Back in July 2021 we posted a piece on the first 360-imaging unit produced for the fishing industry. The year was 1976 and the unit, called the Aquascan, was made by Stembridge Products, INC, makers of the FLIPTAIL worm. Well today in Forward Facing Sonar 1979, we have another first, except this one would cost you $35 instead of $1,500.
As I was flipping through several 1979 magazines a few weeks ago, I ran into this ad from B. E. F. Manufacturing Company. The ad was for their Pro Model BassHunter transducer and adjustable bracket that would fit on the head of the trolling motor. Upon a closer look, this wasn’t just any transducer bracket, it was an adjustable mount allowing the transducer to be tilted up allowing the angler to scan forward and to the side of the boat using the trolling motor. In essence, it was the first version of forward-facing sonar.
B.E.F. said with this transducer and bracket the experienced bass fisherman could find bass in front, on the sides, as well as below the boat. Also find fish in creek channels, under piers, even follow schooling bass. The ad was the only ad I could find in my stacks of bass magazines, this one coming from the May-June 1979 issue of National Bassman.
I remember an article published in Bassmaster where Roland Martin said he’d rigged a transducer on his trolling motor so it would read forward and to the side depending on which way the head was pointing. I remember he used black tape to affix the transducer to the trolling motor shaft. Maybe this article is what influenced the inventor of the BassHunter Pro to build this bracket. When I find the article, I’ll make sure to post it here.
The big difference between this and today’s forward-facing sonar is only in the software interpreting the signal. Flashers of the day presented everything in real time, except the readout was from an illuminated light that marked the echoes. In fact, videogame fishing started back during the day of the flasher and the paper graph, although it wasn’t as dramatic as it is today with near perfect images.
Being that I could only find one ad for the device, I did a patent search using the patent number provided in the ad. When the patent came up, I was surprised to see that the patent had been registered in 1973 and that patent was for an entirely different bracket – a non-tilting one to be exact.
Another thing that caught my eye was the shape of the transducer. Instead of being a compact transducer, essentially a cylinder with the diameter equal to its height, the transducer in the ad and the patent reflected one from the 1960s to early 1970s used on a portable depthfinder like the Lowrance Green Box. Height being longer than the diameter.
For the year 1973, this makes sense. At that point in time, few anglers were placing electronics on the bow and those that did had to fashion a custom bracket to place the transducer on their trolling motor. In that case, the bracket in the patent makes sense.
A further patent search for the bracket in the ad revealed nothing. This led me to believe that Bobby Farmer, the inventor, didn’t file for one and was using the patent from his old design to make people think that this bracket was under patent.
Another search for the state-of-the-art transducer brackets of the day led me to my 1978 Bass Pro Shops catalog. In there I was able to find a couple brackets, including a contemporary transducer, from Humminbird, simply held onto the trolling motor head with a large hose clamp.
But let’s get back to the forward-facing sonar topic. B.E.F. Manufacturing’s claim that you could see fish in front and to the sides is a bit of a stretch. Of course, anything in front of the sonar signal would provide an echo back to the unit. Where my skepticism comes into play is how could anyone determine with any confidence what they were seeing on the unit was indeed a fish and not weeds, a stump, or some other object in the water. The little light that signaled the object didn’t provide enough information to make that judgement call in my eyes.
Although theoretically this bracket and transducer combination did provide forward and side-to-side data in real time, it would take roughly 40 years for engineers to develop a technology that could provide an angler enough data to discern between fish and cover or structure. Yes, I believe this was the first attempt at forward-facing sonar, but in the same breath, it wasn’t worth the $35. To me it falls in line with the Stembridge Products Aquascan. You had two inventors thinking way outside the box, not realizing that technology hadn’t merged with their lofty ideas.
If anyone out there has more information on this bracket, please leave a comment below. And, for those who would like to read the entire patent please check out the gallery below. Click on the first image and use the arrows to scroll through the pages. You can also check out the patent on Google Patents by following the link a few paragraphs up in the article.