John Klein: Lowrance to be inducted into Bass Fishing Hall of Fame
BY JOHN KLEIN Senior Sports Columnist
Monday, February 18, 2013
2/18/13 at 7:00 AM
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Grand Lake is at the heart of the story about Darrell Lowrance, one of the greatest innovators in fishing history.
He conceived a revolutionary idea for fishing while in an airplane flying over the Honey Creek arm of Grand Lake in the 1950s.
"It was pretty clear water, and I could see all of the schools of fish and the structures on the bottom of the lake," Lowrance said. "That's when we came up with the idea. I knew what we needed was something to show where schools of fish were and where they were moving.
"Sonar was developed for the war to locate submarines. Why couldn't we design something to locate fish?"
Thus, the idea for one of the greatest inventions in fishing, "the little green box" fish locator, was born.
"I don't know of anything that did more to change things for fishermen," said Sammy Lee, a former professional fisherman and now the Bass Fishing Hall of Fame president. "The trolling motor and the fish locator have to be the two most important developments in fishing history.
"I know back when I was fishing professionally, if I didn't have my fish locator on board and ready to go, I might as well stay at the dock. It is the fishermen's underwater eyes."
Lowrance, who grew his idea into a fishing revolution, will be inducted into the Bass Fishing Hall of Fame on Friday night in Tulsa.
It is part of the festivities for this week's Bassmaster Classic.
It is appropriate that Lowrance will be honored this week while the Bassmaster Classic is hosted by what he calls his "home lake and my hometown."
His idea for a portable consumer sonar device became Lowrance Electronics, a huge manufacturing company based in Tulsa for more than 40 years.
At one time, the company employed as many as 3,000 people and was producing up to 1 million devices per year.
In addition to the fish locators, Lowrance produced a variety of electronics for the U.S. military.
"We did a lot of stuff people didn't know about," Lowrance said.
But one of the things everyone knew about was the fish locator, a revolution in marine electronics.
He developed the device along with his father, Carl, and his brother, Arlen, to help fishermen and boaters determine the depth of the water and discover underwater objects.
The famous "little green box" was introduced in 1959, and it revolutionized bass fishing.
"If you get the fishing bug, it never, ever stops," said Lowrance. "You are always reading, always trying to learn to find fish.
"I remember my dad used to say that every time you cast at the bank, 90 percent of the fish are behind you. The ability to find those fish was the most important thing."
For just about forever, the biggest challenge for fishermen was finding the fish.
It was a simple formula.
"What we wanted was to take fishing from just killing time and riding around in the boat to something more," said Lowrance. "By giving them a device to find the fish, we could give people a tool to use to hunt the fish. It would help turn this into a hunting deal.
"By using our device, you could find the structure on the bottom of the lake and patterns of the fish. It was logical. If you can't see the structures and patterns, you are just riding around."
Lowrance didn't want to just ride around. He wanted to find the fish.
To do that he started working on a device while in college at the University of Arkansas in the late 1950s. By the early 1960s, he had developed several possible devices and a manufacturing plant in Joplin.
"We started with about 12 employees," said Lowrance. "We were making about 1,000 devices, but it wasn't working well. So, we kept at it. We wanted to not go through a middleman, and we wanted to design and build the devices ourselves.
"We had some ideas and we kept working at it."
Eventually, Lowrance hit upon the formula to change fishing for everyone from bass fishermen to commercial ocean fishermen.
"At first it was a pretty big hill to climb," said Lowrance. "It was an educational thing for us. You could have the device, but if you didn't operate it properly it wouldn't do what you wanted it to do, which is find fish.
"So, we had to go out in the field and demonstrate our products and make sure they were used correctly."
Before Lowrance, fishing guides relied on other fishermen.
"One guy would tell another guy that over there is where they caught some fish," said Lowrance. "You found fish by talking to other fishermen.
"We were changing the way all fishermen operated. With our devices, you went out and found the fish on your own. You had underwater eyes."
Lowrance, 74, retired and moved to Dallas to be closer to his 16 grandchildren after he sold Lowrance Electronics to Navico in 2007.
But on Friday night he will be honored for changing the world of fishing.
"I think it is accurate to say Darrell Lowrance took fishing out of the dark ages and into the modern world," Lee said. "The little green box of Lowrance changed everything."
Original Print Headline: He helped put the fish in fishing
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