Fly fishing

Fish can run but they can’t hide from forward-looking sonar | Sports

It’s no secret that forward looking sonar is all the rage these days in the fishing world. Pros and recreational anglers rely on real-time technology like Garmin Panoptix LiveScope, Lowrance ActiveTarget and Humminbird MEGA Live Imaging to find fish and catch them like never before.

Anyone who has had success with it will agree that the forward-looking concept is a significant improvement over the conventional down-scan and side-scan sonar introduced over a decade ago.

Traditional sonar requires movement of the boat using the outboard motor to function properly. While still effective, scaring fish is always an inherent risk from the drone of a motor or the shadow of a boat passing overhead.

Forward-looking sonar is different. It operates using a special transducer that mounts to the trolling motor or a freestanding pole. Likewise, anglers can glide quietly as the transducer scans the water column. High resolution imagery is transmitted to the electronic screen in real time.

The beauty of technology is profound. One of the main benefits is that it increases the chances of seeing fish without blowing your cover. Another is that it helps anglers make accurate bait presentations to fish and, more importantly, see how they react to bait. You can even locate grass lines, canals, brush piles, and other key structures a considerable distance away to make every throw count.

If a fish or a shoal of shad passes by, see it right away. Heavy strikes on moving bait are frequently observed in real time.

Other times the fish will charge the bait but not eat it. It’s not uncommon to see fish tucking their tails in and running around for no apparent reason – really cool stuff that can be addictive in a way.

Used correctly, the technology can be deadly to individual fish suspended in the water column and even more deadly to large schools of sport fish like crappie. It doesn’t matter if the fish are tied to wood, brush piles, grass, bridges, or nothing at all. Even saltwater anglers are finding it increasingly useful for targeting inshore sport fish like specks and reds.

The technology has been a big hit at Lake OH Ivie in West Texas, where it’s pointed anglers to dozens of double-digit bass. Since February 2021, Oklahoma angler Josh Jones has spotted four fish between 13.20 and 15.40 pounds.

Simply put, fish can run but they can’t hide from persistent anglers willing to take the time to learn the ropes. Think of it like video game fishing, but it’s the real deal. No wonder young guys who grew up playing Donkey Kong on their cellphones are so quick to pick up on it.

Glen Webb from Bethel, Okla., played a few video games. He enjoys having fun even more with forward-facing sonar.

Apparently, the 32-year-old fisherman is also very skilled with this. In 2021, he claims to have used technology to win 11 of the 12 tournaments he has entered on his home lake, Broken Bow Reservoir.

Most recently, Webb took his Garmin LiveScope to Sam Rayburn from February 10-12. There he used it to catch 14 pre-spawned bass weighing 63-12 in the Toyota Series Southwestern Division bass tournament. Webb topped a field of local heavy hitters in his first pro-level event and banked $54,000. A week earlier, he tied for third in the Brandon Belt team event and won $18,750.

Webb says the information provided by his forward-looking sonar was a key factor in both occurrences. Its configuration was unique among most. It had only one unit at the bow and it was entirely dedicated to LiveScope. The unit was mounted on a Stowaway stand adjustable to 31 inches in height for easy viewing while fishing.

“Every fish I weighed during the Toyota tournament, I saw it with my forward-facing sonar,” he said. “And I saw them all eating the bait. It’s a really valuable tool. You are definitely at a disadvantage if you don’t have it.

Webb grabbed a 6.90-pounder on an Alabama rig on day two, but it didn’t come easy. He said the bass released twice without getting hooked before swimming in the opposite direction. The fisherman used LiveScope to keep an eye on the fish as he followed it with his trolling motor and finally closed the deal.

“I chased her for about 100 yards,” he said. “Once she finally calmed down and stopped, I was able to get her to bite again.”

Webb wasn’t the only Toyota competitor to use forward-looking sonar to its advantage. Almost all of the Top 10 anglers said they rely on technology to catch a percentage of their fish.

Brookeland’s Todd Driscoll didn’t race the Toyota Series event, but he’s well versed in the ins and outs of using forward-facing technology. Driscoll is a TPWD fisheries biologist and avid fisherman who does technical work for Garmin on the side. He has been studying LiveScope technology since its introduction in 2018 and is constantly amazed by the valuable information that appears on the screen.

Bending over to interpret what you’re looking at is a major obstacle to success, says Driscoll.

“It makes you much more efficient on the water – no more cover bets and guessing where the balance points are. “Learn how to use it and you won’t lose a cast all day.”

The biologist warns that using LiveScope to fish for bass can be a double-edged sword.

“It gets my heart rate up every time I see a fish follow my bait and run to eat it,” Driscoll said. “But it’s just as frustrating to see a group of fish follow a lure for 15 feet and never eat it.”

One of Driscoll’s most memorable LiveScope moments occurred last May at Pinkston Lake in East Texas. He spotted a group of bass hanging about 18 feet above a creek channel.

Driscoll cast a Whopper Plopper surface bait past the school and began a steady retrieve. He saw the whole school scurrying for the bait like a pack of hungry wolves from 18 to 20 feet away.

“One of the bass beat the others out there and it wiped out that bait,” Driscoll recalled. “Seeing how far away bass can detect an artificial lure and how quickly they can access it was one of the biggest surprises for me. It’s not uncommon for a bass to rush towards a lure over 10 feet away I’ve seen it happen over and over again.

As effective as forward-looking sonar can be in bass fishing rings, Lake Fork fishing guide Gary Paris believes it’s even deadlier for targeting crappie.

“There’s no doubt about it,” Paris said.

Crappie usually works in large schools. They tend to hang around piles of brush, wood, bridges and other structures, often at hanging depths. Paris says forward-looking sonar is a great tool for exploiting these fish for two reasons.

“First of all, it helps remove a lot of unproductive water very quickly,” he said. “If LiveScope doesn’t show you any fish, it makes no sense to fish there. You keep looking until you find them.

Second, Paris pointed out that crappie fishing is all about presenting bait at the right depth. LiveScope makes it easy to connect quickly and make adjustments on the fly.

“If you know how deep the fish are, it helps keep the bait straight in their face 100% of the time because you can see it,” he said. “That’s not possible with traditional sonar. If the fish move, you stay with them.

Matt Williams is a freelance writer based in Nacogdoches. He can be contacted by email, [email protected]