I wonder where we’re heading.
Time spent recently with a pro angler got me thinking. The subject was offshore fishing, specifically modern sonar and the part it’s now playing in the outcome of bass tournaments.
“At St. Clair, it was brutal," the pro remarked, again reliving his poor performance there, despite going into the event as an angler to watch. “The Panoptix guys had a huge advantage.”
Now, my subject will remain anonymous, as his sponsor base wouldn’t appreciate the attention given to a competing manufacturer. But I’ve heard similar reports from time to time when conditions align, targeting individual bass in offshore environments. Today’s sonar is taking “video game fishing” to a whole new level.
In the course of my lifetime, I’ve watched modern sonar grow further, perhaps, than any other aspect of fishing and boating. I use the word further to signify multiple advancements. True, other technology has come a long way; taking outboards from two- to four-stroke models immediately comes to mind, and I still say that braided line is just ingenius.
But consider the advancements of modern sonar in just my lifetime. We started with flashers (for those of you who don’t know, these were round dials of light that spun around like a 1980s video game, supposedly depicting fish), as well as paper charts. Yes, we had to change the paper – like you do in the bathroom.
Next came black and white LCDs, followed quickly by color screens that couldn’t be seen in sunlight. Think about that one for a minute. In any case, all of these technologies were based on the standard sonar model of interpreting what was directly below the boat, and none were able to place those anomalies on any type of map.
Fast forward a few years, and sonar advanced dramatically with the inception of Side Imaging, where anglers could view perfect portraits of huge sections of lake bottom on each side of the boat, and everything could be precisely marked on a GPS. To this day, I still remember the very first time I activated my side-imager on Lake Erie and watched as a lifetime of questions were answered before my eyes.
Most recently, technology has evolved to include the ability to scan all around the boat, and gone even further as anglers can now watch in real time as fish react to their lures.
I’d heard about this technology a couple years ago, as media friends were testing various products. Today, I’ll make the prediction that every tour pro in America will have it on their boat by the end of 2021. Okay, maybe not John Cox and Andy Morgan, but everyone else.
Either way, we’ve seen this more in recent times the ever before; the desire – the need, really – for pros to include new technology into their game plan, or perish. The Ultrex trolling motor was probably the most shocking example of such a movement across the board. Now, it will be Panoptix, or a similar product if produced by competitors.
From there, as the bass fishing model will again prove, we will see this technology trickle into the mainstream, saturating all levels of competitive and non-competitive bass fishing, until a time comes when a guy in a kayak will have a $10,000 electronics package. You watch.
Sure, anglers like me might sound a bit cynical about the relentless “advancements” of our sport, while manufacturers and retailers praise such as a way to keep people engaged. And that’s a good thing, right?
You tell me. But first, consider the changes that have occurred on your favorite fishery.
I could give you dozens of examples of tough offshore fishing everywhere I’ve been, from the Great Lakes to the Southeast. I’ve personally watched resident bass vacate places they lived for years due entirely to fishing pressure. I wonder, what are you seeing on your lake?
Finding it tougher to get bites on your favorite spots? Are you noticing smaller schools of bass in general, or schools of fish that absolutely refuse to bite? Do you have to visit your best offshore locales over and over throughout the day, hoping to be there when the fish are active?
Are finesse techniques becoming mandatory to catch fish offshore? Do you frequently catch one or two fish from a spot where you used to catch dozens?
I’d wager that nearly every hardcore bass angler in the country would answer yes to most of those questions. And guess what? It’s about to get tougher.
This is a model that has continued to repeat itself throughout the history of bass fishing, but one that now seems to be recycling more often than ever. Technology advances, opening up an entirely new realm of bass fishing. Results are tremendous and immediate. Then, shortly thereafter, fish get tougher to catch and the fishing declines as we wait for the next $3,000 advancement to give us the upper hand.
So, I wonder where are we heading? Is it just me, or is this direction a little scary?
Now I don’t have to buy in to all this stuff, I get that. I can just as easily rip all the transducers off my boat, grab a buzzbait rod and hit the bank. But I’m here to tell you, catching bass – any bass – is being impacted. My fishing’s tougher; how about yours?
I wonder if there will come a time when this pattern will be openly discussed. With such monumental advancements in fishing, and now a largely increasing angler base, what does the future hold?
(Joe Balog is the often-outspoken owner of Millennium Promotions, Inc., an agency operating in the fishing and hunting industries. A former Bassmaster Open and EverStart Championship winner, he's best known for his big-water innovations and hardcore fishing style. He's a popular seminar speaker, product designer and author, and is considered one of the most influential smallmouth fishermen of modern times.)