January 1985 Humminbird ad for their new LCR2000. This would become the final nail in the paper graph coffin. Yet, notice the resolution.

Around the 1975 timeframe, a number of electronic companies were bringing their paper graphs, or chart recorders as they were also called, to market. These pieces of equipment created a huge uproar, primarily with a particular Minnesota Rep, and there was actually a Ban the Graph campaign in that state.

Well, suffice it to say, the paper graph wasn’t banned. You see, once people realized there was more to catching fish than finding them on a chart recorder and casting any lure, all the hubbub associated with the “non-sportsman-like” electronics died off.

But, nearly 10 years later, the paper graph would again be on the chopping block – not because of some crazed politician, though. What was about to kill the thermal paper chart recorder was technology – of the liquid crystal type.

In 1984 at the AFTMA show, Techsonic-Manns (now Hummingbird Electronics) debuted the first Liquid Crystal Recorders to the public. For those of you not old enough to remember AFTMA, it stood for the American Fishing Tackle Manufacturers Association or what is know today as American Sportfishing Association and the show is now ICAST.

Prior to this time, an angler would use a paper graph to pinpoint structure and then use their flasher to stay on the spot. The reason for this was two-fold. One, the cost of thermal paper was kind of spendy and two, you always seemed to run out of paper at the most inopportune time. What the LCR promised was uninterrupted use of a graph-like recorder without the hassle of paper.

While that may seem all fine and dandy, the fact was the resolution of the early liquid crystal technology left a lot to be desired. That’s putting it nicely. A paper graph had infinite resolution because the signal was burned into the paper throughout the entire stroke of the stylus. Trying to transpose this information into a series of small squares (pixels) would be a lot more difficult. You see, resolution is dependant on the number of pixels per inch placed on the screen. The more pixels per inch, the better the resolution. The answer isn’t to make the screen bigger either. What’s the difference between a small crappy picture and a larger, just-as-crappy picture? More crap.

1985 Humminbird LCR ad featuring the whole lineup of new LCRs.

Anglers went from being able to view a nice arc of a fish to, in some cases, a single pixel or two. The problem was junk in the water showed up the same as did interference. You were constantly questioning yourself, is that a fish or a suspended log or debris?

Within a year, Lowrance Electronics Inc. had answered Hummingbird’s call and came out with their Lowrance and Eagle LCGs – the X-3 and Z-6000 respectively. Their claim to fame was a more detailed picture due to 45 percent more pixels. Which, reverts back to my rhetorical question above – how big were the pixels compared to the other company’s product? Still, the resolution was beyond awful by paper graph standards.

At the same time, the ocean electronic moguls like Furuno and Koden were trying to break into the freshwater electronic markets with their high-resolution color charts. They touted, “no more expensive paper or poor resolution from LCD recorders.” The resolution of these units was as good as any recorder today but there was a major problem.

Dec 1985 Lowrance ad featuring their LCG technology. Notice the resolution.
1985 Furuno ad for their CRT graph. Notice the resolution compared to the LCR/G of HUmminbird and Lowrance.

What these companies didn’t tell the bass fishing public was their units were Cathode Ray Tube (CRTs) displays – or, just like your grandma and granpa’s TV. They were heavy and took up a ton of space. The analogy would be to compare a 24-inch television set of the ‘80s to one of today. There was no room on your console in which to place one of these behemoths.

In these early years, anglers weren’t too worried about the LCR/G craze because the companies were still making paper graphs. But about three or four years later, when LEI and Hummingbird let the public know that they were going to stop making paper graphs, bass anglers, especially in the West, started buying up any and all paper graphs and paper they could find. I know a number of western pros who had their “sponsored” LCRs or LCGs mounted on their consoles, but below the console, next to their feet, was their trusty old paper graph mounted to the deck. Be seen with the new tech but rely on the old tech to put you on the fish.

This Koden CVS-88 ad from 1986 gives better perspective on how big this CRT unit was.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t the paper graph that was the first to be phased out of the market by the new-fangled technology. The flasher was the first casualty – and an unfortunate one at that. That’s because the flasher was the first real-time sonar. Yes, it didn’t provide an image but for fishing vertical, as with a spoon, you could see your bait as well as fish travel in and out of the cone.  Early low-resolution LCRs didn’t show squat. They also showed a hard bottom vs. a soft bottom much easier than even today’s technology because of the way the echo was displayed. I will argue that fact with anyone.

After about 30 years, technology finally caught up with the industry need and today we have units that are so far ahead of the old paper graph it’s not even a fair comparison anymore. The paper graph had, great resolution and that was it.  Today’s units have super resolution, side and down imaging, charts, 1-foot contour maps, give motor and speed data, 360 sonar and Live imaging. Who would have thought 30 years ago we’d have all that?

Yet today, many bass anglers have reacted to this new technology the same way the Minnesota Rep did back in 1975. Calls for banning Live imaging and 360 can be seen every day on the message boards, BassFan and social media platforms. You’re either for it or against it and there’s no happy medium.

Will this new technology drain the fish from our waters? Is there no way to compete against it? Will the leagues ban it in certain situations? Who knows? But if I were a betting man, I’d have to say history has a way of repeating itself. The paper graph didn’t make our little green and brown fish disappear. One thing it did do is make them a lot smarter than they were, and I have a feeling in 10 years, we’ll see the same result.  You’ll see them on the live imaging but you won’t be able to get them to bite.

Humminbird Down Imaging image, circa 2020s. There is no comparison.

Maybe we’re helping the bass evolve into the uncatchable. Imagine that for a second. What would the next technological advancement be in order to make them catchable again?

I’m an unabashed old-school structure fisherman who had his first paper recorder at age 14 in 1978 -it cost $500. Don’t get me wrong, I like the new technology on my boat. But I do miss being the only person in the middle of the lake on a hump in 30 feet of water that I had to find by shoreline triangulation. I miss watching my bait drop to the bottom on my flasher and the times I could see a fish blip move from 25 feet to the bottom and then feel the resistance on the rod. I miss the ease of setting up my paper graph. Most of all, I miss the smell of thermal paper burning in the morning.