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Technology and Fishing

Updated: Apr 13, 2021

As I sit around over the Holiday break with trout season not yet open and not a lot of safe ice around me - nor maybe the desire to be on what safe ice there is - the fishing shows I am watching have me thinking about the role of technology in fishing. The technology available today is pretty amazing. Is it too amazing? Or is this simply the lament that follows every new angling technology?

An example of the Garmin Panoptics system on the ice.

The flashers are better able to differentiate fish from cover and show you exactly where your jig is relative to fish and cover. GPS and lake map chips can help put you "on the X" with less knowledge than ever before. And get you back to that same exact spot again and again. For better or worse, we can share information and fishing spots easier than ever before, a fact I have lamented upon in the past (link). Even simple things like augers have so vastly improved our ability to catch fish because we are able to drill lots of holes and stay mobile. New battery technology gives us lighter augers that are able to drill more holes and we can power sonar units for an entire day of fishing.

Catfishing on the Rock River
Simple fishing - a couple of catfish rods out of the back of a 25 HP jonboat.

Technology evolves. Always has, always will. Much like a recent rant about "craft beer" jumping the shark (reference), if you want to keep selling your goods, for the most part, you just can't keep selling the same old thing. So we have IPA and IIIIPAs, and "RYPE" fruit sours that drink like milkshakes. And scanning sonar with amazing resolution that makes finding the fish much easier than ever before. You are compelled to develop new technology when your competitors come out with something that changes the market. And you have to give the people what they want. It is the way the world works. I get it. I am not sure I like it.

I know you still have to get them to eat and fish are not always very interested in eating but it does really put the odds in our favor as finding the fishes is often the hardest part. Does fishing become more of the haves and have-nots where success is dictated by the technology you have, and your ability to use it? Do we lose anglers that aren't successful because they don't have access to this technology? Particularly when it is so easy to see how successful others are with social media and plentiful TV shows and YouTube stuff? Or am I simply "thinking" too hard about this?

Above, the rod that Steve Sobieniak at Root River Rod Company (Lanesboro, MN) built for Coulee Region Trout Unlimited (Facebook and Instagram).

Maybe it is part of what draws me to fly fishing on moving waters is the simplicity of it. Of course there are "technological advances" for the fly angler but they are in materials and tapers for (slightly) better rods...which you still have to be able to cast. Or in tying materials that do things you couldn't do before - articulations, diving lips, water shedding synthetic fibers, new heads to make more realistic or "jiggy" heads, or any number of other advancements. Leader and tippet materials have certainly improved but honestly, since the movement to nylon from horse hair, have the improvements been "game changers"? Another game changer were the plastic lines that replaced silk lines. If nothing else, these technologies reduced the amount of time the fly angler had to allot to drying and treating fly lines, making leaders, etc. We have better fly lines, no question, but most of the larger advances assist with allowing anglers to fish sub-surface flies more effectively which is not something I run into the need for much on Timber Coulee. Have "Gamechangers" really changed the game?

Ben fishing a bamboo rod on a spring creek.
Technology is really quite optional in the Coulees.

Few of these technological advancements really does a hell of a lot to alter your success. In fact many choose to fish bamboo, fiberglass, or old Graphite II rods. While I am sure that the new Sage LL is a great rod and maybe even outperforms that the old Sage LL - whatever that means - the "old" Sage LL is still one of the best spring creek rods ever produced. We rarely talk about fly anglers "handicapping" themselves by fishing dated technology. However, I would certainly feel quite handicapped if I went to Lake Mendota without a GPS unit with a lake map and at least a fairly decent sonar unit. Of course, with my cell phone, the GPS part is pretty much taken care of. Maybe it is that in streams, the angler sees the habitat features more clearly? There is little need for technology to find "the spot".

Chubby Chernobyl
A chubby Chernobyl - a synthetic monstracity.

It is not like a have an aversion to technology - he writes on his laptop that is connected to the wifi network which connects it to the greatest collection of information the world has ever known. I do like that I can keep my fishing pretty free from technology. I love to be able to throw a fly box in a shirt pocket and go fishing. There is technology that makes out lives better - like wifi and PVC fly lines. There is technology we can live with, or without - like the newest fly pattern or fly rod.

A bit of a confession. I am a total sucker for new fly tying materials. My collection of materials are littered with new synthetics, rattles, diving lips, articulation materials, hooks of all shapes and sizes, and other things that see little time in the vise and even less on the water. I can tie gamechangers. I can tie them eight plus inches long or less than two inches long. I can put a lip, a rattle, a host of synthetics, and/or a "Fish Skull" on them. I can tie them with sparkle chenille or synthetic fibers from three or four different manufacturers. I can tie them with soft hackle feathers produced for the purpose of tying collars on streamers. Then I go out and fish the same dozen flies 95% of the time.

A fly tying order
I am still a sucker for new tying materials.

I enjoy the fact that I can eschew a lot of technology and have fly angling be one of the places where "devices" play a relatively minor role. My eyes are my fish finder and I really have no need for a GPS. My favorite technologies - my plastic fly line, graphite rod, and monofilament leader and tippet - are hardly new.

Do we see more people gravitate to fly fishing as technology becomes an ever increasing part of our lives? Does fly fishing become more technology based? Can it?

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