Today in Bass Fishing Electronics 1979 we’re going to take a step back in time and look at the state-of-the-art bass fishing electronics of the day. What might seem archaic in technology is actually the same tech used today. A soundwave is projected from a sending unit and a receiver collects the echoes as they return. The major difference between today’s units and those of yesteryear is in the computing power and processing speed that interprets the return signal.
The subject of electronics and their ability to decimate fisheries has been a long-time controversy. In the 1960s when flasher units started to gain popularity, people said the fish populations in our lakes and rivers would be subject to decline. Then in 1975, the Minnesota state government went on a campaign to eliminate the use of paper graph recorders because they said it would enable anglers to catch every fish in their 10,000 lakes. In the end, none of this happened. In fact, through the 1970s and 80s bass populations increased, mostly due to the embrace of catch and release as well as the passing of the Clean Water Act.
So, who were the big electronics companies of the day? Obviously Lowrance and Humminbird were two of the biggest players in the market. But there were some others who dipped their toes in the market, either manufacturing their own units or having them OEMd by other companies.
Without further ado, let’s see what the year 1979 offered in electronics.
One of the biggest advertisers of the day was EPSCO Marine. The company was based out of Westwood, Massachusetts and produced several models of flashers and paper graphs. The three ads I found were all placed in Bassmaster Magazine with at least one ad in all the issues of that year.
Having seen these ads back in the day, I don’t recall ever seeing one of these units in the flesh. To find out a little more about the company, I did an internet search and not much came up. What I think I figured out is that EPSCO was a big company that built electronics units for the U.S. government, which I assume means the military. They also built two-way radios.
In the ads EPSCO was touting their ProSearch flasher and graphs. Their flasher was new to the market in 1979. Out of the two ads featuring this model, EPSCO mentions the 45-degree cone their transducer provided, that it was accurate to within +/- 1%, and had relied on an LED light for brightness. No mention of its depth range, which is important to freshwater anglers especially.
They also had the ProSearch FR, which was a flasher/paper graph combination. This type of unit was produced by several companies in this era and never really gained much attention, mostly due to the printout on the paper, which was skewed due to the stylus hitting the paper in an arc. If an angler was going to purchase a paper graph, they were much more apt to purchase a straight-line graph that provided a much easy image to decipher.
Speaking of straight-line graphs, this was the third option EPSCO was pushing. This graph featured a 0- to 90-foot depth range, much too broad for a bass angler to use. At this time you had companies like Humminbird and Lowrance introducing units with 0- to 30-foot ranges because that’s what bass anglers wanted.
From what I can tell, EPSCO is still in business, but it appears that their electronics division is no longer in business.
One of the big players in the tackle industry, Garcia Corporation, started playing in the electronics industry in 1974 and by 1979 their offerings hadn’t changed. I’m nearly certain Garcia didn’t manufacture their own units but figuring out who made them hasn’t been an easy task.
In the 1979 Garcia Fishing Catalog, which this 2-page spread came from, they feature two different flashers, a flasher/graph and an oxygen/temperature probe. The two flashers differed in their normal operating depth range, either 0 to 60 feet or 0 to 100 feet.
The flasher/graph came in three different models, each differing in the depth zones they covered. The 9400AF had depth options from 0-30 feet or 0-60 feet, the ranges that most bass anglers would be most apt to use. The 9500AF and 9550AF both operated from 0-60 and 0-120 feet.
Techsonic Industries – Humminbird
Techsonic Industries, better known today as Humminbird, placed five ads in the bass magazines of the day. Tom Mann’s baby had become one of the top two freshwater electronics companies in just seven years and their ad campaigns proved they were heavy hitters in the industry.
Their research and development also showed they were not going to let Lowrance rest on their laurels.
For 1979, Humminbird released three new products, the In-Dash flasher, the Super Thirty, and their waterproof straight-line graph. These units would share the spotlight with their tournament-proven Super Sixty.
Both the In-Dash unit and the paper graph were placed on the 1979 BASS Masters Classic boats. The nice thing about the In-Dash unit was it took a unit off the console and placed it within the dash, out of the way of an errant cast. Remember this was still the day of the 17-foot boat and there wasn’t much room between the console and the front deck.
The coolest ad in the bunch was the ad with Jack Wingate and Jerry Simms. Wingate owned the Lunker Lodge on famed Lake Seminole and was one of the early anglers Ray Scott reached out to when he held the first event on Beaver Lake in Arkansas. Simms, on the other hand, guided on the lake anywhere from 250 to 300 days a year. Just having these two anglers in the ad must have sold a few Super Sixties in the day.
Lowrance Electronics Inc.
In 1979 Lowrance Electronics Inc. ran four ads in the magazines that we could find. Lowrance, the biggest electronics producer at the time, had come out with a new straight-line recorder for 1979, the 1510A. This unit was a revolution in paper graphs and notably the most powerful unit on the market.
Not only was it powerful, the Lowrance unit featured what they called “grayline.” This feature separated the bottom by burning a lighter shade of gray just below the surface of the bottom. Anything above the bottom showed up as a dark mark, therefore the angler was able to see where the bottom started and where weeds, rocks and even fish were with relation to the bottom. The graph also featured the highest power of any graph recorder at 800 Watts peak-to-peak and had a continuous paper speed control.
The only problem with this graph was the paper-pick-up mechanism. Once the paper pick-up roll got about half way filled with used paper, the roll would slip on the pick-up mechanism and the paper would stop. The only way to fix the problem was to remove the pick-up roll and remove the used paper.
In 1980 Lowrance released the 1510B that cured this problem by placing a slot in the paper roll and on the pick-up mechanism. They also sent replacement parts to all owners of the 1510A so they could retrofit their units. Because of this problem, we waited for the 1510B to come out before we bought our first paper graph.
The next ad I found was one I vividly remember from the day. The ad stated:
Of 25 Pros who fished
the 1978 B.A.S.S.
22 buy and use
Lowrance depth sounders
on their personal boats.
Two are paid not to.
Lowrance went on in the ad to name the two of the anglers who got paid not to, that being Tom Mann, owner of Humminbird, and Bill Dance, sponsored by Humminbird. The third they mention, Roland Martin, is sponsored by Lowrance.
The ad struck home with me as a 15-year-old kid, naive of how the industry worked. This ad, coupled with the fact that most anglers I knew fished Lowrance or Vexilar, steered me to use Lowrance for over 40 years.
What I learned over the coming years about the industry, though, was don’t believe everything you read. You can’t tell me that Larry Nixon, Bobby Murray, an Rick Clunn were buying their electronics. Not that they didn’t deserve to receive their electronics for free, because they sure as hell did. Just don’t lie about it.
Ray Jeffferson Bumblebee
RayJeff was the red-headed stepchild of the electronics industry even back in the 1970s. I don’t recall ever seeing one of their units on any of the boats in my club or any other club in the area, but they must have sold a ton of units elsewhere based on the fact that their ad campaign was impressive.
In 1979, Ray Jefferson was touting their Bumblebee 70, a unit designed for a depth of 70 feet. This never made sense to me, even as a kid, why pick 70 feet when every other manufacturer was designing units for shallower water? I guess RayJeff zigged when they should have zagged.
One cool thing about the ads that they placed in 1979 was each of them featured the unit inundated by water. They remarked that they had a waterproof box within a waterproof box and that if the unit went overboard, it would float.
One thing that strikes me is the cost, $219.95 list price, which was right up there with the high-end Lowrance unit. I’m not one to knock anything unless I have experience with it, but if RayJeff was asking that much for this basic unit, one would think it must have been pretty solid.
When people hear the name Shakespeare they either think of sonnets or bass fishing tackle. The first boat that we owned had a Shakespeare trolling motor on it but I had no clue that they made depthfinders.
Based on this ad, they had at least two options for the angler, a portable unit and a straight-line paper graph unit. Reading the ad impressed me with what their paper graph was said to be capable of. Although the front of the unit seems too simple with only one knob, their description of what it could do impresses me.
They mention something about a high-speed, short transmit pulse that reminds me of today’s “Chirp” technology. This was said to improve shallow water readings and increase the ability to read images that are only inches apart.
The portable unit didn’t have wave any red flags and seemed just like the other portable units offered by every other electronics company.
My question for Shakespeare is did they manufacture their own units or did the job them out? By all means, the company at this time had the power to make them on their own. But would they invest that much to do so. I have no clue.
A major manufacturer when it came to offshore electronics, Si-Tex was a leader in the industry. There wasn’t a boat in the southern California sportfishing fleet that didn’t have at least one Si-Tex unit in their wheelhouse. In fact, in the early 1980s, Si-Tex came out with one of the first side-imaging units for offshore fishing, and the boats that we chartered out of the shop I worked in had them.
By 1979 Si-Tex realized that there was a big market for electronics in freshwater. Because of that, they started making units for use in freshwater, specifically for bass anglers.
I can’t speak for their quality in the freshwater as I was never in a boat that had one of these units but for saltwater, it was probably the most relied on depthfinder in the fleet.
What I do remember about them was their cost. Si-Tex was pretty proud of their gear and to get into one cast about 25% more than the comparable Lowrance or Humminbird unit at the time. This is the reason I blame on them never becoming too instrumental in the freshwater game.
Of the big three that existed at the time, Vexilar was without a doubt number three or in some areas, number two. Where I grew up in southern California, your boat either had all Lowrance, meaning Lowrance flashers and a paper graph, or you had Humminbird flashers and a Vexilar paper graph. There were some that ran other combinations of the three.
Vexilar was huge back in the day because they made a great unit. Bar none. Those that had the flashers swore by them as did the people that owned the paper graphs. In fact, one of the anglers I looked up to the most, Dick Trask, wouldn’t use any other paper graph and his results nearly convinced me to talk my dad into buying one for our first graph.
The curious thing that I always wondered about was the lack of Vexilar’s advertising. Out of all the magazines I went through in 1979, this was the only ad I could find. They may not have had the market share that Lowrance or ‘Bird had at the time, but I wonder if that was because they were too conservative in their ad campaigns.
Today, Vexilar is a powerhouse in the ice fishing world, but they’ve almost walked away from the boating industry. Maybe they feel ice fishing is their domain and they’re perfectly content with sticking to what they know best.
That pretty much sums up out look at Electronics for 1979. It’s a stark contrast from what we have at our disposal today, but trust me, this technology worked, and its principles still drive the technology today.