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Brad Laabs column: How sonar technology has changed the fishing game

Technology has changed the way pro and casual fishers navigate the waters

Forum Columnist Brad Laabs.jpg
Fishing Columnist Brad Laabs

DETROIT LAKES – Every year, the fishing industry introduces new or improved lines, rods, reels, electronics and almost all things fishing. We crave the new and improved in most things in our lives, and anglers are more than willing to spend to get an edge.

A few years ago, a significant advance in the electronics game was introduced by Garmin called “Panoptix.” It’s amazing sonar technology that sees fish in real-time. It can look like a video game to the angler using it. It could be used to see down and be pointed directionally to locate fish and see where they were located. Not only was it so sensitive that it was picking up the fish movement, but you could see your lure in relation to the fish and how the fish was responding and reacting to the presentation.

Ice anglers were the first to jump on this new sonar technology and noticed a huge difference in success not only with locating fish, but the ability to adapt to get them to take a lure or bait. You could see them bite before you felt the strike.

It took a little while for the rest of the competitors in the fishing electronics market to catch up to Garmin on this new developing and improving sonar. The last couple of years has seen Lowrance come out with “Active Target” and Hummingbird come out with their version called “MEGA Live.”

One of the early challenges to adapting this new sonar to open water fishing was figuring out how to effectively use the transducer to search for fish in a boat. Early users developed garage-made poles and adapters to deploy the transducer to hunt for fish in the open water.


Long line trollers put the transducer on the back of the boat, motor or trolling motor. It faces the back of the boat, and we were able to see fish approaching and reacting to trolling presentations.

Companies have come out with mounts for different ways to deploy or use the transducers, and the fishing-tournament world has revolutionized their use. The last couple of seasons, in particular, have seen the top finishers in both bass and walleye tournaments were anglers mastering the use of this type of sonar.

You will hear these units called “forward-facing sonar” as tournament anglers mount them to bow mount trolling motors. They were able to spin the motor to see all directions and locate fish. Once fish have been found, using the “spot lock” or “anchor” feature on the trolling motor allows the angler to cast to the fish and show their real-time reaction to the bait.

Some anglers still like to use the stick with a handle to deploy the transducer and turn it by hand until locating the fish.

This is not an inexpensive addition to add to your fishing arsenal. Sales for these units have spiked in the last year. In the next couple of years, I would look for the price to come down some, even with the inflation rate the way it is now.

These companies will compete for their market share of the new sales, and improved units will continue to be added. I would look for even more improvements in the next couple of years for ways to use this new, innovative sonar technology.

Jared Rubado is the sports editor for the Detroit Lakes Tribune and the Perham Focus. He moved to the area in September of 2021 after covering sports for the Alexandria Echo Press for nearly three years. Jared graduated from the University of Augustana in 2018 with degrees in journalism and sports managment.
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