Innovations in fishing change the way we fish and come in varying degrees of impact. The introduction of the umbrella rig, spotlock technology by Minnkota, and detailed lake mapping are a few that come to mind having made a big impact. And now in very recent years, a brand new innovation is molding fishing as much as any other has in the past – forward facing sonar!
This technology is yet another advancement brought forth by the marine electronics industry. Lowrance, Humminbird, and Garmin all have their versions of it. What it does for the angler is that now fish can be directionally pinpointed swimming around and forward of the boat. A transducer for the sonar signal is mounted on the shaft of a trolling motor so an angler can rotate the sonar beam and scan back and forth for fish. The fish images will appear on the screen of a sonar unit. The signal reaches out on average about 80 to 100 feet. Not only are fish displayed on screen in real time, but also you’ll see brushpiles, weeds, rocks, or anything else on the bottom. Personally, I use the Lowrance Active Target which then displays the images upon a Lowrance HDS Live 12 unit.
So how is this changing fishing? Forward facing technology allows an angler to pinpoint their presentations to fish seen on screen. Like everything else, lures appear on the screen allowing anglers to watch the lure approach the fish and then see how the fish may react or even strike the lure! No longer is there any guessing as to if a fish is there. The efficiency of an angler can greatly increase with this technology. It doesn’t matter what species. Anglers are using it to target all species. I have personally used it to catch largemouth, smallmouth, crappie, walleye, pike, bluegill, and catfish.
This technology has really opened up the off-shore, suspended fish type of fishing. For example, it had always been difficult to target bass that were not relating to some kind of structure/cover. However, now anglers are winning bass tournaments by catching bass far removed from anything. Fish are out there in the void of nothingness water, and can only now be targeted with efficiency!
Understand that the technology can’t do everything. Forward facing sonar will not display fish buried up in heavy cover such as weeds or thick brushpiles. But as mentioned, the cover will appear on screen and casts can be made to the heavy cover with deadly precision to entice the fish hidden from view. With sparse cover, fish images can be noticed on screen amongst the weed and/or brush images. Fish hiding in sparse cover often give themselves away as they swim along. A stationary fish is more difficult to differentiate from the cover around it.
There is a limit to the forward looking distance. At greater distances, images are less clear and distinct. This includes bottom images. Images near the boat show up with much better detail. The tail movement of a cruising fish can be noticed. However at a distance, the tail movement will not be discernable. Likewise, brushpiles and rocks have better clarity near the boat as compared to at a distance. Overall, I find the technology is useful starting at 100 feet and improves with less distance.
Depth of water also presents a limiting component to the usefulness of forward facing sonar. For reasons that I don’t understand, the ability to display images at distances more than 40 feet is lost when in water depths less than 6 feet. This limitation makes the technology less effective because shallow fish positioned close to the boat often will not strike. For example, a stump may come into view at 40 feet, but by the time I have stopped the boat’s momentum with the trolling motor, I may be too close to the stump to trigger a strike from a now-wary fish.
In the two seasons that I have now fished with Lowrance’s Active Target, I have caught fish (many species) that I never could have found previously. It has helped me follow weedlines with pinpoint precision and helped me place casts dead on brushpiles and boulder piles. Countless bass tournament victories that I know of, have been directly attributed to the use of this technology. I personally caught big bass (8-10) in a tournament last year that I first spotted with Active Target. Forward facing sonar is one of the most impactful innovations in fishing that there has ever been!