By Steven Chaconas
In early competitive bass fishing, the playing field was level. Fishing gear, lures and boats were evolving. Tournament destinations were undisclosed until arrival. Tackle boxes were limited by weight, and horsepower was restricted, lifted in the late 90s. The early 150 hp standard went to 175, to 200, to 225 and has mostly settled on a Goldilocks 250 hp. Boats can only be so big and remain good fishing platforms.
Hooks got sharper, lines stronger and lures more lifelike. Rods are so sensitive you can feel the price tag with them. Reels cast a mile and retrieve at lightning speeds. Trolling motors put boats on a spot and keep them there. In shallow waters, Power Poles deploy anchors to keep boats perfectly still to target shallow bass.
Electronics evolved as well. Simple flasher units were effective, sending sonar beams to be interpreted by anglers. Bottom hardness, vegetation, trees, rocks, or mud could be discerned by color brightness. Humminbird’s early liquid crystal diode screens advancements interpreted sonar signals into more easily read 2-dimensional images. Then came GPS and contour maps. The big 3, Humminbird, Lowrance and Garmin fought over the bass fishing market. Humminbird’s side imaging set the bar, followed by 360 degree sonar.
Recently, Garmin achieved dominance in forward scanning units. Seeing fish swimming around caught the eye of tournament anglers who rose to the top with their mastery of this technology. Pros and weekend anglers found the huge advantage of locating and targeting previously unnoticed bass. These unpressured fish could be identified and hunted down, identified by size, and followed until caught.
This game-changing technology is also changing angler attitudes. There’s skill in catching fish, but also in maximizing the effectiveness of these units. Fishing is morphing from Opie and his dad Sheriff Taylor walking down the dirt road to skip a stone and wet a line to video gaming. The adventure was part of the journey. Is the electronic revolution taking away something from the heritage?
Many think the fishing “game” is becoming a forgone conclusion. It’s no longer fishing, it’s catching. It’s not enough to figure out the fish at that moment, it’s deciding which fish to catch. No secret baits or new techniques being used to fool fish, it’s now software and processing that lands the lunker.
What used to be anyone’s sport, has truly become a younger generation’s video game. Technologically challenged older anglers feel they’re up a stream without a keyboard. Small flashers of days gone by have been replaced with 4 or 5, 14-inch mini televisions. Waypoints take anglers to exact locations to reel in the biggest fish in the biggest ponds.
Tournament circuit sponsors are firmly planted and invested in every trail down to local clubs. Electronic units, costing thousands and even tens of thousands, are adorning decks across the country and around the world. These advancements force anglers to dig into their pockets to keep up with their competition.
While forward-looking sonar adds immense value to the overall fishing experience, the impact on fish populations has been evaluated by the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks. So far, data collected demonstrates forward scanning may improve angler catch and size by casual weekend anglers, but overall differences were statistically minimal, suggesting an overall low risk of long-term damage to fish populations. Anglers with more experience and expertise in this technology were not considered in this study.
While familiar with the recent uptick in the use of LiveScope, Virginia DWR biologist John Odenkirk isn’t looking for the specific impact of the newest fishing tool. Rather he continues to rely on statistical analysis of electrofishing and creel surveys to make fisheries management decisions based on population metrics.
“Most of the region’s largemouth bass fisheries, like Lake Anna and the Potomac River, are showing strong populations and recruitment. Any decisions on restricting possession limits will continue to be based on analysis of these population metrics from individual resources”. As for the electronics direct impact, Odenkirk says, “Data do not exist on the impact on largemouth bass, as the majority are released and even with delayed mortality factored in, there’s currently no need to take any action.”
Rather than taking in the scenery, modern anglers seek satellites and megabits to get their bites. Is catching more fish and bigger fish at the push of a button America’s new pastime? Or have we become so conditioned for instant gratification that it’s become programmed into our tackle boxes. New technology baits newcomers into the sport by opening a can of worms.
Potomac River Bassing in April
Water is into the 50s and fish are in shallow areas ready to spawn. Likely this is the best month of the year to fish on the Potomac. The best search bait is a lipless crankbait. Red is the best color in stained water. Tie to 12 pound test Gamma Edge fluorocarbon line. When contacting grass, give the line a snap to free the bait and prepare for a hit. Other colors are chrome or chartreuse patterns when water is a bit clearer.
Carolina rigs are also a good way to cover water. Leaders of about 2 feet with a ¾ ounce egg sinker using 30 pound Gamma Torque braid for man line and 12 pound test Edge as leader, tied to a soft plastic, lizards or creature baits work will in green pumpkin patterns.
Time for jigs, casting and swimming through emerging grass. When pitching, aim for clumps of grass and when swimming, snap the bait from grass and allow it to fall.
In water that is clearer, try clown colored suspending jerkbaits. Vary the amount of snaps and length of pauses. Use 10 pound test Edge and target cast to grass clumps or cover water. The smaller baits work when the water is clearest and shallow. Use the larger versions when the water is stained or higher.
Author Capt. Steve Chaconas is Potomac River bass fishing guide. Potomac fishing reports: nationalbass.com. Book trips/purchase gift certificates: info@NationalBass.com.