By Chad LaChance

It’s the ability to use tools that separates Man from the apes. Take away a human’s tools and we’re hosed, basically regressing to pre-caveman levels of effectiveness at surviving at all, much less keeping our coveted spot at the top of the food chain. Tools, clumped collectively under the technology banner, are what allow us to succeed at just about anything we attempt, assuming we do indeed succeed. From simple hand tools like a hammer to today’s crop of smart phones, technology – not the dog – truly is Man’s best friend. And it could be argued that a dog was Man’s first tool.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHunters and fishermen, like all other societal subclasses, have tools specific to our pastime. Like all the other subclasses, we’re lost without them and in the case of some tools, I mean literally lost. As time and evolution has gone on, I’m of the opinion that technology has made us weaker, not stronger, as outdoorsmen. The increasing dependence on technology seemingly makes us stronger and more successful outdoors, but take away any or all of the technology that we’ve come to take for granted and rely on and current generations of sportsmen are worse off than, say, sportsmen of 50 years ago.

This column is not meant to knock the use of technology; I’m all for it and believe me, I’m as fast as anyone else to grab on to and exploit the latest in outdoor technology. My wood-free, all composite computer designed Ranger boat is equipped with the latest in Lowrance SONAR and GPS, 3D side and down imaging. It’s complete with touch screens to access the SD card loaded with lake contour data and even has XM satellite weather and radar capabilities. The rod lockers are brimming with graphite rods weighing mere ounces topped with reels featuring carbon matrix drags and spooled with line developed with Nano technology. Bait? Who needs bait? I’ve got synthetic, water-based resin lures molded into realistic shapes and swimming in liquid fortified with amino acids, which I then rig on chemically sharpened hooks.

Trust me, there is no shortage of techno gadgetry in my boat.

Yep, I loves me some technology – but it’s no substitute for steely-eyed woodsmanship.

What I mean when I say we are weaker as outdoorsmen, is that we’re increasingly relying on technology rather than developing our true outdoor skills. I don’t need to know how to navigate a mountain or lake, because my Global Positioning System will do it for me. Can’t find the fish? No problem, log on and get real-time reports of who’s catching what and where. Kentucky windage, what’s that? My scope will compensate for bullet drop with the twist of a knob, right after the laser range finder tells me how far away the target is. That’s all great, but the knowledge that technology hasn’t been able to overcome is the understanding of your prey. Understanding the behavior and tendencies of fish, fowl and game is what makes an outdoorsmen, well, an outdoorsmen. Lot’s of people look and act the part and they’re equipped to the gills with equipment, but very few posses the ability to really read the conditions and predict how that will affect their pursuit of fish and game.

Spotting a trout in the river is easy with my Costa polarized lenses cutting all the glare and increasing contrast in browns and greens, therefore allowing me to spot his green back – incidentally developed over thousands of generations as camouflage against overhead predators – as he hovers effortlessly over a gravel bottom. However, it’s reading his body language to decide if and where in the water column, he may be feeding that will allow me to catch him. Perhaps I’ll be able to perceive a level of nervousness in his demeanor and move on to other, less spooky, fish. Or maybe I’ll read a bit of irritability in his movement, consistent with territorial fish and therefore catch him on a big ol’ streamer by invading his territory, in which case whether or not he is actively feeding is irrelevant.

Maybe it’s fall and you spotted a bunch of shad on your 3D imaging sonar. Are they in a perfectly round and loosely grouped ball indicating that they’re not being pressured by predators, or are they grouped very tight and in irregular shapes as they use a classic schooling defense against predators lurking just outside your sonar cone? Which balls of shad would you drop a jigging spoon on?

Sensing, for instance, when to fish aggressively based on weather patterns and prevailing conditions versus when it’s time to slow down and grind it out takes time in the field to learn, but it’s the kind of thing that makes a true angler. I’m of the opinion that, the more observant you are in the woods or on the water, the faster you can develop an understanding of the natural elements that affect your success. I’m also of the opinion that fish and game are all tied together in some way; if you observe all of the above and not just your specific quarry, you’ll learn even faster.

Want to excel as an angler? Being an observant student of the quarry, it’s prey and the conditional factors is a key. Possessing and being able to use the tools of modern technology is another key. Putting it all together by using said technology to provide information and physical abilities that you can then apply with your knowledge of the fish and conditions is the Holy Grail. The very best anglers I know use technology as a piece of the success puzzle. They stay abreast of the latest gear and gadgets, but ultimately use their knowledge and confidence to get the job done. Yes, they rely on technology, but not as much as they rely on their skills!