Over the past few years live imaging sonar (Garmin Livescope, Lowrance Active Target, Humminbird Mega Live) has burst onto the fishing scene allowing anglers to understand and target fish in ways they have been able to do before. In this time the angling community has learned a lot about fish behaviour and witnessed the true potential of water bodies to produce numbers of big fish. However, not everyone is a fan of the new technology and what it allows anglers of ALL skill levels to do. While there is a lot of complaining from more old school tournament anglers no real solutions are being brought forward. Keep reading to hear our thoughts on what the real problem with this new technology is and ways that we think the industry will need to change in order to move forward.
One of the major points of controversy with this new technology is the idea that anglers don't need any skill to locate and find fish anymore. Rather than applying knowledge of fish and working an area to determine how they are positioned an angler can sweep the area with live scope and cast direct to the fish or move on if none are there. For the average weekend angler who is just out to enjoy catching some fish this sounds incredible but some members of the competitive angling community think differently.
The second point of controversy is that since anglers can be so much more efficient with these units those that don't have it are at a huge disadvantage. Why can't all anglers just use this technology? There is a huge price tag associated with it ($5-8k) in an already expensive hobby. For tournament professionals this may be minor to upgrade but those trying to enter the sport, young adults, or youth might have to decide between this and tournament / fuel fee's for a season. This gives the ones able to afford the technology a huge advantage.
While we have competed in tournaments and fished a number of events without live imaging when the majority of field does it is possible to compete and even win however as the field gets larger and tighter every ounce can be a difference. As an example we competed in the 2022 Huron Bass Tour series without live imaging. In one event we had almost a half pound lead on 2nd place but were penalized 1 lb due to a dead fish and dropped to third and nearly fourth. In the 2 day year end classic we finished 2nd on day 1 and ended up 4th overall on day 2. The difference between 2nd and 4th two day total was less than 4 ounces! The bigger the field and stronger the competition the more each ounce counts and more livescope can pay dividends by picking out the biggest fish in the area directly but anglers still need to be in the same area with the fish which is more difficult on large waters like Georgian Bay compared to a small lake.
The REEL Problem
It's true that livescope allows anglers to be ultra efficient on the water. Unless you're a tournament angler that needs to keep up with the competition this is all good news.
From what we have read it is not stated explicitly but reading between the lines the monetary component is a big factor in smaller tournament scenes. Nobody wants to pay money to be in a tournament they can't compete in & the cost to upgrade to compete outweighs the potential reward. This reduces the number of anglers willing to compete, makes the field that stays more competitive, and reduces the potential payouts. If tournament series want to continue they need participation. To keep participation high this can be an easy fix but the organizers will need to understand their group and make it worthwhile. The easiest thing to do is make two divisions so these anglers are not competing with each other. This may make more conflict to deal with but having some additional prizes rather than just "overall big bag" can help. Overall big bag prize, non-livescope or basic electronics big bag/fish, or other formats could be used.
Aside from the above it is important to note livescope is not magic. It doesn't give anglers advantages everywhere: shallow water, thick cover, or if you're not around fish! If anglers are able to be successful without skill because of this new technology we need to change the environment and make it more challenging. This can be accomplished by limiting events to waters where livescope advantage is minimized or by changing the format for determining the winner.
Livescope doesn't benefit anglers who also don't have skills on the Great Lakes or other big waters. Big water, big fish movements, big water challenges of wind and waves. Similarly, in shallow waters (<10 ft everywhere) with heavy cover there is too much interference to use livescope effectively. Those with skills will be able to outshine the competition that needs to rely on livescope for finding fish. The other way tournaments can make the environment more difficult is to host on waters known to be POOR fisheries. With small populations of fish only those that understand fish best will excel!
The other way to make things more difficult is to change the tournament formats. With the average skill level so high the "5 Big fish" format is becoming too restrictive. When most of field can be within ounces of each other this isn't a good way to quantify skill or a winner and needs to be changed. The easiest change to make would be to make each day of the event two periods. After first half weight in the weights would reset like the 2nd day of a tournament. This would increase the need to be on fish fast and catch quality throughout the whole day not just get 5 good bites.
Another way to make the events more challenging could be to add hourly big fish submission for bonus points to top 5 weigh in. This way those catching quality fish throughout the entire tournament and not just getting 5 good bites from searching aimlessly with livescope get rewarded. We also have the technology to make a total catch weight possible and easy. Major League Fishing (MLF) attempted this but changed back to a 5 fish format due to viewer demands among other factors. Prior to this the events did separate the competition and anglers needed to be catching quality fish all day for a shot at winning. the television coverage would need to change. There are lots of other format options to explore but organizations need to be willing to acknowledge tournaments need to evolve with technology to maintain competition.
Problem For Recreation Anglers
The only problem that we see live sonar technology has for recreational anglers is Fish Management. On small waters or ponds it is already so easy to destroy a population with over-harvesting. Anglers must become aware of this and practice catch & release to maintain healthy fishery. If this cannot be completed harvest limits may need to be removed or strictly limited in numbers or size. Similar to hunting theres gun, bow, and musket seasons maybe we need to change limits or season based on technology or restrict use of livescope on small waters. Trust becomes a big factor as introducing regulations become impossible to enforce. In the end if anglers destroy small waters it only hurts themselves.
In our opinion it would be silly to think that live imaging is going to go anywhere now that its potential is known. To remove the controversy of "anglers not needing skill to catch fish" the tournaments should just be restructured to more difficult waters rather than limiting what anglers can utilizie. Rather than continuing to fish bodies of water that are well known tournaments need to up the ante and move to HUGE waters where it is impossible to just scan and catch fish. Big water means big fish movements and if anglers are not able to understand this livescope will not help at all. Bass for example can move 10 or more miles from their spawning spot to summer haunts on Georgian Bay. Good luck covering that much water with your livescope and no skill!
If you're not a tournament angler none of the above matters anyways. If you just want to catch more fish with the limited time you get to try live imaging will help you do that especially in ponds or small waters. To learn more about electronics and how to use them effectively check out our course at the link below:
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