I’m not that old of a guy, but I’ve noticed more people involved in bass fishing are younger than me. Maybe that’s a sign.
Regardless, I’ve also recognized that many of today’s anglers are extremely advanced in terms of technique. When I discuss the tactics of my youth, I’m often greeted with jaw-dropping expressions of disbelief. Maybe I’m older than I think. In any case, I got serious about bass fishing in the late '80s and, looking back, I’m often amazed myself.
Consider, if you will, how things were back then. I’m directing this to you, college bass angler. It might shock you to know that, when I was your age:
There was no braided line
Yep, that’s right. If you were flipping or punching or frogging – any of that – you used monofilament. Have you heard that word before? Nowadays, we refer to it as “mono”, and it’s likely the stuff you use as a leader for a few topwater baits. When spooled up as your total line source, mono provides rubber-band like performance lacking any real ability to move fish from heavy cover. Also consider the no-braid equation for spinning gear. Spooling up straight mono there became an art form, as nearly all the line instantly fell off the spool. We’d soak the spools in warm water, use conditioners, even attempt to hold line on with tape before using it, all to no avail.
There was no fluorocarbon line
Like I said, there was mono. Lousy abrasion resistance. No sensitivity. Floating on top of the water. Bulky, coiled-up mono.
There were no GPS units
Actually GPS, in a plotter-only fashion, was just breaking on the scene. But in the early stages of the game, my friends and I were still lining up on the bank. Even on Lake Erie, in the fog. Try and get right on the juice that way. GPS technology was truly a breakthrough for anglers all across the world. It may be hard to believe that such was met with skepticism initially in the world of bass fishing. Besides Great Lakes fishermen, some of the first advocates of GPS technology were anglers fishing on vast Lake Okeechobee, where everything looks the same. Guides there helped spread the word in the bass world.
There were no tungsten weights
Everything was lead, and maxed out at 1 ounce. Remove any thoughts of punching a plastic through cover much thicker than matted milfoil. Also forget determining bottom type by the feel of your sinker. Occasionally, we’d strike gold when our lead sinkers came back with visible scratches, noting the presence of an offshore mussel bed. We hoped.
There was no side- (or forward-) looking sonar
The bottom was what was below the boat. Who knew what was off to the side? I still suggest that side-looking sonar is the greatest technological breakthrough in freshwater fishing in my lifetime. Nothing has opened the eyes of anglers more to the concept of structure fishing. But, not long ago, no such picture existed. There was 2-D only, and guys like me prayed we’d drive over something unique when graphing. Often, we barely missed.
There were no forged fishing hooks
In other words, every hook bent under pressure. The best hooks resisted slightly, but could never have stood up to the rigors of today’s advanced techniques. Sometimes, after losing a lunker, I’d reel in to find a straightened hook, wondering what could have been.
There were no chemically-sharpened hooks
Believe it or not, almost all fish hooks were only marginally sharp out of the package. Refining the point took time with a stone, which every serious angler carried. I vividly remember the first time I changed the trebles on my crankbaits to the new Japanese brand no one could pronounce, and therefore referred to as “Gah-mmies." The difference was life-changing.
There were no weight-transfer fishing lures
Most crankbaits could be cast about 50 feet. Some of the best had to be tossed on spinning rods. Forget throwing into the wind. Nearly all topwater baits were backlash manufacturers. The Rat-L-Trap was about the only good hardbait in a breeze. My, how times have changed.
There was no Spot-Lock
This may not seem like that big of a deal, as most of us can remember a time without GPS-enabled trolling motors. But consider how these units have changed the game. If nothing else, the anchor function completely eliminates down time associated with re-tying lures or grabbing a quick drink. And the ability for any angler to instantly hold on productive spots is unparalleled, once reserved for only those with an uncanny knack for standing on one foot.
Yeah, it seems like a lifetime ago that fishing technology was so primary. But it really wasn’t the ancient past. I often wonder if our sport is special in terms of advancement, thanks to both the professional anglers who demand it, as well as the millions of recreational enthusiasts who put it to the test.
In any case, it leaves everybody wondering what’s out there for the future. What could we possibly improve on next?
(Joe Balog is the often-outspoken owner of Millennium Promotions, Inc., an agency operating in the fishing and hunting industries. A former Bassmaster Open and EverStart Championship winner, he's best known for his big-water innovations and hardcore fishing style. He's a popular seminar speaker, product designer and author, and is considered one of the most influential smallmouth fishermen of modern times.)