I found this picture the other day while cleaning my home office. It really made me reflect on just how much things have changed in bass fishing over time.
I have had the privilege of being in and around bass fishing and the industry for 30 years. I have fished for bass all over the country, competed against world champions, legends and fishing icons, spoke at trade shows and was one of the Bassmaster University instructors. I am not saying this to boast or for any other reason than to reflect on how much bass fishing has changed since the aforementioned picture was taken.
The picture I refer to is a 1985 Bassmaster Invitational and it looks more like a local bass club derby than a major event (not to mention I look a little different too). Indeed this was my first ever pro event at the ripe old age of 20 – and I had no idea that 30+ years later I would have seen all the changes that have occurred and that you never notice day to day, but only in retrospect.
It was a much simpler time back then; cell phones did not exist, personal computer and the internet…what was that? GPS mapping…we were lucky to have fish finders that had 200 pixels! Point being, because of the popularity of bass fishing there have been tremendous advances that have not only allowed for technological changes but have allowed many of our youth the chance to chase their dreams just like I did.
The Electronic Age
Possibly there have been no greater or quicker advances than in today’s modern marine electronics. Back during that first pro event I fished, Lowrance had just introduced an LCG (Liquid Crystal Graph) fish finder. Prior to that most, boats were equipped with an in-dash flasher and for some, an accompanying chart recorder. I remember having one of these huge chart recorders and many of us mounted them on a sheet of carpeted plywood that would rest on the floor of the boat. Space restraints made it hard to mount these anywhere on the console. The next ten years would see dramatic changes in the technology of fish finders enabling us to have larger screens and higher pixel count machines for much greater resolution. Things did not slow down there as the next ten years would start to see the transition from Loran C navigation to GPS mapping, even larger screen resolutions and now HD or high definition units capable of much more than just telling me how deep I am.
I remember way back before GPS and mapping was available and I have to wonder now how we ever found any structure to fish on the lake or how to get back and forth. Our mapping system consisted of your paper map sandwiched between a Plexiglas shield (so it would not blow out of the boat) again sitting on the floor because of space. We had to watch landmarks while driving down the lake and looking down at the map to get to where we wanted. I also remember having one of the first Loran C navigation units and although a far cry from the mapping systems today, it did help a little. Fast forward to the present day, and with my Lowrance HDS I am able to see exactly where I am at on the lake, find key fish holding structures, mark areas where I am catching fish and return to them another day all by looking at one machine.
Certainly electronics are not the only thing to evolve as time marched on. Our modern day bass boats are far superior then what we fished out of 30 years ago. My Phoenix 721 Pro XP offers me so many comforts and fishing friendly features that make me more efficient on the water not to mention state of the art craftsmanship that just was not possible years ago. Combine this with superior batteries, trolling motors and electronic anchor systems and the bass does not stand a chance, or does it?
Better Equipment = More Bass?
In addition to all of the technological changes over the last 30 years, we have also seen an equal number of changes in our rods, reels, terminal tackle, line and lures. This reminds me of my very first baitcasting rod and reel combo and I remember it vividly; how it cast, felt and wound in a bunch of bass. It was a Pflueger 505 round casting reel matched up with a Cordell 6 foot graphite casting rod. I was about 15 and saved up the $65.00 to buy the setup. My dad asked me why I needed it and my reply was, “It was what all the bass pros fished with.” Back then left hand wind reel were not even around so you had to learn to cast and change hands and believe me when I tell you I got a lot of backlashes but slowly learned to cast one. Fast forward several years and I got involved with Shimano demonstrating to consumers how to cast with one of their Bantam 100 casting reels (the one with the wood handle) – boy I wish I still had some of those today!
The current trend is high tech modulus graphite, action specific, micro guides and split grips; high speed reels, titanium and aluminum frames and more ball bearings than I had lures back then. Speaking of lures, it was much simpler 30 years ago to make bait choices. You had your standard worms, jigs, spinnerbaits, topwaters and a few crankbaits all made from a handful of companies. Now there are literally hundreds of manufacturers making all sorts of bass catching lures. I wonder sometimes why you don’t see people fishing with a Hula Popper or Jitterbug, I am sure they do but you just do not see it. And whatever happened to the old jig and pork rind or jignpig as we called it. Maybe one of these days I will try to unscrew a few rusty jar caps and give them a try!
Our fishing line and terminal tackle have also undergone changes. Specialty hooks for tactics and techniques like flipping, drop shot and shaky worms fishing are now commonplace. Fishing line has seen its share of developments going from just good old monofilament to copolymers to braided line and fluorocarbon now. Oh what I would give for a spool of fluorocarbon 30 years ago!
When it comes down to it however there is still no substitution for actually learning as much as you can about the bass, how it lives, reacts and changes during the seasons and from lake to lake. This is one thing I have really noticed over the last 10 years – that more and more young anglers are learning quickly and becoming very good anglers quicker than we ever did. Chalk that up to the availability of information and the speed at which this information is decimated. The internet, YouTube and many other information resources make it possible for anglers young and old to get the information they desire – and that was something we just did not have back in the day. Additionally, the formation of youth clubs, high school and college fishing teams give these anglers a platform to chase their dreams just like I did, except on my own. I just hope I am around to see what the next 30 years has in store for us!