The effect of forward-facing sonar on professional bass fishing

Keith Combs5

Whether I’m at a tournament, an expo or a tackle store, almost every conversation that I have with other anglers or fans of fishing revolves around forward-facing sonar (FFS). Some people love it, some hate it and nobody knows what’s next. I want to make it clear that while I have an opinion on FFS, that doesn’t mean my opinion is right or wrong. I am not writing this column to take sides. I simply want people to consider what direction it is taking the sport if left unregulated.

A friend of mine recently asked me the following: “If guys have been using FFS for several years, why has it so become so controversial lately?”

I think prior to 2023 you had a smaller group of anglers using FFS as a tool to help them catch fish, similar to side imaging or 360. But now we’re to the point that most pros have conceded conventional bass fishing almost never beats FFS.

Instead of a group of 10 to 20 anglers using it sometimes, you now have 60 to 80 anglers at every event solely relying on it. They are not just catching them, they are smashing them with it!

So, you may wonder why that’s a problem. If FFS catches them better than just fishing, just use it. Let me make the counterargument: Many fishermen on our tour, regardless of their age, believe that style takes away so many of things we think makes the sport of bass fishing great.

If you asked every pro on the Bassmaster Elite Series to name their favorite way to catch them, I bet less than 10 guys would say, “My favorite way to catch them is casting at one with FFS.” In fact, if you check out the angler profiles on, it lists all the anglers and their favorite techniques. Check out a few and see for yourself. It might surprise you.

Regardless of those preferences, when you tune in to Bassmaster LIVE these days everyone in the Top 10 is using FFS almost exclusively. So, whether you like it or not, you better be using it.

Look, I get it. I’ve tournament fished for over 30 years, and it’s my job to catch them regardless of whether I like a technique or not. I just want people to understand that just because you look at an Elite pro’s boat and see multiple graphs and transducers, it doesn’t mean that guy isn’t dreaming about cracking one on a frog.

One of the cool things about pro bass fishing has always been the diversity of the anglers, and over the course of the season the variety of techniques and approaches always keeps things interesting. I have heard people say some pros don’t like FFS because they don’t know how to use it. That’s not true. I promise you, anyone who has made a living doing this can catch them with or without it. That includes the 2024 rookie class. These guys are very good and very determined, and fans would like to see them showcase their entire skill set on tour.  No fisherman on the Elite Series likes being considered one-dimensional.

There is no denying that using FFS is often a more efficient and reliable way to catch big fish than conventional bass fishing — especially when you’re talking about multiday events. All the theories like “the pinging of the transducer will condition the fish,” or “it’s only a deep-water tool,” or “it won’t play on southern largemouth lakes,” or “if everyone is offshore it’ll open up opportunities on the bank for other patterns” are being debunked. It works everywhere.

So, is FFS here to stay in pro bass fishing? Who knows. If you ask the anglers there are a lot of suggestions about how to best present our product. Some want it and some don’t. Some anglers think we should have a split schedule with some tournaments with it and some where it can’t be used. It’s not up to us — B.A.S.S has a committee that is looking into it.

What is certain is you will see a lot more pros going all-in on FFS to survive on the Elite Series. That in turn greatly diminishes the variety of techniques, patterns and skill sets a fan is used to following when they tune in to watch bass fishing. How this is received and respected by the fans will dictate the future of FFS in professional bass fishing. I sincerely hope we do what is best for the sport.