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Exploring the Tech-Driven Age of Sportfishing

Three stories of industry innovation connecting new ideas, customer feedback and emerging technologies.

Exploring the Tech-Driven Age of Sportfishing

Columbia’s extensive line of Performance Fishing Gear (left) dries fast, keeps anglers cool and protects against UVA and UVB rays. Costa Del Mar’s rigorously tested King Tide (center), on “Sweaty Heady” at a secret California lab. The Berkley Krej (right), with unique ascending lip engineered to elicit a response from fish observed on forward-facing sonar.

  • Jeff Weakley is Editor and Steve Dougherty Managing Editor of Florida Sportsman magazine.

It’s true if you fish for bass or billfish, as a tournament angler or strictly for fun—our industry has experienced a significant transformation in recent years, marked by numerous technology-fueled innovations. If you’re new to fishing in Florida, then it may seem like center consoles have always had quad outboards and skiffs twin Power-Poles. But those of us who’ve been around this business for a long time remember that it wasn’t always so.

Whether it’s enhancements in locating fish, replicating their natural prey, or tools that allow anglers to more comfortably spend longer periods of time on the water, technology is reshaping every facet of the modern fishing experience. The following stories showcase corporate innovation and forward-thinking on behalf of anglers around the state and beyond.

fisherman on boat tying a knot
With unique fabric weave, Columbia’s new Solar Stream Elite Hoodie delivers Omni-Shade Broad Spectrum protection.

Future-Driven & Consumer-Focused

In 2007, Columbia’s Performance Fishing Gear (PFG) division introduced Omni-Shade. At the time, it was about designing and developing fabrics with sufficient UV protection to earn a UPF label to protect anglers for long days on the water. In the United States, achieving UPF labeling requires adherence to rigorous testing standards established by the American Association of Textile Chemists and Colorists.

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“When I joined the team in 2017, we really started to focus on other aspects of sun protection,” said Haskell Beckham, Ph.D., VP of Innovation at Columbia. “More recently, the importance of protecting against both UVA and UVB has been embraced, which is called broad-spectrum protection.”

While the suntan lotion industry traditionally targeted UVB rays, the last decade or so has seen a transition toward broad-spectrum protection. The solar radiation reaching the earth’s surface consists of 5 percent UVB and 95 percent UVA. Despite this, the apparel and textile industry had not previously or specifically addressed broad-spectrum protection. Columbia PFG designers took up the challenge and in spring 2023 launched Omni-Shade Broad Spectrum.

“First, we had to figure out how to define broad-spectrum protection for a textile,” said Beckham. “Then we developed fabrics that block a sufficient amount of both UVA and UVB radiation. To our knowledge, we’re the only company that figured out how to do that and now have materials explicitly labeled as providing broad-spectrum protection.”

Beckham highlighted the molecular structure of polyester, used in fiber, yarn, and fabrics, revealing inherent UV absorption capabilities that natural fibers lack. “There’s something special about polyester that makes it effective for really thin and breathable fabrics. But we’re looking at the molecular structure of other materials we use to make fabrics and seeing if we can chemically modify those at the molecular level to provide UV protection in a way that’s never been done before.”

The new PFG Solar Stream Elite Hoodie, introduced at ICAST 2023, showcases Columbia’s Omni-Shade Broad Spectrum Air Flow UPF 50 sun protection. Omni-Shade fabrics may have always provided some degree of broad-spectrum protection, but the new Omni-Shade Broad Spectrum line now excels at this even more effectively. Its distinctive feature lies in the fabric’s weave, appearing more like honeycomb, very thin and as open as possible, and ensuring effectiveness in blocking UVA and UVB. As the technology is engineered into the breathable fabric, “It won’t wash off or wear out,” said Beckham.

Columbia’s comprehensive understanding of the outdoor industry spans innovation, manufacturing, commercialization, and branding. “We believe that technology and innovation is central to what defines us and makes us different as a brand,” said Scott Greenwood, Columbia’s Sr. Director of Global Merchandising. “We have an innovation team that includes scientists, engineers, designers, and developers, and a lab here on campus that’s well equipped to do all kinds of garment level research, but nothing beats putting the product on people and getting out in the field,” said Greenwood.

A key differentiator among Columbia’s product innovations is that consumers can easily see the product improvements over time. From Omni-Shade to Omni-Shade Sun Deflector and now Omni-Shade Broad Spectrum, the brand continuously enhances its offerings to help protect people from the harmful rays of the sun. Following the ethos of the brand’s late founder, Gert Boyle, “It’s perfect. Now make it better.”

“The challenge that we face; we can have the best technology in the world, but it also has to be a good experience for the consumer,” said Greenwood. “You have to have that art and science paired together to have success.”

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Columbia has undeniably changed the industry with their PFG line of products keeping anglers warm or cool, dry, and protected. “We expect this work now, looking 10 years down the road, to be just as ubiquitous as when the UPF label was launched. But we will be on to the next thing. That’s really central to us. Never settling; how do you make it better, how do you learn more? That’s the strength of the PFG brand,” said Greenwood.

Envisioning a Bright Future

Sunglasses stand as the world’s most ubiquitous fashion accessory, and their name might imply a purpose solely for shielding eyes from damaging UV light. However, for anglers in the Sunshine State, sunglasses are absolutely essential for successful sight fishing. Costa Del Mar introduced the first polarized color-enhancing lens technology in 1983 and has yet to cease innovating. Today, Costa remains committed to designing the world’s finest polarized sunglasses. Demonstrating their ongoing innovative and entrepreneurial spirit, Costa secured top honors in the eyewear category with its most advanced frame to date, King Tide, at ICAST 2023.

frame for eyeglasses
Costa’s most advanced frame to date features a design that prevents fogging and perspiration build-up.

John Sanchez, VP of Global Product Strategy at Costa, emphasized, “Being a leader in the category for so long entails a sense of responsibility. One is to lead from a performance standpoint, the other from a sustainability standpoint.”

Costa, renowned for its 580 lens technology delivering 100-percent polarizing efficiency to enhance contrast, depth perception, and overall visual acuity, celebrates King Tide as a testament to the brand’s dedicated in-house development team.

“We have an amazing group of user experience and user interface research experts studying human behavior and action,” said Sanchez. “If I aim to create a product targeted to a specific geography, demographic, or functional area of sports, I can get products and samples, observing how people in these dynamics use them. Human behavior and psychology play a crucial role. This isn’t how sunglasses were made 30 years ago.”

“All that information allows our team to validate our theories and refine hypotheses to create the best and most innovative polarized sunglasses,” said Sanchez. “Then, we bring design, 3D printing, CAD, and engineering together to create a product for a particular target. Within that brief, art and science converge.”

desktop computer
Costa De Mar's frames are studied and researched extensively.

With sample frames in hand, Costa designers turn to a highly secretive, performance-driven lab in Orange County, California. The lab comprises a host of testing instruments including “Sweaty Heady,” a headform designed to emit heat and sweat, measuring moisture management and anti-fog features in a controlled setting.

“The lab allows us to get ahead of any design defects that might come about,” said Sanchez. “In a salt spray chamber, we expose our frames and components in a simulated marine climate to mimic years of continued use. It’s really all about durability at this stage—80 percent of waste comes upstream from producing our products, so the longer a product lasts, the better it is for the environment and the consumer’s wallet.”

Notable design features of King Tide include ventilation ports and sweat channels throughout the frame to prevent fogging or perspiration buildup. “In an elements chamber, climatic conditions closely resemble natural weathering,” said John Murer, Costa’s Global Product Marketing Manager. “For King Tide, we cranked it up to maximum humidity to test how they deal with condensation and prevent fogging of the lenses.”

Hinge durability is also an area of concern and is examined through extensive orbital testing. “All of our frames are tested to at least 5,000 revolutions to ensure our hinges never fail. Having a specialized laboratory environment where we can test sunglass components in an extreme setting is pretty unique,” said Murer.

Costa clearly obsessed over every potential weakness until there were none. “King Tide embodies every lesson we’ve learned in our 40-year history on the water. We have a great team translating crazy ideas into action, exploring innovative bio-based materials, making glass more buoyant, lighter, and thinner,” said Sanchez. “Moving forward, we are not shy in how we can infuse the digital world and the optical world together to enhance the on-the-water experience.”

Costa’s unwavering dedication to innovation and internal development has resulted in frames that provide unmatched comfort and performance, enduring the rigorous challenges of Florida’s fisheries with award-winning style.

Sight Fishing on the Screen

Berkley has fired the first shots in what may become a new arms race in lure design. Three new lures the Spirit Lake, Iowa, company introduced this year reflect intense research into the needs of an evolving angling system: forward-facing sonar, or scoping, as some are calling it.

angler with fishing lure
Tom Redington, a professional bass angler from Texas, with the Finisher, one of three new Berkley baits scientifically optimized for forward-facing sonar.

First, some background. The advent of outward-looking sonar systems in packages compatible with small boats—systems like Humminbird’s MEGA Live Imaging and Garmin LiveScope—has driven a revolution in bass, walleye, and crappie fishing. Anglers who once looked across patches of water, speculating on what might be lurking around weedbeds or other features, now observe screens and watch as individual fish react to lures. The traditional down-looking “fishfinder,” a familiar accessory for decades, has essentially been turned into an underwater periscope—albeit one that translates sound waves into images.

Basically, it’s giving deep-water anglers the kind of one-on-one intimacy saltwater flats fishermen have long enjoyed in crystal-clear water. In much the same way flats guys have observed how tarpon, bonefish, and redfish react to fly presentations (strip slower? strip faster?), lake and river guys now watch their monitors as they engage their quarry. Dark water, dingy water, beneath the shade of docks, behind weedlines—these guys have their eyes on the fish wherever they go.

John Hoyer, a professional walleye tournament angler from Iowa, summed up the forward-facing game really well: “My best advice is, you see a fish, say 45 feet out, you want to line up and make a perfect cast. Seconds matter, and every second that goes by, your odds of catching it go down.” From there, Hoyer said, “It’s about figuring out how to manipulate the bait to get the fish into biting.” The key, he notes, is how that bait reacts to a predator in a very specific timeframe. “I might slow roll the bait and see what the fish does, or speed it away—it’s about determining the mood of individual fish.”

Where anglers in the past might’ve alternated through three or more rods with different baits to make repeated prospecting casts, forward-sonar advocates like Hoyer want lures that can fill multiple roles on one cast.

Berkley’s “FFS Optimized” baits include the Power Switch, the Finisher, and the Krej.

The Power Switch has a high line-tie, flattened belly and wedge-shaped tail enabling a kind of “as you need it” action: Darting with quick rodtip movements, swimming and wobbling slow near bottom, and more. It has Berkley’s proven, built-in Powerbait scent and taste attractant. Florida Man might call it a “jig” or “swimbait,” and that’s close enough.

The Finisher is a kind of lipless suspending, or hovering, plug that, like the Power Switch, has been crafted to deliver a lot of different actions, depending on the needs. It, too, has a high line-tie.

fishing sonar screen
A new arms race in the fishing industry are lures made for use with forward-facing sonar.

The Krej—yep, that’s jerk spelled backwards—looks like a jerkbait production line misfire but is actually an ingenious design. Want to pull a lure away from a fish, then instantly move it back to the zone? That’s what this thing does. It can emulate the “surge and die” action of a wounded minnow. It rolls and flashes as it falls, and it slides backwards if you let it. The lip is described by Berkley as an “ascending” lip.

Berkley designers test this sort of stuff extensively on the water, including in huge tanks in the Spirit Lake, Iowa, facility—same place Berkley scientists brewed up the hugely successful Powerbait and Gulp! scented baits in the 1980s.

What’s the upshot for Florida anglers? The “FFS Optimized” badge may not resonate as deeply with bass anglers in the Sunshine State as it surely will in midwestern and Texas reservoirs. Florida lakes are shallow and actually lend themselves to straight-up sight fishing: We spot fish on beds with nothing more than polarized sunglasses. Also, the cases in which we’re likely to encounter schooling bass in relatively deep, open water involve fish which are usually moving too quickly to engage one-to-one on a screen. However: Lake Seminole, the huge reservoir shared with Georgia, and many of the spring-fed lakes in Central Florida, some with 20- and 30-foot holes, are fertile territory for “scoping.”

The possibilities for Florida saltwater fishing—and we’re guessing Berkley is studying this—are wide-open. Snook suspended near bridges? Tarpon holding in deep channels? Seatrout packed into Gulf Coast rivers during the winter? Snapper or permit holding over deepwater wrecks? Turn the sonar view over that way, show them a lure, and see what you can make happen!





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