April 01, 2022
By Justin Brouillard
Forward-facing sonar has changed the game when it comes to finding and catch bass. The evolution of technology has given anglers another tool to find fish faster and be more efficient at making them bite. In 2017, when The Bass Tank’s co-founder John Soukup qualified for the Forest Wood Cup, he was one of the first to have forward-facing sonar and is considered one of the pioneers of Garmin’s Livescope.
Soukup may have been new to the new technology in 2017 but has since won hundreds of thousands of dollars using Garmin electronics installed at The Bass Tank. Specializing in installations, The Bass Tank is a full-service marine electronics shop that not only sells products to anglers, but they also install and train customers how to utilize it. From creating a power harness to ensure proper voltage to each unit for maximum clarity, Soukup tried to learn everything possible to pass along to clients, and he spent over 250 days a year on the water during the company’s first two years—with over 1,000 hours to date.
Soukup has applied his skills to fish professional-level events and notched two National Professional Fishing League (NPFL) victories in 2021 alone. By fully understanding the technology, he has become a go-to in the industry by training other professional anglers to get the most of their electronics.
“There is so much more to be learned, and at no point do I think you can just be a ‘livescoper’ and beat the best anglers in the world,” Soukup said. “You have to understand fish behavior and how to apply the tool to the fish and related techniques. In 2021, my inaugural win on the NPFL trail, I was 100% using Livescope to catch fish from brush piles and in open water.”
How does it help?
The misconception with forward-facing sonar is that you can simply add it to a boat and just magically find fish. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Soukup notes that first identifying the areas where Livescope can succeed has helped him when learning the technology and using it in tournaments.
“I will identify areas of the lake where I can Livescope the best, and then I will look and see if the bites are possible,” he said. “Incorporating that style into your practice period is different, and one factor is water clarity. You need cleaner water for fishing a jerkbait with Livescope and an environment where the fish will stay in one general area without moving too much.”
Depending on the season, and the phase of the spawn, he will target places where the fish are coming to, and will locate high-percentage areas that will hold fish throughout multi-day events.
“Three common areas are bridges, marinas and ditches/bluffs,” he said. “Another piece of cover that Livescope has given anglers a huge advantage is in timber. We can fish for bass more effectively than ever before. By moving through on the trolling motor and looking; identifying areas of the creeks that are being utilized; looking for bait in open water; Livescope simply puts us around more fish and you can tell the size of the fish without catching it.”
Alpha Angler 6-foot, 10-inch medium-fast Jerkbait Topwater Rod paired with a Daiwa Tatula SV
When it comes to slinging around jerkbaits all day, he doesn’t get too complicated. An Alpha Angler 6-foot, 10-inch, Angler Slasher paired with a Daiwa Tatula SV does the trick.
“Overall, it’s one of the best rods I've handled. The length is important, it's not too short, its perfect for short twitches and I don’t want the rod tip to touch the water or my elbows touching the handle.”
The Daiwa Tatula SV has a shallow, lighter spool and is perfect when fishing long, exhausting days. Paired with the Angler Slasher, is the only setup he relies on based on years of testing.
“I don’t have giant hands, and that reel keeps the whole set up balanced and light, I don’t have to feel like I need to be aggressive,” he said. “It allows me to fish a jerkbait for days and commit; It's extremely balanced and I can fish it for days. We're not out here targeting the most aggressive fish anymore—it's more like targeting inactive fish. A lot of times they get hooked in the sides or only have one hook. Without a net, this rod has made my landing ratio go through the roof.”
Twelve-pound Sunline Sniper Fluorocarbon
“A lot of people think the lighter line will get the jerkbait to go deeper, and back in the day we used to use 4- to 6-pound monofilament, but today, fluorocarbon actually sinks and I will go up to 15-pound line to get the baits deeper,” he said. The only issue is heavier line affects the action of the jerkbait. When it’s a really clear water situation, I will go down to 8- or 10-pound, but 90% of the time, I use 12-pound Sniper for the castability and its stronger for fish around cover.”
Ten-pound Sunline Crank FC Fluorocarbon
“The other option,” he said, “and its one I have been playing around with, is 10-pound Crank FC. It's a very castable line, very smooth, and more has a little more stretch. I used it at last event, the 10-pound test Crank FC and I am liking it—I may switch.”
Soukup breaks his jerkbait selection down into two categories: a pulling bait and a twitch bait. Both are extremely important and identifying which one to choose can be the difference in getting bites from inactive bass.
“For pulling baits, you want the movement, the bait coming to you and moving a lot of water,” he said. “If fish are feeding with their lateral lines, pulling baits get their attention—my choice is a Smithwick Rogue. That bait is such a staple for the Ozark areas, Grand Lake, when you have 2 to 3 feet of visibility and big shad. A lot of guys use those Rogues and it’s the pulling action that gets it done.”
For cleaner water, more highland reservoirs, the action switches to twitching style baits. He will use more higher end, Japanese style jerkbaits in these scenarios.
“When fish are using their eyes to feed, you need a bait that moves heavy side to side, but not away from the fish,” he said. “Keeping it in their strike zone longer will temp more fish to bite.”
Soukup adds that one of the hardest parts of jerkbait fishing with forward-facing sonar is identifying the fish you are seeing. What type of jerkbait action do you need? How far will the fish come up to eat? Do you need a bigger bill bait to get down farther?
“Another key piece when fishing around cover—timber, bridges, rock, etc.—is you need to deflect cover and keep the hooks off the wood.”