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SPORTS: THE NEXT DECADE : SCIENCE : TACKLE AND BAIT ALREADY ARE POURING OUT OF THE LABS. THE FISH THEMSELVES ARE NOT FAR BEHIND. : Fishermen Are Trying to Bait Mother Nature : Fishing Tips Will No Longer Come from the Backwoods

December 28, 1989|RICH ROBERTS / TIMES STAFF WRITER

Life and fishing were simpler when cane poles were the craze and the only artificial products were traditional lures and flies.

Flies came wet or dry, and that was enough to keep anglers happy. Nobody longed for a graphite rod or an electric reel. Where would you plug it in?

Then tackle makers convinced anglers that they really needed high tech to bag those beauties, so fishing became big business. Fully equipped with neoprene waders, Polaroid glasses, electronic fish finders and more little gizmos than they could fit into alloy tackle boxes, the fishermen went forth with only one little problem: getting the fish to bite. But that will always be a problem.

Or will it?

Just when it seems fishing has gone about as far as it can go, here come people saying that man is just around the bend from achieving the angler's ultimate dream: invisible line and irresistible bait. A fish will never know what he's swimming into.

Those who have always said that fishing is a science never imagined the developments that will sweep the sport into the '90s. The fishing secrets of the 21st Century will not be found listening to crusty and crafty country folk gathered around wood stoves in general stores. The new know-how will come from scientists in spotless laboratories.

Tackle and bait already are pouring out of the labs. The fish themselves are not far behind.

Dave Ellison, an executive of the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society (BASS) that promotes the richest series of tournaments across the country, said the technology has come a long way from the "flasher" units that blinked a red light when a fish broke the beam between a boat and the bottom.

Those were followed by liquid crystal recorders (LCRs) that showed silhouettes of fish on a graph or screen as the boat passed over, but the boat first had to find the right place. They've just about worked that out.

"One of the biggest things that's going to be coming out is more for saltwater or large bodies of fresh water," Ellison said. "It's a device that will bounce off a satellite and allow you to find any position you want to. If you have a secret hole on a lake or an ocean, you get your measurements programmed in and they tell you how to get back there (the next time)."

Loran-C units can do that, too, but they rely on land references for location and are limited to about 400 miles offshore and only a couple of hundred miles south of the border, providing little help to serious Baja anglers. A satellite unit will work anywhere.

Also on the market are two satellite-linked devices that will help to find fish. Satellites can't see fish, but they can distinguish water temperature--a solid clue to which species of fish should be there. Cold water is usually green and murky, holding salmon and mako sharks. Warmer water, where big game fish hang out, tends to be blue and clear.

The only shortcoming, Ellison said, is that "it can't make 'em bite. We've spent millions and millions on fooling fish but nobody's ever found a way yet to make 'em bite."

Until now, perhaps.

Berkley, Inc., of Spirit Lake, Iowa, all but revolutionized trout fishing when its Power Bait hit the market in 1988, but that was only the beginning. In '89, the company came out with Power Worms and Power Grubs, and spokesman Mike Fine said the next product will be "a step beyond Mother Nature."

It may not be nice to fool with her, but if it works, fishermen will try to restrain their principles.

Berkley has its own research and development lab, headed by Keith Jones, the chief of fish biology who developed Power Bait. If one wishes to understand fish, he must live with fish.

"Keith is in the lab with the fish every day," Fine said.

Lately, Jones has been trying to determine what kind of smells attract fish--sort or how Liz Taylor tested her latest perfume.

"We have been able to isolate a few ingredients that really turn the fish on," Fine said.

The secret ingredients will be put into bait or plastic worms and grubs. Men, fish--to Liz and Berkley it's all the same deal.

The company also makes rods and fishing line.

"Our dream is to make a line as thin and as strong as spider web, which for a single strand of material is the strongest substance known to man," Fine said. "We are about two-thirds of the way there. Maybe we need bigger spiders or something.

"I think there will be some more breakthroughs. We're eliminating some of the barriers, We're working on things that are very exciting. Obviously, I can't go into much detail."

Obviously. Fishermen will always have secrets.

But now that science is about to persuade the fish to bite, all that remains is to catch bigger fish--and you just know somebody is working on that.

The California Fish and Game Commission has just dropped the statewide daily trout limit from 10 to five, promising larger fish instead. The Department of Fish and Game hopes to achieve that by using a higher quality of feed and perhaps even steroids in the hatcheries.

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