The Wings of Change (Part 2)

The Wings of Change (Part 2)
Placing a brass clip on the line tethering the float to a Boga Grip facilitates taking length measurements of fish after they're landed.

This is the second in a three-part series analyzing how the many changes in technologies, equipment, clothing, gear, tackle and lures have affected Texas' saltwater anglers over the course of the last three decades.

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Since the early 1990s, many aspects of our lives have changed, some more significantly and permanently than others. Certainly, the list of changes runs long for those of us who participate in the sport of saltwater fishing. Taking a metaphorical look back some thirty years at a typical day for an angler with their own boat reveals the scope and magnitude of this evolution. At the end of last month's piece, our angler had arrived at his first chosen spot.

Three decades ago, our hypothetical captain would have heaved an anchor over the gunwale and tied it off to a cleat; today's modern captains more likely use a switch to deploy a hydraulic anchor to hold the boat in place. While wading, they can carry a remote fob which will allow them to raise and lower the pole and keep the boat close to them while they wade. When they finish wading and are ready to return to the boat, a 2024 captain can also use a fob to lower a trolling motor over the bow and direct it to drive the boat to them.

Both these behaviors, while convenient and efficient when they work, carry inherent risks, but careful captains certainly benefit from their use. Today's anglers also take advantage of several useful innovations stirred by the ever-beating wings of change. Comparing the garments and other garb they wear to the same gear used by our early-90s captain reveals how. All those years ago, our angler would likely have donned a pair of neoprene waders before slipping into the water for the first wade. Those rubber suits did provide one distinct advantage over today's waders; they provided warmth, even when they leaked.

All of us who used them regularly over time remember the other facts related to their use, facts which have not changed to this day. Soon after they're purchased and used, neoprene waders do two things extremely well―they leak and they stink. These two facts have direct proportionality; the more they leak, the worse they stink. Significantly, once they develop leaks, neoprene proves difficult to repair. In contrast, today's lightweight, breathable waders don't provide any warmth if they start to leak, but they can usually be repaired and restored to water-tight condition fairly easily.

Many modern breathable waders incorporate inner shells made of a material called Gore-Tex, which makes locating and patching pinhole leaks easy and effective. When modern anglers properly layer their clothing underneath these pliable, comfortable waders, they can keep warm just as well as an angler wearing neoprene waders could, as long as the breathable waders don't leak. Layering properly means starting with a form-fitting, wicking garment on the bottom and adding thicker layers (up to maybe four in extreme conditions) as needed.

Today's anglers can purchase relatively lightweight jackets to wear over their waders and perform dual functions, dulling the effects of brisk winds and preventing water from contacting their skin. The variety and quality of these garments today far exceeds what coastal anglers of yesteryear had available to them. The same truth applies to the boots an angler today will likely wear as compared to the ones our 90s angler put on his feet.

Back then, neoprene rubber served as the main material used to make wading boots, with some kind of firmer rubber comprising the soles. The boots zipped up, either on the side or the front, and the zippers did one thing supremely well―they trapped mud and fine sand, becoming jammed and frozen if not rinsed thoroughly and zipped up after each use. Neoprene boots also start to rip after they've been stretched over the feet multiple times. Modern lace-up wading boots also require thoughtful maintenance to some degree, but they're more durable than rubber boots and they provide more support to the feet.

Today's anglers have a better variety of boots from which to choose, some of which offer protection from the poisonous barbs of stingrays. And, they can wear other gear over the boots to gain extra protection from the nasty stingers, much of which did not exist back in the early-90s. Once our old-timer succeeded in wrapping himself inside his weathered rubber wading suit and zipping up his stubborn, flimsy boots, he would then have reached for the other accessories he'd carry while walking around in the water trying to catch a fish.

More than likely, he'd grab a wading belt made of nylon, with no padding to provide support for the lower back. Some of them did have a pouch to hold a small plastic box which would carry several lures. Velcro held the pouch closed, but with repeated uses, Velcro becomes unreliable. Many of us remember losing favorite lures when our wading boxes floated out of those open pouches and drifted off with the tide.

Our old-timer's belt likely had a sheath for holding pliers, a metal holster for the spike of his stringer and some kind of device to which he might attach or tie the cord holding his bait-bucket and landing net, if he chose to wade with either or both. Most manufacturers used carbon steel to make fishing pliers in those days, and salty water eats steel like it's peanut butter and jelly. Within a few trips to the coast, the pliers often developed enough corrosion in their joints to become stiff and difficult to use. Similarly, the stringers carried by anglers thirty years ago became rough and difficult to use when exposed to the coastal environment's destructive elements a handful of times.

Today's anglers have much better options for creating an individualized system for carrying all the necessary tools of the trade. Modern wading belts often have semi-rigid construction, including padding which provides lumbar support. All still have sheaths or pockets for carrying pliers. In the modern world, pliers are mostly made of materials which resist corrosion much better than regular old steel, including stainless steel, aluminum and titanium. Many perform multiple functions, including cutting braid and other types of lines and manipulating split-rings. Because they're made of space-age materials, with the caustic qualities of ocean water in mind, modern pliers work better and last longer than the crusty, stiff tools of yesteryear.

Some of today's wading belts still include pouches for holding a box of lures, but many modern anglers carry their lures other ways, some on belts wrapped around their shoulders, with the boxes riding on their backs. This keeps the lures out of the water during the wading sessions. Others prefer putting their lures in boxes riding atop rings of Styrofoam, which float nets alongside anglers while they wade. These Do-Nets are just one of the many innovations which have made wading anglers lives better and easier over recent years.

In the early-90s, our wading angler would likely have entered the water with a metal net with nylon mesh tethered to his belt. Most of the little nets found on the shelves of sporting goods stores back then made more sense for landing crappie and bluegill than upper-slot reds or trophy trout. Certainly, the market today offers bigger nets with more thoughtful aspects incorporated into their design; some of them float. Many have slippery mesh with small holes to reduce their tendency to entangle hooks, especially trebles. People who fish exclusively with lures, and who prefer throwing plugs dangling two or three treble hooks often found the old landing nets more adept at snaring their lures than landing fish.

Even if the nets didn't actually cause a big fish to escape before a picture could be taken, we had no interest in the silly, exasperating task of repeatedly extracting our lures from a twisted nest of strings. Though many modern nets have nearly eliminated the risks of hooks becoming tangled in their mesh, I and others adopted systems which don't incorporate landing nets many years ago, after watching big fish flip out of nets and leave hooks tangled in the mesh. Of course, landing a flounder, an upper-slot red or a trophy trout with a bare hand is no easy task. Fortunately, for people like me, who like to fish with lures carrying treble hooks and who target big trout for release, a tool came along to aid us in the process of landing and handling these fish.

To replace a landing net, many modern wading anglers choose to carry special tools designed to grab and securely hold onto the lips of fish. The Boga Grip is the famous matriarch of this family of tools. Made with high-quality stainless steel, these lightweight, durable tools serve two important functions, especially for wading anglers who like to release many of the fish they catch. First, they allow anglers to land and handle the fish without subjecting them to the slime-scraping effects of nets or human skin, and second, they allow for weighing the fish accurately. Tethering the lip-grip to a float and equipping it with a brass clip in the way shown in the included image facilitates taking accurate length measurements of the fish too.

(to be continued)