Best fishing innovations

The battle of man vs. fish has been going on for thousands of years, with humans using everything from wooden spears to hooks fashioned from shells, stone or bone. But which fishing products developed in the past five decades are worthy of Top 5 status?

Unless you’re eligible for senior-citizen discounts, you probably won’t remember when several of the most important fishing inventions of all-time hit the market. Here’s a small sampling: 1934 - Minn Kota electric trolling motor; 1936 - Original Floater Minnow by Rapala; 1949 - Zebco spincast reel; 1949 - Creme plastic worm; 1949 - Mitchell 300 spinning reel; 1954 - Abu Garcia Ambassadeur 5000 baitcasting reel; 1957 - “Little Green Box” Lowrance Fish Lo-K-Tor; 1958 - Dupont Stren monofilament fishing line.

Each one of these products changed the fishing industry forever, and thankfully, many companies continue to push the envelope to bring anglers like you and me topnotch gear to help fill our live wells (and Facebook timelines) with more and bigger fish.

Drumroll, please . . . here are my picks for the Top 5 fishing innovations of the past 50 years.

5. Accurate GPS – 2000

The U.S. Air Force launched the first GPS (Global Positioning System) satellite into space in 1974, but for reasons too long to explain in this article, GPS didn’t become a valuable tool for the common citizen – anglers included – until the Defense Department ended the intentional degradation of GPS in 2000. In simplest terms, GPS suddenly became incredibly accurate, and everyone from fishermen to cab drivers could now navigate like never before.

4. Berkley PowerBait – 1988

I buy Berkley PowerBait Power Worms in bulk packs of 100 for catching largemouth and smallmouth bass, which should tell you something about their effectiveness. A young chemical engineer for Berkley named John Prochnow invented PowerBait, and the marketing slogan is true: Fish bite and won’t let go! Of course, the PowerBait fish-stimulant/attractant recipe is top secret; one thing that isn’t secret, however, is after 25 years the soft-plastic lures are as deadly as ever on a wide variety of gamefish.

Elliott Maas (left), and his buddy, Sam, using the author's 28-year-old Fenwick HMG spinning rod, which is older than both boys combined. Lure of choice? A weedless J-mac jighead matched with a 7.5-inch pumpkin-colored Berkley Power Worm.

3. Fenwick HMG graphite rod – 1973

My favorite spinning rod for bass and walleyes is one I bought in 1987, a one-piece, 6-foot Fenwick HMG (High Modulus Graphite). Fenwick was the first rod company to build an all-graphite fishing rod, and they got it right. Fenwick not only revolutionized the way rod blanks were made, but they revolutionized the way anglers to could present lures and detect subtle strikes.

2. Guide-Rite bow-mount trolling motor – circa 1960

As I mentioned earlier, in 1934 Minn Kota built the first electric trolling motor, but these early models were designed for the transom, and anyone who prefers to cast from the front deck of a bass boat or multi-species rig can attest to how much better life is in the bow. G.H. Harris began experimenting with mounting trolling motors to the bow in 1961, and he was the first to design a foot-controlled version (10-pounds of thrust!). In the late 1960s, Guide-Rite was renamed Motorguide. Through the 1970s and ’80s, far more advancements in trolling motors hit the market from both Motorguide and Minn Kota, and today these companies continue pushing the envelope with angler-friendly features. For proof, check out this one-minute Minn Kota Ulterra video that has had more than 320,000 YouTube views in only seven months! 

1. Bassmaster Magazine – 1968; Fishing Facts magazine – 1970; In-Fisherman magazine – 1975

I know what you’re thinking: These magazines aren’t inventions or innovations. Read on. Until Ray Scott, founder of B.A.S.S., Bill Binkelman, founder of Fishing Facts magazine, and brothers Ron and Al Lindner, founders of In-Fisherman magazine, hit the publishing scene, anglers across North America did their best to learn by trial and error, and by what they could pick up from knowledgeable fishing guides and bait shop employees. Bassmaster was home to cutting-edge tournament-tested techniques for bass; Fishing Facts (called the Fishing News in its previous tabloid form) brought legendary angler Buck Perry’s theories on fish behavior and movement (namely bass) to the masses; and In-Fisherman became the bible of serious anglers who wanted the latest tips and techniques for catching everything that swims in freshwater. True innovation comes from great minds, and these three magazines, with their talented writers and editors, led the way for teaching weekend warriors and diehard anglers how to catch more fish. Much of the fishing information you see today in print, online and on TV has its foundation in one of these three groundbreaking publications.


Author’s P.S.: For no other reason than pure entertainment, check out this 1956 instructional fishing video of World Casting Champion Johnny Dieckman using an Abu Garcia Ambassadeur 5000 baitcasting reel with a Conolon fiberglass rod and a Hi-Fi spinner. Classic!