Drew Gill’s MLF Invitational win at Rayburn was a defining moment in bass fishing. Not only did Gill become the youngest to win such a title, he did so utilizing an entirely different approach to bass fishing than what most of us are accustomed to.

Sure, forward-facing sonar was credited as the winning method. No surprise. But there was more to it than that. Gill’s comments lead down a path many of us have yet to consider, but is so obvious to those in the know.

“I’ve spent a lot of time watching fish, not listening to fishermen or the logic built up in bass fishing lore,” Gill said in the press release following his win. “I’ve just gone out and watched fish behave, around their food, with the cover they relate to, with the contours they use. When you understand that much about fish, they become pretty predictable.”

While much of the news was run-of-the-mill, this statement caused a double-take. Gill’s comments were so recognizable, yet rang of a different setting, a different era.

Many of us will remember a similar thought processes from great anglers across the ages.

History calls Buck Perry the “father of structure fishing” for his prowess off the bank. Utilizing his unique Spoonplug lure, Perry trolled deep basin areas, often connecting with gigantic schools of bass that other anglers never knew existed. Remember, this was at a time before modern sonar. It was said that Perry refused to waver from his own theories and methods, despite anglers of the day disregarding them. In fact, Perry would often travel to lakes outside of his home range simply to show others the potential of offshore fishing, insisting on duplicating results again and again in a quest for scientific proof.

During the onset of shallow-water flipping, similar stories were told of the California gurus responsible for long-poling big fish out of heavy cover. Here was a handful of anglers fishing areas few would even consider. It was like nothing anyone had ever seen in bass fishing, and took the industry by storm, creating a whole new generation of rods, raised boat platforms, line and lures. At the time, flipping was truly an unbelievable technique.

Not long ago, savvy anglers in the southeast began recognizing odd patterns from bass pursuing blueback herring. Open-water giants were taken on topwater baits at all times of the day. Productive areas seemed to have no rhyme or reason, just the presence of bait. Tournament winners kept their head down, less concerned with reasons than results. In time, patterns developed and methods emerged. Most still seem foreign to those outside the region.

The same could be said about giant cold-water smallmouths, suspended above bottom, yet susceptible to a hovering hair jig. Who ever figured that out?

And what about the Ned Rig. Well, we know who figured that out, but how, and why? Sure there was outside influence, but much of that learning can only be credited to thinking outside the box.

Jighead minnows? The same. Adapted from the walleye world, where flashy is never as important as effective. New ground.

Now, today, it’s forward-facing sonar. The save-all for triggering bass to bite, but so much more to those in the know. And those who haven’t read the rule book.

Forward-facing sonar is showing anglers that vast numbers of bass – often the majority of the population in many lakes – utilize offshore, open-water habitat more than we ever thought. A few anglers have believed this principle all along, yet were unable to capitalize on it without a depthfinder that looked in all directions. Today, that’s changed.

And with that change comes guys like Drew Gill who continue to experiment and learn without input from the masses. They are the new influencers of the game. They will write the new rules.

Gill’s method at Rayburn concentrated on targeting fish traveling along predictable, confined routes, making it easier to track and pick off those bass. It’s the same concept as a master flipper searching for the right water where he can utilize short-line methods and heavy gear. Or a river rat looking for muddy water. A dock-skipper playing his strengths.

In the immediate future, the most successful pros will utilize forward-facing sonar better than the rest. The same way that, years ago, the biggest winners casted better, or flipped better, understood offshore structure better, banged crankbaits off isolated stumps better.

The new winners will not only use forward-facing sonar, but apply it in ways that others won’t consider. They’ll stay one step ahead of the field the same way their predecessors did.

And the new world of competitive fishing will be theirs for the taking.

(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.)