The PMTT Sonar Saga: What is Pro-level?

The PMTT Sonar Saga: What is Pro-level?

Jodie Paul August 26, 2022

As of July 28, of last month, mid-season, the PMTT had decided to ban the use of forward-facing sonar for the remainder of the trail competition.  In their statement, they do allow for the sonar to be used during the lead up practice sessions but not for the duration of the tournament.  This decision was reached after an uproarious leg on the Eagle Lake Chain where the lead boat put the screws to their competition and were very forward about their use of Panoptix during the event.

After the competition, many anglers, including tournament participants, took to the message boards and web to discuss their disdain for the use of these technological advantages during tournament fishing, arguing that tournaments should be about the fishing skills and talents of the individuals who participate.  This argument became a widely debated topic and, in most circles, including that of the governing body of the PMTT, was allowed to take precedent over a host of other opinions.  Though the ban made mid-season is understood to be "non-permanent" for following years, it has sparked the highest level of debates for the foreseeable future.

Thus far the argument might be that being a professional musky angler means that you have some level of skill acquired through practice and methodical study of the sport, elevated only by participating in healthy competition and events.  But what does it really mean to be a professional at any other level of sporting class?

In almost all other areas of outdoor sports or competitive sports, bass angling included, the term professional lends itself to one interpretation: making a living in your field.  So, by this association Professional Musky Fishermen, would specifically mean that you make your living by fishing for musky.  If we were going by this definition there are simply very few qualifying individuals who get paid to fish for muskies and that would be musky fishing guides or televised anglers. 

If we were to use this level of fishing as the standard for professional participation then that would take a lot of the guess work out of the final decision.  It becomes a matter of being a qualified guide.  In this instance, once you sign up for a competition amongst other "professionals" in your area of field, then the level of competition increases, and you are putting forth your personal efforts to excel against the best efforts of fellow anglers.  This instantly means technological advantage becomes an option.

When guiding, whether it means the lakes of Canada, the Northwoods of Wisconsin, or the cold Reservoirs of the Kentucky, anglers need the help of many levels of technology to keep their businesses afloat.  When hiring a guide, clients prefer an upgraded experience with electronics, appropriate gear, solid and well-kept boat, engine, trolling motor etc.  Many folks would not be too keen to shell out 300-800 dollars for a ride on a 1974 Jon Boat with no electronics or casting deck.  Being a professional means offering clients the best possible selection of modern equipment to get the job done.  It doesn’t mean you don’t start with the minimum as a beginner guide, but it does require you to upgrade as you go to please clientele and increase your fee.

From this perspective, being a professional musky angler, means having access to all of the bells and whistles available in your sport to provide the best possible fishing advantage.  Though technology has leveled out the playing field, it means that all professional level fishermen have the same advantage, but skill is still required.  Fishing tournaments against someone with vintage rods, a row boat, and no depth finders is unthinkable, so now we need to include the mechanical and technological upgrades that have been available for many years. 

For professional anglers that use sonar daily to keep clients coming and boating fish against the odds, isn’t unfair, it’s modernization.  15 years ago, few had a cell phone, now you are behind the times without one.  So, the question now becomes, how long can you hold technology back on the professional level.  Better boats, Bluetooth trolling motors, spot locking, highly sensitive depth finders, accurate forecasting, 3-D lake mapping and now sonar are all a part of the modern equipment that all professionals are slowly being required to acquire if they want to keep up with the modern world.  Because this equipment is here to stay amongst professionals, then it should it also be an allowable advantage in the tournament trail. 

For years, the PMTT has been won by anglers with “better” equipment as some professionals carry a multitude of sponsors to get the best gear, so it stands to reason that this next level up will be a hotly debated topic.  The only detraction from the argument of this article is the one thing that seems to change the scenario when it comes to the PMTT and that’s the meaning of professional.  The PMTT allows professional level competition to anglers who are technically non-professionals. 

As tournaments go, most other professional competitions require the “entry position” be the field that you make a living, but the PMTT allows for paid entry for many qualified anglers and enthusiasts.  This changes the field of play entirely.  It opens the field to people with no need for the same level of technological advantage than that of a professional.  It is because of this point of inclusiveness, that the tournament so far must be held to a different set of standards.  If the field gets too far apart in advantage, it begins to seem unfair to anglers who paid to join, and that is the real point of the argument.  PMTT must narrow the possibilities by limiting the advantages.

It's up in the air for next year, but no one really knows what the rules will entail.  The best possible solution might be to split the trail in to professional and novice class to prevent unfair advantage, but sponsoring a split tournament might be hard to do.  I wouldn’t want to be in the shoes of anyone having to make the final decision, because it will make waves no matter what they choose.  It is truly a hot button topic, but rest assured that the people taking on this decision are being fair, they are weighing options and alternatives, and they have the best names in the business providing an advising voice.  Regardless of the outcome, the PMTT is a great chance for musky anglers to receive higher recognition in a very difficult but rewarding sport.