Forward-facing sonar (FFS) can be a polarizing topic among anglers. Anglers who have embraced the new technology love it. Those who haven’t fear its potential negative effects on fish numbers.
In case you haven’t followed the latest craze in electronics, FFS is a transducer that mounts on the electric motor shaft or a standalone shaft. It sends information to a compatible sonar graph that displays fish swimming, suspended or near the bottom a great distance from the boat.
Regardless of where you stand on the topic, the truth is it’s here to stay and has opened up a new frontier in fishing – regardless of species.
While forerunners to FFS technology allow you to see 360 degrees around the boat or scan to both sides, neither provides a more vivid, real-time picture of fish as FFS.
When adjusted, you can see your bait fall or move through the depths and watch fish track and/or eat the bait.
Much of the spotlight has been its impact on bass fishing tournaments, but the technology has been equally – if not more so – advantageous to panfish, walleye, and muskie anglers. Michigan’s Kevin VanDam has used FFS since its early inception. He says one of the biggest advantages to the sonar is what it has taught him about fish.
“It has totally changed what I thought was fact about what bass require for cover and structure,” he said.
Bass still relate to those features, but he has learned there is a population of fish that swim around open water following bait – a large population he never knew existed.
“That being said, I haven’t changed how I fundamentally fish,” he said. “There is still a big population that lives under docks, lily pads and weedlines. But this technology gives me other options and instant feedback about the mood of the fish.”
VanDam said he’s amazed at how many fish will come up to look at a lure and not bite.
“It’s very humbling. I thought I was a better angler than that,” VanDam said.
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Yet, that also has helped him catch fish he would have never known were there.
“When fish swim away from my lure, I know to change lure or colors, adjust my retrieve speed or angle,” he said. “Often that will trigger a reaction and get them to bite and clue me into a subtle, but important, change in presentation.”
Michigan Bassmaster pro Bo Thomas said FFS allows him to know how far fish are from the boat, their depth and where to make casts.
Of course, a lot depends upon gain/sensitivity settings. Thomas says you must adjust that feature with the amount of water clarity and the amount of algae, plankton or sediment in the water. The higher the gain, the more clutter on the screen.
“The higher the gain, the better you see your bait and the fish, but too much gain/clutter will affect what you cannot see,” he said.
When you see a fish, line up the cast and throw beyond the fish and work the bait toward it. Otherwise, casting too close can spook the fish.
Thomas said that once you become more familiar with settings and what you are seeing, you will be able to determine the softness/hardness of the bottom, see fish resting on a hard bottom, and oftentimes determine the species.
“Know the species in a given lake,” VanDam said. “You will develop knowledge of how bluegills and crappies group and how bass and walleyes group and relate to baitfish. The more time you spend with the unit, the more you will learn about fish and how they appear on the screen.”
Both anglers noted that smaller lead-head jigs or sinkers can be difficult to see on the graph, but those made of tungsten are more visible.
There’s a ton of videos on the Internet that will help anglers learn to tweak adjustments and fast track to being a good “scoper.” However, the pros say there is a learning curve to getting the most out of a FFS unit and there is no substitute for spending time on the water. Through experience, you will gain confidence and become more proficient with it.
“I equate it to bowling,” VanDam said. “It’s not easy rolling strikes the first time you go bowling, but over time, it becomes second nature.”