The Wings of Change (Part 3)

The Wings of Change (Part 3)
Certainly, reflecting back three decades gives one reason to pause and consider the vast improvements made to the tools and techniques we use to make photographs.

This is the last 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.

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 captain had arrived at his first chosen spot and readied himself to slip over the gunwale to start the morning's initial wade.

Our fictitious angler's potential for productivity depended primarily on the useful qualities of four things he carried into the brine―his reel, rod, line and lures. These tools potentially connect anglers directly with the fish they target, and by the end of the 20th Century, fishing tackle companies had made some strides in their quest to improve them. Going back in time those many days takes us to a world in which saltwater anglers' reels did have some beneficial traits, but they also had awkward aspects, especially for anglers committed to fishing exclusively with artificial lures.

By the early-90s, dedicated lure-chunkers in Texas often felt hampered by the reels readily available to them. Abu-Garcia's classic Ambassadeur 5500 reels had already proven themselves admirably capable of withstanding the coast's corrosive effects; they functioned as designed over ample time, providing smooth casting performance and adequately strong and supple drag power. They also held plenty of 15 to 20-lb. test monofilament line, the type considered appropriate for fishing inshore waters at the time.

But our captain had likely already reached an important conclusion regarding reels like those―they weighed far too much to serve ideally in a lure-chunker's world. Attempting to throw topwaters and soft plastics with them all day felt something like wearing heavy work boots when trying to run a marathon. Consequently, most dedicated artificial enthusiasts started experimenting with a relatively new breed of reels showing up on the shelves of tackle stores. Shimano, in particular, had begun making lighter level-wind reels with lower profiles, designing them so anglers could cradle them more comfortably into the palms of their hands and perform at higher levels for longer periods of time.

Eventually, several manufacturers released low-profile baitcasting reels weighing less than 8 ounces; some altered the materials and designs to reduce the weights of their reels even more. Today, anglers can purchase reels with gears and other internal components made of super-light materials, some of which weigh less than 6 ounces. Surely, these tools reduce fatigue dramatically over time, while still facilitating winning efforts in fights against most of the fish hooked in shallow water. The attempt to reduce reel weights has seemingly reached a zenith. Unfortunately, many modern reels with the highest price tags and lightest weights don't perform well in one critical arena; the corrosive elements crunch them up like corn chips.

For this reason, many of the today's top lure-chunking coastal captains don't use the lightest, most expensive reels, opting instead for models in the mid-range, most of which still weigh around 7 ounces, while holding plenty of line and functioning smoothly over plenty of sessions in saltwater. Folks who prefer spinning over baitcasting reels have also benefited from the introduction of lighter reels better suited for use with lures for several hours at a time. These days, anglers using both spinning and baitcasting reels mostly fill them with a different kind of line than what our 1990s angler would have used.

Monofilament lines ruled the coastal fishing scene 30 years ago; those lines represented an improvement from the braided lines they replaced. But while the moons rose and sank, better braided lines evolved, largely replacing the wimpy, loopy monofilaments of yesteryear. These days, supremely sensitive braided lines provide anglers precise control over lures during presentations and superior ability to detect strikes. When paired with either monofilament or fluorocarbon leader material, braided lines improve modern anglers' catch-rates.

In 2024, an angler who has embraced the benefits granted by the wings of change enters the water holding a lightweight, low-profile, level-wind reel spooled with hassle-free braided line, well-equipped to execute the presentations needed to trick the predators he targets. More importantly, the rod holding the reel bears only slight resemblance to the tool our 90s angler would have used. Thirty years ago, most rods made and sold for use by lure-chunkers in Coastal Texas had actions better suited for whipping the mules pulling a buggy than controlling the movements of the head of a One Knocker.

During the middle of the 90s and slightly thereafter, a rod-building revolution gained serious momentum, partly among international companies, but mostly in Texas-based brands like Fishing Tackle Unlimited, Waterloo and Laguna, all of whom began working with the state's best lure-chunkers to optimize rods to fit their needs, focusing mostly on casting models. They modified the components and methods they used to build lighter sticks, shortening their butt sections and searching far and wide for blanks with appropriate action, eventually inventing tools which feel more like magic wands than flimsy twigs.

The rods offered by these companies today often have skeleton grips, which leave the blanks exposed to anglers' hands; they're also shorter, on average, than popular rods built thirty years ago. Many have recoil guides, which have helped make some of them lighter than a standard hamburger patty. All these improvements have provided modern coastal anglers with tools which enhance the productivity of their efforts as much as any other innovation. Any serious, dedicated lure-chunker will attest to the significant impact of the weight, feel and flex of a rod on the quality of presentations made, and on the ability to effectively execute creative presentations over extended periods of time.

If a reel functions properly and weighs no more than about 8 ounces, it exerts a relatively small influence on the number of bites earned. The right type of line riding in the spool of the reel plays a slightly larger role in productivity, but a rod with attributes properly matched to the preferred methods and style of a proficient angler improves performance more than these other two things combined. I'd argue a rod supremely well-suited to the angler plays a bigger role in the quest for consistent productivity than any other tool or piece of equipment, with the possible exception of the GPS and the data it contains.

Our 90s angler slipped into the water oblivious to the obstacles he faced, likely carrying a relatively heavy, sloppy feeling rod and reel with line which provided a fuzzy connection to his lures, one which hampered not only the detection of subtle strikes, but dulled the ability to master the art of precisely controlling the movement patterns of lures. This last piece of the puzzle in the attempt to earn strikes exerts profound influence on productivity. A modern angler, equipped with a superior rod, reel and line combination, has a much better chance of learning to control the depths and movements of the lures they deploy.

Back in the early-90s, most coastal lure-chunkers primarily used spoons and shrimp-tails. A few tossed topwaters and broken-backs; some included sinking hard baits like 51 and 52M MirrOlures in their arsenals. When Bass Assassin introduced worms with slender, straight tails, many coastal anglers used them to replace the soft plastics they'd threaded onto jigheads for years, quickly learning how many more strikes the random, erratic movement patterns of the rat-tailed worms earned, compared with the relatively clumsy patterns achieved with shrimp-tails.

Soon after Jim Wallace established the state-record for trout in Baffin Bay, many coastal pluggers in the Lone Star State caught the Corky wave; many of them continue to ride it to this day. Among the many changes which altered the landscape of coastal fishing over the last three decades, the addition of numerous new lures to the family of slow-sinking twitchbaits has been more significant than most. Astute anglers recognize how twitchbaits with slow sink-rates allow for making effective presentations at the right speeds and depths on shallow flats, where most anglers target trophy speckled trout successfully. Houston-based lure maker Paul Brown developed several versions of his famous Corky, and they've found homes in the wading boxes carried by many of the state's best anglers.

After MirrOlure purchased rights to the Original, the Fat Boy and the Devil, they and others succeeded brilliantly in filling the slow-sinking twitchbait niche with other productive plugs. These days, anglers can choose both hard and soft-bodied twitch baits in a variety of sizes and shapes, also a dazzling array of brilliant, lifelike colors. Some of these lures sink slower than others; all allow for targeting trophy trout and redfish with sometimes stunning efficiency in waters ranging from shin to about waist-deep.

As was the case with innovations in boat, motor, navigation systems, gear and other equipment designs, these alterations to lures made the lives of coastal lure-chunkers easier and better. Many aspects of our sport have become safer and more productive over recent decades, thanks to the efforts of dedicated people in several related industries. Resistance to change is a powerful force in human culture; fighting against it and recognizing better ways to make and do things requires courage and grace. Those of us who love to fish owe a debt of gratitude to the creative entrepreneurs who rise to new heights on evolution's ever-ready wings.