Forward Facing Sonar - The Experts' Guide | Great Days Outdoors

Forward Facing Sonar – The Experts’ Guide

As in most other sports, the equipment that an angler chooses is often most likely due to brand loyalty and personal preferences rather than comparing the features and benefits of that equipment. In this article, we will learn why several pros and avid fishermen use the brands of forward-facing sonar they select. All of these anglers depend on their forward-facing sonar to fish better and catch more and bigger fish, no matter which species. 

Targeting Bass With Forward-Facing Sonar

Larry Nixon from Bee Branch, Arkansas, has fished competitively in the Bassmaster, Major League Fishing (MLF) and Forrest L. Wood (FLW) circuits for 46 years, winning many tournaments. He’s also won the 1983 Bassmaster Classic and the coveted title of Angler of the Year for two years.  

“Forward-facing sonar is what all the tournament fishermen are talking about right now. I’ve seen and used all the different depth finders from flashers to down-scanning to side-scanning and the other GPS and mapping features that have evolved in the electronics industry for bass fishing,” Nixon said. “However, forward-facing sonar has been the biggest change and made the biggest impact in the way we fish.” 

“In 1976, when I was guiding bass anglers, I started fishing with Lowrance depth finders because that equipment never broke down, and I never had to send a unit in for repair. I told myself then, ‘Larry, you should never buy any other depth finder than Lowrance,’ and I’ve held to that belief ever since. 

Lowrance HDS Live 12 With Transducer

Lowrance HDS Live 12

“The Lowrance depth finder I use has mapping, down-sonar, side-scanning, GPS and a water-temperature gauge, all on the dash of my boat. On my boat’s front, I have two Lowrance HDS Live 12s, one for my forward-facing sonar and one for split-screen with mapping, down-imaging and the ability to keep up with the day and the time. The HDS Live 12 comes: preloaded with C-Map Contour; plus mapping and integrated support for high-resolution ActiveTarget Live Sonar that lets you know what fish are doing in real time and tracking them in every direction; Active Imaging 3-in-1 with Lowrance CHIRP that’s sonar for fish targets;  SideScan/DownScan Imaging and Fish Reveal. That covers everything I need from sonar when I’m fishing and I know I can depend on Lowrance.”


Brandon Lester, a professional basser for 10 years from Blaine, Tennessee, says he uses his Lowrance ActiveTarget to pinpoint brush piles.

“Since most reservoirs we fish were built in 1940 – 1960, and most of the natural underwater cover is gone. The manmade brush shelters are on underwater stumps, points and bottom structures. You must have a quality depth finder to pinpoint these brush piles,” Lester noted.

forward facing sonar
Using Lowrance’s ActiveTarget forward-facing sonar, Lester has been able to catch bass like this and has won $1 million plus.

Lester uses his side-imaging feature on his Lowrance ActiveTarget to mark the brush he sees underwater as waypoints and takes advantage of its forward-scanning feature.

 “That new development in sonar has changed the way I fish dramatically. That feature allows me to stay 60-80 feet away from an underwater brush pile but still make accurate casts,” Lester said. “I can see how-many bass are on an underwater brush pile, identify any bluegills and watch my lure go down and fall right into the brush pile. I can see that same lure go over the top of that brush pile and determine if the bass are chasing my bait.”

Lester uses the ActiveTarget to tell the difference between bass, crappie, bluegills or other fish that may be holding on structure like stumps, logs, rocks, points with no cover, underwater humps and/or bottom breaks. 

“The more you use forward-facing sonar, the easier you can determine the species of fish holding on that structure by the way the fish act or don’t react to your lures. When you pull a bait in front of a catfish or a carp, they won’t even look at your bait but the bass will,” he said.


Trolling Motor Forward Facing Sonar

Hank Cherry of Lincolnton, North Carolina, the winner of two Bassmaster Classics is a huge fan of the Garmin Panoptix LiveScope that’s on the end of his trolling motor. With the LiveScope and his Garmin ECHOMAP Ultra 126sv, Cherry can:

Panoptix PS22-TR

Panoptix PS22-TR

* spot suspended bait fish and bass; 

* determine the lures to use, the depths to fish and the places to fish;

* use the mapping screen to pinpoint the subtle drops off on the bottom; and 

* know the depths where bass are holding and learn how they’re positioned.

Cherry said that he’s often asked why he runs four depth finders on his boat. 

Garmin ECHOMAP Ultra 126sv

Garmin ECHOMAP Ultra 126sv

“I have two on my console and two on my casting deck. I use the two on the console for side scanning. I want my depth finders to be full screen. On my right side, I want the depth finder to scan the right side of the boat, and the depth finder on the left console to scan the boat’s left side. Of the two depth finders on my boat’s front, of my boat, I have one that’s a full-screen map, and the other that’s my LiveScope,” Cherry explained.

forward facing sonar
Phil King, pictured here, shows off the largest catfish he ever caught that was taken in Spain during a Bass Pro Shop international catfishing tournament.

“On tournament days, I always have the two depth finders on the front of my boat running the entire time I’m on the water. I’ll have the mapping function up on the back depth finder,” he said.  “Depending on how windy the day is and the clarity of the water, I like to pan out with my LiveScope from 70-100 feet in front of me, around me and on the bottom. I don’t need total clarity; I just need to see the markings of the fish I’m trying to fish for and learn how they’re reacting to my lure moving past them.” 

Forward Facing Sonar For Catfish

A longtime, avid catfisherman from Corinth, Mississippi, King has won many regional, national, and even international tournaments fishing for catfish. He uses a Humminbird depth finder and recently fished with a friend who had a Humminbird Mega 360 Imaging that:

Humminbird Mega 360

Humminbird Mega 360 forward facing sonar

* swept up to 125 feet;

* provided very-clear images in every direction of structure, the bottom and the fish, even when sitting still;

* gave a 360-degree view under the water that was constantly updating;

* offered maps and other sonar views to see the big picture;

* zoomed up to 10X to show fish, structure and vegetation; and 

* had Range Rings to show the distance from an angler’s boat to the target.

The picture that King’s friend showed him on his Mega 360 was so accurate and precise, that King reported, “I even could see the fins on the catfish swimming nearby.”

Forward Facing Sonar For Crappie

These two brothers from Eufaula, Oklahoma, have fished crappie tournaments the past 20+ years, winning state, regional and national tournaments. 

Garmin LiveScope System

Garmin LiveScope System forward facing sonar

“We couldn’t have won many of these tournaments the past three years without our Garmin Panoptix LiveScope,” Ryan Young explained. “We’ll move into trees out in a lake and start looking for crappie on our LiveScope. Often we’ll locate crappie holding in-between trees, perhaps in 13-15 foot deep water. Darin and I have the advantage of the knowledge we’ve learned from the crappie trips we’ve guided and the 400+ hours we’ve spent studying and learning how to use the LiveScope more effectively to catch bigger crappie.” 

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