How much technology is too much technology in sport fishing? Or can there be such a thing?
The question came up again last week as the Professional Muskie Tournament Trail, headquartered in Illinois but with tournaments in many locations around the Midwest, decided to ban scanning fish finders from their tournaments for the rest of the season after an angler using one of the devices blew away the rest of the field by a large margin, reportedly 10 fish to 2 fish for several other top contenders.
For anyone who has fished for muskies without the magic machines, catching 10 in a year would seem an unlikely feat, let alone 10 in a day.
Tournament Director Ted Widlacki summarized the change for members thus:
“While we were equally concerned with what the PMTT anglers wanted, this was also weighed out heavily as to if we are hearing from the vocal minority or the masses with these thoughts and opinions. Through this, we have concluded that going forward in the 2022 season, for the last qualifier on Leech Lake and the championship in September, the Forward Facing Sonar - Live Sonar and all other like technology, will not be allowed for use during these two PMTT tournaments. These will be banned from two hours before the start of the first day of the tournament, until the end of the last day of the tournament.”
Widlacki said the tournament would refund the pre-paid entry fees of any anglers who chose not to fish the final events due to the rule change. He said the rule will be reconsidered in the off-season, and may or may not apply next year. (See more about PMTT at https://promusky.com.)
The ruling is basically a case of anglers who do not want or cannot afford the new technology butting heads with those who want it and can afford it—or who have sponsors who will provide it.
In competition, this clearly gives those with the wherewithal to fish with the latest equipment a huge advantage, particularly in venues where the fish are mostly found in open water.
Of course, those who don’t have the super-sonar don’t need to participate in the tournaments—and if most choose not to, the tournaments will quickly go away because much of the prize money comes from having lots of entrants in most.
On the other hand, for those who can afford it, having the fish-finding technology makes fishing much more successful and therefore more fun. And while the stuff costs a small fortune now—with many boats sporting some $20,000 worth of electronics including up to four giant sonars—if it goes the way of other tech we’ve seen come along in the past, more affordable models will become available after the manufacturers see sales on the top-end models begin to soften.
I like that we’re now able to learn from this gear—we can see the fish and know that they’re there, and also see how they react to a given lure and a given retrieve. That’s going to make us a lot better anglers, and it’s also going to allow lure makers to improve their products very rapidly compared to in the past. So long as we’re almost all catch-and-release fishing, this won’t have much impact on the fisheries.
I know several landlocked striper guides here in Alabama who are using scanning sonar now, and it has been a huge boost to their business, allowing them to put anglers on these fish year around. For them, the investment is worth it because they can almost guarantee good catches for their clients.
On the coast, marlin and swordfish anglers are using even more powerful scanners, some that can reach out several thousand feet, to find and track these giant fish. On boats that may cost a half-million to many millions of dollars, the cost of the fish finder is pocket change. (Not to me, of course—Furuno’s Searchlight CH500 model is priced at $14,000!)
While the marlin are often tagged and released by sportfishing boats, the legal-sized swordfish usually go to the docks to become swordfish steaks—and the new tech is likely to result in tighter harvest regulations as soon as the fishery managers start to see the inevitable impact of plunging fish populations.)
Be that as it may, you can’t put genies back into bottles and you can’t keep anglers from lusting after the latest and greatest technology to improve their catch—scanning sonar is not going away, and very likely will become a near standard feature on many of our boats as the price drops in the future.
Whether it’s legal for competition will be for those who compete to decide.
— Frank Sargeant