BOB DYLAN WASN’T pondering hooks, lines and sinkers when he wrote the lyrics to the popular 1964 title track The Times They Are A-Changin’, but the words are more than befitting of the technological whirlwind in which modern day bass fishermen and tournament anglers are living.
Right along with the rest of the world, times are a-changin’ in fishing technology. Those who are reluctant to roll with the tide run an inevitable risk of getting left behind. Some already have.
We’re already drowning in a sea of high-tech equipment meant to make us better at finding and catching bass, and there’s no end in sight. Just when you think the available technology can’t become any more useful, something nifty comes along that inches the bar a little bit higher.
That’s not to say banner fishing days are over for anglers who refuse to change with the times. However, those who choose to go old school are automatically putting themselves at a big disadvantage compared to those who graduate to bigger and better things.
Perhaps no Texas angler is more qualified to attest to how technology has changed the sport than Tommy Martin of Hemphill.
Martin was 33 when he won the 1974 Bassmaster Classic on Wheeler Lake in Alabama and the $15,400 pay day that came with it. He was fishing from an 18-foot bass boat equipped with a Lowrance flasher to show depth.
The boat had a 150 horsepower outboard and a trolling motor that labored to drag the rig through the shallows. His rod of choice was a six-foot Rawhide pistol grip strapped with an Abu Garcia 5000C baitcaster—all state-of-the-art equipment at the time.
Now 78, Martin is the elder statesman of active Texas bass pros and still guides full-time on Sam Rayburn and Toledo Bend. He says comparing modern equipment to that of the 1970s is akin to comparing apples to oranges.
“There is no comparison,” Martin said. “It’s a totally different ballgame out there now from what it used to be. Tournament fishing and guiding is just like any sport or job. If you don’t keep up with the progress that’s being made you’re going to get left behind.”
To illustrate, Martin pointed out how advances in modern electronics and mapping technology have grown the playing field and taken much of the game away from the bank.
“Back when I was in my prime, 95 percent of the tournaments were won in five feet of water or less, casting at stuff you could see along shore,” Martin said. “Very few people went out and tried to find fish in deep water because we didn’t have anything except flashers, which weren’t very proficient at all.”
That’s hardly the case anymore, Martin says.
“Today, probably 50 percent of the tournaments are won offshore, all because of advancements in electronics and mapping technology,” Martin said. “Today’s electronics take all the guess work out of what you are looking at down there. They draw detailed pictures of bridges, roadbeds and other stuff that you previously couldn’t see. The detail is so good they will actually show you whether or not fish are present. You don’t have to waste valuable time fishing dead water trying to find out.”
Here’s are a few techno advancements that have changed the way we fish for bass forever:
Every piece of gear bass anglers use—right down to slip sinkers and hooks—have seen significant improvements over the years, but none have changed the game to the degree that electronics have.
Industry leaders like Lowrance, Garmin and Humminbird have paved the way to easier fish finding and navigation with big screen chart plotters. These devices are packed with all sorts of useful featuresThey provide detailed sketches of bottom contour and help anglers sniff out schools of potentially unmolested fish below, to the side and in front the boat. Some units even provide real-time imagery that actually shows fish in active pursuit of a lure.
The advances just keep on coming, too. In fact, any electronics upgrades made as recent as two to three years ago may be obsolete by now.
Take a look around. It’s tough to find a modern bass boat or flats skiff that isn’t equipped with at least one Power Pole or Minn Kota Talon—you know, those odd looking, upright contraptions that bolt to the transom either side of the outboard engine.
Both models activate with the push of a deck-mount button, which automatically deploys a heavy-duty spike to the lake’s bottom to hold the boat secure. They are useful for precise boat positioning in shallow water, but also come in handy for slowing drifts over grass beds, flats or preventing a beached vessel from drifting away when unoccupied.
Minn Kota rocked the industry in 2016 with the introduction of the Ultrex, a heavy duty, cable driven electric trolling motor equipped with its own internal GPS and loads of other neat features like power steering and auto pilot.
Perhaps the most useful function is “Spot Lock,” an electronic GPS anchor. Once activated, the GPS creates a reference point that automatically tells the trolling motor to maintain its current position, regardless of depth or location.
It’s great for fishing offshore because it eliminates having to make constant adjustments with the trolling motor to maintain optimum position in relation to waypoints. Spot Lock does it all for you, automatically.
This allows you remove fish, retie baits, take photos, grab a drink, etc, without the worry of drifting off the spot as the result of wind, current or wave action. Additionally, the motor can be programmed to follow contour lines when used in combination with compatible Humminbird electronics.
Bass boats have come a long way since Texas-based Skeeter introduced the first fiberglass rig in the early 1960s. They are bigger, faster and much better equipped to handle rough water at high speeds and significantly more comfortable to fish from than the boats that started it all.
Truthfully, a top-of-the-line 1990s tournament rig pales in comparison to the 20- to 21-footers that are rolling off factory lines at leading manufacturing plants today.
These rigs are designed with enormous front decks, state-of-the-art live wells, roomy rod lockers and gobs of storage space, along with the fuel capacity to make 100-mile runs with a 250-horsepower engine running full tilt.
Of course, all that luxury comes with a price. It’s easy to sink $70 to 80K on a top-of-the-line tournament rig. The tab could run even more depending on the manufacturer and how many bells and whistles are attached.
Technology has touched on just about every aspect of bass fishing, and the tackle we use out there is no exception.
Rods are made lighter and stronger than ever before with powers, actions and lengths to meet just about every technique specific application imaginable.
Reels are lower profile, lighter, way more ergonomically correct than 30 years ago. They are available a wide range of gear ratios that seem to be gaining top-end speed every year.
As fishing lines go, the monofilament many of us grew up with remains a staple in the sport. However, it’s hardly the only choice anymore thanks to the continued evolution of small diameter, abrasion resistant fluorocarbons and braided super lines.
The technological footprints in bass fishing go on and on. Among them are featherweight lithium batteries, digital charging devices, digital reels, sound devices and much more.
Where it will stop anybody’s guess. My guess is it won’t.
While fishing in an event, Major League Fishing Select angler Gerald Swindle asks Dan Hayes how and why be became a boat official.
—story by MATT WILLIAMS