmon, for example, involves getting your baits and lures in close proximity to schools of bait and krill.   It’s easy to see how expanding your underwater vision could help.  Seeing underneath a floating kelp paddy or weedline — and knowing whether or not there are fish there — can keep you from wasting time on unproductive water.  You will find that running your side-scanning sonar forces you to pay closer attention to your sounder display — and that alone is a good thing.    When you find something, whether a ball of fish, school of bait or rocky structure, use your down-looking sounder to confirm and identify the targets.   


There is a wide range of side-scanning sonar products from popular brands, and they can be used on everything from bass boats to center consoles to large sportfishers.  Our marine electronics experts at The GPS Store will be happy to help you find the right system for your vessel, budget and style of fishing.