Awhile back I was talking with Boyd Pfeiffer about the advent of spinning tackle. I had assumed, incorrectly as it turned out, that it was a relatively modern innovation, coming around only as of perhaps the 1930’s or 1940’s.  Boyd mentioned that spinning tackle was available in the very late 19th century, but wasn’t used much because it was able to cast very light and rather productive offerings and was therefore considered “unsporting” by sportsmen of that era. Imagine that!
Growing up in the 1960’s, all of us who were involved in any aspect of the field sports were taught that anything which provided the participant an “unfair advantage” was unsporting and as a matter of conscience, should be avoided. You didn’t shoot a duck on the water and you didn’t attempt to snag fish. It just wasn’t done by anyone who considered themselves a sportsman. In fact, that’s what differentiated a sport from a game – in one the rules were self evident and self imposed, in the other they were written down and enforced by a referee.
Recent 21st century fishing innovations require the modern fisherman to search his conscience and decide what unwritten rules he will impose upon himself. Visiting a local tackle shop I was asked by the proprietor what I thought about the Alabama Rig, a transplanted saltwater meat-fishing technique that is currently all the rage in the bass fishing world. I remarked that I figured that a man fished for one of three reasons – food, money or sport. As far as fishing for food goes, I do not believe it is any longer possible to equip oneself, incur the fees and other associated costs of the sport, and catch fish for less money than it costs to simply buy a bag of grocery store filets. As far as money, this is the realm of the tournament fisherman and for me, is nothing more than competitive gambling. I do not ignore the impact that tournaments have had on the sportfishing industry and the business it has generated for those who depend on that huge economy. But it is not for me. Which leaves fishing for sport – which is what I do. In that aspect I was left with only one answer for the man, “I consider it unsporting and will not use it.”
2012 has seen the advent of new fishing sonar units so adept at interpreting electronic signals and displaying them on a screen, that one might as well employ an underwater camera. The days of intelligently interpreting flasher signals and determining bottom contours that were likely to hold fish are long over. Now fishermen will simply hunt individual fish, sorting the bass from the catfish from the bream, from the small fish to the big fish, and make his casts based on what his television screen is showing him. While I see no skill in that, I am forced to acknowledge that there were once those who used plumbobs and spoonplugs to record bottom contours and probably lamented the advent of sonar flashers, which we now think of as primitive, as unsporting.
I suppose the fish still gets to decide whether to bite or not, but perhaps only for the time being. Who knows what lurks just around the corner. For fishermen of my generation or older, there is a sudden clash between these newest technologies and the sporting ideals taught to us as children. What constitutes an “unfair advantage” is something each individual must decide for themselves.
Tom Kirkman