Key big-game fishing products from the last 30 years
October 18, 2011
Although most people credit John Rybovich as the inventor of the fighting chair in the mid-’50s, the devices we call fighting chairs these days bear little resemblance to the first models. Now a necessary component on boats chasing big fish on heavy tackle, today’s fighting chairs are much more robust than their predecessors, mainly to be able to tolerate the extreme drag pressures that can be achieved these days. Professional boats using 130-pound-test line regularly push 70, 80, even 90 pounds of drag when circumstances and conditions allow. Murray Brothers was the first chair builder to elevate the fighting chair to a work of art, but others soon followed. Today’s fighting chairs run the gamut of sizes, shapes and functions, and many are festooned with extra rod holders and rocket launchers. “Although the first chairs built with an offset stanchion that [allowed] your rod tips [to] clear the corners on a large boat probably were invented around 20 years ago, it was the new bearing materials, and understanding how to use them, that really made a big difference in chair performance,” says Sam Peters of Release Marine. But he also knows that people still have an eye for beauty and says, “One of the biggest things to happen in chair design is the addition of CNC machines and [using them] to sculpt and contour the wood into smooth shapes. You don’t have to sit on a flat board anymore!”
The first time I ever saw a braided fishing line was at the ICAST tackle show out in Las Vegas. SpiderWire — the first braided line made from ultrahigh molecular weight polyethylene — made quite an impact at the show. The line’s incredibly thin diameter, super smooth feel, and its unbelievable strength-to-diameter ratio had everyone talking about the demise of nylon monofilament fishing line. Instead of killing mono, however, braided lines fell into their own niche markets — you can’t beat them when fishing on the bottom — and spurred an increase in research and development of thinner, stronger lines made from all kinds of materials. Today’s monofilament lines are incredibly thin and strong, with all sorts of coatings and treatments to resist abrasion, assist in knot tying and improve sensitivity. You can opt for a line that stretches a lot or hardly at all, one that boasts a fat diameter to resist nicks and cuts, or one that’s so thick you can cast a quarter-ounce spoon half a mile.
The first mention of global positioning systems (GPS) in the pages of Marlin occurred in the September 1991 issue (“GPS, Here and Now” by McKain). At that time, GPS wasn’t yet operational in three dimensions — no altitude — and still had a degree of error built in to keep it from being too accurate in order to discourage rogue use. Little did anyone know how much this system would affect the world of big-game fishing. At one time, you had to be an expert navigator with a compass, watch and paper chart to determine your position; now, all you have to do is glance at a video screen. GPS was a true game changer, allowing captains to work a specific spot or find a piece of structure with incredible ease. The only downside to this remarkable system, if you can call it a downside, is that it opened up the world of offshore fishing to a much larger group of anglers — who could always find your favorite spot!
One of the first stories I ever wrote for a fishing magazine was about a rising trend among Southern California long-range anglers who would buy off-the-shelf reels and turn them into fish-crushing drag monsters. Since those fellows fought giant 200-pound yellowfin tunas from a dead boat while standing up against a rail, they needed smaller reels that could carry a huge amount of line and yet still exert a good amount of drag when called upon. Those boys would take an old Penn Squidder and slap on some machined metal side plates and a beefed-up drag and be ready for a bear! A whole business was built up to help anglers soup up their reels, and several reel companies were actually born from the craze, including Tiburon, Accurate and Avet. Cal Sheets, a reel drag master, still makes a nice living blueprinting and rebuilding drags to customer specifications, ramping up reels to handle unheard of drag settings and yet still retain free-spool capabilities if so desired. It didn’t take long for the big names in the industry to catch on to the smaller, yet stronger, mantra, so Penn, Shimano and Daiwa all make smaller-footprint reels that still hold a ton of line and crush fish with a staggering amount of drag for their size. It’s not uncommon these days to pick up a 30-size reel that imparts 40 pounds of drag — more than double what you’d have expected just 10 years ago.
Since the firm Henry Hughes & Son developed the first ultrasonic echo sounder in the early 1930s — the first unit was about the size of a coffin — the application of echo-sounding techniques to fish detection transformed the fishing industry. The ability to detect a structure on the bottom, or actual baitfish stationed in the water column below, allowed anglers to know that they were in the right spot instead of just guessing. This type of technology proved very expensive in the early days, and for many years it was mainly found on commercial fishing vessels, before it eventually made the jump into the recreational market. Today, the technology is so ingrained in the sport that no one would think about leaving the dock without a working sounder. The first unit was a stylus to etch bottom contours and fish marks on a roll of paper. That soon gave way to huge CRT screens that were much clearer than the paper but took up a tremendous amount of room on the flybridge. The invention of liquid crystal displays (LCD) eventually shrank the footprint of these units even further, allowing you to even install them on small center console boats. Today’s units are super compact and incredibly sensitive, allowing experienced operators to identify individual species from little marks on a screen. Good captains can even fine-tune their machines to mark billfish lurking under the boat — too deep for the eyes of the captain and mate to discern from the surface. You know you’ve got a good captain on the bridge when he tells you he’s just marked a big one on the machine and that you should get ready and keep an eye on the long riggers!
Guys driving any vehicle want to make it go faster, and that holds true for boats as much as anything else, so it’s no surprise that boats have been getting faster and faster. The real surprise, though, is how much horsepower diesel manufacturers can squeeze out of a block these days. High-pressure common rail direct injection, controlled by computers that monitor fuel combustion, dramatically increased efficiency and reduced emissions considerably. Other technologies such as particulate filters reduced particulate matter, carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons by as much as 90 percent. This made for more powerful yet cleaner-burning diesel engines, which in turn provided the impetus for ever larger boats that could go both faster and farther on a tank of fuel. With more and more anglers wanting to travel farther afield to catch more fish, the development of more powerful engines spurred the demand for bigger boats that could safely travel long distances on their own bottom.