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OPINION | ARKANSAS SPORTSMAN: Advanced sonar might merit fish-limit alterations

by Bryan Hendricks | March 14, 2021 at 4:48 a.m.

In a very short time, modern sonar has obliterated fair chase boundaries for certain types of fishing.

Social media is rife with breathless testimonials that tell a common story. An effusive angler posts a photo of his LiveScope Panoptix unit showing a school of crappie in a brushpile. Beside it is another photo of a cooler full of crappie. You can actually identify a fish onscreen that you want to catch. The sonar is so precise that you can watch your bait drop to the fish, and you can watch the fish take the bait. It is said to be much like playing a video game.

My ancient black-and-white Eagle units have that ability, too, but their resolution is crude and ill defined. Succeeding sonar units improved incrementally with every new generation.

Three years ago, downscan and sidescan technology was cutting edge, allowing anglers to see cover and structure to the sides of the boat instead of directly under the boat. This enabled anglers to see a lot more of a lake bottom and enabled them to exploit deep cover more effectively and more efficiently. As a result, professional bass fishing evolved more to an offshore exercise.

That definitely shifted the advantage to the angler, but LiveScope Panoptix tilts the advantage to the angler in a quantum leap. Especially for anglers with advanced skills, it has taken fishing out of the equation and practically automated catching.

It is good that weekend anglers can catch a couple of limits of crappie more dependably. On the other hand, it enables commercial fishing guides to guarantee multiple limits of crappie for multiple boatloads of clients every day, every week. This can lead to overharvest and ultimately to diminished resources.

The technology is popular and affordable, and it will only improve. Angler ability will improve commensurately, as will angler success. This is good, and we endorse equipment that improves success and contributes to enjoyment.

However, we do not want to see our fisheries damaged because of it.

The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission does act impulsively in response to consumer developments in fishing. We recall when former Game and Fish commissioner Ron Pierce demanded that the commission ban the Alabama rig for fear it would damage the state's bass fisheries. The commission wisely declined a panic reaction. It does not alter regulations without the support of solid science.

In this case, however, the commission might proactively consider adjusting daily limits for popular food fish that are especially vulnerable to advanced sonar to head off excessive exploitation before it occurs. Crappie and walleye, which are increasingly sought by commercial guides, are especially vulnerable because LiveScope enables commercial and recreational anglers to catch limits of walleyes at will during the summer and fall.

Of course, LiveScope also makes it much easier to find and catch largemouth bass, but dedicated bass anglers seldom keep bass. Bluegill and redear populations are vast, and so few anglers diligently pursue them on major reservoirs that LiveScope does not jeopardize them, either.

Nobody throws back a legal-size walleye or crappie. The commission should reserve the right to be nimble as necessary to prevent damaging those resources.

All choked up

We salivated over a new turkey choke endorsed by none other than the National Wild Turkey Federation. It's a beauty, made of 17-4 stainless steel with a bronze finish. Its "canoe porting" is said to reduce recoil and muzzle jump. The MSRP is $100.

I don't notice recoil when shooting at a turkey, and reducing muzzle jump is important only if you need a second shot. Needing a second shot means you missed, or that you shot too far and injured the turkey. When you miss a turkey, there's always a moment of bewilderment as you try to reconcile what didn't happen with what was supposed to happen. The turkey is often momentarily bewildered, too. That moment is plenty long enough to get your sights back on the bird before he gets away.

Besides, there's no ammunition to pattern a new turkey choke, anyway. I'll spend the hundred bucks I saved not buying the choke on increasingly expensive gasoline to go hunting.

Justified economics

A friend struggled last week to remove a stuck choke tube from his duck gun, which he had not cleaned since duck season ended. It happened to his previous gun, too, but that choke is permanently stuck.

"I'm anxiously waiting for my buddy to tell me he spent $1,500 on a new shotgun because he couldn't get a choke tube out of the old one," I wrote in a text message. "Don't disappoint me."

"That's exactly what I did!" he responded. "I think it was more than $1,500, actually."


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