Let’s look further into the evolution of our sport. I want to let you in on a compelling detail I came across recently at the highest level of competition.
Forward-facing sonar has forever changed the game, as we all know. Today, tournament reports are crowded with plugs for Livescope and Active Target, and the Humminbird product – previously a distant third – was recently credited with wins at both the MLF REDCREST and Bassmaster Classic championship events. Every tournament, it seems, has a winner or numerous top finishers relying on the sonar as the major component of their strategy. No surprise.
What we’re learning little about, however, are the impacts this technology is making in other facets of fishing.
For example, when I hear reports that triggering sonar-visible bass is already getting more difficult, or that competitors have to “drop it right on their heads”, I wonder how many bass are ignoring my lures.
Maybe I’m selfish. But I doubt I’m alone. With the advent of such exacting technology, I initially assumed bass fishing would get tougher everywhere. Is this happening already?
I have to admit, I have little skin in the game anymore. I don’t fish much in open-water, and certainly not on lakes inundated by bass boats with massive electronics packages. But many of you do.
To be fair, there will always be a way to catch ‘em. Just like any other aspect of fishing, savvy anglers will discover tricks to turn non-biters into biters. Such will lead to advancements in tackle and other technology that parallels this seductive new concept.
While we’ve already seen this to some extent – lures that are more visible on sonar screens, for example – what I stumbled upon recently is truly a new frontier. As I’ve continued to watch the best in the world play the game, I’ve noticed their affinity to utilize forward-facing sonar as a practice tool and fish locator as much as a fish-catcher.
REDCREST was a case in point. There, by the third day of the event, many competitors were using large glide-baits around boat docks. And while a few stuck nice bass as a result, the majority seemed to be utilizing the lures as a search method.
We all know how bass like to follow these oversized plugs. There’s something about the way a glide-bait moves that gets bass to come see. And that’s a very powerful thing for an angler well-trained in the ways of forward-facing sonar, where watching everything going on throughout the cast is as important as anything.
They’re bringing bass into the cone for the purposes of catching later.
This could be the beginning of an entirely new aspect of bass fishing. And, right now, somewhere there’s a lure manufacturer reading this and scratching his chin. Once again, I’m just the penniless idea guy.
Anyway, there’s too much potential here. What other baits do bass follow? Jerkbaits, for sure. And buzzbaits, I think.
And where else could competitors draw bass out to reveal their hiding spots? Docks, we saw. What about submerged grass beds? Hyacinth mats? Hmmm.
What we will see in the future, I predict, are a number of ways to bring bass out and on to the screen. Maybe that will be in practice periods as much as competition. But the concept of locating bass is changing, the same way it did, to some extent, with side-imaging, where great groups of fish were immediately visible to trained eyes.
Finally, we need to re-address the concept of extreme open-water fishing for bass by using the new gear. There’s been quick developments here. Many bass anglers were astonished to learn how many fish seem to just roam around the lake. Open-water veterans were less surprised, I myself remembering many times catching smallmouth miles and miles from any structure while searching off-the-wall spots on the Great Lakes. Recently, we saw the results of refining such a search with a double-digit bass caught there last fall.
Blueback herring-eaters will fall to new tricks as techno anglers will more readily follow the nomadic bass. We’ll see numerous advancement there, just watch. Desert smallies will reveal new patterns in the same way.
One thing we’ll have to continue to monitor are bass being taken from extreme depths. I made a passing comment on this in a previous column: barotrauma can be a real threat to many fisheries. Soon, anglers will be taking bass from waters never before known to hold the fish. Will those same anglers have enough sense to treat those bass humanely and not reel them up from 80 feet down?
If a tournament is involved, I have my doubts. And I can’t see, for starters, a way around it. I’ve received numerous reports of large-scale die-offs of bass and crappie being caught deep, released only to die, the anglers none the wiser. Let’s continue to monitor.
The world of bass fishing is changing as we know it, like it’s done since the beginning. How will it change your place in the sport?
(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.)