By Otha Barham
The Meridian Star
How could getting a fish onto a hook at the end of a line change so much in just a few decades? In the portions of six decades that I have observed and participated in bass fishing, the changes have been remarkable.
For those who are new to the sport, a look back could be interesting. For the old timers, it is nostalgic. For both it may provide clues as to what lies ahead in the sport.
In the forties and early fifties, a lot of people caught bass on cane poles rigged with braided line, a cork float and a big hook onto which was impaled a sizeable minnow, usually a shiner. This method is sometimes still used today in Florida lakes by those fishing for big trophy bass. It is exciting to see the cork make big circles as the minnow runs from an interested largemouth, and a big bass on a pole with no drag to give line is a battle of strengths.
In those days some fishers cast plugs and spoons to bass with what still are called "bait casting" reels mounted on steel rods. The braided line was often tied to a snap swivel which facilitated easy lure changing. The lures were made by Heddon, Arbogast, South Bend and others. Some were the Lucky 13, Johnson Silver Minnow, Creek Chub, River Runt, Daredevle and Jitterbug.
In the summer of 1955, Mr. Jesse Goza took me fishing near Lexington, Miss. He had three strange reels on straight, six foot hollow glass rods. They had a funny protrusion called a "bail" which had to be "flipped" for each cast. The lines were clear and looked like plastic. When he told me the line spools didn't turn, but instead the line simply uncoiled from the reels with the cast, I almost laughed and wondered how long it would take this ridiculous reel to tangle the line into a thousand knots.
Mr. Goza handed me one already rigged with a Mepps spinner and stood behind me in knee deep water and coached my first cast with a spinning reel. It wasn't bad. By the third cast I was casting effortlessly on my own. I was hooked (forgive me).
I decided his new Mitchell 300's were alright. Mitchell is still making reels today. Spinning rigs have become more popular among tournament bass fishing competitors.
The early hollow "glass" rods gave some bass anglers pause. How could a hollow glass rod horse a big bass and not break. We soon learned it was fiberglass, which could be made flexible and was very strong. These rods were also much lighter than the steel and solid fiberglass rods we used previously. Then along came graphite rod material and its greater sensitivity and later more sophisticated rod materials.
The first depth finder I heard of was called a Fish Lo-K-Tor and my buddies and I joked about trailing fish with radar and wondered if a ray gun to ZAP them with would be next. Nowadays if you don't have a depth finder that also shows fish on the screen you are behind the times. If one is serious about the electronic aids, his or her depth finder provides a printout of the world below the water's surface delineating big fish from little fish.
My fishing buddy of thirty two years, who lives in East Texas, borrowed a worn out motor for us to use in the early sixties. It had Goodyear painted across the gas tank which was integral with the motor. I would guess it was made by Elgin. The fuel mixture had to be poured into the tank at the top of the motor and it always spilled over everything in sight. We mounted it on his used twelve foot aluminum boat, launched it in huge lakes and pulled on the motor's starter rope several dozen times a trip. Often we paddled. Today he is the retired president of a bank and fishes from a boat which, along with the motor, trailer and accessories, cost $38,000! His matching stretch cab pickup cost another $38,000.
When we fish together, we often recall the times in the little twelve footer with the Goodyear motor. The new boat has a depth finder at each seat, I suppose so one fisher doesn't have to spend energy asking the other how deep the water is. I have one problem when we use his boat. He positions himself at the only depth finder that does freeze frames and printouts. It is located near the stern. As his guest, I think he should offer me my choice of seats so I could freeze frames and print out maps of surrounding bass. Of course then I would have the disadvantage of having to cast over or around the huge 200 horse motor. I guess I won't complain.
In the winter when we look through our picture albums of bass trips over the years, we discover the biggest strings were taken in the early days from the little jon boat. My, how big some of those fish were! The changes have been for the better, I suppose. But it's all relative.