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Tech advances in fishing here to stay

Back a few years ago, my generation helped pioneer video technology that no doubt is paying huge dividends today on the fishing boats of hundreds of thousands of anglers.

We were avid players of Pong, then Pacman and Space Invaders, and on to Super Mario Brothers and Tetris. My generation helped usher in the video game era, enjoying the then-leading edge of technology, even though we went to school when slide rules ruled and Texas Instrument calculators were forbidden in our math classes.

Everywhere we turn today, smartphones, laptops and other devices help us think, learn, eat and shop, not to mention communicate with each other.

Technology is evident at every turn. It’s also making a major impact on fishing.

Under the broiling sun and withering heat on glass-smooth Mosquito Lake Thursday morning, I watched what many interpret as video-game bass fishing play out right before my eyes.

To say the new technology is impactful is an understatement. Under conditions that bass anglers used to judge as difficult — super hot and slick calm — fishing friend Tyler Woak and I hooked and landed 15 or more largemouth bass. Each of the fish was located thanks to technology that, just a few years ago, might be considered science fiction.

Technological breakthroughs over the past decade have brought sophisticated fish-locating sonar to the market and linked it with precision GPS-based positioning devices. The result is anglers who can afford the new gadgets are adding them to the bows and consoles of their boats and adding significantly to their fishing success.

Tyler, who will soon celebrate his 25th birthday, is in the generation that played video games at the age when my generation was simply trying to memorize the ABC’s. He relates to information displayed in complex arrays of colorful pixels including, of course, on the wide screen of his Garmin forward-facing sonar unit on the bow of his Bass Tracker.

We put the Garmin and Tyler’s Utrex trolling motor to work early Thursday. Just minutes after 6 a.m., Tyler had his boat positioned over a stump-littered flat under 12 feet of water.

“They’re here,” he said. “We’re going to get them.”

And “get them” we did as we’d barely made a dozen casts when Tyler hooked a two-pounder. I joined the party a few minutes later. We finished our limit of bass barely 20 minutes after leaving the dock and over the next several hours culled up to a five-fish limit weighing nearly 15 pounds.

Our mission was to put Tyler’s understanding of forward-facing sonar to work to win a bass tournament Thursday. We fell a few pounds short, but I drove home impressed by my friend’s ability to make good decisions about tactics and presentations based on the information he saw on the screen mounted on the Bass Tracker’s bow. His Garmin unit not only showed the composition of the bottom and depth of the bottom, both bits of information that sonar has delivered to anglers for decades, but also the distance away from the boat where the cover and fish are located.

With that information available at a glance, anglers can now know the exact angle of their cast and how far to fling it. What’s more, we now can see our lures falling through the water to the fish and then how they react.

Once he knows where the fish are holding, Tyler can set the Spot-Lock feature on his Ultrex trolling motor to automatically hold his boat exactly where he wants it.

It’s helpful to actually see in real time as the fish bites the bait, and if the fish looks at the lure and turns away, we know something isn’t right and adjust accordingly.

Proponents hail forward-facing sonar and GPS as the future of fishing. But some say the new technology is taking the mystery out of fishing. Others say it gives anglers too much of an advantage. Still others say the cost of the new tools keep them out of reach of those who can’t afford them.

I believe it’s safe to say the technology is here to stay — and no doubt will continue to advance. It’s all part of everyday living for the young anglers who will be buying new gadgets for their fishing enjoyment — and certainly a great aid for us old dogs willing to learn new tricks.

Jack Wollitz is the author of more than 1,800 newspaper columns, 300 magazine features and a book, The Common Angler, published in 2021. Email Jack at jackbbaass@gmail.com.

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