From flashers to flat screens

As a professional bass angler I get this question a lot: In terms of tackle and equipment, what do you think has evolved the most in bass fishing? The boats? More fuel-efficient outboards? Smaller, lighter reels? Improvements in fishing line? Better rods?

And without hesitation I always say electronics – electronics have far and away seen the most advancements through the years. I thought about this very thing the other day as I snapped a picture of my very first portable Lowrance flasher – the “little green box” as they called it back in the day – sitting next to my brand new 16-inch HDS Carbon unit. In between those two “fish finders” lies 30 years of unbelievable advancements.

The Lowrance “Fish Lo-K-Tor,” as it was named, was my first look into the underwater world electronically. That thing had a suction cup transducer that you had to “stick on” the side or transom of the boat. Nothing about it was wired into the boat – not even the power. It ran on two 6-volt batteries that powered a spinning dial, which lit up with each sonar return. It hummed and it purred and it flicked and flashed with light. It was up to the angler to decipher what the heck all that flashing meant. The brighter the light, the “harder” the return. Bright red flashes between the surface and the bottom was the good stuff. Needless to say, I fed that “little green box” a lot of batteries.

Following the flasher, the next big advancement in electronics was the “paper graph.” I bet some of the young pros on tour today have never even seen a paper graph. These were the first units that could actually draw a picture of what was going on under the boat. When I say “draw,” I do mean actually draw, as a stylus etched onto paper what the transducer was reading.

In order to make these machines work, you had to feed them rolls of carbon paper. As you idled along, the stylus would scribble on the scrolling paper – like an old EKG machine. In order to get the machine to draw clearly you had to idle at just the right speed and dial in all the knobs that controlled sensitivity, paper scrolling speed, stylus pressure – it was like dialing in an old ham radio to pick up signals from Europe. Once you got it dialed though, it would draw detailed pictures of rock, brush, roadbeds, sunken bridges and of course fish, with the telltale fish “arcs” Lowrance made so famous.