Bassmaster anglers on level playing field with standard high-tech equipment [Tulsa World, Okla.]
(Tulsa World (OK) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Feb. 24-- Tommy Biffle, a Wagoner angler competing in the 2013 Bassmaster Classic, won't be on Grand Lake without the basic equipment:
--A sturdy, lightweight rod
--Plenty of bait
--A Lowrance HDS sonar unit
"It's got a structure scan that now looks down and to the sides," he said. "You can look 120 feet from both sides of the boat, and whatever's there, it draws it."
To a layman whose experience with fishing begins and ends with occasional visits to Long John Silver's, the powerful gadgets that have been deployed at Bassmasters might seem extravagant or maybe even questionable.
But Trip Weldon, director of the tournament, said every last angler has high-tech equipment at their disposal.
"All these boats now have state-of-the-art equipment standard," he said. "In today's world, you'd be left in the dust without it."
Sonar units of all shapes and sizes show anglers what's going on in the water. GPS chips, either in the sonar units or other devices, help them find exact fishing spots.
Some have trolling motors wirelessly linked to sonar units for automatic navigation. Underwater microphones make fish-attracting sounds. Weather radios and personal doppler radar give instant alerts for incoming bad weather.
Even smartphones come out of pockets for lake-contour maps, note-taking, checks of the Bassmaster scoreboard and more -- but anglers surely won't be using them as phones.
"The only thing they can't do is make a call, unless there's an emergency," Weldon said.
In fact, there's no real prohibition on any advanced gadget or gizmo during the competition, said Ken Duke, senior editor of B.A.S.S. Publications. One of the only things that aren't allowed are castable umbrella rigs -- a multi-pronged setup that puts multiple hooks on one line -- and those have been around for decades.
Duke said the gadgets are no different from other high-tech accessories or techniques used by athletes in other sports.
"Whether it's superior training or nutrition, or something you can use in the water to put another fish in your boat, it's all about improving performance," he said.
Duke said anglers have been looking for high-tech advantages since the first Bassmaster tournament in 1971. Back then, the gadget of choice was a depth finder that used flashes of light to measure the distance to the lakebed.
"That's a far cry from all the GPS and side imaging we have nowadays," he said.
Advances seemingly came every year after, Duke said. Sonar arrived in the 1970s, with oxygen and ph meters following in the '80s.
Biffle said he'd never go back to the old ways of doing things.
"We were fishing with antiques 30 years ago," he said.
There's never been any real pushback against the technological advances, other than some grumbling from traditionalist spectators, Duke said.
The only real disadvantage to the new fishing gear is that it makes it harder than ever to keep special fishing spots a secret, Biffle said.
"One of the bad things about the GPS is that it's easy for someone to ride by, see you're doing well and mark your spot," he said.
These powerful tools make it seem as if they would cause fish to just jump into the boat, but Duke said that's not the case. The job may be a little easier, but it still takes skill to land whoppers.
"Just because these gadgets will help you locate a fish, it's a far cry from actually catching a fish," he said.
Advanced fishing equipment: basic gadgets
Every year the already-powerful electronic fishing equipment gets even more useful. Here are some of the basic gadgets anglers are using and their latest advances.
A touchscreen sonar unit can range in size from a cellphone to an iPad and can cost more than $3,000. MATT BARNARD / Tulsa World
Ranging in size from a cellphone to an iPad, the sonar unit is the heart of the modern fishing arsenal. The units ping sound out from the boat in order to detect what's out there -- from rocks and weed patches to schools of fish -- and they also have GPS units for easy positioning.
Bob Hoskins, the marine department lead at Bass Pro Shops in Broken Arrow, said the latest units are using a new type of sonar that goes out in a trapezoid shape rather than a cone. Not only does the new sonar deliver a clearer picture, but it can give information about what's around the side of the boats rather than what's below them. Hoskins said a few units, such as the Lowrance HDS12, are finally embracing touchscreen technology.
The most basic trolling motors simply allow for careful maneuverability and positioning, but some sold by Bass Pro are connected wirelessly to other devices. A trolling motor linked to a sonar unit can be commanded to keep the boat steady in a specific location without having to steer manually.
Automated GPS-enabled trolling motors can cost anglers more than $1,000. MATT BARNARD / Tulsa World
"Even if the wind's blowing, the motor will keep you locked to that exact spot," Hoskins said.
Some trolling motors can even drive themselves. Get the boat into the lake and use the sonar unit to take you a specific location and stay there, and you won't even have to direct the boat.
$1,000 and up
Sonar units can instantly tell you what's around, but anglers in Bassmasters want to know ahead of time what they're facing. That's why all of them are using contour maps of Grand Lake to identify every hump and divot around.
These maps can be loaded into sonar units in a variety of ways -- CDs, micro cards and even online downloads. Hoskins said sonar units that support Navionics can get subscriptions for up-to-date maps for one year, and users are able to submit their own information to keep building the service's database.
Contour maps also give wired trolling motors new power, such as the ability to follow the shoreline 50 feet away and gradually circle a lake.
Devices like the Hydrowave use microphones to play sounds meant to attract fish. More advanced models have multiple sounds that can be played. MATT BARNARD / Tulsa World
Fishermen have long tried to fool fish with increasingly sophisticated bait and lures designed to mimic the behavior of other aquatic wildlife. Now some companies are hoping to do the same thing with sound.
When the microphone is dropped into the lake, it starts making sounds other types of fish would make when a bunch of them start feeding on something.
Real fish, not wanting to be left out, will come running.
Hoskins said more advanced models have multiple sounds that can be played, depending on the lake and the type of fish you want to attract.
Robert Evatt 918-581-8447
(c)2013 Tulsa World (Tulsa, Okla.)
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Distributed by MCT Information Services
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