Clunn’s technology conundrum

One of the most cerebral anglers ever to fish professionally speaks on the subject of artificial intelligence vs. human instinct

Photo by Seigo Saito/Illustration by Andrew Handley

Professional bass fishing is an ever-advancing sport.

Unlike basketball or baseball, which have seen relatively few fundamental changes, bass fishing is radically different from its 1960s genesis.

Technological advances have influenced the aforementioned games but nowhere near to the degree of bass fishing.

Being one of the sport’s oldest competitors, four-time Bassmaster Classic champion Rick Clunn has seen it grow from its free-for-all infancy to a tech-driven 21st century juggernaut.

And his observations on how technology has and could have changed the game are intriguing.

“GPS is the most powerful, addictive force in professional fishing,” Clunn says.

“It is the one thing that has the potential to change everything about the sport.”

Clunn says the ability to save hundreds of pinpoint locations and even synchronize them with certain trolling motors is “something we never would have dreamed of in the beginning.”

“They are, no doubt, a tool that will never go away and that has added a level of precision to the sport unlike anything else,” Clunn says. “The benefits are obvious, but the drawbacks are seductive.”

I recently spoke with a young angler who detailed a bad run on a regional tournament trail. When I asked what the problem was, the angler said, “My spots didn’t hold up. My GPS sort of betrayed me.”

“That’s the problem right there,” Clunn says. “It’s not worth losing your instinct to have convenience. You can have both, but you have to walk a very fine line.”

He worries young competitors will be extremely technically proficient but lose the “it factor” of the great anglers of the past and present.

“Instead of learning minute details of seasonal patterns, water conditions, weather factors and ecology, I fear we will have people who simply get the GPS coordinates, which are so easily obtainable, and run the numbers until they find fish,” Clunn says. “There is an art to fishing, and there is potential for some of that to be lost by total reliance on GPS.”

Clunn, who has always been known to find locations others passed by, could have faced a very different 1984 Classic had GPS been at play.