The stage had been set for a perfect performance. All the characters were in place. Everyone knew their role in the final act.

Online commentator Marty Stone allowed us a peak backstage: “I’ve seen this show before; I can tell you how it ends. I don’t know how he’s gonna write it, but I can tell you how it ends.”

Huddled around their screens, thousands of viewers waited for the final justification of tournament bass fishing. The greatest of all time, in his last regular-season event, dominating the championship rounds of competition the same way he did some 30 years earlier. Closing it out power-fishing. Chunk and wind. Old school.

But the bass didn’t get the script. With a weather change forcing competitors to adjust, the best our hero could do was a respectable bag, leaving the door open for a darkhorse competitor to steal the show.

The epitome of recent change in our sport, roaming, open-water smallmouths would be the key to victory. Invisible fish just a few short years ago, taking down the best the sport has ever seen with the push of a button and a swipe of a cone. Before the ship could be righted, time ran out, the lights came on and the show was over.

Nothing could better represent the new direction of professional bass fishing. If Kevin Van Dam can’t beat it, no one can.

While KVD has always been one to adapt, it’s anglers solely focused on forward-facing sonar who have dominated the highest levels of professional bass fishing recently. Those still learning or figuring out ways to blend the technology into their approach scrape along for paychecks.

While we’ve seen numerous major technological breakthroughs in tournament bass fishing’s short life, none so far will impact the game like this. Never again will there be a time when technology doesn’t play the most significant role in the approach of the sport. More than lure selection, casting ability or knowledge of the quarry.

The ability to use today’s marine technology to its maximum function, most specifically sonar and electric trolling motors, is a bigger advantage in national, competitive bass fishing than being a master of anything else.

This conclusion is not intended to be negative. Since the beginning of organized, competitive fishing, we’ve been moving at the speed of light to advance the tech aspect. From foot-controls to Power-Poles, Navionics chips to forward-facing sonar, there’s always been a push toward marine equipment that helps us catch more fish. What we’re seeing now is simply another chapter in the book.

The industry will follow along as it always has. Trolling motors, for example, went from turn-by-hand to foot, from 12-volt to 36, cable-steer to electric. Sonar from look down to look out, and around.

In short time we will see nearly all bass visible before they are caught, regardless of season or depth. We’ll see lures watched for the entire length of a long cast. The ability to differentiate species of fish instantly. Trolling motors that will literally point to fish swimming around the boat. Notification whenever a bass is anywhere within casting distance. These are the directions being pursued.

The best competitors – those who will replace our heroes by embracing the shift – will know how to best utilize their sonar. They will become adapt at reading fish, much like a bed-fishermen, to know which are biters and which aren’t. They’ll be able to seine vast basins of once unfished waters, picking off bass no one previously knew existed.

The best professional anglers have always eliminated unproductive water faster than the rest; in the future, they’ll turn it up to a level never thought possible. Everything we know about tournament bass fishing will change. Most, it appears, already has.

Last week’s champion is a perfect example. With his win at Saginaw Bay, Matt Becker was also able to take down the Angler of the Year title, nearly doubling his lifetime earnings in a single day by pinning down a roaming school of smallmouth with forward-facing sonar.

Nothing against Becker. This is the game he’s most comfortable with, embracing the technology since its inception, hoping to someday compete, and win, against the sport’s best. Who would have thought that he’d take down the king in his rookie season? Technology moves fast.

So that’s where we’re at in professional bass fishing. For most of those involved, it’s simply another stage.

Where I can’t seem to make things work, in terms of interest in the sport, is the spectator model. Watching a professional angler utilizing forward-facing sonar is lackluster. Anyone who says otherwise is kidding themselves for the benefit of saving face.

What I’m sure we’ll see in the future is a view of the angler’s sonar screen as they fish. Viewers at home can then share in the action. Participants in the sport who regularly do the same will get more out of it. Those who don’t; well, that’s a topic for another day.

The BPT’s finish was, indeed, one for the storybooks. A young gun, coming from behind, to beat KVD at his own game, simultaneously stealing the AOY from Wheeler and DeFoe. Who could have seen that coming?

Only an expert in technology.

(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.)