The last couple of Bassmaster Elite Series tournaments of the season took place in August, out in New York, at Lake Champlain and the St. Lawrence River. Following those events, which were covered by Bassmaster Live as all of the Elite Series tournaments are, there was some outrage amongst viewers that forward-facing sonar was ruining fishing. Nearly every top ten angler who was on camera throughout those events had their head down, watching their electronics, casting to fish they could see out in front of the boat.
Forward-facing sonar has been around for several years but over the past couple of years it’s really blown up to where a lot of anglers now use it both on their boats and even on the ice. It’s an advanced transducer that allows up to look ahead of the boat, not just directly under the boat like traditional sonar we have used in the past. Humminbird Mega-Live and Garmin Live Scope are the two most popular versions of the technology. Ice anglers are able to put the transducer down their hole and then scan around, looking for fish. It saves having to drill dozens of holes like we did in the past to find the sweet spots on humps or flats.
Not only does this sonar allow us to see fish out in front of us, it shows us changes in depth and cover such as logs, boulders or weed clumps. We can watch our bait throughout an entire cast, something that was only a dream a few years ago. This equipment is now standard on the boats of tournament anglers and many weekend anglers are jumping on the wagon as well. There is no doubt that it helps us catch more fish and learn about the fish that we chase.
There are several reasons for the outrage around forward-facing sonar. Like anything else on a boat, this technology is expensive. You’re looking at spending $2,500 or more to get set up with a screen and a transducer to get started. So, it’s not for everybody. If you already have a screen, you may be able to get by with just getting a transducer and plugging it in. It should be noted however that the newer the unit, the better it’s going to work with forward sonar and the higher demands that this new sonar has for power.
Some anglers feel that using forward-facing sonar takes away from just going fishing and enjoying being in the outdoors. I understand this because when you use it, your head is down looking at the screen constantly. It’s addictive. If you go fishing with your buddy, it’s almost like being with someone who constantly has their head buried in their phone; it’s annoying.
This technology has opened up more options for anglers, however, as far as showing us how many fish are actually suspended in open water. We are now able to target these fish that were once thought of as ghosts. We can look at a fishing spot and know quickly whether there are fish there or not. I have learned that sight-feeding fish like bass, lake trout and walleye can see your baits from a lot farther away than we think they can.
With the increased ability to find fish with this technology, there is a responsibility amongst anglers to not exploit fish when they are vulnerable. Crappies are the easiest species to “fish-out” of an area because they group up so much in the fall and winter. Forward sonar makes it very easy to find where these groups of crappies are. If you want to go and catch a few, go have some fun, but if you take limits of them every time you go, it doesn’t take long until an area gets wiped out. If you enjoy crappie fishing around Northwest Ontario, you surely know of a crappie hole or two that has been cleaned out over the years.
As someone who makes their living by catching fish as a guide and tournament competitor, forward-facing sonar has become mandatory equipment on my boat. Do you need it to go out and catch fish, absolutely not, but there is no doubt that it helps to put a few more fish in the boat on every trip and you learn so much more about fish behaviour, how they move around underwater and how they react to your baits. It truly is fun to use.