BassTronics ProGuide ad circa 1983.

Today in BassTronics Pro-Guide, we’re going to look back at a piece of electronics gear that I feel would be illegal today on the tournament scene.  With all the talk about banning electronics these days, I found this ad to be a bit commical in today’s evironment.  While scanning through a 1983 Western Bass magazine the other day, I came across this ad for the BassTronics Pro-Guide.  Just enter the daily conditions into the unit and it’ll tell you what Roland Martin and Bill Dance would use if they were on your lake.

The Pro-Guide would consider weather conditions like wind, sun and rain along with moon phase, water clarity and even cover or structure. Enter the data in the unit and it’d not only give you the lure they’d use but the color, size and retrieve they’d use with it.

It’d be a pretty amazing tool if it worked but even if it did work, wouldn’t it take the fun out of fishing? I mean, my enjoyment out of fishing comes from figuring the puzzle out on my own – not having someone tell me the answers.

The other thing that gets me about this “tool” is how could it differentiate between a western reservoir and an eastern natural lake? What about the pressure of the lake? In fact, how did it know anything about the lake you were plying? Yeah, people can get caught in ruts and only fish “what every one else does” but what if the lake you were fishing was only 20 feet deep and this thing told you to concentrate on ledges in 35 feet based on the time of year and weather?  Makes you think, huh?

Well, obviously the anglers didn’t think too highly of it because it wasn’t around long enough to even get a slight coating of dust on it. I also wonder if the “answers” it gave tied to any of Roland and Bill’s sponsors? Naw…… they wouldn’t do that.

But that’s not the main question I have for this unit, if it were still available or was just introduced.  Wouldn’t the fact that it was Roland Martin and Bill Dance giving you advice cut into the “no information” rule?

This brings up another subject.  Today’s Apps.  Apps like BassForecast, FishAngler, or Fish Brain all do the same thing as BassTronics did back in 1983.  The apps of today are a lot sleaker, fitting on a cell phone, and more powerful.  They probably even have seasonal patterns for specific lakes around the country.  Are these apps legal in tournaments today?  Should they be banned?

This post was originally published in July 2012 in the first run of Bass Fishing Archives.  It generated a good mount of comments, but one of those comments was really informative.  The comment came from the engineer who developed the BassTronics Pro-Guide and he commented on its development in the Readers’ Comments section.  Here are the inventor’s, Bruce Stafford’s, comments and a little more light on the Pro-Guide.

From Bruce Stafford:  I just stumbled on this web site and thought I’d comment.  Designing the Pro-Guide was one of the coolest things I have ever done.  That it did not sell was basically a matter of overpricing.  The fact that it had concept deficiencies as noted above was not a factor in my mind.  I remember sitting in on the marketing meeting with those in charge and hearing the comment about pricing – “Whatever the market will bear.”  I remember gritting my teeth when I heard the final price.  No worry, I got paid pretty good for that particular consulting job.

In 1983 or so (Damn, it’s been 30 years ago) I was approached by some friends who owned a small-job engineering development firm.  They asked me to implement the Pro-Guide paper concept in then-available microelectronic hardware.  They had been approached by a private party who apparently knew the pros who endorsed the final device.  Anyway, a currently available Intel processor (Z80 to be exact), some EEPROM, and a few other discrete components were all I needed to implement the basic scheme which went like this.

The core of the process was a matrix of variables such as wind, water temp (taken from a probe in the water if connected), structure, etc.  The variables were put into a hash table and user input, via silk screened push buttons was used to arrive at a set of numbers which indexed into the table.  The table also contained the recommended lure, retrieve speed, etc.  Pretty slick.  The final answer appeared on an alpha display and additional info flashed on blinking LEDs.  All of this was done in Intel assembler and was damned tricky to get into the available memory space.  As I recall I had just a few bytes of memory left to spare.  Code was very compact and anytime I had to perform a computation or operation more than twice it became a candidate for a subroutine.

I remember not long after the Pro-Guide hit the market someone had already reverse engineered the device and code.  I foresaw this and built in a message that came up on the screen that only I knew about.  It involved hitting a special sequence of keys.  I even designed and built a hand-held version where all info was input with a single button and all output appeared on the alpha screen.  I still have that and pull it out occasionally for fun.  All in all, it was a great project.  Too bad the powers that be thought they would make a killing off it.  All they did was kill it before its time.

Here are a few of the original comments posted by our readers back then.

Past Reader Comments:

RichZ:  All of these things drive me nuts. Color C Lector, PH Monitor, Oxyprobe, etc. I don’t even pay much attention to the surface temp except when it’s between 65 and 40 in either direction.

Terry to RichZ:  So true Rich. Unfortunately, people are too used to the easy button. As long as there are folks like that these things will continue to he made and marketed.

Harold Sharp:  BassTronics reminds me of another great invention someone brought to B.A.S.S. several years ago, it was a temp gauge that would pinpoint bass so you would know where to fish. I remember going to the lake with someone to demonstrate how great it was, he suggested that I find a good point to check to see if there were Bass on it. So I took him to one that was always pretty good, we pulled up on the point and he started undoing the equipment and hooking up everything, then he dropped something in the water and took reading from it as he lowered it to the bottom. After about 15 minutes checking everything he said, “there’s no bass here”.  I said, “I could have told you that with 3 cast of a white spinnerbait in about 45 seconds”. We packed up his gear and left.

Brian:  Ah, ‘Basstronics’, which also appeared in BASSMaster magazines from the 80’s and promoted as the greatest thing since sliced bread in bass fishing success at the time. Keep in mind that artificial intelligence (AI) was a hot and emerging topic back then. It was basically a simple input database about the size of a paper graph that mounted in your boat and required ‘conditional’ inputs on your part, and would then spit out the color, type, size and retrieve of lure Bill and Roland would use in that fishing situation. Like all the knowledge of two of bass fishing’s greatest minds in a box at your disposal. And of course it didn’t catch on. And that’s because you can’t cram fishing variables into a cut and dried computer program and get catch results above anything that you couldn’t get with some reading and study or record keeping on your own.

It comes down to a nearly unlimited number of variables and a subsequent nearly unlimited number of resulting outcomes. In the engineering and modeling world it is known as ‘degrees of freedom’. Terry could probably expound greatly on the topic. Basically put, the more degrees of freedom your system has and the better it can explain the past, the worse it will be for predicting the future, and the future is what we are always striving for in bass fishing. The fish you have yet to catch is always in the future.

And this was the beauty with Rick Clunn’s ‘Seasonal Patterns’ approach, or In-Fisherman’s ‘F+L+P=S’ formula. They defined a simple yet critical few parameters (low degrees of freedom) to be combined/applied with plenty of room for experience and intuition, stuff that no computer program or ‘app’ has been made to duplicate yet in the bass fishing world.

Chad Keogh:  Nowadays they would just create an app…