Some of the best days I can recall involve zipping up the Sheyenne River in an old canoe using paddle power until I reached my favorite feeder creek. With a jig and minnow, I felt for the subtle tap of a walleye or the vicious strike of a smallmouth. All the while I enjoyed the warm sun of early summer. There was no readout on a depthfinder, no beep of a fish alarm, nor a "signal lost" message on a GPS because they were all stowed away at home, or just things I had on a wish list somewhere. It was fishing at its most basic and probably its finest.
As technology has advanced and many items have become standard tools in both fishing and hunting, many outdoorsmen find themselves treading a fine line. Some days technology is the sole reason for success outdoors, and on other days, the roosters or fish come so easy that technology is almost a burden. At certain times, I'm grateful for a Vexilar on the ice while pursuing fish. In fact, I often remark that I would rather go home than fish without one. On other days, I wonder how important such technology is - after all, anglers decades before me were able to catch fish through the ice without it.
There are many pros and cons to technology in the outdoors. Safety and efficiency are some of the major arguments for the use of items such as GPS units. Knowing where you are and where you've been, along with where you are supposed to be and how to get back to where you started helps keep you from getting lost, preventing unnecessary deployment of law enforcement and the National Guard. Then again, knowing how to use a compass and a map accomplishes the same goal. The efficiency aspect of such technology makes for safer hunts and fishing trips and, in turn, more enjoyable experiences for those who don't have time for an orienteering class. But we as hikers, hunters and outdoor adventurers fall into that trap and become dependent on such efficient technology.
With that same efficiency comes almost unfair success in the field. The laser range finder is an element of technology which has been honed to perfection over the past several years and perhaps it is too perfect. Capable of accurately measuring any distance between you and your target down to mere inches, these devices help hunters set up their shots. This advantage leads to a more accurate shot and a more humane kill, certainly a positive in every hunter's book. However, there was a time not so long ago where hunters had to gauge their quarry on the fly, estimating distance with the naked eye. To prove it, there are photo compilations on the Internet of hunters from 1949 with camps full of gigantic bucks gutted and hanging from the porch rafters. Somehow, there was success without technology.
These days, it comes down to personal choice. There are times where fishing from a canoe is the only way I'd want to pursue bass on the river, or where the simple technologies of the Grumman are all I need to catch a few walleye. Then there are days I wish I had a $30,000 glitter boat with bow and stern GPS/Fishfinder units and a contour-tracing trolling motor alongside a 200 horsepower four-stroke. Most often though, I am happy to be where I am at. Knowing that my skills make up for my lack of gadgetry, and the smell of fresh air and time afield is more important than how accurate my Garmin is at the moment.
Many anglers and hunters, who long for the simpler experiences, reserve the low-tech options for their hunting and fishing experiences. The pursuits of muzzleloader hunting for deer, or bamboo fly-rodding for trout take today's modern outdoors experience back a few decades and are prime examples of low-tech outdoors hobbies. But even these pursuits have been infiltrated by technology; burdened by modern accessories such as scopes and synthetic fluorocarbon leaders. With all the options out there, keeping it simple almost makes a person feel stupid. But it doesn't have to be so frustrating to enjoy a low-tech outing.
The best advice is to do what feels right. Sometimes all it takes is a spinning rod, a spot on shore and a bucket of minnows or a canoe at the mouth of a feeder creek for a successful outing. Whether you catch one fish or your limit, figuring out how to light the grill in order to prepare them might be the toughest problem you face that day regarding the use of technology...in our outdoors.