Latest News

Anglers hooked on Internet, high-tech electronics

Bernard Gram remembers a time when it was virtually impossible to get an education in fishing.

"When I first got into fishing, there was no information out there," said Gram, 80, of Kansas City. "There were a few magazine articles, but that was it.

"About the only way you could learn was out on the water, through trial and error."

But today? Well, let's just say the information highway is no longer a dead-end for fishermen.

Looking for a way to catch bass in the cold of March? Searching for a guide in Minnesota? Want to find a lure that will slay them at Table Rock Lake? No problem.

That information is available at the flip of a switch or the touch of a button.

For fishermen, this is the information age. And no one is more aware of that than Gram, the stereotypical student of the sport.

Take a look:

-For several years, he went back to school to further his education, enrolling in the Bassmaster University classes offered as a continuing education course. His professors? Some of the legends of professional fishing.

-He attends dozens of seminars, hoping to pick up a few tips from experts that will lead to fish on the line once spring arrives.

-He tapes television fishing shows for future reference and watches instructional videos.

-He reads magazines such as Bassmaster and books on the bass pros.

-In his bass boat, he gains information at the push of a button. He has the latest in electronics, including a color-screen fish finder that shows him what lies beneath his boat and a GPS unit that charts a path to brush piles he marked on previous trips.

About the only way Gram remains old-school is with computers. He doesn't have one.

But don't be surprised if that changes some day.

"If I ever did get a computer, it would be to get information on fishing," Gram said.

Spoken like a true student of the sport.

But Gram is by no means unique. In fact, he might be closer to common in this day and age.

"I can't believe how much more knowledgeable today's fisherman is compared to years ago," said Denny Brauer of Camdenton, Mo., one of the top all-time pro bass fishermen. "The volume of information out there is amazing.

"Fishermen have all kinds of seminars, videos, articles, TV shows and the Internet to provide knowledge. It's really shortened the learning curve.

"And it shows on the water. I don't think there's any question that today's fisherman is better than when I first got onto the pro circuit."

So when did fishing's information desk open? Many trace it back to the mid-1970s, when a couple of Minnesota brothers who were fishing guides - Al and Ron Lindner - came up with an idea.

"When we were guiding, there was very, very little `how-to' information out there," Al Lindner said. "We started doing seminars and we were amazed at the response.

"Fishermen were just starved for information. They'd come up to us after our talks and they'd ask, 'Is there anything in print on this?' But there really wasn't. Not even booklets.

"For Ron and I, that's when the light bulb went on. There was a void out there that needed to be filled.

"Fishermen wanted information. And we knew we could bring it to them."

Thus, the start of the In-Fisherman empire, looked upon by many as the leading force in changing the face of fishing forever.

The key to the Lindners' success was their ability to explain fishing in intimate detail.

They told fishermen that success on the lake was dependent on more than blind luck; that there were key areas that would hold fish and that finding those areas was crucial to fishing success.

They also had a way of explaining how they were fishing, using graphics to show fishermen what lures to use and how to use them.

They started modestly, establishing a small television show that was broadcast in a few Minnesota markets. That venture went so well that they decided to put out a newsletter in the mid-1970s and sell subscriptions to it.

"We called it 'The In-Fisherman,' which was a play on the song `The In Crowd,' which was popular at the time," Ron Lindner said. "We told fishermen that they would be in on the newest techniques and fishing methods if they bought our newsletter."

In six weeks, the Lindners had more subscriptions than they ever imagined, and they knew they were onto something. It wasn't long before that newsletter grew into a popular magazine and television show. Later, the company became multi-media, with a national radio show, videos, a lecture series and Web site.

By the time the Lindners sold their fishing empire in 1998, they had built a $16 million a year business.

Today, Al still has his own production company and stars in "The Angling Edge" television show, while Ron works with the production company and in product development for tackle companies.

But they haven't forgotten the days when they changed fishing.

"I thank God every day for letting me be at the spearhead of a fishing revolution," Ron said.

When Harold Ensley started his "Sportsman's Friend" television show in 1953, he had no idea that fishing would become so popular on the airwaves.

At the time, he was a pioneer, one of the few in the nation to host a TV show on the outdoors. Today, there are hundreds of shows, seen everywhere from local cable stations to national networks - proof that there is a growing desire among fisherman to gain information.

"In a way, I think we laid the groundwork for a lot of these other shows," Ensley, who died in 2005, once told The Kansas City Star. "We proved that it could be done; that you could put a fishing show on in prime time and compete with a lot of the big series.

"Our audience wanted to be entertained, but they also wanted information. And we gave that to them."

Today, that formula still applies. Fishermen still strive to mix entertainment with education to come up with an appealing television show.

Some of those shows, like Lindner's, are fast-paced, informative and well-scripted. Others look like nothing more than somebody's home movies.

But despite the wide gap in production values, the shows share one common goal: to attract viewers by showing them how to fish.

The Outdoor Channel is one of the leaders in that respect. The network relies totally on outdoors-related programming, as its name indicates.

It includes more than 30 fishing shows, and combined with other programming dealing with everything from hunting to gold prospecting, the network is now seen in almost 30 million households.

Launched in 1994, the network based in Temecula, Calif., includes programs on everything from saltwater to bass fishing. Fishermen submit shows, which are reviewed by the Outdoor Channel. If approved, the shows pay the channel for air time and recoup that money through advertising.

"We basically started with the equivalent of home movies from fishermen and hunters, but we've come a long way since those days," said Chris Chaffin, vice president of public relations and conservation for the Outdoor Channel. "We have some quality programming now _ shows that reflect the passion for our fishing heritage.

"And the interest remains strong. It's clear to us that there is a demand for this kind of programming."

When Tony Adams had trouble finding fishing guides and hunting outfitters for some of the places he planned to visit in the late 1990s, it inspired a goal.

If he couldn't find the information elsewhere, he decided, he would establish an all-encompassing source of information on his own.

That's how the Discover the Outdoors Web site - or as it is often called - got its start.

"I knew what a lot of other fishermen and hunters were going through," said Adams, the former quarterback for the Kansas City Chiefs who lives in Overland Park. "I would look for outfitters and guides, and the information just wasn't out there.

"I thought, 'This is ridiculous. There needs to be one central site where people can get a lot of this information.'

"That's how we came up with the idea for Discover the Outdoors."

On its Web site, Discover the Outdoors provides a wealth of information - including the micro details sportsmen seek. For example, the fishing section features the top 25 to 50 bodies of water in each state. Fishermen can call up information that tells them about guides, resorts, marinas and boat ramps. In addition, there are general articles on everything from how to catch fish at certain times of the year to how to tie fishing knots.

The company, which is based in Lenexa, also has a training system on DVD, with separate productions on bass fishing, turkey hunting and waterfowl hunting.

"The Internet is the wave of the future for fishermen and hunters," Adams said. "It allows us to transmit instant information to people."

Kevin Richards, assistant chief of fisheries for the Missouri Department of Conservation, agrees that the Internet has changed fishing.

"Because of the Internet, fishermen have access to so much more information than they once did," he said. "We (the Department of Conservation) even have maps on the Internet showing the location of brush piles on some Missouri lakes.

"And people can get the information so quickly. They can look something up and be out on the water within hours, using that information."

For a guy who once found dropoffs by simply diving into the water to get a look, Darrell Lowrance sure has come a long way.

When he goes fishing these days, he relies on a series of high-tech electronic devices made by the Lowrance Company he helped found.

Push a button and a fish-finder will etch a color picture of what the bottom looks like and how the fish are relating to that structure. Push another button and a GPS unit will use satellite technology to chart a course to a brush pile in the middle of the lake.

Instant information. That's what today's on-boat electronics provide. And Lowrance is still amazed at how far the technology has come.

"I still remember when my dad would send my brother and me down to see where the fish were," he said with a laugh. "Now look at where we are."

Actually, those diving expeditions played a big part in that technological revolution. The Lowrance boys quickly discovered that big concentrations of fish were using areas where fishermen never cast - humps, dropoffs and other structure far from the banks.

So the boys' father, Carl Lowrance, went to work to come up with a device to locate some of those areas. Remembering how sonar was used to detect enemy submarines in World War II, he came up with electronics that would help locate bottom and the fish suspended above.

The concept was simple. A cone-shaped signal was sent into the water by the unit. When those sound waves were broken before they reached bottom, it indicated that something was suspended in the water column. Thus, flashing bars on the round dial would indicate not only how deep the water was, but where the fish were, too.

The "Little Green Box," as it was known, became wildly popular and changed fishing forever. The Lowrance Co., based in Tulsa, Okla., sold more than 1 million of them from 1959 to 1984 before they went out of production.

Today, Lowrance continues to make a wide range of sonar and GPS units and is one of the leaders in the electronics field. Darrell Lowrance ran the company before it was recently sold to parent company Navico.

But Lowrance isn't the only company manufacturing devices that do everything but reel in the fish for you. Garmin International, based in Olathe, Kan., also is riding the crest of the information wave.

It is a leader in GPS technology and has units that now have maps of just about any lake you would consider putting a boat on and provide real-time weather to warn of advancing storms.

"It's amazing, the amount of information now available," said Ted Gartner, media relations manager for Garmin. "I'm continually amazed at the advances in technology.

"And the great thing is that this technology has gotten so easy to use. It's intuitive.

"People don't want to spend all day learning how to use their electronics when they can be fishing. And they don't have to.

"They can push a button and get instant information."