Fish in a Barrel?
By Steve Chaconas
Fishing electronics, fish finders, have taken a quantum leap. Some say they’re ruining the sport. Vintage sonar flashers showing blips and flashes really didn’t find fish, just that there was something interpreted to be fish under the boat. You still had to catch them. Then came computerized screens growing rapidly to 14-inch monitors. Bass boats were equipped with one in the console to assist in navigation and locating probable fish hangouts. Another one was added to the bow to assist anglers while fishing. Fishing trips today look like NASA mission control centers with up to 5 or 6 big screens, complete with lake maps, contours, and fishing spot waypoints.
Side-imaging electronics enables anglers to drive around to get an underwater picture, covering a hundred feet to either side of the boat. Tournament anglers mark objects before picking up a rod and tying on their favorite lure. This technology was revealing, but you still had to catch them. Then 360º electronics showed anglers where targets were located, but they still had to catch them.
Despite all these great fishing enhancements from the big three electronics companies, Hummingbird, Lowrance and Garmin, the sport of bass fishing remained compelling. Casting skills, lure choices, and mental and physical determination still contributed to tournament wins. The pros used the technology and these amazing devices remained relatively affordable for the average Joe or Jill, but they still had to catch them.
The latest innovation has taken fishing by storm, especially where offshore bass fishing is concerned. Bigger fish and more of them are being hunted down by tech savvy anglers. Forward facing sonar (FFS) allows anglers to look around and watch the fish they want to catch as it takes the bait. Taunting fish into biting is relatively easy with the simple technique called drop shotting. It doesn’t take a lot of expensive gear, nor does it require accurate casting skills. Oftentimes these presentations are just lowered to fish. A weight, a hook, and a small worm will put fish into the boat.
Prior to FFS, these fish were only occasionally found and caught by the most astute and studious anglers. Studying detailed maps and spending hours driving around looking and casting to fish that not everyone was able to locate is being replaced by FFS raising the expectation of every cast, replacing fishing with catching.
The learning curve for tech-savvy participants is shorter than time-on-the-water trial and error casting and outsmarting prey with tackle boxes loaded with lures. FFS removes much of the guesswork. Mastering one computer aided technique brings home the prize. Anglers don’t look past their many screens as they fish from their video gaming seats. Head down, watching their lure on the screen as fish come to it, the video game begins. But they still must chase them around until they bite. And they are catching them as recent pro events have revealed.
These units carry a $3-5,000 price tag. Every top-level pro must have them to stay in the game. But this is having a trickle-down effect as even small club tournament anglers are coming up with the cash to keep up with their competition.
As far as the sport of professional bass fishing goes, offshore angling demonstrates that big fish can be caught by standing over a big screen and lowering a bait. But it doesn’t make good TV. Wrap-ups and articles detail winning screen settings instead of techniques or secret lures. Recaps begin with credits for the electronics brand before the first hookset.
FFS might encourage this generation of video gamers to get out of their parent’s basement, expecting boat drones to take them to the fish and robotic reels to bring them in for their grand stage appearance. Will asterisks be placed next to FFS victories? Whatever the answer, solutions will be complicated as there’s a lot more money in “them there” electronics than in a rubber worm.
As FFS becomes normalized, will it level the playing field? Or just level the field? Eliminating those with skills that took decades to develop to find fish, using a variety of techniques to get them in the boat, opens the door for techno anglers adding more screens to their advantage. The fish can do their best to run, but with FFS, there’s no place to hide.
Tournament angling has dramatically changed in just a couple years. Those best with technology are now considered the best anglers. Forward Facing Sonar going forward will determine whether competitive bass fishing is considered a sport or a game. The Anti-FFS movement is growing rapidly feeling it undermines everything about what real bass fishing is, casting, reading water, and making decisions. Many call it spotlighting for bass. FFS is creating a new generation who are dependent on technology to fish. Would Opie go to the pond with Andy and a cane pole anymore without Forward Facing Sonar?
Potomac River Bassing in OCTOBER
Cooler water temperatures have bass in a fall feeding frenzy. Topwater lures with Gamma 30# Torque braid can be popped or walked around any shoreline cover. When fish miss, have a Mizmo Quiver stick Texas rigged on a 3/0 hook and Torque braid to 12-pound test Edge fluorocarbon leader to cast to missed fish.
On cloudy days, bladed jigs on 10-pound test Gamma Edge fluorocarbon line work around grass and wood. Slow retrieves at first when water is cooler and then speed up after the sun warms up.
Firetiger squarebill crankbaits on 10-pound Edge can be snapped out of grass and bounced off wood.
Pitching Mizmo tubes Texas rigged to docks is working well. Try on 12-14 pound test Gamma Edge. Use pegged 3/16 ounce weights and fish shaded areas. Also pay attention to the current, fishing the up-current side and allow tubes to glide to fish in an ambush position.
About the Author: Capt. Steve Chaconas is a Potomac bass fishing guide & freelance writer. Potomac River reports: nationalbass.com. YouTube channel NationalBassGuide.