Every year on the Bassmaster Elite Series there seems to be a certain “X factor” that changes or even defines the season. It could be a particular bait or technique. This year, in my opinion, it’s going to be technology. I’m excited about the schedule in front of us – it’s hard not to be when I see Conroe, Toledo Bend and Sam Rayburn highlighted – but I’m even more impressed by the new tools that we have available. They’re going to push certain anglers over the top, and I want to be on the leading edge of that wave.
I’ve benefitted from being an early adopter of technology in the past, and I’ve tried to use it to my advantage throughout the course of my career. Out of my five national wins, in four of them electronics were the deciding factor. You only get a few months to use new tools before everybody else seems to have them, so it pays to get on the ball as early as possible.
When I won the first of my three Toyota Texas Bass Classic (TTBC) titles, I did so by fishing brushpiles. With the then-new side-imaging technology, I was able to use my practice time efficiently, locating over 200 brushpiles. I had more than I needed, and it paid off with the win. Prior to my TTBC victory at Conroe, I saw the Humminbird 360 technology at ICAST. I bugged the engineer relentlessly until he agreed to let me take it home and put it on my boat. As I set up on brushpiles that I knew from the past, I’d see even more that I didn’t know about off to the side. One of those spots produced a 7-pounder on the second day that helped me win the tournament.
Right before last year’s Mississippi River Elite Series tournament I put the new Minn Kota Ultrex on my boat and to be honest at the time I didn’t understand how much more efficient it would make me. It didn’t take long for me to realize the benefits of the new Spot Lock feature. Normally, if you catch a fish and believe there’s a school there, by the time you land him and cull you’ve drifted off of the strike zone. Whether you’ve lost two seconds or two minutes getting back to the spot, that’s valuable time you can’t get back, but with Spot Lock, you literally just press a button and you don’t lose anything. At Mille Lacs, I was fishing in a crowd in a windy area and everyone was catching fish. I hit the button, and I didn’t move for two hours. I could fish that whole time with both feet flat on the floor, too, which is much more comfortable.
Now we’re going to be able to tie the Ultrex into my Humminbird Gen 2 technology. These units have the best imagery I’ve ever seen – so good that you can often identify the species on the graph or see their tails, but by linking it to my trolling motor I’m able to do all sorts of things I never thought would be possible. I can hit a waypoint and then program my trolling motor to circle it at a precise distance. I can also head down a grass line with the wind at a high speed and then have my trolling motor “BackTrack” along that exact same line at a slower pace to pick off the fish I missed. Perhaps most impressively, I can build my own map of a grass bed, with all of its edges, holes, points and corners. Once I’ve created that map, I can tell my equipment to keep me a certain distance off the edge of the grass, allowing for optimal casts. Boat control is often the difference between a good finish and a great finish, and this is going to make “great” a lot more attainable.
The benefits don’t stop at the ability to mark grass edges. You can also map bottom hardness. Think about what that means on a lake like St. Clair, which is fairly flat without a lot of drops. I can mark all of the hard spots in one color and then overlay that with the map I’ve made of the grass beds and it narrows down my search substantially. I really feel like we have more great tools available to us than I ever dreamed could or would be possible.
It’s still possible for some anglers to be competitive at the professional level even if they don’t immediately embrace all of the new tools we have available. There are a handful of guys out there who have great skills and instincts, and who have lived their lives on the water, who don’t need to stay on top of this, especially if they make their living in shallow water. But those days are over for most of us. If you’re just a good or very good angler, these technological advances can make you an excellent angler with just a little bit of work. The Elite Series is a pretty level playing field, so if you can not only make more casts, but more good casts than everyone else, you’ve tilted the balance in your favor. These tools enable us to make every cast count. Mark my words; someone is going to win an Elite Series event, a Bassmaster Classic or an Angler of the Year title as a direct result of all of the new technology we have at our disposal.