(The writer's opinions and observations expressed here are his own, and do not necessarily reflect or represent the views, policies or positions of FLW.)
Fishing can still be as simple as a cane pole, a worm and a hook. But if you’re a hard-core basser like me, the way we play the game has forever been changed. Here’s my list of the top 10 changes in bass fishing since Y2K.
1. GPS & Mapping: Adding GPS and topo maps on fish finders made finding spots and returning to them a breeze. Even finding your way around a new lake used to be a major ordeal. I distinctly remember trying to hold onto a paper map on a windy day just trying to figure out where on the lake I was. Now a quick scan of the GPS map shows all the spots locals took a lifetime to find in the past. Add in detailed satellite imagery and you can scout a lake without ever driving to it. And the Garmin GPS in my truck saves hours of driving around lost trying to find the boat ramp.
2. Finesse Fishing: Once the domain of “sissy fishermen” on the West Coast, finesse techniques such as drop-shots, shaky heads and wacky rigs are as mainstream as Bubba’s traditional square-bill and Texas rigs. With sonar and mapping being so good these days, we all find the same fish. Many days, you can either finesse a good limit or get skunked. Easy choice.
3. Side/Down Sonar: Side sonar shows a swath of a couple hundred feet of bottom or more at a time, allowing anglers to search quickly for bass or isolated fish-holding cover. Furthermore, whereas traditional sonar took years to fully understand, side and down sonar made images simple for novices to interpret.
4. Forward Sonar: With Garmin’s new Panoptix live forward-looking sonar, anglers can “video game” fish in front of the boat in real time, just as they currently do with a drop-shot or jigging spoon under the boat. Seeing is believing with this technology, which displays a full screen that is current info, similar to radar. Scott Martin won the Walmart FLW Tour AOY this year and attributed a third of his catches to Panoptix, which allowed him to catch random fish to the side of his boat that he’d never even have made a cast to if he hadn’t seen them on his sonar. If you’re not familiar with this yet, you will be soon. Simply turn your trolling motor side-to-side to scan for fish, locate one, cast to it, watch your lure live on the screen for the entire cast and watch the fish react to it. When the fish and the bait collide, it’s time to set the hook.
5. Fluorocarbon: When Randy Dearman won a 1993 national tourney with braided line, we all thought that would be the only line we needed. Turns out braid was more specialized than we thought, but fluorocarbon lived up to the hype as the do-all line that is ideal for 90 percent of bass fishing. It’s nearly invisible to fish and ultra-sensitive for anglers. I use P-Line fluorocarbon for virtually everything except topwater and super-heavy grass jobs such as frogging and punching.
6. Power-Poles: You never knew you needed Power-Poles until you get a set of them, and then you can never live without them thereafter. Shallow-water fishing is just so much easier and efficient since these came along. There are only two negatives to poles as I see it. First, I wish I’d have thought of them, as I’d now be rich. And if they stick up higher than your garage door, remember to drop them before backing in your boat. Trust me on that.
7. The Digital Age: I see the Internet as a mixed blessing to fishing. Gone are the days of getting clued into a secret bait and enjoying big catches with it before the masses catch on. Nowadays, everyone finds out about hot lakes, baits and techniques in a hurry. Information sharing is great for new anglers though, with so many instructional articles and videos available on every topic. Social media and fishing forums bring a lot of anglers together to share ideas, but often degrade into schoolyard name calling as much as helping one another. Camera phones are my favorite development. It’s now easy to document big fish so your buddy will actually believe you, and it’s great fun to text him pics of your lunkers while he’s stuck in the office working!
8. Bass Boats: Like most anglers, I started fishing in johnboats and row boats, moving up to a broken down 17-foot bass boat that was once considered a big boat. Nowadays, I’m ultra-spoiled, riding in a big ol’ 21-foot Ranger that is more like a luxury vehicle than a work truck. Boats continue to get bigger and wider, more stable, faster, smoother riding and better organized. All those features are essential for a pro. And for the weekender, if the weather turns nasty and he wants to go on his only day off for the week, today’s boat will get him to the fish and return him safely and comfortably.
9. Swimbaits: Like a lot of fishing trends, these first got big out West, but it took us Easterners a while to adapt them for average-sized fish in dirtier water. From the hollow-belly craze, to swimbaits dominating ledge tourneys on heavy jigheads, to cold-weather tourneys on Alabama Rigs, anglers have figured ways to make swimbaits work in all situations. To paraphrase, if it looks like a fish and swims like a fish, it is a fish. Or least that seems to be what the bass think.
10. Synthetic Fabrics: With apologies to that rockin’ ’70s polyester leisure suit still hanging in many of your closets, the development of new space-age materials is the biggest game changer in angler apparel since GORE-TEX. New breathable, moisture-wicking clothes keep anglers cool and comfortable in the summer sun, while thin layers keep fishermen warm without being too bulky to cast. Being more comfortable for a longer time makes for more enjoyable trips. Too bad they didn’t make your fishing buddy’s 9 millionth retelling of the big one that got away more interesting …