When I started bass fishing in the mid-‘70s, most boats had two depth finders – one on the console and one on the bow. These units were predominantly flashers made by Humminbird, Lowrance or Vexilar. About that same time paper graphs also started to take hold in the industry, so by the late ‘70s you’d see boats with a paper graph and flasher on the console and then a flasher on the bow.
Nowadays serious anglers are placing two widescreen GPS/imaging units on their consoles and two, sometimes three, on the bow. Most everyone has at least the ability to use side imaging with the more sophisticated going to 360 side imaging as well as forward-facing real-time imaging. How times change.
In 1962, though, depthfinders were still a luxury item most anglers didn’t think they needed. The units back then, mostly manufactured by LEMCO (Lowrance), were all portable units and were powered by lantern batteries.
Lowrance introduced the Red Box flasher to the industry in the mid-‘50s and by 1962, the concept hadn’t really caught on. Only the serious angler, guide or writer had the units, while most others scoffed at the $139 retail price. Of course back then there wasn’t much competitive fishing so little was on the line other than pride.
In order for more people to purchase and use the new-fangled gadget, someone had to convince John Q. Fisherman it was worth it. Magazines like Sports Afield, Field and Stream and books like Don Fuelsch’s Southern Anglers Guide all ran articles that showed the advantages of using a depthfinder. But at this time few anglers took them up on their suggestions
One of those early proponents of the depthfinder was Buck Perry, the father of structure fishing. He went all over the U.S. promoting his structure fishing concept. At first, it was only with topographical maps, but when he got his first depthfinder, he quickly started espousing the advantages of using both topo maps and the depthfinder.
As a side note, it’s rumored that Perry actually made his first depthfinder in the early 1950s, a needle unit, that only showed depth. This isn’t too farfetched as Perry was a physicist and had the knowledge how to make such a unit.
Recently while reading through a set of Southern Anglers Guides, I noticed that each issue, except for the 1961 issue, had a great piece on the use of depthfinders. Although they’re basic in concept, the one thing about science is it doesn’t change from one year to the next or from state to state. In fact, a lot of what has been taught in these old writings has long been forgotten due to the point-and-click ease of new units.
A good example of this is the deciphering hard bottom from soft bottom. In the old units, either flashers of paper graphs, a hard bottom was shown as an echo twice as deep as the water you were over. With today’s units that have auto-depth control, it’s difficult to determine bottom composition unless you switch to manual depth and set the bottom reading to more than twice the actual depth.
I am aware that the more recent color units can help determine bottom composition, but one must be very familiar with the units. In the old units, it was right there in front of your eyes.
Another problem with today’s units is it’s too easy to just keep everything on auto. Sensitivity, filters, etc. on most anglers’ units are never manipulated manually. The angler misses a lot of subtle hints by not learning the best setting for the conditions. With the old units, there were only two knobs and they had to be adjusted in order to get the best reading.
Below is the full text of the article on electronic fishing that was published in Don Fuelsch’s 1962 Southern Angler’s Guide. It’ll give you a good look at the technology of the day, while also give you some insight of how depthfinders actually work. And just because it’s discussing old flasher technology, doesn’t mean that it’s not relevant to today’s units. It is very relevant as physics has not changed since the article was written.
If you’re interested in a more in-depth piece on electronics of days past, I highly recommend getting a copy of Buck Taylor’s book, The Complete Guide to Using Depthfinders. As the title says, it is complete but the other fact is it goes into detail how and why depthfinders work and how to interpret their signals. Our new units leave a lot of the guesswork out of the puzzle, but in many instances, the more you understand how these devices work, the better you’ll be at using them on the water. If you have an inquiring mind and you want to know more, this is the best resource I have ever found.