Old vs New School – Dean Smith Feb 2016

The internet these days, particularly social media, is an amazing place for anglers to get tips, share ideas and have (sometimes) educated debate on the ever changing landscape of recreational fishing. Facebook itself is an absolute treasure trove of groups dedicated solely to fishing in certain areas and with specific techniques.

It was on one of these pages that I came across a heated discussion between what I can only describe as an old school fisherman and a new school fisherman in regards to how helpful technology can be to anglers. I read with eagerness as the debate went back and forth, with the Old school angler proudly stating that, “I can go to my local creek, with no sounder, no electric motor and still catch more fish then you can with all the technology”. Unfortunately, these two, to my knowledge, never tested out that statement, so early in 2015, I laid down the challenge to my brothers, Luke and Wade to test this theory out in our local, Coorooman Creek.

The challenge was simple, Luke and Wade would take the boat kitted out with a Humminbird 1199 side scan and Minn Kota iPilot, and my uncle Tony and myself would attempt to out fish them using old school methods with no technological assistance. The only stipulation was that we had a total of five hours on the water to try and catch as many fish as possible using whatever technique we deemed most suited to the conditions.

An early morning low tide had us all excited, not only for a bit of friendly competition but also for the fishing prospects that this type of tide has given us in the past. We launched at 5am with the agreeance that we would be back at the ramp by 10am to determine the winner and overall bragging rights. Tony and I decided that our best tactic would be to troll hard body lures past snags, pressure points and usual hotspots. Trolling allowed us to cover as much water as possible so that we could find where the fish were schooling up and then pepper the school with lures until it moved on, you know, the old school way.

Our first hot spot was only 200 metres away from the boat ramp and we shared a guilty smile as we watched Luke and Wade begin their journey up the creek, knowing that we had a bit of a jump on them in regards to fishing time. We began our troll line 300 metres downstream from where a water pipe crossed the creek, knowing this continued underwater it provided a great area for bait to school up and predatory species to lay in wait. Within minutes of trolling Tony hooked up and reeled in a small flat salmon, definitely not our target species but it was a start. 20 minutes later we had only boated the one fish after numerous hits, hook-ups and misses we made the decision to move on from the pipeline and begin to pull our lures along the bank, past the open gutters and snags. I happened to look down at my phone and saw that I had a message from Wade, knowing this didn’t bode well for our competition, I reluctantly looked at it to see a screenshot from his hummingbird showing multiple fish schooling up. His message read, “Five fish boated from this school in eight minutes, #goodluck”.

It appeared that the brothers had already got the jump on us by using the Humminbird to find schooling fish and converted the technological assistance into a big lead. Tony and I knew we had time on our hands to make up the deficit, provided that Luke and Wade did not find another school of feeders. The decision was made to change up our method, as trolling was not exciting the fish into a hot bite, so we tied on three and a half inch curly tail soft plastics and went towards our faithful snags and gutters in the hope of some fingermark, mangrove jack or king salmon. The snags provided little entertainment for me, however, it wasn’t long before ‘the uncle’ struck and we had a quality Coorooman creek fingermark on board. A quick photo, and a tagged fish later I had noticed that luckily in the time we spent on the snags, my phone had stayed silent, I assumed that no news was good news and Tony and I were still in with a chance, however small that may be. It seemed to us that the further up Coorooman creek we went, the less surface activity we saw from the bait, so we made a move to switch things up a bit and head toward the mouth of the creek in search of some flathead.

During our transit, my phone sounded the death knell, as I received two photos, a pigeon pair of barramundi, one to Luke and one to Wade. With only an hour left until our deadline, Tony and I finally managed to get some fun in smacking a couple of flathead that were subsequently tagged and released. We made our way back to the boat ramp with our tails between our legs to be greeted by Luke and Wade with smiles as big as a Cheshire cat. Our final tally for the five hours sat at one flat salmon, a nice fingermark, a legal grunter and two flathead, nothing to sneeze at really for some old school methods in the local. It was as we sat and listened to Luke and Wade’s recount of their action that I truly came to understand the benefit that the ‘new school’ methods can bring to the modern day angler.

While Tony and my efforts were passable, a pass meaning that we would have eaten well on the fish we caught that day, when you compare it to the tally that Luke and Wade gave us it did not stack up that well. A total of eight blue salmon, two legal estuary cod among countless undersized ones, three grunter, a mangrove jack and two barramundi. It became very apparent that the difference between our two boats was in the technology being used. Upon reflection, Tony and I spent a lot of time fishing what appeared to be ‘dead water’, meaning that there were either no fish there or they were just not on the chew. We relied mainly on what areas had worked well for us in the past as we were fishing blind we had no real way of knowing.  The use of the Humminbird sounder for its side scan capabilities, allowed Luke and Wade to eliminate the amount of time they fished dead water and increase their time throwing lures at schools of fish. The results were clear when you compare the number of fish boated between the two methods.

While old school methods, looking for structure, bait movement, current patterns etc, still hold a lot of merit for the modern angler, you cannot go past the advantages that technology such as Humminbird and Minn Kota can give to you. Finding the fish and being able to quietly hold your position as you cast toward the school of fish, knowing that they are there because you can see them clearly on your sounder screen are an absolute key to turning passable days into incredible days.

While we undertook this challenge between ourselves, over a year ago, nothing has changed in our thinking when we fish our local creek. Old School or new School? Which is better? Having grown up out in Western Queensland, the basis of my fishing knowledge was grounded firmly in the Old School way of thinking. As an angler on the Capricorn Coast I still fall back on those old school basics when fishing, but it certainly helps to be using the latest technology and combining old school knowledge and skills with new school technology and techniques will always get my vote.