A major change has occurred in professional bass fishing. Winning anglers are relying on sonar to find and catch bass in ways that didn’t exist just a couple years ago. The term “video game fishing” is no longer an exaggeration, as we’re watching anglers rely exclusively on sonar to dictate their casts and retrieves exclusively in some cases.
A number of media sources and columnists have given their take on this subject. In fact, it’s become a hot topic here in the opinion polls. It seems many fans of the sport aren’t so much in favor of this new technology and how it’s impacting the game.
I’ve mostly stayed mum. Despite a strong opinion of the disastrous outcome possible with the inception of forward-looking sonar, I’ve chosen not to publish my recent thoughts until we saw how this might all shake out.
So far, things aren’t good. Unless you enjoy watching people play video games.
Now, to be fair, we’ve seen a few pro events where the sonar seemed to make no difference in the outcome, and others where this technology was front and center. But, make no mistake about it, we’re just seeing the tip of the iceberg. Soon, forward-facing sonar will play a part in the majority of top-level victories. Competitors refusing to take part will have almost no chance of winning many individual events, and certainly won’t even compete for an AOY title.
Think I’m exaggerating? Just look around. Events up North were dominated by it last season. “Oh, it’s an offshore thing. A smallmouth thing," critics said. Yet, we recently saw forward-facing sonar used for championship-day largemouths in Alabama. And events in Florida have been dominated by the same technology, with anglers targeting fish around offshore hydrilla. That’s a pretty far cry from smallmouth-land.
I wonder, is this in everyone’s best interests? I doubt it matters.
You see, as we’ve discussed here before, the basic model of our sport is now based almost entirely on competition. And what we’re about to see is how dangerous that model is.
Again, unless you enjoy watching people play video games.
We’ve seen time and again the inception of new technology as it permeates the sport. Side-scanning graphs. Shallow-water anchors. GPS-enabled trolling motors. How many bass anglers do you know who have at least one of these items; most now have all three. The same will happen with forward-facing sonar.
Due to the unparalleled competition among electronics manufacturers and the basic conception that any new technology can present a competitive advantage in catching bass and earning dollars, every major sonar manufacturer will soon have forward-facing technology and will promote the sale of such to the extreme. Anglers from Pro Circuit vagabonds to bass-club heroes will eat it up. The use of such technology will be accepted and expanded until nothing else can compete. Friends, it’s that effective.
So, as some of you are probably wondering, what’s wrong with that? More sales, more dollars in the sport, more interest, right?
Not this time, I’m afraid.
Again, while bringing up a ban on such sonar is a moot point, failing to do so will do more harm than good to the sport, especially at today’s awareness level.
We’ve all recently heard how important expansion of professional bass fishing is to the top competitive organizations. They’re all about bringing pro bass front and center to everyone’s living room, getting occasional anglers hooked, creating household names of the top performers.
So, I wonder, how many of these occasional anglers – or even hardcore bass guys with a desire to learn from the sport’s best – are going to be interested in watching a professional angler on the front deck, head down, essentially playing video bass? And how many of them are going to lose complete interest in the sport when all the best aspects of it are removed?
When you go fishing, do you go for more than the catch? What are your thoughts on enjoying your time outdoors, watching the subtle cues given by nature, casting at fishy-looking targets and interacting with the birds and the bait and every other living-breathing thing that can only be found in the outdoors?
Well, get rid of all that nonsense – it’s head down, eyes on the graph, soldier!
And for converting more fans, this direction is an epic fail. Think about it. If pro golfers were allowed to use clubs that enabled them to hit the ball 600 yards, would you still watch? What about tennis players with computerized rackets that never missed a shot?
Not to mention, any occasional angler is going to see all of this overkill – the triple-stacked graphs with sonar shooting every direction – and completely tune out. What common angler would possibly aspire to take that on? It’s completely irrelevant to their approach to fishing.
Sure, there are positives to this advancement. Although I can’t think of any.
The point is this: I bet, if we had an anonymous poll of the top anglers in the world, the vast majority would vote to ban forward-facing sonar from high-level competition. I think the same would be true of polls across the competitive spectrum, even the sport of bass fishing and all its participants as a whole.
Which brings up a very obvious question that no one seems willing to ask.
(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.)