For most people, coming home muddy and bloody is a bad thing. For anglers and hunters, if you’re not a little messy, you’re not doing it right. As a result, a lot of people think of outdoorsmen as uncivilized and bloodthirsty, but hunters and anglers aren’t a bunch of dull-witted goobers. Not many of us, anyway.
Outdoorsmen are everyday, successful people, not cavemen. We embrace technology, and were among the first civilians to utilize sonar, global positioning, night vision, drone, and other technologies to enhance our abilities to catch and kill our quarries. Look on a fully decked-out fishing boat these days and you’ll find the kinds of technologies that would make the Apollo astronauts jealous.
I’m a big fan of technology as long as it’s used ethically, but having grown up in the days when the only fishing electronic was a flasher that indicated the bottom depth, I learned and developed other strategies and skills to improve my odds of locating fish and game.
Nothing beats knowing the waters and woods by heart. We all know how electronics can fail, whether due to a dying battery, spotty network connection, or system-wide outage. When technology shuts down, so does most of society. Knowing how to succeed without technology is a good thing to fall back on.
Whenever the Brazos River’s low water dam used to malfunction, leaving only the water trickling in the channel, I’d get out and scout for promising fishing spots, permanent submerged structures, and otherwise study the layout, including taking a lot of pictures for future reference.
Same with Lake Waco. Before the 7-foot pool rise in 2003, I spent countless hours surveying and cataloging areas around the lake and up the tributaries that would have another 5 to 10 feet of water piled on top in the future, so if my memory and imagination got foggy, my photos would remind me. I just wish I could find where I put those things.
Of course, nothing stays exactly the same, and after nearly 20 years, some of those areas, especially those rivers and creeks, have certainly changed. A moderate flood can cut a new river channel with ease, and entire bends in a river can be completely cut off by a powerful flood, turning a bend into an oxbow lake in a single event.
Oxbow lakes are created in slow-running streams when the flow moves in a winding, meandering path, as water finds the easiest way downhill toward the sea. A significant flood can push the water flow over the bank and erode a new pathway straight through to the next bend, cutting off an entire C-shaped water body from the stream.
Oxbow lakes are found all over the world, and go by different names, but they’re a reminder that nothing in nature stays the same forever. So even if I found those pictures, some of them would be outdated.
Charlie Pack had the right outlook on technology—rely on your own mettle and then double-check it with a device. He’d pull up on a spot, eyeball the shoreline, turn and scan another shore, then turn on his GPS, and dang if he wasn’t within a few feet of his brush piles every time I watched him locate them.
Today’s tech gadgets are way past the levels of flashers and hand-held GPS units. They’re like comparing a PS5 to Pong. If you’re willing to spend the money, you don’t have to know a thing about locating and catching fish to be successful. These things will display live video of what’s beneath your boat as if you were watching a movie.
You can watch a school of fish hanging near a submerged tree, see your lure drop down as the school encircles your bait, and know the exact moment when one devours it. Then, watch the screen as you fight the fish to the surface and on board.
Is a $10,000 fish finder an unfair competitive advantage in fishing tournaments? Is a big outboard an unfair advantage? New and changing technologies will continue to push industry and tournament organizers to draw lines and update rule books. In the meantime, I’m sharpening my old-school skills with one eye on what’s coming next.
Never a dull moment
As a wildlife biologist, Josh Sears gets to spend time on a year-round basis either hunting animals or studying them, and after what he calls a really good deer season, he carried on through waterfowl and woodcock season, and looks forward to a little more quail hunting out west before gearing up for the spring wild turkey season.
“We’re seeing above-average numbers of northern bobwhite,” said Sears, who hunts between Llano and Mason, “and we’ll probably clean up on the wild pigs while we’re out there. It’s a never-ending challenge.”
When he’s not hunting, he’s busy conducting brain stem testing for white-tailed deer at farms where testing and monitoring are mandated by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
Sears says positive tests are rare, and no deer infected with chronic wasting disease have been traced to Central Texas counties in his results.
From the kitchen of . . .
When I fry fish, I typically use a seasoned flour/cornmeal breading, but sometimes I’m in the mood for batter-fried fish. Here’s a recipe that satisfies that craving:
12 ounces beer
2 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup corn meal
1/2 tsp. salt
1 to 2 tsp. cayenne pepper
Pour the beer into a large bowl and sift the corn meal, salt, cayenne pepper and 1 1/2 cups of the flour into the liquid. Mix until the batter is frothy. A little milk can be added if the mixture is too thick. Consistency should be a little thicker than pancake batter.
Put peanut oil into a deep fryer or large pot and heat to 375 degrees. Dredge fish in the remaining 1 cup of flour, then dip into the batter. Put thoroughly-coated fish into the hot oil and cook until golden brown, turning occasionally if using a skillet.
You may need to re-mix the batter occasionally to keep it frothy.
Drain oil on paper towels and sprinkle with a little salt.