While some may recall the “good old days”, the past two decades have seen significant improvements in the world of fishing and boating. You now have the resources to be safer, find the best fishing spots faster, learn new fishing or boating skills more easily, be more environmentally conscious, and feel more comfortable on the water.
There is certainly something to be said about wise advances and equipment improvements made by anglers and boaters who asked the question, “How can we make our days on the water even better?” Here is your chance to take a virtual paddle back in time to explore the evolution of recreational fishing and boating experiences over the past 20 years.
1. Fishing reels
Braking systems have been upgraded to be much more sensitive, even to the point where they automatically adjust to the resistance appropriate for the voltage being applied. Today’s reels are also generally made of lighter materials such as graphite or aluminum and have higher line capacities.
2. Fish hook
While circle hooks were introduced for commercial longline fishing boats in the late 1970s, J-hooks were widely used until relatively recently. The past decade has seen an increase in the use and awareness of circular hooks. As you practice catching and releasing fish with live bait, circular hooks hook a fish in the mouth rather than ingestion, making them easier to remove and reducing damage to the fish.
3. Fishing nets
These days, rubber and silicone nets are much easier to find at your local tackle shop or online. These types of nets help keep the mucous hair, scales, and fins of your catches intact and protect the fish from disease and injury. Twenty years ago most nets were made of nylon. Nylon nets are much more abrasive and can cause damage.
4. Fishing photos
The waterproof action sports cameras that boaters and anglers use today include voice command functions, high definition image functions, and high definition underwater video options. Back in the late 1990s, single-use waterproof sports cameras and film cameras were still widely used.
5. Fishing lures
Today’s spoons, soft plastic lures, and crank lures feature significant improvements in design, details, and materials. Some of today’s crank baits have even been designed to contain LED lights and sounds that mimic bait fish or shellfish. Soft plastic topwater frogs look much more realistic compared to the models that were on the market a few decades ago.
6. Fishing music
Artists like Shania Twain, Faith Hill, ‘N Sync, Britney Spears, the Backstreet Boys and Mariah Carey dominated the Airwaves in 1998. Though boaters and anglers turned to tapes and CDs instead of making digital playlists.
7. Fishing logs
The digital age has made it possible for us to record and track our catches using special fishing apps like FishBrain. With these apps we can track weather conditions, moon phases, waterway conditions and catch rates to improve our chances of success. If you’re looking for new places, you can use interactive online maps such as the Places to Fish and Boat Map to locate nearby waterways. Now all you have to do is bring your phone and hit the app icon. However, if you kept a fishing log in 1998, you likely used a spiral pad and pen or pencil.
8. Fishing clothing for women
The past two decades have seen women make great achievements in fishing clothing and equipment for women. Boxy designs have been replaced with tapered sides, color options have been expanded dramatically, and moisture-wicking SPF materials make days on the water far more comfortable.
9. Life jackets
The manual inflatable life jackets and belts we now have available were approved by the U.S. Coast Guard in 1998. This makes carrying your PFD easier and more convenient than ever. 20 years ago there were many more orange universal life jackets on board.
10. Fish scales
Digital fish scales have improved the ease and accuracy of weighing catches. Remember, it is more difficult to overstate the size of your fish when your fellow anglers can see the indicator clearly.
Think about how dramatically our methods of fishing education and boat research have changed. You can “google” (verb) any fishing knot, fish species, boat type, ship engine or fishing technique and find tons of useful information on TakeMeFishing.org. In 1998, Stanford University students Larry Page and Sergey Brin founded the search engine company.
12. Social media
Today you can instantly share your #FirstCatch with your friends or family on Instagram, Facebook, YouTube or Twitter. If you want your Aunt Betty in Chicago to see a picture of the snake you caught while on vacation in Florida, all you have to do is upload and post it. In 1998 you would have sent a print to Aunt Betty or scanned the photo and emailed it to her.
13. Fish finder
360-degree scanning technology, touch screens and incredibly detailed images make today’s fish finders valuable tools for locating your quarry. If you’re looking for schools of bait, submerged structures, or want to determine where the fish are floating in the water column, this is no longer a guessing game.
14. Kayak fishing
Kayak fishing has grown in popularity over the past five years. From pedal kayaks that make it easier to fish for longer distances to inflatable models that are easy to transport, you’ll notice a lot of paddle boats and people kayaking on the waterways these days.
New advances and features such as joystick steering, automatic positioning systems and engines with improved fuel efficiency offer a better boating experience.
16. Trolling Motors
With the latest innovations such as self-triggering trolling motors, fishing electronics and wireless GPS trolling systems, it is easier than ever to secretly approach your favorite fishing spot. These hands-free features give you more options for throwing and catching than the manual tiller and for deploying models of the past.
17. Fishing and boat shoes
Beyond the basic flip flops, sandals, and boat shoes of the past; You now have a wealth of options. Odorless technologies, ergonomic arch designs, non-slip outsoles, drainage holes and dirt-repellent materials are often mentioned as today’s characteristics of fishing shoes.
18. Braided fishing line
Today’s advances in braided fishing line mean greater casting distance, more sensitivity, overall strength, lack of stretch, and high knot strength. Durable micro-Dyneema and polyethylene fibers have replaced the dacron and natural fibers used in the past.
19. Fly fishing
It used to be that an all-purpose forward weight line would cover most of your fly fishing adventures. Now fly line manufacturers produce fly fishers in different tapers for different situations. Long front tapers can land a fly gently by dissipating energy along its length, while shorter front tapers transfer energy faster when throwing heavier flies.
20. Fishing license and boat registration
Twenty years ago, you had to go to your local fishing or sports shop to get a fishing license. Today, many states offer the option of purchasing a fishing license online. If you own a boat, you can also go to the state websites for online boat registration renewal information.
What improvements in fishing or boating have your experience improved over time? Share on social media or comment on this post which fishing or boating innovation is the hardest to live without.
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Debbie Hanson is an award-winning outdoor writer, women’s fishing advocate, IGFA world record holder, and freshwater guide in southwest Florida. Hanson’s written work has been featured in publications such as Florida Game & Fish Magazine, BoatUS Magazine, and USA Today Hunt & Fish. To learn more about her work, visit shefishes2.com or follow her on Instagram @ shefishes2.