“Cast that way, about 40 feet,” said Lake Michigan fishing guide Capt. Chris Noffsinger, pointing off the bow at roughly 10 o’clock. I readily complied, flicking a drop-shot-rigged worm to the spot and leaving the bail open so that it would sink straight down. After hitting bottom and twitching the rod tip a couple of times, I felt a subtle bite and set the hook hard on a 3 ½-pound smallmouth bass.
To the casual observer, it may have seemed that Noffsinger was some smallmouth savant or possessed X-ray vision. I knew, however, that his secret power was the Lowrance ActiveTarget live-sonar display.
Live-action sonar has revolutionized fishing, particularly in fresh water. A new generation of anglers, especially those who fish tournaments, has created a live-sonar bandwagon and helped popularize a world of virtual-reality fishing.
These anglers are easy to spot. They stand in the bow of their boats, rods at the ready, heads down and eyes fixed on a large LCD touchscreen. With one foot, they steer their trolling motors, changing the direction of the boat and scanning ahead to locate fish. Only when they see what they’re looking for on the sonar display will they fire off a cast.
Live sonar from brands such as Garmin, Humminbird and Lowrance works like a medical sonogram, letting the angler aim a beam through the water column to see fish swimming in nearly real time on the display. I have watched fish rise to my sinking lure and eat it as it descended.
With transducers mounted on the bow trolling-motor shaft, anglers can easily steer the sonar beam to find and track fish. With their eyes peeled on the display, they aim their fish-tracking technology underneath docks, off shoreline stumps and out into open water, looking for suspended fish or bass corralling a school of bait.
This ability to see fish as they are, where they are and when they are has changed the game. Now anglers can see an individual fish or group of fish on the screen and determine where they are in relation to the boat and which direction they are moving.
Over a relatively short time, this technology has spread like wildfire through the angling ranks. Garmin first introduced LiveScope about five years ago and followed up with LiveScope Plus in 2022, offering 35 percent better target separation, sharper resolution and reduced noise, along with three modes: Forward, Down and Perspective. A few months later, Garmin added LiveScope XR, providing extended sonar range out to 500 feet in front of or below the boat.
Lowrance unveiled its ActiveTarget live sonar in 2020 to rapid acceptance by Major League Fishing pros and other competitive anglers. The company unveiled ActiveTarget 2 at the end of 2022, delivering higher-resolution views of fish movement and smoother, more consistent imaging across the entire range in Forward, Down and Scout views.
Humminbird entered the game in 2021 with its Mega Live Imaging, which today is compatible with all Humminbird Apex and Solix models, and Helix 8-12 GN3 and Helix 7-15 G4N models. Mega Live lets anglers view everything down, out and around the boat with its Forward, Down and Landscape views, and included trolling-motor shaft mount.
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A Different Way of Thinking
“When you first use it, it takes a little practice to understand what you’re seeing,” says Shaw Grigsby, a Lowrance-sponsored bass pro with more than $2.3 million in career winnings.
“When you get good at reading the display, you can tell the size and even the species of the fish you’re looking at,” he adds. “There’s never a situation where I don’t have my ActiveTarget 2 running.”
The pro sees a lot of fish in open water that he never would have known about before, but he also likes seeing how fish react to baits. “This helps me adjust my technique and figure out a pattern for what’s working,” he says.
Pros and Joes
Live-sonar technology has trickled down quickly from the ranks of professional fishermen to regular Joes across the country. As a result, a growing number of weekend warriors are quickly catching on to the advantages of live sonar and how it can help put more fish in the boat. Once you learn to decipher the blips and blobs moving around on the screen and gain confidence in what you see, you might never again waste time fishing empty water.