Outdoors show seminars on technology help anglers to even the odds

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Curious they don't find cave paintings of largemouths, but it's almost certain that primitive humans caught bass without the modern day doodads marketed on fishing TV shows.

Nevertheless, technology can put anglers on fish faster and make hooking up more likely without challenging the fair-chase ethic that makes fishing fishing and not necessarily catching.

Two members of the collegiate bass-fishing circuit who attend Pittsburgh-area colleges will conduct separate seminars about practical angling gadgetry at the annual Allegheny Sport, Travel and Outdoors Show, Feb. 12-16 at the Monroeville Convention Center.

Most fly anglers understand the importance of balancing the rod, reel and line. But Eric Bykowsky, a South Carolina fisherman attending Carnegie Mellon University, said that too often weekend bass angling is attempted with gear that's totally out of whack.

"If you're using just crankbaits, just about any rod will do. But when you start changing your technique to match conditions you've got to start thinking more about your gear," said Bykowsky, who is sponsored by rod manufacturer Fenwick. "You want to make sure you have the correct rod and line for the fish you're after and the right reel for each technique."

Spincast combos are suitable entry-level outfits for kids, and closed-face spinning reels provide a half step of advancement, but they limit the angler's options, he said. Most pros use baitcasting reels spooled with heavier braided lines for advanced techniques and soft landings.

But Bykowsky, who fishes a lot on North Park Lake and the Monongahela near Homestead, recommends a spinning outfit for most Pennsylvania waters.

Flipping soft plastics on a weed line involves short casts and the need to pull fish through dense vegetation.

"You want a braided line as opposed to a monofilament, and a longer rod helps you to get the lure out there," he said.

Bouncing plastic worms across the bottom requires a sensitive touch that isn't possible on a soft rod.

"You need a stiffer rod," said Bykowsky, "[because] a split second is the difference between catching that fish and losing it."

A cheap rod isn't necessarily an all-purpose rod. Bykowsky said a decent 7-foot medium-fast action graphite rod can cost about $50; a more serviceable rod of similar design runs about $100. Balancing the reel and line is important -- to accommodate a variety of bass fishing techniques, he said, get a reel made for 25- to 30-pound test line.

Bykowsky's rod and gear seminar starts at 1 p.m. Feb. 15.

In the 1970s, the first generation of depth finders revolutionized fishing with simple black-and-white contour lines and blips. New high-end color sonar devices can be customized to show three-dimensional down- and side-scan structure almost to the inch, and are so precise anglers can digitally watch a predator take the bait.

Digital mapping technology linked to global positioning satellites can pilot the trolling motor through hot spots. Sonar units can interact among themselves to build the most detailed digital hydrographic maps imaginable, and a new transducer debuting this month provides a 180-degree subsurface view of what's coming up in front of the boat.

"It's tournament driven. Bass pros use these, particularly when they're on new water and need to learn what's there and find fish fast," said Jonathan Coholich of Allison Park, who fishes with the LaRoche College team. "It might cost $2,500 to $3,000 plus additional technology."

Coholich is sponsored by Navionics and Lowrance.

"But for $120 to maybe a few hundred, the average fishermen can get a much better understanding of what's under the surface and where they're fishing," he said.

Sonar technology has helped Coholich to find humps, stumps, drop-offs and other structure, and locate fish throughout the water column, at Pymatuning, Conneaut, Shenango, Lake Arthur and the Ohio and Monongahela rivers.

"On the Allegheny last year, I was using side-scan and down-scan and found an area where there was one single boulder," he said. "Every time I pull up to that boulder I find good smallmouths. My advice would be figure out which level of technology you want, and take the time to learn how to use it."

Coholich talks about sonar technology 5:15 p.m. Feb. 13 and 11:30 a.m. Feb. 16.

Get the full Allegheny Sport, Travel and Outdoors Show seminar schedule and other details at www.sportandtravel.com.

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