The forward-facing sonar dilemma

I’ve been playing with forward-facing sonar (FFS) a lot and I often wonder, “Is this helping me or hurting me?”

The short answer, I suppose, is both.

For those who don’t know, FFS is a relatively new sonar system that allows you to pan ahead of the boat, see fish and watch how they react to the lures you cast toward them.

I’ve had some amazing experiences with it on Lake Hartwell where the fish typically set up well for the technology. Hartwell has abundant offshore structure where spotted bass will school over brush in 15 to 25 feet of water. You can see the cover on the screen, cast a drop shot around it and watch two or three bass swim out of the brush and one of them eat it.

And, of course, it’s deadly on northern lakes filled with smallmouth. Those brown fish are so aggressive that if you get a lure around them, they usually bite it. If you see a fish on the screen and it doesn’t bite it, it’s probably not a smallmouth.

It’s not as effective in shallow areas, although I’ve used it in Florida to locate grass clumps ahead of me. The fish may not be visible because they’re hunkered in the grass, but when I throw there I get a bite.

Other lakes don’t set up as well, especially lakes with a lot of different species. I find myself spending too much time on a fish that may or may not be a bass that I can’t catch. It becomes a time waster, kind of like sitting on a stubborn bedding fish while trying to make it bite.

And that’s one of my inner battles with this technology. It can be addicting and cause me to waste valuable fishing minutes.

I’ve caught myself staring at the screen while following a fish, only to see another one and start following that one. The next thing I know, I’m 50 yards off of the spot I intended to fish and have nothing to show for the 15 to 30 minutes I spent wandering around.

I hope to change that this season. I have made it a point to reevaluate when and where I should spend time staring at the screen.

I’m not sure FFS was around much when the late Aaron Martens was fishing at full strength. I loved Aaron — his unbridled enthusiasm for fishing and his attention to detail. It’s what made him one of the best before his life was cut short.

His inherent ability to break down structure and dial in exactly what it took to catch bass was amazing.

Would FFS have made him even better? Or would he be like me and become so distracted that it took away from his natural ability and instincts?

I’m concerned about the younger generation of anglers that are coming into the sport. I’ve watched them; they don’t cast until they see a fish on the screen. Are they learning basic fish-finding skills and using natural instincts that are so critical to becoming a great angler?

My point isn’t to ridicule FFS. It’s an incredible tool that can make you better in some situations.

But, when over-utilized, it can be a time waster and detract you from employing your brain or using instincts that are the keys to consistent bass fishing success.