The good (and bad) of fishing technology

In this article, Tim O’Reilly shares a guide’s perspective on changes happening in the recreational fishing scene. A look back at the quintessentials of recreational fishing and comparing that to some of the changes we are seeing.

So, what about fishing is changing?

It’s funny how subtle change can be. Even when it’s occurring at break-neck speed. Fishing by its nature has become a sport of specialisation. It is almost impossible to say you love all types of modern fishing. There are simply too many, each discipline requiring specific sets of equipment and temperament to become proficient. Fishing as a pastime is lucky to have so many passionate and influential champions. As modern management debate rages, this will be crucial if recreational fishing is to survive as a pastime. 

Image: Tom O’Reilly

My earliest fishing memories involve catching tiny whiting on a beach worm in the surf shore break. Digging pipis from the sand, pumping yabbies and generally trying to sneak away from the world at every moment to follow my fishy dreams. Things haven’t changed so much. But the advancement in equipment, techniques and the technology have left the face of fishing far smoother then when I was a child. Unblemished? Well, let’s take a closer look.

Trying to cover all bases as a fisher is made all the more challenging with disruptive and brilliant technologies. Simply keeping up with the Tech is challenge enough. As times change and fishing grows even more specialised, there will be a whole undercurrent within the fishing fraternity keen to get back to basics. To fish with simple tech and gear, using their senses more than their electronics.

Image: Tom O’Reilly

Everyone knows that kid that was mad about fishing. There is one in every fifth family! That fishing crazed individual who used to blow whole weekends in the pursuit of anything aquatic.

Those kids grew up to be the first wave of fishing influences, journalists, photographers and adventurers. Most were admired for their toughness and resolve in reaching frontier fisheries. 

These characters spurred many of us on  to bigger an better things. They are the reason recreational fishing in Australia has been such a flourishing pass time. It promotes good health, family values and for the most part, a healthy regard for the aquatic environment. Most would agree there is a degree of adventure and ‘life’s good’ type feelings which stem from fishing. But a few sticking points in the future of recreational fishing will breed a wave of discontent.

Happily, fishing has opened up to a far greater subset of the community within its ranks. Those who don’t even come from a family fishing background (which was normally a prerequisite) can participate fully. Fishing has attracted this strong following for its purity and ability to get people outdoors in natural settings.

Image: Tom O’Reilly

Fishing as a pursuit has always existed for the everyday man, woman or child to catch their own feed of fish. This needs to be remembered as the fate of fishing falls into more bureaucratic modern hands. Now with so centered upon the focal point of just a few individuals, some of the essence of fishing is being lost. As click bait out fishes live bait, many of our future heroes are being left behind. Of coarse, this is impossible to quantify and represents just a personal viewpoint.

Granted, there is some very cool stuff getting captured and shared amongst a booming fishing fraternity. Modern photography and shareability have really put things in the hands of the common man. This makes for very entertaining viewing. But it becomes increasingly hard to pull a hero from the pack and even harder to find one untainted by product. The fishing influencer space has suddenly become very convoluted. Sadly, for those who fiddle around the edges of it, there is only so much bread at the table.

As with all things web based, the tech heads tend to rise to prominence and so it has become with recreational fishing. Those old school fishing tragics are no longer who the kid at the boat ramp wants to yarn with. Instead, it’s a slick fishing hero on Instagram. And why not, social media has invited all of us to the same table even if some can exploit it better then others. A lack of caution about messaging and who is sending that message might emerge as a major issue over coming years. Especially with the arrows pointing at leisure and pastime pursuits that many city folk will never understand.    

Image: Tom O’Reilly

At the same time, fishing as a pursuit has lost some of its darker qualities which included plundering of resources and taking far more then what was needed. Gladly the mass cull images are a thing of the past. But still within the essence of fishing lies the need to be fed by nature’s hand. Fishing has always been a balance between man and nature, between what’s there and what is right to take.

But if you leave out the FISHING part and technology allows you simply to TAKE, something is being lost.

There is more and more people vying for less and less fish with greater use of technology. This has a sticky end which can only be combatted through strict regulation. Commercial fishers have well and truly had a taste of what’s to come. Fisherman as a whole detest regulations upon their pursuit but all who participate can see the need for it. Do nothing and we go the way of crashing fish stocks around the globe.

Image: Tom O’Reilly

Fisheries management is very important to get right, it affects our nation’s psyche. Preferably it would be a light touch and regulation. However modern society demands far more stringent approach and anglers will find themselves more and more maligned by bureaucrats. This follows with trouble from animal rights activists and the list goes on and on. Locked out of our own waterways and maritime areas is where this scenario ends and quite quickly at the rate of change currently being witnessed.   

So, it is right to have serious debate about the future of fishing. When is enough, enough when it comes to technology? When will recreational fishers start self-imposing restrictions upon themselves? The challenge that awaits the recreational fishing industry in Australia and around the world is how regulated do you wish to become. Over-regulate and you drive people away from their favoured pastime.

Under-regulate and watch fisheries collapse under the weight of coastal population explosion.

My fear is fishing breaks so far from its fundamental roots that the pastime becomes a steamrolled mess of past memorabilia and Insta Reels. Those who would see fishing banned as a pastime would have a field day. Just lean hard left and point at a flashy, techy, fuel guzzling boat with every gadget known to man hanging from it to have the pastime counter-cultured. If fishing loses its fundamental nature altogether, what glue will be there to keep the whole show together?

High-tech and low-tech

For the purposes of this discussion, let’s refer to High Tech as any piece of technology that requires modern digital software and a motherboard to operate. This includes everything from our phones and devices to sounders, plotters and radars.

Image: Tom O’Reilly

As we can all attest, there has been a rapid rise in the use of high-tech equipment to make the pastime of fishing tilted in the angler’s balance. Ask yourself this… what would prior generations have thought about the use of live scope and active target? Where you can simply view the fish swimming around underneath the water in real time on a screen. The technology was already incredible, now it is step-jumping straight to ridiculous.

A blurry line exists between the computer world, the simulated world and the real-life natural world in front of us. As fishing continues to spread its feet under so many doors, it will be a huge challenge trying to create limitations and societal norms. It seems many are up for whatever the future brings, damned be the consequences. I question if these same people driving such rapid advancement really have our pastime’s best interests at heart.

Low tech refers to mechanical things such a rods, reels, hooks, sinkers and swivels, oars, knives, esky, life jackets and the list goes on and on. Accompanying these workhorse type items on the low tech side we have the calendar, tide tables, moon phases and even the almanac. All these incremental changes in technology to drive sophistication in recreational fishing. Low tech and mechanical motors were pretty much the norm for much of modern fishing’s past. 

Image: Tom O’Reilly

Nobody is suggesting we un-invent the wheel. People love the modernisation of recreational fishing on the whole but at some point, there needs to be self-reflection and humanity incorporated. If you lose the image of a grandfather and child sitting on a peer soaking a prawn and catching dinner, then the very foundations begin rotting away. Sadly this image has already begun to fade, replaced with a 10-second soundbite on social media of epic captures made by someone who never touched a piece of bait in their life. 

The Future of Rec Fishing

As with all great debates, the questions and possible answers are endless. It has been amusing watching social media light up in recent times on this issue. There are numerous camps to be in on so many subjects. For me personally I look through the lens of the recreational fishing charter industry. My view is a little narrow and perhaps long-sighted. This stems from fears of food falling off my table with reduced charter clients.

Image: Tom O’Reilly

I try to keep an open mind and not chastise others for their decisions.

But as more specialised technology gives those using it distinct advantage, I think it’s fair to debate. Can societal norms limit the endless precision provided by modern gadgetry or will the specialists win out? Can low tech fishos somehow avoid the pitfalls of what’s to come regarding regulation if they make certain choices? What part does the competitive nature of fishing take in all this and can it be used to combat advancements.   

What combinations of high-tech and low tech are possible without unsetting the balance of Recreational Fishing? As eskies and chilly bins are replaced by Solar panels, deep cycle batteries and electric fridges, what is being gained and what is being lost. As traditional depth sounders and plotters are replaced with high tech bathymetry, spot lock and live scope, where does this journey end. Will we be pressing a button shortly that simply reads ‘catch fish’ as the mechanical and computerised tech becomes integrated? 

Image: Tom O’Reilly

You might laugh at this scenario but contemplate for a moment where we have come from 10 years ago compared with now. All who love the pastime of fishing should have equal voice in shaping its future. To thrive, I believe recreational fishing needs to keep a keen eye to ensure we don’t stray too far from the quintessential nature of our endeavour.    

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